If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know how serious I am about gut health.
Part of that emphasis is due to that fact that I have been living with Crohn’s Disease for just around 15 years now…
…which has made me have to really step up my gut health knowledge and focus.
Crohn’s Disease really sucks…but I think it has been both a blessing and a curse for me…
A curse due to the fact that Crohn’s can be a real pain in the ass (no pun intended) when it flares up.
A blessing because I been able to gain so much knowledge and insight from the amazing doctors and clinicians I have worked with over the years…
…as well as learn a ton of useful tips from my own trial and error.
Now I am able to pass that knowledge on to help people like you fix their belly issues – and that feels awesome.
With that said, I decided to write this article because quite a few people messaged me last week and told me they have been having some really annoying stomach problems.
Either they can’t poop (very common) or they can’t stop pooping (also common, but slightly less common), or they just have chronic gastrointestinal distress (belly ache, nausea, bloating, IBS, etc).
I know that it is impossible to write a single “cure all” article that will fix everyone’s problems because the gastrointestinal system is so complex (and we are all have different issues, genetics, symptoms, causes, etc).
But I do believe that this article will address and help fix a few common problems that many people are suffering from these days.
So today’s article is going to focus on a condition I believe causes many people to feel chronically sick these days.
A condition most doctors and clinicians refer to as Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome is not yet fully understood, but the condition is real – and experts are just now only beginning to wrap their minds around it and truly understand how it works.
Now, researchers and experts are still trying to understand the relationship between your gut, disease, and autoimmune disorders, but the evidence linking these things is very strong.
The evidence shows that the gut is most likely linked to all autoimmune disorders – which is why disorders like Crohn’s Disease, Reactive Arthritis, and various other inflammatory conditions may be directly attributed to increased gut permeability (and I will explain what gut permeability is in a bit).
Research also suggests that common ailments such as chronic abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, food allergies, mood swings and more, may also be directly related to gut permeability.
Despite this compelling evidence, leaky gut syndrome is still a very difficult diagnosis to make for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the symptoms can range greatly in terms of variety and severity and can be very different for everyone.
These symptoms also appear to be unconnected and caused by a variety of different factors – and there is no specific test to confirm a diagnosis.
This makes identifying and isolating the true cause of your symptoms to be very difficult.
As a result, there is still a fair amount of skepticism in the mainstream medical community about the legitimacy of leaky gut as an actual diagnosis.
The good news, however, is that there is hard evidence out there now that leaky gut is indeed a real and recognizable condition – and many doctors are now finally beginning to study leaky gut syndrome and discuss new ways to treat it.
WHAT IS LEAKY GUT SYNDROME?
The term Leaky Gut is just another way of describing intestinal or gut hyperpermeability.
It’s basically just a fancy medical way of saying the intestinal lining has become more porous – a condition where a bunch of developing holes (that may gradually become larger in size) start to form and the intestinal filtering process is no longer functioning efficiently.
Leaky Gut is thought to be caused by food sensitivities, cytotoxic drugs, NSAIDS, chronic inflammation, antibiotics, excessive alcohol consumption, compromised immunity, and/or radiation.
Here’s how it works:
The intestinal lining works on the front lines for our immune system – I like to think of the lining as a goal line defense.
Its goal is to prevent the bad guys (undigested food particles, bacteria, toxins) from getting into the end zone and scoring a touchdown (i.e. keep the bad guys out of your bloodstream).
The outer layers of this sophisticated defense system (Intestinal Epithelial Cells) are connected by Tight Junctions (TJs), and these structures represent the major barrier within the pathway between the epithelial cells that line the digestive track.
At the tips of these cells are the microvilli, which absorb properly digested nutrients and transport them through the epithelial cell and into the bloodstream.
When digestion is functioning normally (i.e. all molecules are screened properly and only pass into the blood stream through the mucosa cells) the Tight Junctions typically stay closed…
…but when TJs are disrupted, they become permeable or “open” and allow un-screened molecules (i.e. bacteria, toxins, pathogens, yeast, incompletely digested proteins and fats, as well as unabsorbed waste) to flow directly into the bloodstream.
Hence the term “Leaky Gut”.
