Last week I wrote about why elimination diets are not a cure for food allergies and sensitivities. The information might have been a huge disappointment for those who felt living gluten-free was going to be the cure for all ailments. I hate being the bearer of bad news, so today I want to tell you how to heal your leaky gut. What’s a leaky gut you ask?
If your child has food sensitivities or allergies, seasonal allergies, recurring ear infections, or poor immune function (among other symptoms listed below) it may mean the digestive tract is “leaky.”
Common Symptoms Associated with a Leaky Gut (source)
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Ear Infection (recurring)
Poor immune function
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Learning and behavior problems
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
Shortness of breath
What is a Leaky Gut?
The term “leaky gut” is the name used for a highly permeable gut lining. Our digestive tracts are meant to serve as a protective barrier between our blood stream and the food we eat. When the digestive tract is functioning properly it allows fully digested fats, proteins and carbohydrates into our blood stream to be used by the body. When the digestive tract becomes worn down by factors such as; frequent antibiotic use, chronic stress, environmental toxins, processed food, or infection due to fungi, bacteria or parasites—the gut lining gets tired and weak.
Factors that Contribute to a Leaky Gut
Frequent antibiotic use (learn how to restore gut health after antibiotics)
Fungal overgrowth (candida, yeast)
What Happens When the Gut Gets TIRED?
When the gut lining gets weak, it starts allowing larger, undigested food particles into the blood stream. I write in very simple terms here on the Kula Mama website, but if you are interested in a more detailed explanation go here and here. Over time the immune system gets confused about the undigested food particles floating around and starts launching immune responses against certain foods. If left unchecked, additional immune responses happen to a greater number of foods and eventually autoimmune disease develops. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s hope! You can heal a leaky gut with time and a gut healing protocol. Here are 10 ways to heal a leaky gut.
10 Ways to Heal a Leaky Gut*
Chew Food Completely
This very simple act has an enormous impact on our digestion. We start digesting food in the mouth so the more work your teeth do, the less work the stomach and intestines have to do down below. For a child with a compromised digestive tract, chewing food completely helps enormously. If your child has a hard time chewing well, consider blending foods when possible during the healing phase.
Eliminate Offending Foods
I know, I know—my previous post said elimination diets will not cure food allergies (or a leaky gut) and while they don’t cure them alone; elimination diets are the cornerstone of a healing protocol. Why? Because removing offending foods during the healing phase reduces overall inflammation. The body can’t heal if it’s constantly inflamed and reacting to food.
Food allergies and sensitivities often arise because of inadequate digestive enzymes. The body simply does not produce the enzymes needed to fully break down food. To encourage better digestion, gentle digestive enzymes can be taken with each meal.
Pre and Pro-biotics
I know I sound like a broken record, but a healthy digestive tract requires a balance of good bacteria in the gut. Eating fermented food and drink, or taking a probiotic supplement will help to recolonize healthy bacteria and restore digestive function.
Seal the Digestive Tract
To repair leaky gut damage the digestive tract needs to be “sealed” to decrease intestinal permeability. You can do this by increasing the consumption of gelatinous foods like homemade bone broth and adding grass fed gelatin products like this to smoothies. Also try this type of gelatin to make my homemade fruit snacks, however, I suggest waiting until later in the healing protocol for the type of gelatin that gels as it can be harder to digest. For more information about the difference between the two types of gelatin products I recommend, go here.
Check for Underlying Parasite, Fungus or Infection
The digestive tract can’t heal if there is a bug running around causing all sorts of damage! Before embarking on a gut healing protocol, make sure to check for underlying an parasite, fungus, or infection first.
Stress actually decreases the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. When a person is under stress (whether due to a stressful environment or a stressed mind), the body automatically turns on the sympathetic nervous system and kicks into “survival mode” by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. At the same time, the body shuts down all biological systems not needed for immediate survival, including digestion and the body’s healing mechanisms. Simply put, our state of mind directly affects both our digestion and our ability to heal so learning to manage stress is very important to healing.
Do you know the body repairs and heals while we sleep? It’s true! During sleep our body is working hard to detoxify, balance hormones and repair. When we get poor quality sleep or too little sleep it takes an enormous toll on our health. In fact, we will actually DIE if we go too long without sleep so give your body the help it needs and make sure to get 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
Find a Functional Medical Practitioner
Each of us is biochemically different and the healing protocol that works for me, won’t necessarily work for you. When healing from a leaky gut and leaky gut syndrome, it’s important to have the proper functional blood tests done first to establish your own personal baseline. Working with a functional medical practitioner will also help to create a personalized healing protocol specific to your individual needs.
Healing the digestive tract takes time so have patience. It took time to develop a leaky gut, and it will take time to repair it. Know every change you make brings you closer to health and healing. Celebrate all the healthy changes you are making and know you are on your way towards stronger digestion…step by step!
*For those with anaphylactic allergies (such as peanuts) working with a functional medical practitioner is imperative. For these types of food allergies a cure may not be possible, however, by implementing a gut healing protocol you may be able to reduce the severity of the allergy.
Do you or your child suffer from a leaky gut? What healing protocol have you found helpful? Tell me in the comments below!