Leaky Gut: Definition, Causes, and Dietary Solutions
Leaky gut is becoming an epidemic. Though it is not yet a condition widely recognized by the medical community, hundreds of millions of people worldwide may be suffering symptoms and diseases linked to leaky gut syndrome. Yet, many of them do not even know what a leaky gut is, and many doctors deny its very existence.
The refusal of the medical community to consider leaky gut as a valid condition is odd, considering every new doctor is required to take the Hippocratic Oath. This oath is attributed to Hippocrates, a revered Greek physician of the Classical period, who had much to say about health and nutrition and health and the gut. Hippocrates was quoted as saying, “All disease begins in the gut.”
It is strange, then, that neither nutrition nor the gut has been a focus of the medical community. But that is changing. It has to change as the number of studies showing the role of the digestive system in disease and health conditions is overwhelming.
Definition of leaky gut syndrome and how it occurs
Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the lining of the intestine becomes porous. This allows toxins, undigested food molecules, yeast, and all waste — substances that are poisonous to the body — to enter the bloodstream.
The intestinal lining is a crucial component of the immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells are connected by proteins called tight junctions. Their jobs are to limit the passage of molecules and ions through the space between the cells. This is not an easy job. Tight junctions must be open enough to allow nutrients into the bloodstream but not so open as to allow dangerous substances to enter.
In normal digestion, the tight junctions do not allow any dangerous substances access to the bloodstream. But if these tight junctions become open (permeable), they no longer perform their job correctly. Any and all un-screened molecules can flow directly into the bloodstream, causing a host of health conditions and diseases.
This is a big problem because the digestive system contains enough toxins, inflammatory substances, and bacteria to be lethal to the host. Our only protection against these deadly substances is tight junctions.
Immediate effects of leaky gut
When these dangerous substances enter your bloodstream, your liver is called into action. The liver is the largest organ in the body, probably because it has a very important job to perform. One of the most important jobs of the liver is screening toxic substances out of the bloodstream. So, when all these dangerous foreign substances enter your bloodstream, the liver works constantly to remove them from your body.
But when these dangerous substances are continually flowing into the bloodstream, as occurs with leaky gut, the liver usually cannot keep up. Then the immune system gets involved, trying to rid your body of these evil invaders. It, too, usually cannot keep up with the onslaught of foreign bodies. These foreign bodies make their way to tissues throughout your body, where they burrow inside, causing inflammation.
These inflamed tissues signal the immune system that they are distressed. The immune system sends white blood cells to fight the foreign invaders that just happen to be inside the tissue. So what happens? The white blood cells (the immune system) start attacking healthy tissue. This is how autoimmune disease occurs.
Leaky gut and autoimmune disease
Autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system cannot distinguish between its own cells and foreign ones, causing it to mistakenly target healthy cells. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are more than 100 known autoimmune diseases.
Here are 6 of the most well-known autoimmune diseases:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
Though it is not known whether leaky gut causes these conditions, what is known is that the rates of these diseases have increased dramatically in the past couple of decades. Even the rates of type 1 diabetes are increasing. Is it a coincidence that the rates of these autoimmune diseases have increased as fast-food and processed-food consumption (risk factors for leaky gut) have increased?
Health conditions associated with a leaky gut
A leaky gut doesn’t just increase the risk of autoimmune disorders. It has been linked to many symptoms and health conditions, including:
- Thyroid disorders
- Gastric ulcers
- Fatty liver
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Certain types of cancer
You might be wondering, at this point, what conditions are not linked to leaky gut?
Common causes of leaky gut syndrome plus SANE Solutions
There are several underlying causes of leaky gut, but you don’t have to be a victim of this condition. There are easy steps you can take to cure or prevent a leaky gut. Here are 2 causes of leaky gut, along with some SANE solutions.
1. Poor diet
Regularly eating a poor diet is a major cause of a leaky gut. The food you put into your body is vitally important to the way your body operates. To keep your cells happy and healthy, the food needs to provide all the essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Equally important, food must not contain ingredients harmful to the body.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) fails on both counts. SAD consists of high amounts of ultra-processed foods that contain no fiber and few nutrients. It is also loaded with chemicals to give it the smell, taste, and texture of real food. Most of them also contain combinations of ingredients and chemicals — such as sugar and trans fats — that promote cravings for that food, ensuring that you’ll keep eating it.
And it’s working. A recent study revealed more than half of the typical American’s diet consists of ultra-processed foods and that a whopping 90% of our excess sugar intake comes from these foods. (Examples of ultra-processed foods include microwave dinners, soups, breakfast cereals, pastries, baked goods, sodas.)
The problem is that sugar and trans fats — and probably many of the chemicals in ultra-processed foods — cause inflammation. This can damage your intestinal lining, causing the tight junctions to separate, allowing toxins to leak into your bloodstream.