As this process continues over time, the intestinal lining can become so damaged that it will become less and less able to protect the internal environment and filter critical nutrients…
…so EVEN MORE bacteria, toxins, pathogens, yeast, incompletely digested proteins and fats, as well as unabsorbed waste can leak out of the intestines and flow directly into the bloodstream.
In most cases, the liver will start working overtime to try to filter our all of the junk that’s escaping through your intestinal lining.
However, as your gut becomes more and more damaged and porous over time, it may be hard for the liver to keep up with the increased and constant flow of bacteria, toxins, pathogens, yeast, incompletely digested proteins and fats, and waste flowing directly into your bloodstream.
As more and more of these foreign invaders break through your weakened gut barrier and pass through the weakened and overworked liver filters they will begin to settle and absorb into various tissue(s) throughout your body.
This is where the situation becomes critical and the body begins to manufacture T cells and antibodies directed against self-antigens in its own cells and tissues – triggering an autoimmune reaction that causes the attacked tissues to inflame.
Once your body begins to produce antibodies specifically designed to fight these foreign “invaders” (i.e. the foods you eat, toxins, etc) – your immune system can develop reactions to many of them (these reactions can manifest as symptoms such as bloating, cramps, gas, constipation, diarrhea, as well as joint pain, skin rashes, allergies, headaches, etc).
As a result of this immune activation, the gut gradually becomes more damaged and inflamed over time.
Healthy cells and tissues are destroyed and the enterocytes experience more intestinal cell damage.
The microvilli that line the intestines and absorb nutrients become unable to efficiently do their job, which leaves the person’s body unable to perform important functions.
Basic tasks like fighting microbes (tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites, and fungi) are performed with less efficiency.
As the immune system continues to fight back against the ever increasing and constant flow of garbage that is streaming into your bloodstream it will eventually become overworked and your defenses will weaken.
When this vicious cycle continue for weeks/months/years your body may ultimately end up fighting itself, thus leading to a variety of “food sensitivities” and chronic “autoimmune diseases”.
Diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, vasculitis, urticaria (hives), alopecia areata, polymyalgia rheumatica, Raynaud’s syndrome, vitiligo, thyroiditis, and Sjogren’s syndrome have all been linked with a leaky gut.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking…wow…I had no idea all of that could happen inside of my gut.
Thing is, many folks simply do not understand how complex the human gastrointestinal system is, and contrary to popular belief, your gut isn’t just a food processing and storage depot.
One of the reasons your gut has so much influence on your health is because it is home to roughly 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) bacteria (approximately 3 pounds worth) that line your intestinal tract.
These microorganisms (over 400 known diverse species) outnumber the cells in your body by a factor of 10 to 1.
It’s both an intricate network of microbiombes – as well as a defense barrier between the outside world and your internal physiology.
It is home to your digestive system, your nervous system, as well as your immune system.
When this defense system (aka your gut wall) is compromised, this can create gut leaks, where large particles of partially digested foods and bacteria can pass into your bloodstream.
When this happens, your body mounts an attack on what it sees as an invader (triggering an immune response) and you’ll feel various symptoms, including digestive distress.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A LEAKY GUT?
Generally speaking, a leaky gut manifests itself with a variety of the following symptoms:
-Abdominal pain, gas, and bloating
-Chronic diarrhea or IBS
-Fatigue and malaise
-Increased inflammation and joint pain
-Poor exercise tolerance
-Cognitive and memory issues
-Food allergies or intolerances
-Shortness of breath
-Bad moods and toxic feelings
You may reading this now and thinking “oh no… I experience several of those symptoms on a regular basis…I must have this disease.”
I don’t want you to freak out and start thinking you may have a serious disease…so let me just state for the record that leaky gut syndrome is not a disease.
It is more of a step in the manifestation or development of other diseases.
In my humble opinion, leaky gut syndrome is more of a structural and functional disorder that requires nutritional repair and re-balancing, not traditional drug therapies.
So today, my goal is to simply open your eyes to the possibility that a leaky gut could be the root cause of the symptoms you are experiencing.
With that said, the symptoms of a leaky gut can vary greatly, but most minor leaks typically only result in common gastrointestinal annoyances like bloating, gas, or cramps.
Larger leaks are more likely to generate more severe symptoms that can be felt body-wide, such as: fatigue, rashes, joint pain, asthma, and autoimmune responses.
As the condition of the gut degrades over time…symptoms typically also increase in severity.
