Let’s face it, there are lots of us out there with leaky, grumpy guts! And it may not be something you want to fess up to. This common problem precipitates some vexatious symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue. Not fun! You brush it off as something you’ll just have to live with, right? And how many of you are actually asked by your primary care doctors about your bowel habits or have any in-depth conversation about your GI health? It’s a crying shame… so let’s talk about it right now!
What exactly is “Leaky Gut?”
The small bowel and colon lining consist of enterocytes which are simple columnar epithelial cells. As one of my professors once described, these enterocytes are similar in shape to that of a “marshmallow.” They are plump and strong. yet pliable, and like to sit nice and snug right up against their twin neighbors. This allows for a strong gut infrastructure that provides integral defensive, absorptive, and digestive functions with just enough room for necessary small molecules and nutrients to get through. Unfortunately, many daily mishaps, including chronic ingestion of aggravating foods, certain medications, NSAIDs, alcohol ingestion, aging, lack of proper nutrients, radiation, and trauma cause these gut cell “marshmallows” to shrink, shrivel, and wither.
Rather than snuggling right up against one another, gaps between neighboring cells form as the structural integrity of our gut lining is compromised. With this less-than-perfect structure, larger food particles and other substances are able to sneak through the GI lining and into the lymph and vascular systems. Once in the blood, the body’s immune system recognizes these strangers as potentially hazardous and up-regulates the immune system in order to resolve the problem pronto! The inflammatory cascade along with all of its cellular soldiers kick into action leading to the development of chronic disease and dysfunction—research has proven correlations between leaky gut and multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases such as, rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s, and eczema.
So, how do we fix it doc?
There a number of strategies to overcome this state of dysfunction. For starters, structural integrity has to be restored! If we only remove offending foods and clean up the diet, we’re still left with a gut that has lots of potholes—time to do some road-work. Time for a gut healing protocol! Here are a few suggestions, (by all means this is not an all-inclusive):
Glutamine is a primary fuel source for the GI cells. Unfortunately, in many cases of bowel disease and dysfunction, there is decreased availability and ability for cellular utilization. Increased levels of cortisol during times of stress can also decrease the body’s glutamine stores…so if you’re stressed about your dysfunctional gut, supplementation may be even more appropriate! In providing ample amounts, we encourage cellular feeding and can encourage more optimal function by the GI cells. Butyrate and Arabinogalactan are other important fuel sources, specifically for the colon. Combining these three makes for some happy enterocytes!
Demulcent botanical medicines are also beneficial as they incorporate ingredients to help rebuild the mucosal lining, which in turn helps to soothe an inflamed GI tract. They also contribute other valuable services including improving digestion and healing ulcers. Some examples include Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice), Ulmus rubra (Slippery Elm), Althea Officinalis (Marshmallow root) and Aloe (not in the form used for sun-burnt skin!). Licorice when chewed, stimulates a salivary compound called epidermal growth factor (EGF). This particular compound actually encourages the regeneration of epithelial cells. Aloe stimulates connective tissue formation and has a number of nutrients including amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and glycoproteins—all of which your leaky, grumpy gut will LOVE!
Essential fatty acids and antioxidants such as selenium, zinc, vitamins A, C, and E should also be included in a gut health protocol due to their ability to decrease inflammation and restore structural integrity. Naturally, with a reduction in oxidative stress, the gut will be much happier and more cooperative during the re-building process.
Proper hydration and adequate fiber enables the GI to keep things moving and prohibits stagnation of any potentially harmful substances that may stick around and cause damage. Stagnation of digested substances allows fecal matter and chemical compounds to sit around, up to no good. Let’s keep them moving along and on their way out, okay?
Potential food aggravators, addressed in a previous blog post, need to be cleared from the pantry as well. With continual insults perpetuated by these food culprits, no matter how much we heal the gut, it will continue to suffer damage. And the idea here is to not deprive you of your favorite foods FOREVER, you just have to avoid them long enough to allow proper healing to occur. The goal is to restore integrity so that you are able to savor these delectables again in the future. Something to look forward to!
There are also a number of remarkable combo powder formulas, currently on the market, that include some of the aforementioned items and are extremely user friendly. I can’t promise they all taste delicious but if you can suffer through it, your gut will thank you!
So there you have it, an example of a gut healing protocol. Remember, we can’t fix an upset GI without healing it first. So let’s heal that leaky, grumpy gut! A healthy, happy life begins with good gastrointestinal function! Until next time, be sure to check out your own gut health by trying our GI Effects Profile, you’ll be glad you did! —Dr. Marynowski
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