We have a delicate balance of over 1000 species of good and bad bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract. In fact the bacteria that live within us create a 'super body' of over 100 trillion cells (a number ten times greater than the total number of human cells in the body) weighing over 2 lbs in the average adult. An imbalance in these microbial communities (known as microbial dysbiosis) has been implicated in various human diseases including obesity, diabetes, and colon cancer. This link has long been known - over 2000 years ago Hippocrates stated that "all disease begins in the gut."
Good bacteria help to break down food, and synthesise important vitamins like B and K. They also keep bad bacteria and candida in check, whilst being beneficial to the immune system.
It's worth noting that a leaky gut is no longer efficient. Eating a nutrient rich diet, and supplementing with high quality vitamins and minerals is pointless if absorption is poor. "You are what you absorb" would be a more accurate saying than "you are what you eat!"
Leaky gut can be caused by many things. Gluten and dairy are prime culprits, as are certain viruses and parasites. Sugar is a key offender as it feeds the bad bacteria at the expense of the good. Anti-biotics wipe out our good bacteria, and stress, salt, flouride and chlorine also negatively impact them.
When attempting to heal the gut, a good place to start is to consult Dr Natasha Campbell McBride's GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet. She devised this diet as a natural treatment for autism, ADHD, dyslexia, depression, and schizophrenia, highlighting how important a role the gut plays in our psychological health. She recommends cutting out ALL grains, sugar and potatoes, as well as other vegetables in the nightshade family which can exacerbate leaky gut due to their high lectin content. Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions is another bible when it comes to learning about gut health.
Here are some things that you can do to heal the delicate lining of the gut:
- Eliminate gluten, dairy, grains and sugar.
- Take good quality pre-biotics and probiotics twice a day (look for a multi strain of 50 billion live cells).
- Take digestive enzymes before each meal. This will help your gut to effectively break down food into usable molecules.
- Eat a diet rich in natural probiotics (kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and other fermented foods) just before every meal to repopulate the gut and aid digestion. You can even rectally implant kefir grains and probiotics.
- Drink linseed tea. It's fantastically hydrating, and lines the gut. (It also makes an incredibly soothing enema).
- If you're a meat eater, bone broths are an impeccable way of re-introducing healthy flora, and GI repairing collagen into the gut. (See Sally Fallon for details)
- Organic raw milk, butter and yoghurt contain healthy micro-organisms helpful in healing the gut, but remember to eat in moderation as they contain IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor which encourages cancer cells to grow).
- L-glutamine is an anti-inflammatory, essential amino acid necessary for the growth and repair of the intestinal lining.
- Coconut products are high in medium chain fatty acids, and are anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. They target harmful bacteria in the gut without killing the beneficial ones. Try eating coconut oil, and coconut milk kefir.