So to clarify, no you don’t have a serious “disease” per-se…
…BUT a leaky gut could be the catalyst to what is causing your specific symptoms…
…and these symptoms could be the first stage in the development of something a lot more serious.
HOW DO YOU GET LEAKY GUT?
Modern life is hard on your gut, and due to the various difficulties and conveniences of the modern lifestyle, our digestive tracts are prone to issues now more than ever.
Now, some of us may have had digestive problems originate early in life (food sensitivities and lactose intolerance are prime examples).
These issues may come and go over time, but often show up when we are stressed.
On the flip side of that, some of us have also developed issues from medical treatments or from taking certain medications that can cause damage to the lining in our gut.
Things like painkillers (NSAIDS), corticosteroids, radiation, chemotherapy, antibiotics, and long term use of aspirin can also damage our gut lining, negatively affect our intestinal flora, and throw our digestive system out of wack.
Other common things that can affect our gastrointestinal track include sugar, processed foods, alcohol, any food that triggers an allergic response, and bacteria.
Other irritants include chronic stress, toxins, and microbiombe imbalances.
When you look at the list and see how common most of the gut irritants have become in our daily lives, it’s not surprising that most of us have suffered with stomach problems, allergies, and various other annoying ailments over the years.
In fact, some experts believe that virtually everybody’s gut leaks to some degree.
We have all suffered with gastrointestinal issues at some point in our lives…but these common irritants usually don’t randomly decide one day to launch a massive strike against our digestive system…
…instead, gradual exposure to them leads to chronic irritation, inflammation, and eventually tiny holes (or leaks) in the super delicate and thin lining of your intestinal wall.
These leaks can cause an abundance of toxins in the system, which can be a major burden on our bodies.
This is why it’s critically important to recognize these imbalances as soon as possible and try to repair them naturally – before they lead to severe and chronic health problems.
HOW CAN I FIX A LEAKY GUT?
Digging deeper into the science of how Leaky Gut Syndrome actually works…I stumbled onto a few interesting research papers that hypothesized several factors that could possibly be triggers to opening the “doorways” to Leaky Gut.
A few variables that really grabbed my attention were Zonulin, Gliadin, and Lectin.
Zonulin is a protein that modulates the permeability of tight junctions between cells of the wall of the digestive tract. It has been implicated in the pathogenesis of coeliac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, and is currently being studied as a target for vaccine adjuvants. (ALBA Therapeutics is developing a zonulin receptor antagonist, AT-1001, that is currently in phase 2 clinical trials)
Gliadin (glycoprotein present in wheat) activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules. It’s a class of proteins present in wheat and several other cereals within the grass genus triticum. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. Gliadin is the soluble aspect of it while glutenin is insoluble. There are three main types of gliadin (α, ϒ, and ω), to which the body is intolerant in coeliac (or celiac) disease.
Lectin is a protein in seeds and other parts of certain plants that binds with glycoproteins and glycolipids on the surface of animal cells, causing agglutination. Some lectins agglutinate erythrocytes in specific blood groups, and others stimulate the production of T lymphocytes. They are ‘sticky molecules’ and their stickiness also allows them to bind to the lining of the small intestine and cause problems.
Some of the most interesting research I found came from world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano M.D., the Director of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Center for Celiac Research in Boston.
Dr Fasano proposes that autoimmune/inflammatory/stomach disorders can occur when Zonulin pathways are altered (i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome)…and that these diseases can all be reversed by reestablishing the zonulin-dependent intestinal barrier function.
Here’s the Abstract from Dr. Fasano’s paper:
The primary functions of the gastrointestinal tract have traditionally been perceived to be limited to the digestion and absorption of nutrients and to electrolytes and water homeostasis. A more attentive analysis of the anatomic and functional arrangement of the gastrointestinal tract, however, suggests that another extremely important function of this organ is its ability to regulate the trafficking of macromolecules between the environment and the host through a barrier mechanism. Together with the gut-associated lymphoid tissue and the neuroendocrine network, the intestinal epithelial barrier, with its intercellular tight junctions, controls the equilibrium between tolerance and immunity to non-self antigens. Zonulin is the only physiological modulator of intercellular tight junctions described so far that is involved in trafficking of macromolecules and, therefore, in tolerance/immune response balance. When the finely tuned zonulin pathway is deregulated in genetically susceptible individuals, both intestinal and extraintestinal autoimmune, inflammatory, and neoplastic disorders can occur. This new paradigm subverts traditional theories underlying the development of these diseases and suggests that these processes can be arrested if the interplay between genes and environmental triggers is prevented by reestablishing the zonulin-dependent intestinal barrier function. This review is timely given the increased interest in the role of a “leaky gut” in the pathogenesis of several pathological conditions targeting both the intestine and extraintestinal organs.