SANE Solutions: dietary fixes for leaky gut
Here are some easy ways to adjust your diet to heal or prevent leaky gut.
Reduce consumption of processed food
You can do this by purchasing more whole foods. For instance, shop the perimeter of the grocery store for produce and meats. Fresh or frozen produce and meats are great as long as they aren’t ultra-processed. An easy way to know whether a food is ultra-processed is to check the ingredient label. If it contains more than 4 or 5 ingredients, it is ultra-processed and likely contains chemicals that could promote a leaky gut.
Once you purchase these foods, make your own meals at home. This not only saves money in the long run, but it heals or prevents leaky gut. Even if you’ve been eating mostly ultra-processed foods, it is not that difficult to reduce consumption. Just don’t expect to go “cold turkey.” That would be way too much of a shock to your system. Instead, start gradually, slowly replacing ultra-processed foods with whole foods.
Cut back on added sugars
If you cut back on ultra-processed foods, you’ll automatically cut back on your sugar intake. Again, don’t expect to go cold turkey. Research shows refined sugar to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. So take it easy and slowly cut the sugar out of your diet.
As with processed foods, you can also do this by making simple substitutions. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Soda: If you think you can never give up soda, SANE has an easy solution. Simply purchase plain carbonated water and blend it with one strawberry or other fruit. You’ll have instant soda with far less sugar and none of it refined!
Candy bars: Here’s the thing about candy bars (and carbs in general.) Insulin has to shuttle the glucose it creates from your bloodstream quickly to keep your blood sugar within a normal range. That’s why you become hungry so quickly after eating refined carbs or sugar. After eating one candy bar, you’ll be hungry again in less than an hour and need to eat another candy bar. A better way to go is to eat snacks that contain no added sugar, snacks that keep you satisfied for hours. Any snack fitting those criteria will be one containing water, fiber, and protein. Your best bet? SANE’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cravings Killer or SANE’s Vanilla Cashew Protein/Meal Bar.
Granulated sugar (Sucrose): You do not have to go without the sweet taste of sugar. You can use all-natural sweeteners, such as Stevia, Erythritol, and Xylitol. If you want some sweetener for baking, use Xylitol, as it works better for that purpose. If you want to sweeten your green tea or anything else, you might want to use Erythritol rather than Stevia, as it tastes more like “real” sugar.
2. Chronic stress
Chronic stress can also lead to a leaky gut, and it does so by promoting inflammation. You see, diet is not the only thing that can cause inflammation. Studies show chronic stress weakens the immune system, allowing bacteria and other pathogens to infest the body. This can cause widespread systemic inflammation, which makes its way to the digestive system. A leaky gut can result.
SANE Solutions to reduce stress
Chronic stress has not only been linked to a leaky gut but it has also been linked to many other physical and mental disorders. For your overall health, it is best to make a point to reduce stress whenever you can.
Here are a few tips to get you started at reducing stress:
Slow down: Running around like a crazy person keeps your stress hormones high, and they stay high as long as you remain hyperactive. Just the act of taking a deep breath and physically and mentally slowing down lowers your stress hormones, making you feel calm. Try it and see.
Practice mindfulness: Most of us are so busy dwelling on the past or thinking about what we’re going to do in the next minute or hour or day, or year that we never think about right now. But you know something? Peace is only present in the NOW. Anxiety and stress only occur when you negatively anticipate a future event. So, a few times every day, pay total attention to what is going on in your present moment. What do you feel? Smell? Touch? Taste? You may only be able to stay in the NOW a few seconds at a time in the beginning, but with practice, you’ll be able to extend it for 5 minutes or more. This is one of the best ways to cure chronic stress and cure or prevent leaky gut.
Have fun. Anything enjoyable lowers stress hormones, so be sure to regularly participate in activities you enjoy. Go out with friends. Rent a comedy movie. Go roller skating. Practice yoga. Take daily walks in the park. Play fetch with your dog. Anytime you have fun, you’ll feel the stress fade away.
Heal or prevent leaky gut with the SANE Diet
The SANE Diet is an excellent way to heal or prevent leaky gut because it focuses on whole foods that are nutritious and that also have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
The 4 SANE food groups are non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense proteins, whole-food fats, and low-fructose fruits. Remember to have at least 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables per day, 3-5 servings of nutrient-dense proteins, 3-6 servings of whole-food fats, and 0-3 servings of low-fructose fruits.
SANE foods are so satisfying that…well…when you enjoy a SANE Diet, you won’t miss processed foods or refined sugars. You’ll be so full of SANE foods you won’t even think about eating something inSANE. But if you do indulge in something inSANE, don’t beat yourself up. Progress, not perfection, is the most important thing to remember on your SANE journey. This attitude will help reduce your stress levels and, when combined with the SANE Diet, will help heal or prevent leaky gut.
Next step: Prevent a leaky gut with SANE
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