The gut is the gateway to health; as Hippocrates once said: "All disease begins in the gut." Leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability is a result of damage to the lining of the small intestine. As a result, undigested food particles, toxic waste, and bacteria leak through and enter the bloodstream. Leaky gut plays a role in some diseases of the intestinal tract, such as Celiac and Crohn's disease. Whether or not it can cause health problems outside the intestinal tract is unproven. The theory is that particles enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut and may activate the immune system and cause or worsen autoimmune diseases. More research is needed to prove this.
No one knows exactly what causes a leaky gut, although there are a variety of theories. Diet is a possible cause. Inflammatory foods such as gluten, soy, and dairy may be a factor for people who are allergic or sensitive to these foods. A diet rich in ultra-processed foods and sugar may play a role, but this theory requires more research. Toxicity is another cause of leaky gut. Humans regularly come into contact with antibiotics, pesticides, contaminated tap water, and medications that the body may see as toxins. Dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, can also lead to leaky gut. This imbalance can begin at birth, due to the mother's gut bacteria during pregnancy, though too many prescription antibiotics can also adversely affect the gut biome. In addition, physical and mental stress can alter the intestinal lining in a way that causes leaky gut.
Bone broth contains collagen and amino acids such as proline and glycine that some naturopathic doctors believe helps damaged intestinal walls. Many who follow gut-healing diets such as the paleo diet embrace bone broth. So, too, do those following the gut and psychology syndrome diet. Bone broth contains bioavailable collagen, and also has plenty of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Cultured dairy contains probiotics and short-chain fatty acids that may help heal the gut. Milk products and dairy foods fermented with lactic acid bacteria such as lactobacillus, lactococcus, and leuconostoc include kefir, yogurt, amasai, buttermilk, and raw cheese. Kefir alone contains approximately 60 strains of beneficial bacteria. Studies suggest it may reduce the growth of harmful bacteria such as salmonella, h. pylori, and E. coli, but more research is needed.
Fermented vegetables contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and ease digestive discomfort related to too much or too little stomach acid. The probiotics in fermented food support the gut, helping to decrease bloating, reduce food sensitivities, and increase the absorption of nutrients. Good sources of fermented acids include sauerkraut and kimchi.
Coconut has possible antiviral and antibacterial properties, which make it potentially beneficial for gut health. It contains antimicrobial lauric, capric, and caprylic acids and is easier to digest than other fats. Coconut oil that is organic, extra virgin, and cold-pressed may offer benefits that commercial coconut oil sold at grocery stores lack.
Specifically, coconut kefir helps support digestive health. A combination of coconut water and kefir grains compound the benefits of the two foods, offering beneficial bacteria that promote immunity and digestion. Furthermore, unlike other types of kefir, coconut kefir is not made with dairy, so it is a good choice for the many people who are sensitive to milk products or who avoid animal byproducts in general. Coconut water kefir also has fewer calories than the dairy variety.
Sprouted seeds and legumes, including chia seeds, mung beans, and lentils, are an excellent source of fiber. The sprouting process helps the nutrients in these products become more bioavailable, and this, in turn, supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. People with severe leaky gut may require more fiber, but common methods for preparing fiber-rich foods can cause irritation. Soaking or sprouting grains lessens this irritation, making such foods easier to digest. Some practitioners believe that legumes could worsen leaky gut because they contain lectins. However, soaking and boiling legumes reduces the lectin content.
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