Zonulin is what opens up the tiny spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining in order for nutrients and various other molecules to get in and out of the intestine…
…but in a Leaky Gut scenario the spaces between the cells open too wide which allows larger protein molecules to escape into the bloodstream.
As discussed earlier, this process can trigger an immunologic reaction.
The worst part is that once the body mounts a defense against any particular protein that escapes, it becomes trained to react to those proteins every time they appear which can lead to a chronic inflammatory process.
Based on Dr. Fasano’s research there are two key triggers to open the zonulin pathways: (1) gut bacteria in the small intestine and (2) gluten.
He suggests that gliadin causes zonulin levels to increase in people who have Celiac Disease as well as in people who do not have Celiac Disease.
As Zonulin levels rise, the seal between the intestinal cells gets weaker and weaker, thus opening up larger spaces (pathways) between cells that allow numerous unwanted particles to pass through.
In conclusion, Dr. Fasano states:
The classical paradigm of inflammatory pathogenesis involving specific genetic makeup and exposure to environmental triggers has been challenged recently by the addition of a third element, the loss of intestinal barrier function. Genetic predisposition, miscommunication between innate and adaptive immunity, exposure to environmental triggers, and loss of intestinal barrier function secondary to the activation of the zonulin pathway by food-derived environmental triggers or changes in gut microbiota all seem to be key ingredients involved in the pathogenesis of inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. This new theory implies that once the pathological process is activated, it is not auto-perpetuating. Rather, it can be modulated or even reversed by preventing the continuous interplay between genes and the environment. Since zonulin-dependent TJ dysfunction allows such interactions, new therapeutic strategies aimed at reestablishing the intestinal barrier function by downregulating the zonulin pathway offer innovative and not-yet-explored approaches for the management of these debilitating chronic diseases.
Leaky gut syndrome has been widely accepted in the integrative and functional-medicine community for a long time, but now, it is finally starting to be acknowledged by mainstream medicine.
In my opinion, this shift in paradigm is largely due to our new understanding of the microbiome.
We are now slowly beginning to realize just how much human health and behavior are influenced by the large populations of microorganisms that live in our guts.
So if you’re reading through this and are thinking that your annoying stomach problems may be leaky gut related you’re in luck.
It just so happens that the cells of the intestinal wall replace themselves every three to six days, which means the gut can repair itself quickly (provided it’s given the proper support).
The bad news is that our own internal/natural healing powers are limited.
Our bodies can only fight so many fires at one time…so this normal maintenance and repair of the intestinal wall can get deferred if we are suffering from inflammation, disease, or chronic stress.
I know all of this may be a lot to take in right away and you may feel a bit overwhelmed.
So to simplify things and get you started on the right track, I’m going to introduce you to the system I used a while back to help me fix my annoying gut problems.
It is a 6 step process that’s designed to address the root cause(s) of the problem, reverse imbalances, and help you heal quickly and efficiently.
Step 1: Remove (Eliminate Offender Foods)
This is the first step in improving and restoring your gut health and integrity.
In this step you’ll begin an elimination diet to identify and remove everything that irritates the intestinal mucosa.
Common irritants include: gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, alcohol, chemical additives, and NSAIDS (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, aspirin, etc).
Pro Tip: watch out for emulsifiers like lecithin and carraggenan which are very common in most protein powders and can irritate the gut significantly.
In this stage I highly recommend getting checked out by an allergy specialist and doing food sensitivity testing so you can take a lot of guess work out of the elimination process.
Quite often, many of the healthy foods you eat regularly are chief offenders you would never suspect are doing damage – and a professional can help you structure an elimination diet a lot more efficiently than you can probably do on your own.
However, if you do decide to go the solo route, I suggest starting a food journal.
