After taking a break from writing regularly in the Journal and focusing on my workshops, I am committed to begin writing again this spring and summer.
First off I'd like to start with an article about LGS, or Leaky Gut Syndrome, which I often mention in my workshops as a dangerous consequence of a weak stomach lining. This is of course discussed in relation to fermented foods, which as you will see below are powerful allies in keeping your stomach lining strong and healthy.
What is LGS?
Although sometimes labelled as a “hypothetic condition”, leaky gut syndrome (LGS) is a well documented health condition where the lining of the gut is damaged to the extent that harmful substances and undigested food particles are able to pass through this otherwise protective barrier of microvilli and into the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
A digestive issue to this extent means that the body cannot properly assimilate nutrient and nutrient deficiency symptoms are common.
LGS is caused by a combination of several things. Stress is one co-factor, as cortisol can build up in the gut in times of chronic stress and cause inflammation which often leads to leaky gut.
Diet is another factor. A diet of mainly processed food and no probiotics while living in a modern, sterilised environment will lead to a poor gut flora over time. Some studies even show that emotional wellbeing and gut flora is linked (Kimberly Wilson's Food & Psychology podcast is excellent listening).
If harmful bacteria get to dominate in the GI tract this will over time cause inflammation which leads to LGS.
Taking antibiotics also contributes to a poor gut flora as antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria – it takes over 2 years for the body to regain it’s normal bacterial flora after a course of antibiotics.
A Standard American Diet or similar can also lead to leaky gut: processed foods, rancid vegetable oils, sodas, over-consumption of protein, pathogens and antibiotics in meat, high carbohydrate diets and FODMAPS all clog up the digestive system and promote inflammation.
Long and/or excessive use of pharmaceuticals such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, oral contraceptives, steroids etc. irritate the gut and can cause inflammation.
Similarly BPA, environmental toxins and pesticides all cause stress to the gut.
Gluten can lead to leaky gut as it causes the gut to release zonuline, a molecule that can break apart the junctions of the intestinal lining.
Other inflammatory-promoting foods such as dairy, sugar and especially alcohol can also cause irritation and inflammation of the gut and lead to LGS.
GMO consumption has also been linked to the development of leaky gut and since GMOs have become a part of processed foods incidence of leaky gut has soared. This may be one of the reasons why this condition is less acknowledged than it could be.
The symptoms of LGS that are directly linked to the digestion are: heartburn, gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (all previously mentioned symptoms arising at intervals, i.e. a very irregular digestion, constitute IBS), discomfort in the small intestine: discomfort is felt more central in the abdomen and on the front around the bellybutton, as the large intestine is located in the perimeter and leaky gut is a problem of the small intestine.
However, as the digestive system affect the entire body and as the bloodstream is directly affected, common LGS symptoms don’t necessarily straight away seem to link to digestion.
Cognitive disfunction such as brain fog and memory issues, itchy skin, fatigue, sore joints, allergies (including seasonal allergies such as pollen allergy), immune dysfunction and insomnia are also symptoms of LGS.
As the immune system is fighting overtime, sufferers of LGS have lowered immune function and may get sick more easily.
Because of the challenges to the immune function diseases such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, thyroid dysfunction and even cancer can occur long term.
Mineral deficiencies in zinc, iron and magnesium are common as well as vitamin B12 deficiency.
Getting tested for LGS can be difficult as it is not a “real condition” according to some medical societies and because each person may have different levels of permeability and display different symptoms. However there are many indicators of intestinal permeability which one can test for.
The most common test is the mannitol/lactulose test, also known as the urine test, the sugar test, the permeability test. Mannitol and lactulose are sugars which the patient drinks as a liquid. After 6 hours a urine sample is taken to determine which one(s) were better absorbed. If both sugars are elevated in the urine it signifies leaky gut as lactulose is a large sugar usually not passed with urine.
If only mannitol absorption is low it points in the direction of difficulty absorbing small molecules.
A stool test is another common way to test for LGS as the bacteria present in the stool and also the IGA levels can give leads about the digestive function. However many photogenic bacteria and microbials don’t always end up in the stool so this test is used mainly as an indicator.
An IGA test of the blood can also be done to determine LGS.
IGA is an immunoglobulin (antibody) of the blood and very high levels of IGA points in the direction of LGS as the body is on very high alert due to the immune system being thrown off kilter because of the leaky gut. As 60% of the immune system resides inn the small intestine there is really no wonder as to why this happens.
There are natural ways of healing a leaky gut and these are lifestyle and diet related, but there is no One Diet as different things work for different people.
However limiting the amount of stress on the body – stresses that include not enough sleep, alcohol, toxins, difficult to digest foods, inflammatory promoting foods, strong negative emotions, strong physical experiences and late nights – is essential for all.
