WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO THEY AFFECT ME?
Leaky Gut is a thing. Really. No matter how much I read about it, learn about it and then talk about it, the topic and term ‘leaky gut’ still seems to raise doubt in people’s minds. Perhaps it's because the concept is quite a lot to get to grips with. Perhaps it’s because it’s a part of the body that we can’t see and is therefore a mystery to us. Perhaps it’s because we are so far removed from the fact that what we eat and drink and how we live has a direct effect on our health.
I've always had troubles with my digestive system and am pretty certain it's a big part of the reason I have struggled with eczema. The moment I decided to tackle what was going on inside was the moment I started to regain control over my skin health.
WHAT IS IT?
Leaky Gut Syndrome, or Increased Intestinal Permeability (it’s technical name) is when the wall of the intestine/gut is compromised, becomes weakened and porous.
Tiny gaps in-between the cells of your gut lining increase in size, allowing bacteria and large proteins from the food we eat to enter our bloodstream - a place they don’t belong. Ready and waiting on the other side of the gut lining is your immune system front line. When these 'foreign substances' (large proteins and bacteria enter your bloodstream via the gut lining, your immune system front line sees them as invaders and responds by attacking and starting the inflammatory process as a means of protection.
HOW IS IT CAUSED?
By quite a few things, actually;
- A diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods – that’s most packaged foods, ready meals, white breads/rice/pasta, etc.
- Regularly eating a large quantity of grains and nuts that aren't properly prepared (soaked, sprouted, fermented)
- A diet low in fibre – that’s vegetables, fruit, whole grains, etc.
- Binge drinking
- High levels of stress
- Overuse of antibiotics, prescription hormones and some over the counter medication
- Environmental toxins
- Imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria
WHAT CAN IT CAUSE?
Illness and chronic disease of all sorts. Anything from autoimmune disorders - to mental illness – to inflammatory bowel disease, ‘IBS’ and other digestive issues - to food allergies - to extreme tiredness and lethargy - to skin conditions, in my case, eczema. And that’s just to name a few.
HOW CAN I TREAT IT?
It’s absolutely possible but don't cause yourself stress by trying to do it all at once - take a step-by-step approach.
- Stop eating the nasties. Especially sugar - it's gourmet to bad bacteria.
- Start eating more of the good stuff. That’s real food I’m talking about. Especially prebiotic foods such as raw garlic, raw asparagus, cooked and raw onion, banana, (read more on prebiotic below).
- Take a look at your alcohol consumption and make change if necessary.
- Antibiotics and hormones, in a lot of cases, are 100% necessary. I’m talking about overuse and misuse. Look at your usage - if you have to take them, make sure you're also taking a good probiotic (more on that below).
- Environmental toxins are everywhere. I’m not suggesting you live in a bubble, but there are ways in which you can reduce your exposure. Even something as simple as houseplants can reduce the level of toxins in your home.
- Stress is inevitable and unavoidable at times but there are plenty of things you can do to manage it. Start with deep breathing. Read my guide to reducing stress naturally for some other tips.
- Take a good probiotic and/or eat foods that have high levels of good bacteria – that’s fermented veggies and drinks, natural yoghurt, kefir etc. Two serves a day is about right.
- Drink bone broth - some swear by it, including me. It’s full of great nutrients that help repair the gut lining.
HOW DO PRO-BIOTICS & GOOD BACTERIA HELP?
They re-populate your gut with good bacteria, rebuilding your healthy gut flora. This restores the integrity of your gut lining and helps to seal up the gaps, resulting in no more leakages, removing the cause of the immune system overacting, reducing inflammation. The benefits continue from there on out.
Taking a daily probiotic and eating fermented veggies such as sauerkraut, for me, has been the difference in skin that improves slowly to skin that improves by day. That's not just me, either. I know many people whose health has improved from taking a daily probiotic. I would say it's my most valued supplement and one which I won't do without. I don't take many supplements and first and foremost, try to get everything I need from food. However, there are occasions, such as going on holiday, when taking a jar of sauerkraut in your suitcase just isn't practical!
It's really important to find a probiotic that suits your needs - research is key and always read the reviews. The top things I look for are;
- Is it gluten, dairy, sugar, soy free and non-GMO? If you're avoiding these things in your diet then you won't want them in your probiotic.
- What is the shelf life? The label should say 'viable through end of shelf life'. If it's only 'viable at time of manufacture' then theres no guarantee the product will still be 'live'.
- Does it contain a broad spectrum of strains? (thats the gobbledy-gook names you see on the label). Each strain provides slightly different benefits, so in my opinion, the more, the better. The two strains most beneficial to eczema have been found to be Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum.
- Does it also contain a prebiotic? Prebiotic is like fertiliser to the probiotics and will encourage the population to grow.
- What is the count of organisms? Look for something of 5billion CFU (colony forming units) or more.
- Does it need to be kept in the fridge and if so, how it is delivered to you (if buying online). If it needs to be refrigerated then you should expect it to arrive in an insulated box.
- Are the pills encapsulated and/or do they contain delayed-rupture technology. You want to make sure they survive the journey to your gut.