Nutritional Factors That Affect Leaky Gut

by Dr. Jason Barker June 16, 2016

Nutritional Factors That Affect Leaky Gut

In last week’s blog we covered some of the main causes of leaky gut and the most common symptoms resulting from it.

One of the biggest contributors to leaky gut however, is our diet.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is rife with ‘foods’ that upset the delicate balance of health in our digestive systems.  

Alcoholic Beverages

One of the biggest contributors isn’t really a food – alcohol is of course a widely consumed toxin. 

I refer to alcohol as a toxin, because it brings minimal to no health benefits. And despite the oft-repeated studies about wine, the overall effect of alcohol on our bodies is still negative.

Even minimal to moderate amounts of alcohol is well known to have a negative effect on every organ of the body. The digestive system takes the brunt of this of course, as it is the first point of contact when alcohol is ingested. 

Alcohol is damaging to the gut for several reasons – the first is that it’s an irritant to the delicate mucosal lining of the GI tract. Irritation in turn leads to an inflammatory response as the body attempts to repair the irritation.

Secondly, alcohol inhibits the production of chemicals that protect our GI tract from the wear and tear of the digestive process, known as prostaglandins. (There are pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.)  

Alcohol also inhibits the absorption of several important nutrients – vitamins B1, B12, folic acid and zinc. 

If you’re dealing with leaky gut, or hoping to avoid it, keeping alcohol consumption to very minimal amounts is an important dietary choice.

Refined Carbohydrates & Sugars

Refined carbohydrates are rapidly metabolized into simple sugars, starting in the mouth under the action of saliva. Foods like cereals, pastas, breads, bagels, cookies, crackers and of course any candies or soft drinks are full of sugar.

Sugar doesn’t necessarily damage the intestinal tract directly – rather it promotes leaky gut as it can drastically tilt the balance of healthy bacteria toward the growth of disease-causing bacteria and yeast. When there’s an overabundance of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and yeast in the gut, all heck breaks loose.

The gut immune system goes into overdrive to fight these bacteria and yeast, and unfortunately the lining of the gut becomes a causality as the pro-inflammatory chemicals of the immune system destroy the bacteria, not to mention the bacteria and yeast also secrete chemicals that damage the gut lining.

Removing sugars and alcohol are two of the most important dietary modifications to heal the gut.

There are also plenty of healthy foods that have a specific benefit for leaky gut as well:

Cabbage Juice

Cabbage has an interesting medical history that has been validated by modern science. Traditionally used for GI ulcers, modern research has shown that cabbage is rich in an antioxidant known as sulforaphane that inhibits the growth of the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori.

The other phytochemicals in cabbage have a protective effect on the gut lining, making it an ideal medicine for people suffering from GI problems including leaky gut.

We refer to it as “cabbage juice” because juicing it is a great way to get plenty of cabbage without having to munch a head of it for dinner. And while most people probably aren’t too excited about slugging down a glass of cabbage juice, you can mix it with some apple, ginger, aloe and cucumber to make a tasty juice instead.

Fermented Foods

Fermentation refers to a process by which the carbohydrates in a food are transformed into alcohols (not the same as what is typically in an alcoholic beverage, and in extremely small amounts in comparison), carbon dioxide and organic acids through the action of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria.

Fermented foods are desirable for leaky gut because they contain easily digestible fibers that serve as food for the healthy bacteria in our guts. You can also think of them as naturally rich sources of probiotics – the beneficial bacteria that our guts rely on for health.

Fermented foods date back thousands of years, and many cultures have their own traditional fermented food staples. They include sauerkraut (primarily made from cabbage, by the way!), lassi - an East-Indian yogurt-like drink made of fermented milk, and pickled vegetables like cabbage, turnips, carrots, onions and eggplant from Asian cultures.

Regular consumption of fermented foods is a great way to treat leaky gut, and to keep gut health on track.

*Note: Yogurt is commonly marketed as a source of probiotics and therefore a healthy food. I would argue that you should avoid yogurt unless it is plain and with very little sugar in it. Commercial yogurts do contain probiotics, however the amount of sugar in them will far outweigh any health benefits you might obtain from the probiotic contained.

Bone Broth

Like fermented foods, bone broth isn’t a new thing – it’s been around for years and has been used to treat leaky gut before it became mainstream in the last year or two. The foundation of bone broth is of course the bones, which contain valuable nutrients for the gut like collagen, gelatin and minerals.

Collagen is one of the main connective tissue proteins –found primarily in the skin, hair, nails, tendons, ligaments, collagen is also found in the lining of the gut. It can help rebuild the damaged gut tissue.

You can think of gelatin as a further broken-down form of collagen – it contains smaller parts of the collagen proteins, known as peptides. These too are very useful and serve as building blocks for the gut lining.

The other minerals and nutrients found in bone broth are important source of nutrition for anyone with absorption issues, especially in leaky gut. The liquid form allows the nutrients contained in it to be readily assimilated with little digestion, giving the gut a “break” so to speak.

Changing your diet to omit alcohol and processed carbohydrates/sugars, and including fermented foods, bone broth and cabbage juice provides the foundation for healing leaky gut. In our next /blogs/natural-athlete-solutions, we’ll cover treatment of leaky gut with specific natural medicines. Stay tuned!

Dr. Jason Barker
Dr. Jason Barker


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