- Psychological stress is, as previously mentioned, a major contributor to leaky gut due to the high levels of cortisol in the body. Reducing this kind of stress in everyday life is very important for overall health and quality of life. Taking the time to meditate, taking proper breaks during meal times and getting enough sleep are things that alleviates stress and a raised level of cortisol.
- Eating slowly and chewing one’s food properly into a liquid limits the pressure put on an already stressed digestive system.
- Eliminating irritating and inflammatory foods from the diet is important. Sugar, gluten, alcohol, cigarettes and in some cases caffeine and dairy must be let go of completely for a period of time and can then be slowly and moderately reintroduced into the diet.
Harder to digest foods such as pulses, nuts and grains should be soaked/germinated with an acidic medium before cooking in order to reduce their phytic acid content and increase their digestibility. A balanced, healthy diet rich in vegetables is important.
Specific foods and nutrients can be added to speed up recovery.
- The amino acid L-glutamine is an anti-inflammatory amino acid that supports the intestinal lining and can be added as a supplement.
- Probiotics have the ability to support the digestive system and treat digestive disorders while supporting nutrient assimilation and should be included in the diet in all forms.
Probiotics and fermented foods are shown to help strengthen the gut lining and the probiotic bacteria help taking the pressure off the gastrointestinal lining having to defend the body all by itself. If dairy products aren’t causing an adverse reaction raw, organic dairy products particularly from goat’s milk can be beneficial.
Probiotics are most powerful in food form and have an alkalising effect on the body despite their sour flavour, but if they are difficult to digest one may start with probiotic supplements. Milk kefir and water kefir are good, gentle introductions to probiotic foods that are easy to digest.
- A home made high quality bone broth contains high levels of l-glutamine as well as gelatine and these nutrients helps the gut lining heal. Bone broth is not a complete protein but acts as a protein sparer, helping the body more fully utilise other complete proteins that are taken in and can therefore aid in nutrient assimilation. The amino acids proline and glycine are also present in bone broth. Proline is a precursor to collagen, famous for tightening the skin. Collagen tightens the “inside skin” as well as preventing wrinkles and so helps tightening the junctions in the gut.
Broth made of high quality bones, heads and feet coming from organic, naturally fed and unstressed animals contain many important minerals that can be especially lacking in a sufferer of LGS. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus are found in bone broth and these support organ and tissue health to help the body heal.
- Zinc is especially important for healing the gut lining and maintain healthy HCL levels. Zinc is found naturally in pulses such as lentils, quinoa and oats as well as seeds such as poppy, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower and can also be taken as a supplement.
- Sea weeds are extremely mineral rich and are great to include in the diet to supplement lost minerals.
- Aloe vera gel in smoothies or juices helps balance an over-active immune system and soothes the digestive system. Being anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal as well as being a plant source of B12 it is a much needed ally in healing a leaky gut.
- Coconut anything helps to soothe the digestive system. Coconut oil, meat, milk and water are rich in nutrients, supports the immune system and provide healthy fats. Coconut is anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory.
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic compound containing biologically active sulfur. It is anti-inflammatory and has the ability to help rebuild the lining of the digestive tract. Sulfur plays an important role in collagen formation.
- Speaking of healthy fats, omega 3 fatty acids are important to include in the diet for their anti-inflammatory and digestion promoting properties. Supplementing with a good quality omega 3 supplement as well as using plant sources of omega 3.
- Soaked and sprouted flax seeds are great for intestinal health as the fibre in the flax seeds help grow beneficial bacteria in the gut. The fibre in combination with a very high omega 3 content makes soaked flax an excellent aid for LGS.
- Anti-fungal natural supplements to kick parasites, yeast infections and fungals will also alleviate leaky gut symptoms. Oregano oil, olive leaf oil, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic oil, echinacea extract and caprylic acid supplements are all powerful yet completely natural anti-fungal supplements that have no side effects. Rotate the supplements to ensure that they are always effective.
- Turmeric is a superb anti-inflammatory that one can take daily.
- Slippery Elm is a great help as a tea if suffering from symptoms of nausea, gassiness, IBS symptoms, etc.
- Helichrysum italicum essential oil is one of the strongest anti-inflammatories and White Willow bark as a tea can relieve inflammation as well. Marjoram and Peppermint essential oils massaged on the forehead help with headaches and mental fogginess symptoms
Finally, some particular foods that often promote an adverse reaction in sufferers of leaky gut syndrome are chocolate, spicy foods, peanuts, tomatoes, hot peppers, any carbonated beverages, citrus drinks, black tea and coffee, eggs, dairy and salt.
If suffering from leaky gut syndrome, assess how you feel when eating these foods and work from there.