You’re working on a big project when suddenly, ouch! You realize your stomach has bloated up and is grumbling painfully. Your favorite dress pants are now constricting your painful tummy and you start looking at the clock, hoping the rest of the work day hurries by so you can get home and get more comfortable.
If you’re like many people, you probably struggle with gut issues from time to time. Some of us have problems on a daily basis and others only experience intestinal distress every week or two. If you’ve ever been bloated, had diarrhea, or been constipated, you know that it’s not a pleasant experience.
So what is causing all this gut discomfort?
Many of us are suffering from something called leaky gut (or intestinal permeability, in medical speak). This is when the intestinal lining has been irritated to the point that it has several weakened areas where large food particles can “leak” out of the intestines and head right for the bloodstream.
This is problematic since these runaway food particles can be really damaging to our bodies in their undigested forms. Leaky gut also triggers an autoimmune response, causing our immune system to attack particles in our stomachs leading to inflammation and other frustrating side effects.
This can be triggered by excessive amounts of processed foods over a period of time, as many of the “fake” fillers seem like foreign invaders and serious irritants to our stomachs. It can also be caused by antibiotics, especially if you’ve taken multiple rounds over your lifetime without replenishing the good bacteria and taking the steps to fully heal after. Steroids and over-the-counter pain relievers can also be irritating to the lining of the intestines, eventually leading to leaky gut.
How can you tell if you’ve got a leaky gut?
Here are a few of the typical symptoms of someone who’s got some intestinal permeability.
- Digestive issues: gas, bloating, IBS, constipation, diarrhea
- Skin issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Food allergies/intolerances
- Yeast/candida overgrowth
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
- Mood disorders
- Autoimmune diseases
- Seasonal allergies
- Joint pain
- Low-functioning immune system
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Chronic inflammation
- Depression and anxiety
If you struggle with intestinal discomfort on a regular basis or have many of these other symptoms, you probably are dealing with leaky gut issues. Aside from the discomfort, leaky gut can cause other issues in the body, so it’s important to give it your full attention.
So how do we fix the issue and heal our intestinal tract?
Luckily, healing your gut isn’t rocket science. But it will take concerted effort on your part and a dedication to healing. Doing something great for 3 days and then abandoning your efforts to go attack an alluring chocolate cake won’t do much for your gut. It will take time to heal, but will be very worth it in the end.
Here are some things you can incorporate into your daily routine that will, slowly but surely, create a better gut environment and bring you better health in the long run.
1. Keep a food journal for a week or more.
This is generally a good thing to do all the time, if you can make it happen. But at least for one week, keep track of everything you’re eating and how you’re feeling, both physically and mentally. After a while, you might start noticing patterns in the connection between what you put into your mouth and then what you feel like later. Pretend you’re a detective and start looking for the clues your body is trying to send to you.
2. Eliminate foods you’re sensitive to.
After paying attention to your food journal patterns, cut out the major foods that you can tell are probably not doing great things for your gut. These foods are typically things like gluten and dairy. Take a nice long break from these foods while you’re healing your intestinal tract.
3. While you’re at it, cut out processed foods entirely.
Since processed foods are generally one of the main offenders in leaky gut, it’s time to give yourself a break from them. This includes any food that comes in a package that is ready-to-eat. Yes, even the tasty stuff from the food co-op. Stick to foods you have to prepare, cook, and take time to make.
4. Start eating fermented foods.
Learn how to make kombucha, kefir (if you can tolerate dairy), sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. If you don’t want to make it yourself or don’t have time, find a local source for these foods. Just make sure they’re truly fermented and full of great bacteria. Then eat or drink them every single day.
5. Don’t forget to include more prebiotics.
These are the food particles that all that wonderful gut bacteria eats so they can multiply and do better work. These include foods like garlic, onions, legumes, fruits, and veggies. These provide the gut with high quality fiber that makes probiotics go nuts.
6. Start making and drinking bone broth.
This incredible stuff is soothing to the intestinal tract, decreasing inflammation and helping the mucosa build back up again. Bone broth is also great for gut bacteria and aids in cell growth. Your gut will love this addition to your daily meals and snacks.
7. Lay off the cocktails for a while.
Alcohol is an irritant to the intestines, which doesn’t help much if you’re trying to heal. While a drink now and then isn’t the end of the world, it isn’t effective when your gut is in crisis. Give it up for a while and focus completely on making your intestinal tract strong and healthy again.
7. Reduce your stress and sleep more.
While this tip might not seem directly related to your gut, it is great advice for any healing process. Give your body more rest and relaxation so it can do a better job of focusing on healing your leaky gut. You’ll just generally feel better, too.
Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Body
Taking the time to take care of your body pays off in better health. Better health allows you to feel great, enjoy life more, and feel more mentally at peace. Science has discovered that our intestinal tract is directly related to our mental health, as many of the hormones needed for happiness (such as serotonin) are produced in our gut.
The healthier our intestinal tracts are, the better our overall physical health will be. The ripple effects from healing your gut are extensive. Your clean bill of health and happy tummy will make you glad you took the time for this ultra important step in effective self care.