What is a leaky gut?
There's a lot of controversy over whether a leaky gut exists or not. While it's almost impossible to diagnose, the proposed theory behind leaky gut is that intestinal permeability allows excess toxins and bacteria to pass from the intestines into the bloodstream.
There's no doubt that some people have intestinal permeability. It occurs as a symptom of some diseases such as Crohn's disease. However, it's a symptom of those diseases, not a diagnosable condition in its own right.
Your intestinal lining covers an area of over 4,000 square feet. Normally, this lining forms a tight barrier that controls what's absorbed by your bloodstream. However, if your intestinal lining has cracks or holes, then bacteria, toxins, and partially digested food may be able to penetrate it.
The theory of leaky gut syndrome proposes that leaky gut is a distinct condition: LGS. Your intestines host many microbes that play a role in digestion and immune function. Leaky gut may involve imbalances in your intestinal microbes that can cause inflammation in your gut and increase the permeability of your intestines. This may lead to the development of chronic diseases.
What foods should you eat for a leaky gut?
There's no recommended treatment for leaky gut as a syndrome, although your doctor will treat any conditions you have that may be causing leaky gut. There are some dietary measures you can take to help relieve your symptoms and manage inflammation in your gut: for instance, eating a diet that helps promote healthy gut bacteria.
The different microbes that are living inside your gut are referred to as your microbiome.
Here are some ways you can promote a healthy gut microbiome:
Fill up on vegetables
Green, leafy vegetables are particularly helpful when it comes to replenishing your microbiome. They're full of fiber that your body can't digest. This helps move food through your intestines and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. People who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables also grow less of the “bad” bacteria that cause diseases.
Some vegetables that are particularly good at promoting healthy bacterial growth are:
Include other prebiotics in your diet
Prebiotics are food for your microbiome. They'll help good microbes thrive so they can protect your gut. Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that act like fertilizers for the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Aside from leafy greens, dietary sources of prebiotics include:
- Whole grains
Load up on probiotics
Probiotics contain live bacteria that help promote healthy bacteria in your gut. You can get a probiotic supplement, but talk to your doctor about the best strain for you, particularly if you're being treated for an intestinal disorder.
Fermented foods are a great source of natural probiotics. Yogurt is the most well-known fermented food, but make sure you check its sugar content to make sure you're not doing more harm than good with your favorite brand. Some other fermented foods include:
What foods should you avoid If you have leaky gut?
If you have leaky gut, you should avoid foods that kill off the healthy microbes in your gut and cause inflammation, including:
Processed food and simple sugar
Foods need to hang around for a while in your gut to feed your microbiome. Processed food and simple sugars are digested so fast that your microbes can't feed on them. If your microbes are starving because you eat too many simple sugars, they'll start eating away at the lining of your intestine instead. This can cause inflammation and lead to a leaky gut.
If you're craving something sweet, opt for sugar sources that are more complex and have more to offer than empty calories, such as:
- Dark chocolate
- Sweet potatoes
- Coconut flour
According to studies, vegetarians have healthier gut biomes than meat-eaters. Vegetarians have less disease-causing bacteria in their gut. It's not clear if this is because vegetarians eat more vegetables or because they don't eat meat. Many domesticated animals are raised with antibiotics.
Antibiotics are the opposite of probiotics. Although they can be important, killing bacteria that cause disease, they also kill off healthy bacteria. If you eat meat or poultry, try to buy it from a source that doesn't raise them with antibiotics. If you need to take antibiotics to fight an infection, take a probiotic along with your antibiotic to help replenish your gut bacteria.
Lifestyle changes for leaky gut
In addition to watching what you eat, there are several other lifestyle changes you can make to improve your gut health.
Get enough sleep
Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep is an important part of maintaining your microbiome. People who don't get enough sleep are at risk of disrupting their microbiome and developing inflammatory diseases.
Get enough exercise
Getting enough exercise is important to your overall health, as well as your gut health. The microbiomes of fit people are healthier and more diverse than those of sedentary people. Exercise can also help you handle stress more effectively.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation: "10 Ways to Strengthen Your Microbiome," "What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?"
Harvard Health Blog: "Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?"
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