I'm been dealing with some health issues of my own lately. My back and shoulder has been out of whack - pro tip: don't go a year without a chiropractor appointment when you have a history of easily going out of alignment. In addition to the back issues, I've had a lot of joint pain.
So I'm on a mission to figure out what is going on with my health. And it fit in perfectly that the health portion of the nutrition course I'm taking had to deal with digestive health. Today, I'd like to share a bit of what I've learned about Leaky Gut, and how probiotics can help heal.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition described as intestinal permeability - the intestinal lining has become porous and things such as undigested food molecules, yeast, and toxins, instead of being screened out, get through into the blood stream. Leaky Gut has been linked to various autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and Crohn's disease, and other inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, MS, RA, depression and anxiety. (I especially found the depression and anxiety link interesting because one of my symptoms when I had too much gluten - pre-paleo - was depression.)
There are a variety of factors:
Diet: if your diet is low in probiotics and fiber (more on probiotics in a moment), high in sugar or processed foods, and high in grains and conventional dairy, you might have Leaky Gut.
Medication: if you overuse medications such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, asprin, or take hormones such as birth control, you might have Leaky Gut.
Stress: If you have high emotional stress in your life, you might have Leaky Gut. (I've previously discussed how stress messed with my health here.)
Bacterial imbalances: If you suffer from candida, SIBO, or frequent yeast infections, you might have Leaky Gut.
Leaky Gut can lead to food intolerance, immune abnormalities, and autoimmune conditions. Inflammation plays an important role here: the body tries to protect itself from what it views as foreign objects. If your gut lining is disrupted, food particles can be viewed as invaders, and the body will create antibodies to protect itself. Maybe your body views gluten as an invader. Or casein. Or lactose. Food intolerance is one of the first signs that something could be going on with your digestive system. After a while, the body might get confused and think that the gluten protein, for example, is in the cells of your skin, and so you develop psoriasis.
In my case, while I've been good about avoiding gluten, I have had more gluten-free foods, dairy, and high sugar items (curse you, ice cream!) in the last few months than I usually have. So I believe it's quite possible that my joint pain could be related to my diet.
How do I heal Leaky Gut?
First, the diet needs to support the digestive system. Eat simple carbs in the form of non-starchy vegetables, fruits and raw honey, healthy fats like ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil and egg yolks, and easily digested protein like fish, chicken, and grass-fed beef. Bone broth is also a wonderful addition to the diet to help heal, and I always drink it when I feel a cold starting in order to boost my immune system, since gut health and immune health are so strongly linked. Lastly, eating probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut and pickles, can help add the "good" bacteria back to the gut, especially if you've taken antibiotics recently, or often wash your hands with antibacterial soap (which is practically everyone). I also learned that foods that come fresh from the farmer - the ones that still have a bit of dirt on them - will naturally have probiotics from the soil. Unfortunately, these probiotics are washed away by the chlorine spray that supermarkets may use to keep their food fresh. Yet another reason to shop at your local farmer's market!
Supplements can also help. I am not a doctor, so I wouldn't dream of telling anyone what to take, I can only share what I've learned, what I'm currently taking, and what I plan to take.
I learned that there are 4 supplements that help allow the body to heal itself.
1. First, for more acute reactions, digestive enzymes may help. There are a variety of different enzymes, and this post from Whole9Life gives some great advice about how to find a quality product. But basically, digestive enzymes do exactly what their name says: they are enzymes that help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients. If we aren't digesting food properly, we can't digest nutrients properly, and that will interfere with our health. And if you're making the effort to eat a diet like the one suggested above, you really want to make sure your body is able to get all the nutrients it can. I personally have been taking serrapeptase due to a recommendation from my Krav Maga instructor as a way to help relieve my joint pain, and I do notice I have less joint pain in my knees and ankles when I take it.
2. L-glutamine is another supplement that is recommended to help protect the gut lining. I don't know much about it and will do more research before I start taking it.
3. Fermented cod liver oil - this supplement is my favorite. I've already been taking it since December as a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and K2. As some who tends to have low vitamin D levels (the joys of living in the northeast!), I wanted to find a real food supplement that my body could use more efficiently than a Vitamin D pill. I use the Green Pastures brand, and this post from Balanced Bites explains a lot about cod liver oil vs. fish oil and answers practically any question you might ever have about cod liver oil.
4. Lastly, probiotics. Probiotics are responsible for: producing vitamins such as B12 and K2, crowding out harmful bacteria, creating enzymes that destroy the harmful bacteria, and stimulating the secretion of regulatory T cells (cells that modulate the immune system and may help treat autoimmune diseases) and IgA (an antibody that is found in the intestinal tract - without it, you will have a suppressed or deficient immune system).
A few tips when it comes to buying a probiotic supplement:
1. Get a reputable brand. You pay for what you get.
2. Look for a probiotic brand that has a high number of probiotic (15 billion-100 billion) and a high strain diversity (10-30 different strains).
3. Strains such as bacillus coagulans, saccharomyces boulardii, bacillus subtilis, and lactobacillus rhamnosus are heat resistant, so they will live long enough to get to the gut and colonize. It's very useful (and cost effective) to take a probiotic that will have survivable strains.
As always, do your own research. Different strains will help with different needs. For example, bifidobacterium longum supports liver function and reduces inflammation, so for my needs I would search for a brand that contains that strain. If you have lactose intolerance, lactobacillus acidophilus could help with that. To support treatment of Crohn's disease, saccharomyces boulardii has been proven effective, and this strain also reduces inflammation. Other strains boost the immune system, some support vitamin production, and others suppress the growth of bad bacteria like salmonella and e. coli.
I do not yet take a probiotic, but I started eating sauerkraut a couple months ago...and I don't think I've had it in the last few weeks. Oops?
So my action plan to heal my own gut:
- Clean up diet - cut out the dairy, sugar and gluten-free treats for at least 3 weeks (although 4 weeks would be best). Just in time for a 21-Day Sugar Detox!
- Make more bone broth
- Eat more sauerkraut
- Research and buy a probiotic supplement
- Continue taking fermented cod liver oil
That's all for tonight! If you liked what you read, please take a moment and leave a comment telling me a bit about yourself. I'd like to get to know my readers!
See you next week!