Apr 12 , 2021
The Importance of a Healthy Gut
The overall health of our gut has been linked not only to bothersome gastrointestinal symptoms but also plays an important role in heart health, inflammation, mental health, and our immune systems. Our food is broken down in the gut into simple forms that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered and used as helpful nutrients throughout our bodies. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and mental well-being.
What is “Leaky Gut”
Leaky gut is a term we often hear about to describe an unhealthy gut environment or microbiome. Intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) is a condition where the integrity of the intestinal wall is compromised or broken down. When the intestinal wall is impaired this way larger molecules like undigested proteins, bacteria, or toxins are then allowed to pass through into our bloodstream and may cause harm. Symptoms of a leaky gut may include the following:
- Fatigue, brain fog, memory issues
- Food sensitivities
- Bloating, gas, diarrhea, Constipation, abdominal cramping
- Nutrient malabsorption and deficiency symptoms
- Joint pain
- Headaches / migraines
- Skin issues like acne, psoriasis, or eczema
- Depression and anxiety
- Autoimmune diseases
Causes of Poor Gut health
- Unbalanced poor diet (low fiber, excess sugar & saturated fats)
- Food sensitivities
- Frequent alcohol use
- Chronic stress or anxiety
- Sleep deprivation
- Infections or food poisonings
- High intensity exercise
- Medical diagnosis influencing gut health
- Use of some medications
What Can You Do to Support a Healthy Gut?
- Choose whole foods more often than processed foods
- Include foods with fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics to support healthy gut bacteria.
- Limit added sugars, red meat, and saturated fats
- Limit Alcohol
- Consider meal timing and spacing of eating 4 hours apart
- Avoid large meals prior to bedtime – give your gut time to rest 12 hours overnight.
- Eat in a relaxed environment and manage chronic stress
- Rule out food sensitivities with a Registered Dietitian
- Talk with a Registered Dietitian about gut healing supplements and nutrition boosting foods.
Let’s Talk Fiber
Taking a look at how much fiber that you actually get is a great place to start. Aim for 20 to 35 grams per day. You might be surprised to see that you may be only getting half of this recommendation. Increase the fiber in your diet slowly and include plenty of fluids since fiber will absorb the liquid.
Include fiber, prebiotic & probiotic food sources like fruits (especially berries), vegetables, whole grains, beans, flax, chia, kefir, and yogurt. When choosing grain sources or healthy packaged foods, check the labels as a good source of fiber equals 3 grams per serving.
Aside from fiber, choosing foods with polyphenols can enhance the health of your gut. As you create a grocery shopping list these are some of my favorites: tea, apples, peaches, berries, plums, dark chocolate, lemons, nuts, olive oil, spinach, onion, and spices like ginger, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Work alongside a Registered Dietitian to individualize what is best for you if you have challenging gastrointestinal symptoms or if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, celiac, IBD, diverticular disease, or any other gastrointestinal diagnosis.
Food Sensitivities & Intolerances
It seems trendy to eliminate dairy or gluten if one notices bothersome symptoms. It’s important to note that eliminating these food groups takes out many important and vital nutrients so care needs to be taken to replace them for optimal health. I highly recommend testing for celiac before removing gluten – so an accurate diagnosis can be made (otherwise it’s hard to ever be clear if gluten is removed before testing). Lactose intolerance can also be tested for but can be safely removed for 2 weeks even without testing to see if symptoms improve. Often people do not need to go so far as to remove all dairy but just follow a lower lactose diet with lactase enzymes.
One can still have a gluten sensitivity along with other random food sensitivities that can contribute to bothersome symptoms, inflammation, immune distress, and gut health issues. Food sensitivity reactions that cause systemic inflammation are a REAL thing and have been well studied and published on for years.
Use caution with many of the popular food sensitivity tests sold “over the counter”. They are not very helpful and can actually create confusion and unnecessary food elimination and even exacerbate eating disorders. These IgG or IgG4 tests are appealing because they are quick and relatively cheap, but they are not a good indicator for food sensitivities. IgG production is a normal part of the oral tolerance process and may actually indicate just exposure or tolerance to a food instead of an actual intolerance.
The better approach is to work with someone who specializes and can offer a systematic detective-type protocol to uncover true food sensitivities and intolerances instead of guessing. Instead of a test that only tests IgG there is a more accurate test offered by some Registered Dietitians trained in this area called Leap MRT.
An MRT (mediator release) test works like this: If white blood cells detect a threat, they release pro-inflammatory mediators (cytokines, prostaglandins, interleukins, etc.) that are typically stored INSIDE the cell. Releasing these mediators into the bloodstream is to signal the rest of the immune system that there is a threat that needs to be handled. An MRT food sensitivity test measures this release. It measures beyond IgG and takes a look at mediator release, which is what actually causes symptoms. MRT captures both Type III (involving antibodies) and Type IV hypersensitivity reactions (involving white blood cells directly, without antibodies).