Eliminate a food for two weeks, then reintroduce it into your diet and see what happens.
Be sure to write down everything you eat in your journal…document exactly how it made you feel and how it affects you.
If a certain food makes you feel gassy, bloated, tired, gives you a headache, joint pain, etc, add that food to your elimination list.
This is where the phrase “listen to your body” really becomes important.
When it comes to anything that’s health or fitness related, it’s always a good idea to track your progress from the beginning to see if any improvements are being made as you go along.
Pro Tip: Alcohol and NSAIDs use literally destroy the gut. Countless studies have shown that NSAIDs cause damage to the gastric, intestinal, and colonic mucosa in experimental animals and in humans. NSAIDs also inhibit Prostaglandins, substances needed to rebuild the gut lining and protect the gastric mucosa against injury. Alcohol can damage the gut lining, place heavy stress on the liver, and rob the gut of important nutrients. It’s best to avoid both, especially while healing.
Pro Tip: It is important to rule out infections from parasites and various other pathogenic microorganisms. If you find that an elimination diet does not help, I strongly recommend visiting a doctor for a stool analysis. You could have the best gut healing plan ever, but if you have a parasite it won’t do you a whole lot of good.
Pro Tip: If you feel as if your situation is critical, you may want to also look into getting an Intestinal Permeability Assessment, which is a noninvasive assessment of small intestinal absorption and barrier function in the bowel. This test analyzes urine for the clearance of two non-metabolized sugars, mannitol and lactulose, identifying intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) and malabsorption.
To get you started (and make things as easy on you as possible) below is the same template I used to heal my damaged and inflamed gut a few years back.
I strongly recommend you avoid:
1. All grains (Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Wheat (as well as sprouted wheat like Ezekiel Bread and cross gluten reactive foods) due to the gluten and various other zonulin pathway triggering proteins.
2. Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, tomatillos, goji berries etc. and spices derived from peppers, including chili powder, curry, red pepper, paprika, etc). Nightshades contain two primary toxins: Saponins and Lectins, both of which can increase gut permeability and act as an adjuvant, thus exaggerating immune responses.
3. All derivative products from nightshade food sources (i.e. nightshade derived oils).
4. All GMO food (lectins are often merged into modified varieties of GMO foods in order to enhance their natural pest and fungal resistance).
5. Dairy (this usually means no whey protein).
6. All processed foods (for obvious reasons).
7. Nutritive sweeteners – (i.e. fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and erythritol) Note: I had a limited daily fructose allowance from fruits.
8. Non-nutritive sweeteners – (i.e. saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose and stevia) Note: I had a limited daily stevia allowance but rarely used it.
9. NSAIDS (Naproxen, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, etc). NSAIDS block Prostaglandins, which have a protective effect on the mucosal lining of the gut. NSAIDS may also may trigger the recurrence of IBD in patients who are in remission causing bleeding and inflammation.
10. Emulsifiers, thickeners, food colors/additives, or anything that said “natural flavors” (these ingredients are in a ton of “health foods” including protein powders).
11. Alcohol (yes even wine).
12. Nuts & Seeds (including coffee, cocoa, and seed-based spices). I did eat small amounts of almond butter when I was absolutely starving.
The primary goal of this elimination diet is to remove all potential gut irritants and immune system stimulators.
Step 2: Replace (Supplements Can Help)
Step 2 involves providing your body with the fuel it needs to repair the gut lining.
Here we want to improve digestion by replenishing enzymes to help the villi/microvilli get the nutrients they need to repair and revive.
You see, when the gut is leaky, the microvilli are unable to absorb nutrients as efficiently – so in order to assist your damaged gut repair and heal I suggest you do the following:
1. Eat whole foods. Eating real, fresh, natural foods will provide the small intestine with the vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and phytonutrients that it needs to heal. I highly recommend the following sources:
-Top quality meats: wild/grass fed/cage free/pasture raised bison, salmon, white fish, chicken, turkey, egg whites, etc.
-Veggies: green, red, purple, yellow, white, and orange. Cruciferous and non starchy veggies are highly recommended.
Good sources include: spinach, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collard and mustard greens).
-Fruits: organic, if possible. All varieties. (Try to keep fructose intake lower than 25g per day).
