Approximately 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates famously quoted that “all disease begins in the gut”. This makes sense if you take a step back and consider that the gut (or the intestines to be more exact) is the site where we need to absorb all the nutrients needed to build each and every cell in our body so we can function correctly whilst also being the barrier between the body and the outside world and protecting us from harmful bacteria, toxins and countless other things.
The more I study the body the more I realise its innate wisdom and that everything is designed for a reason. This includes the intestines which when laid out flat are the size of a tennis court (and the thickness of an eyelid) – all in aid of nutrient absorption. Consideration of the sheer size of the intestines help explain why damage in the form of leaky gut has the potential to have such far reaching ramifications.
So let’s rewind for a second – what is leaky gut?
Leaky gut is a more colloquial term for increased intestinal permeability which occurs when the lining of your intestines loses its ability to be selectively permeable. When this happens, in addition to nutrients, the intestines let proteins (gluten), large undigested food particles, toxins and other substances cross into the bloodstream. This results in the immune system (of which 80% actually sits in the lining of the gut to protect us against such invaders) going into overdrive and inflammation all over the body.
From autoimmune disease to fatigue and brain fog and much more
As mentioned in this article, leaky gut is one of the underlying causes of all autoimmune disease. However, it goes way beyond this as leaky gut and the resulting inflammation can cause many other conditions too.
This list of symptoms includes bloating, constipation / diarrhea, fatigue, weight gain, joint pain, headaches, infertility, brain fog, food and chemical allergies and sensitivities, asthma, colds, psoriasis, depression, anxiety, heart disease and even breast tenderness. Are any of these familiar?
Leaky gut also doesn’t just lead to one condition and stop there. As leaky gut prevents the proper absorption of food, the longer it continues, the more nutrient deficient you become and less equipped you are to repair the lining of the gut and any other damage being done. A self-perpetuating spiral which could result in chronic disease.
What causes leaky gut?
Essentially anything that causes inflammation of the gut lining! I will delve into just a few here
A compromised digestive system
A compromised digestive system (much more common that you think which I will touch upon in a later article) or eating a diet containing processed food which is not properly prepared leads to the food which enters our intestinal tract (known as chyme) assaulting the intestinal lining.
Commercial polyunsaturated vegetable and nut oils, gluten, casein (from conventional dairy) and sugar are some of the worst offenders. Grains, pulses and nuts when not properly prepared can cause damage too. Nature has equipped these with natural defence mechanisms to protect themselves from invaders.. When we eat such foods without preparing them (e.g. soaking and sprouting) these can….you guessed it…damage your gut.
Bacteria play a crucial role in our bodies - after all they outnumber our cells by ten fold. They protect the lining of our intestines, are also involved in digestion of foods and producing vitamins such as vitamins B6, B12 and K2 which we need to function.
The good bacteria should keep the bad bacteria in check but this is often not the case. Bad pathogens like candida, E. Coli and H. Pylori have taken over. This means the intestinal cells are no longer protected, we no longer receive the nutrients we require and such bad bacteria (and the toxins they produce) are take over our bodies.
Antibiotics are one of the worst culprits for causing this bacterial imbalance. However, the use of other pharmaceutical products like the hormone contraceptive pill, eating non-organic animal products where the animals which have been treated with antibiotics and eating refined carbohydrates and sugar also have a detrimental effect.
Chronic stress and toxin overload
Two other factors which have a huge impact on the gut are chronic stress – which switches off digestion – and toxic overload.
Stress leads to undigested foods passing to the intestines where they are able to ferment, putrefy and rancidity which in turn affects our bacterial balance and the gut. And chemicals – where do I start! We are faced with so many chemicals in today’s society all which can inflame the lining of the gut. Pesticides cover many of the foods we eat, then we constantly are exposed to perfumes, cleaning products, car fumes, beauty products the list is endless!
Healing leaky gut
This is all about the 4R’s. Remove, replace, repair and rebalance.
First - it is essential to remove those culprits which are causing the issue. Everyone is bioindividual and therefore what is causing your leaky gut could be totally different to the person next door . That being said, refined processed foods, toxic exposure and stress are likely to be a culprit regardless and their elimination is crucial if you want to heal.
In terms of the replace, repair and rebalance part, eating the most nutrient dense diet possible focusing on foods which are well cooked and easy to digest is the way to go. After all, as well as repairing the gut and the body we are also needing to focus on reversing deficiencies which are likely to have crept into the body.
The top 6 foods I would recommend include:
1. Bone broth or stock
Mineral rich and full of gut healing gelatine. I personally love to drink this like a cup of tea but I understand that this will not suit everyone. If this is the case, use the broth to cook meats, veggies or whatever you fancy. It will taste delicious. There is a recipe on my blog here.
2. Healthy fats
Saturated fats (safe to use at high temperatures) are an essential component of cell membranes and omega 3 fats reduce inflammation. Excellent sources of such fat include raw egg yolks, saturated animal fats (e.g. beef tallow from organic grass fed cows and duck fat), fatty fish like wild caught salmon and grass fed butter. If these healing properties were not enough to satisfy you, fats also help you absorb fat soluble vitamins.
3. Fermented foods
Full of good bacteria to will help rebalance your gut microbiome. Such foods have shown a huge resurgence in recent years and rightly so – these and broths are both traditional foods from our ancestors which we seemed to have forgotten. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, beet kvass, apple cider vinegar and kefir and it is really fun to make some of these too if you fancy.
4. Animal meat
Meats contain the amino acids required by the body to rebuild its cells and are also essential for detoxification. Organ meat (organic only please) should be included as a priority as they are packed with nutrients.
5. A rainbow of low starch vegetables
Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in these vegetables will help to reduce the inflammation in the body as well as replenish nutrient stores. When healing a leaky gut it is best to steam or cook your vegetables in broth to make sure that they are easy for the body to digest.
6. Ginger and mint tea
Both sooth the stomach and help get rid of unwanted bacteria and toxins in the intestines whilst promoting the secretion of bile. They make a great replacement to coffee or other caffeinated beverages (in addition alcohol of course).
What have you got too loose?
So why not try a properly prepared whole foods nourishing diet and start to make steps towards getting rid of that condition that has been bothering you for a while. Cells in the intestines replicate every 3 to 5 days so you will might start to see improvements quite quickly depending on the condition.
I really believe that Hippocrates was right and that a compromised intestine is one of the main causes of many of these common but not normal conditions which are now so prevalent.
It might be hard giving up things that you are used to but there are endless delicious recipes using a the ingredients above – you won’t be looking back. And of course if you need some inspiration please drop me a line.