Almost all of the chronic health problems and diseases that face people these days can be attributed to one common factor: an impaired digestive system. knowing the causes of and how to prevent an impaired digestive system can literally save your life.
Having an impaired digestive system has been known to lead to a condition called Dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
Dysbiosis has been shown to be a direct result of eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is:
- High in sugar
- High in fat, cholesterol, sodium
- Full of refined and processed foods
- Low in fiber, minerals, EFA’s (essential fatty acids)
- Full of preservatives
- Loaded with hormones, etc. in meat, fish, eggs
When you factor in elements like stress and chronic antibiotic usage, Dysbiosis can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome or Intestinal Permeability. Leaky Gut Syndrome spreads a low-level chronic inflammation through the body, and that inflammation often leads to an autoimmune disorder that immediately affects your health, and can even kill you.
It is estimated by the CDC that between 60 and 70 million people are affected by a digestive disorder, making it the third most common illness in the United States. In the book The Healing Powers of Food, Dr. Michael T.Murray explains “Impaired digestion leads to Intestinal Toxemia then Candida and Parasites, which lead to an imbalance of your Gut Flora, then Leaky Gut progresses to chronic disease.”
For food to be absorbed in the body properly it has to be broken down. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose, protein is broken down into amino acids. The problem occurs when you are under stress or you are eating on the run or eating too fast. If your food is not broken down properly, it will start to putrefy and produce toxins. If you are not eliminating those toxins properly, they will begin to build up and lead to chronic illness.
Some of the other factors that can cause impaired digestion are:
- Eating too much processed food, lacking in fiber and making the body work harder with little in return
- Drinking too much fluid while eating impairs digestion by diluting your stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, of HCl)
- Eating too fast
- Overeating, especially the wrong foods
Diet aside, the other major contributor to Leaky Gut Syndrome is stress – be it physical, mental, or emotional. When your body is under stress, there are chemical processes designed to divert or stop any energy that was going to the stomach for digestion and redirect it towards dealing with the stress. Stress ZAPS your energy levels and can be a major contributor toward Intestinal Permeability, Autoimmunity and even Cancer.
Chronic stress plays a major role in the following unhealthy conditions:
- Nutrient absorption decreases and nutrient excretion increases
- Blood cholesterol and triglycerides go up
- As cortisol levels rise, it is associated with weight gain, abdominal obesity and inability to lose weight or build muscle
- This excessive cortisol output results in premature aging of the body, which increases oxidative stress
- The body retains sodium
- Food sensitivities increase
- Insulin resistance rises
- Protein metabolism decreases, therefore muscle mass decreases
- Inflammation greatly increases
Another thing to take into consideration is your surroundings. The more toxic your environment, the greater burden to your body – especially your liver. For example: Do you drink out of plastic bottles? Drinking from plastic containers exposes your body to Bisphenol A (BPA). In a study by the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Toulouse, France, researchers exposed both rats and human intestinal cells to a dose of BPA, which was 10 times lower than the amount currently considered safe by most governments. They found that on exposure to the chemical, the intestinal lining of both human and rat guts developed ‘leaky gut syndrome’ or damage to the lining of the gut. This damage allows toxic substances and foreign pathogens to enter the body through this leaky gut and because gut lining also contains immunoglobulin A, its disruption can affect the entire body’s immune system.
Some of the factors that can further lead to Leaky Gut are:
- Gut irritants (caffeine, alcohol, gluten/grains)
- Parasites/Bacteria (from contaminated water and food)
- Chemicals (in food, plastic and environment)
- Deficiencies in enzymes
- Junk food carbohydrate diets
- Excess hormones (prescriptive and food)
- Mycotoxins (mold and fungal)
Leaky Gut can lead to:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Or any other Autoimmune condition!
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT LEAKY GUT SYNDROME?
The 5 R Program
Remove the bad. The goal is to get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the GI tract, such as inflammatory foods, infections and gastric irritants like alcohol, caffeine or drugs. Inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and sugar can lead to food sensitivities.
Replace the good. Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that may have been depleted by diet, drugs (such as antacid medications), diseases or aging. This includes Enzymes and sometimes HCL and bile acids are needed to re-establishing proper digestion.
Restoring beneficial bacteria to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical. This may be accomplished by taking a Probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. It is recommend anywhere from 25 -100 billion units a day. Also, taking a prebiotic (food for the good bacteria) supplement, or consuming foods high soluble fiber is important as you want your bowels to be moving these toxins out of your body daily.
Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself is essential. My favorite supplements are Glutamine, an amino acid that helps to rejuvenate the gut wall lining; zinc carnosine; omega 3 oils; vitamin A, C, E as well as herbs such as slippery elm and aloe vera
“Activating the relaxation nervous system – the one that allows us to “rest and digest” – is an effective means of easing symptoms and restoring an anti-inflammatory state. You can start with something as simple as listening to a guided meditation for several minutes a day and working up to 20 minutes twice a day for a therapeutic effect.
Understanding the the interconnected nature of your gut, brain, immune, and hormonal systems is imperative. Until you begin to appreciate this complex relationship, you will not be able to prevent or intervene effectively in depression, which is slated to become the second-leading cause of disability in this country within the decade. You need to take steps every day toward sending your body the message that it is not being attacked, it is not in danger, and it is well nourished, well supported and calm.
Managing stress is a lifetime learning process, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Learn how to breathe properly. Anytime you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed by what is happening, take a deep breath in and count to 5, hold for 3, then let it out slowly to a count of 8 with a long sigh. Do this 3 times. This is also helpful before you eat.
- Sip on a cup of Tulsi tea. Tulsi is an ayurvedic herb that can help you adapt to stressors in your life.
- Do not create stress in your life by eating too fast. The faster you eat, the less nurtured your body feels.
- Do not consume caffeine on an empty stomach, especially first thing in the morning. Add a healthy fat source (like coconut oil or ghee) or protein (like collagen powder) to help stabilize glucose levels and avoid the spike/crash roller coaster.
- Do not engage in a deep or heated conversation before breakfast.
- No extreme exercise before breakfast.
Being aware of what causes a leaky guy, and how to avoid it can quite literally add years to your life. Much of the factors of this condition are purely environmental, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to avoid them. Proper diet, and proper mental conditioning are key factors in improving your health.