2. Eat healthy fats: studies have shown that adding healthy fats (especially essential fatty acids) can help reduce inflammation, improve tight junction function and enable the gut to fend of additional injury.
Good sources include: coconut oil, avocado oil, fresh avocado, fatty fish, healthy animal fats, fish oil, cold water fish, nuts, and seeds.
Pro Tip: if you have severe digestive issues I suggest restricting nuts and seeds.
3. Increase fiber intake: as your body begins to heal it will filter waste and toxins through your colon so you’ll need to eat plenty of fiber in order to eliminate the gunk quickly and efficiently. So be sure to include plenty of fiber with each meal.
Good sources include: apples, pears, raspberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oats, spinach, kidney beans, navy beans, and almonds, etc).
Pro Tip: I recommend eating between 25-30 grams of fiber daily. It can be difficult to get all of the fiber you need from foods sometimes so I highly recommend using a fiber supplement.
Pro Tip: I recommend gradually increasing your fiber intake. Do not just go from 0-100 in a single day because this will make you feel terrible. Also, if you have a sensitive gut you will probably want to avoid beans, oats, and nuts.
4. Use digestive enzymes: there are many different digestive enzymes that all perform specific tasks at various stages of the digestive process.
From mouth enzymes (amylase), to the stomach enzymes (most notably, gastric amylase and pepsin), to the pancreatic enzymes (pancreatic amylase, protease, and lipase; which digest starches/carbohydrates, proteins, and fats respectively); these enzymes provide great aid to the digestive process and prepare the nutrients for absorption.
By supplementing with digestive enzymes before you eat you’ll make it a lot easier for your system to break down food and assimilate nutrients.
I cannot understate how important enzyme support is when it comes to healing and rebuilding intestinal villi.
These days I use Digest Gold by Enzymedica – it’s a high potency formula that is superior to most other brands on the market. I take it 3 times a day with larger meals.
5. Use glutamine: Studies have shown that you can heal you gut and restore the integrity of the gut lining by supplementing with the amino acid l-glutamine.
You see, glutamine has been shown to act as a healing agent which can help strengthen, protect, and heal the lining of the intestines and stomach – as well as help restore healthy gut barrier function and ensure the entire digestive process runs smoothly.
I typically use Gifted Nutrition Glutamine (or RenewLife Intestinew).
Here are a few of the other supplements I used during this process:
–Astaxanthin – A powerful antioxidant that provides great protection against free radical damage and improves cellular health. (Hawaiian Version, 12mg once a day).
–Evening Primrose Oil – High in essential fatty acids (gamma-linoleic acid) – which promotes tissue health and provides the building blocks for cell membranes. (1,300-1,500mg daily)
–Lily of The Desert Aloe Vera Juice – Helps aid digestion as well as alleviate constipation/stomach aches/heartburn. It also aids in reducing inflammation, healing damage to internal tissues, and helps “detoxify” the colon. (Taken as needed).
–Slippery Elm Bark Powder – Helps coat and sooth mucous membranes while also absorbing toxins that can cause imbalances in the gut. (Follow the instructions on the label).
–Boswellia – Also known as frankincense, Boswellia is a powerful anti-inflammatory that inhibits the inflammatory enzyme 5-lipoxygenase…which is common in joint pain, allergies, and various other inflammatory conditions. (300mg 65% Boswellic Acids 3 times a day).
–Kyolic Garlic Extract – A powerful antimicrobial herb that cleanses, soothes, and reduces inflammation throughout the digestive tract. It also helps alleviate constipation. Herbs with natural antimicrobial effects like garlic, grapefruit seed extract, golden seal, artemisia, sanguinaria, and gentian have been shown to be helpful in treating inflammatory processes. (Two servings per day)
-Vitamin D – The vitamin D receptor has an important role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosal barrier. I used an app called D-Minder to help optimize my vitamin D levels naturally.
Pro Tip: You may want to add Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) into your rotation because it has been shown to help repair the gut and support a normal mucous lining in the digestive system.
Pro Tip: If you are reading this and have advanced IBD you may want to ask your doctor about prescription strength VSL3, aka the probiotic medical food for the dietary management of patients with Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, or an Ileal Pouch.
Pro Tip: everyone is different and stomach issues usually don’t affect everyone the same way, nor will everyone respond to the same supplements, medicines, or have the same foods trigger symptoms. These supplements may or may not work for you so be sure to do your own research to come up with a plan designed to work for you.
Step 3: Reinoculate (Rebalance Gut Flora)
Once you have patched up the leaks in your gut it is now time to build up the walls defenses.
This step involves putting the good guys back in your gut – a front line of defense that will help protect the digestive tract and keep you healthy.
Now we will encourage the growth of friendly bacteria and supplement with pre/probiotics to assist with growing a healthy layer of good bacteria.
Here’s what you can do to get started:
1. Add a probiotic. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria (I like to think of them as the Special Forces for your gut) that reside within the gastrointestinal tract.
The three primary types are:
1. Lactobacillus acidophilus (the most well-known out of the group) which protects the colon.
2. Lactobacillus bifidus, which protects the small intestine.
3. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which travels through the entire digestive system and supports the efforts of the other two.
Probiotic support will help replenish a mircobiombe damaged by a poor diet or antibiotics and help keep the harmful microorganisms under control. I recommend RenewLife Ultimate Flora 100 Billion (taken before bed).
Pro Tip: It usually requires approximately one month of proper probiotic supplementation in order for natural gut floral to return to optimal levels – and many experts believe that the optimal gut flora balance level should be roughly 85% “friendly” bacteria and 15% “hostile” bacteria.
2. Eat prebiotic and probiotic whole foods. By eating more whole plant-based prebiotic foods you can help support the growth of good bacteria you’re adding in the step above by giving the good bacteria the fuel they need to grow and thrive.
Some of the best prebiotic foods include: bananas, raw onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, and dandelion greens.
On the probiotic side, I would include the following: kimchi, microalge, sauerkraut, coconut kefir, kombucha, and miso.
Pro Tip: I strongly recommend avoiding pasteurized and vinegar-based probiotic foods as these have been shown to kill off good bacteria.
It’s important to keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to restore gut flora using diet alone.
Also, studies have shown that it takes approximately one year on a new diet to produce any type of noticeable change in flora.
Before you get started with any soft of the probiotic supplementation, however, you may want to invest in having a few tests run to check the health of your gut flora.
I’ve had quite a few of these tests done and I’ve found them to be incredibly helpful.
If you decide to go the testing route, I highly recommend using Genova Diagnostics.
I’ve used Geneva quite a few times myself with great results – their stool analysis will help identify abnormal bacteria levels, parasites, yeasts, as well as other gastrointestinal issues.
Once you have a clear profile of what’s going on inside your gut, you can begin crafting a world class gut restoration and/or supplement plan with the help of a Naturopath or Integrative MD.
Step 4: Repair & Rebuild (Increase Cellular Protection)
In this step you’ll focus on healing the intestinal cells and lining.
To do this you’ll probably want to work with a professional who will design a custom program to treat and repair your digestive tract.
Some of the more simple things you can do at home, however, include eating foods rich in vitamins A, beta-carotene, C, E, K, and folic acid.
Also, it may help to include antioxidants like glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine, selenium, carotenoids, pycngenol and flavonoids.
Key nutrients that can help repair your system include: pantothenic acid, N-Acetyl glucosamine, gamma oryzanol, glycyrrhiza, cat’s claw, and zinc.
Other therapies that are worth exploring include methionine, larch, and kiwifruit.
Continue to supplement with with probiotics, digestive enzymes, glutamine, fiber, and essential fatty acids as outlined in Steps 2 and 3.
Step 5: Clear Your Mind and Focus
I think two huge factors in allowing your body to regain optimal health and heal itself are: (1) controlling stress and; (2) getting enough sleep.
Try to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night, and practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga regularly to de-stress and clear your mind of all negative energy.
Also, try to laugh every day.
I believe the mind-body connection is more powerful than many people give it credit for.
You may fix your “Leaky Gut” or your respective disease, but if your mind isn’t healthy you’ll continue to experience symptoms.
I know this from experience.
So try to sort out all of the issues and stressors in your life (relationships, family, work, health, etc) and try to calm your mind.
The goal is to get yourself into a calm, relaxed, happy place emotionally where you’ll experience less stress and anxiety.
Your emotional well-being is SUPER important and I know it can be a difficult ongoing process to re-claim your “mental health” but trust me all of the hard work will be worth it – your belly and loved ones will thank you!
I also highly recommend reading self-help books or talking to a professional if you struggle with the mental aspect of wellness.
Pro Tip: Never be afraid to talk to a friend, relative, or healthcare professional about your mental health. I know it can be a difficult thing to discuss and that there is a certain stigma surrounding “mental health”… but you’ll be thankful you did in the long run. I saw a psychiatrist when I first got sick over 15 years ago and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – and it is something I am not afraid or ashamed to talk about.
Step 6: Maintenance & Optimization
This is arguably the most important step in the entire process because once we start feeling better it is so easy to get lazy and fall back into old habits.
This is just human nature.
But once you’ve got your gut on the right track, it is time to start focusing on lasting lifestyle changes.
Falling back into the old habits that originally caused your leaky gut problem will only increase the chances your old health problems will come back even stronger than ever before.
To support your ongoing gut health plan, I recommend you try the following:
1. Really pay attention to what you eat and how you feel when you eat.
2. Before taking your first bite, look at your food and breathe deeply to take in its aroma.
3. Eat in a relaxed setting, eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly.
4. Avoid eating when you are upset or angry. Wait until you are calm.
5. Wait at least 45 minutes to an hour after you workout before eating.
6. Avoid anything that upsets your stomach.
I know we are all super busy and often times have to rush through meals but it is critically important that we slow down and take time to chew our food.
Chewing is important because it’s the first step of digestion – salivary amylase (an enzyme secreted in saliva) begins the initial digestion process as you chew.
My gastroenterologist used to always tells me “your food should be liquefied by chewing and thoroughly mixed with saliva before swallowing so that you give your food the best possible chance to be digested properly – and that a good rule of thumb is to drink your food.”
Next, it is also very important to eat in a relaxed, no-stress environment…and here’s why.
The gut, also known as the enteric nervous system, is often referred to as your “second brain”.
Home to over 100 million neurons within the intestinal wall, this super sophisticated system (which initiates and sustains digestion on its own) has an intricate relationship with your “regular” nervous system.
The enteric nervous system transmits information throughout the body, signaling the brain and letting it know what’s going on inside your gut.
When you’re stressed, the brain sends stress responses to the gut causing digestive function to decrease as the muscles that push bacteria and waste begin to slow down, reducing blood flow.
Bottom line, stress responses (especially chronic stress over time) can lead to a poorly functioning digestive system.
So do yourself a huge favor and experiment with a few stress reduction techniques if you find yourself chronically stressed or overwhelmed with anxiety on a consistent basis.
I know all of this may be a lot to take in all at once…
…but with time, patience, and a little hard work, you too can heal your annoying gut problems and turn your life around.
Yes, it will be a challenge and the road ahead may be difficult, but you can beat this thing simply by persevering, grinding and relentlessly fighting through the bad days and tough times that may lie ahead…
…and by not letting the voices of doubt be louder than your belief in yourself and your power to fight back.
There will always be struggles on the road to success, so if you’re experiencing illness or hardship right now just know that it’s all part of the plan.
It’s during these struggles that you will find your find your true power and greatest strengths – but only if you keep grinding and pushing on.
The path to wellness is never easy.
There will be unexpected challenges.
There will be moments where you feel weak and insecure.
There will be days where you don’t feel like you have the strength to keep pushing on.
There will be days when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed.
But walking the true path means rising above all of the crap that life throws at you and committing 100% to your goal – and then pursuing that goal with a relentless aggression.
If you truly want to achieve it…it means you’ve got to be stronger than any of the crap life throws at you.
Sure it will be tough…but you have no idea the power that lies within you right now.
This power is within all of us, we just have to look within and find it.
So refuse to give in to fear, insecurity, weakness and self-doubt.
Stay the course and never stop fighting – but most importantly, love the battle.
Love the journey and respect the process.
Today is a brand new day to build on yesterday’s accomplishments and grind towards your goals.
You have the power right there there in your hands – it’s right there inside of you.
I did it – and so can you.
Thanks for reading – I truly hope these tips work as well for you as well as they have for me over the years.
Here’s to your health, and future gains in the gym.
Now it’s your turn: What are you currently doing to improve your gut health right now? Do you know of any great tips I may have missed? If you’ve been on a similar journey and are now healthy, what did you do to help yourself heal? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.