Leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the gut lining is damaged to the point where food particles can into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and various symptoms that have many people wondering where they went wrong.
David Asprey, biohacker, author, and creator of the Bulletproof Diet, shares how he healed his leaky gut and offers some tips and tricks for those trying to do the same. According to Asprey, eating the right foods – and ditching the wrong ones – are the foundation of increased energy, performance and mental agility. And he should know. He’s spent more than $300,000 and a couple of decades hacking his brain and body’s performance.
The microbiome is a universe of living organisms in your digestive tract, and most of the time, these little critters are working to your advantage. The bacteria in your gut can do everything from clear up your acne to help heal autoimmune issues and can even affect the way you view the world.
But there’s a catch. Every gut has “good” and “bad” bacteria aka “beneficial” and “opportunistic.” Even the bad guys have a role to play, but the secret lies in ensuring there is a healthy balance between good and bad. When there is balance, your brain and body flourish.
When properly balanced and thriving, gut bacteria are important players in maintaining your nutritional status by helping to manufacture, absorb and metabolize key nutrients like B vitamins and vitamin K.
Healthy gut bacteria also help to strengthen the lining of the digestive tract, train your immune system to distinguish between healthy and harmful bacteria, and regulate energy balance by influencing genes that govern energy use and fat storage. In other words, balanced gut flora means better fat metabolism! The gut microbiome also plays a key role in the gut-brain axis, an important messaging system that oversees your satiety, food intake, glucose regulation, fat metabolism, insulin secretion and sensitivity, and bone metabolism. All in all, these little critters do quite a lot for you, if they’re “behaving” properly.
But what happens when they misbehave? When your gut bacteria are out of balance, the imbalance can make you weak, fatigued, inflamed and even trigger personality changes. It’s a delicate dance— and almost never a perfect one. The microbiome will adversely shift with changes in diet, bouts of illness, periods of drinking alcohol or taking drugs, episodes of severe stress, changes in body weight, age, and exposure to new or toxic environments.
Why unbalanced flora is bad
A significant body of research demonstrates the link between gut bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis) and many chronic diseases common in Western society. Take leaky gut, for example. An unbalanced gut microbiome can lead to leaky gut, which is just what it sounds like — a condition where the lining of the intestine is damaged, causing small holes where undigested food can leak into the bloodstream. When these food molecules end up in places where they don’t belong, your immune system will tag them as the enemy and launch an attack. This is often what causes allergies and exacerbates autoimmune conditions. Your immune system is busy trying to clean up the mess made by intestinal permeability and pretty soon, your body just can’t keep up.
Food particles – particularly gluten, casein, and soy – are composed of proteins similar in structure to proteins that make up certain glands and organs in your body. When these food proteins leak through the lining of the intestine, they trigger an immune response that can cause your body to attack itself. This is what is called an autoimmune response and it’s pretty ugly.
The movement of bacteria and toxins from the gut to the rest of the body is one of the most significant and preventable causes of chronic disease in modern society. So, how can we prevent leaky gut?
The Bulletproof Leaky Gut Protocol
The foundation of healthy, robust gut health is food. A nutrient-dense diet, clean of environmental toxins and energy-zapping additives is by far the most important factor in proper gut function.
Just one day of eating a Western-style diet can adversely alter your gut microbiome. Real, whole vegetables, limited fruits, and high-quality fats and proteins, on the other hand, will help to prevent inflammation and optimize metabolic and immune function.
My leaky gut syndrome caused brain fog, weight gain, and worse, triggered autoimmune diseases. Here’s how I healed my leaky gut. I hope you find some of these tips helpful!
Choose nutrient-dense, low-toxin, anti-inflammatory foods
The Bulletproof Diet is naturally low in histamines and anti-inflammatory. It’s also, by nature, high in quality and therefore high in bioavailable nutrients. Here’s your diet breakdown:
- Say sayonara to sugar: Sugar causes systemic inflammation, is rough on the gut lining and feeds bad bacteria. Sugar also promotes the overgrowth of yeast and candida (a fungus), all of which cause inflammation of the gut lining and may contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
- Choose a diverse diet: Eating a variety of high-quality vegetables, fats, and proteins introduces not just good bacteria, but many different bacteria into your microbiome, which will improve and sustain the integrity of your microbiome.
- Avoid anti-nutrients: Food toxins like mold, lectins, phytates and oxalates can cause inflammation and limit your absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. In some cases, these compounds can even contribute to severe gut and autoimmune reactions. These anti-nutrients can be found in many grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Oxalates are found in many otherwise healthy foods like broccoli, kale and spinach. Not everyone is sensitive to these foods, so make sure to test your individualized response to high-oxalate foods. In general, source your food wisely and look into soaking and sprouting your nuts and seeds to limit their phytate content.
- Get rid of grains: Grains not only contain a large amount of gut-aggravating lectin and phytates, but they also may contain difficult-to-digest proteins like gluten. Once your gut is healed, you can try introducing small amounts of soaked, fermented, or sprouted grains, like white rice, gluten-free oats, buckwheat, or quinoa. The fermentation or sprouting cut the amount of anti-nutrients and make these grains easier to digest. But gluten-containing grains should be avoided indefinitely, especially for those with autoimmune conditions, chronic allergies, or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Two words: local and fresh: I’m a huge fan of fresh, organic, local meat and vegetables. There is no better way to source nutrient-dense foods and support your local economy. And because our gut bacteria are directly related to the bacteria found in our soil, eating high-quality, organic produce is essential to robust gut health.
- Choose your fibers wisely: Depending on the severity of your leaky gut or gut dysbiosis, you may want to limit or avoid starchy and fibrous vegetables or those with prebiotics. Fiber and prebiotics are great for feeding healthy gut bacteria, but they can also feed the bad guys. If you suffer from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, you’ll want to treat that before bringing in a ton of prebiotic and fibrous foods.
- Ditch drinking: Alcohol reduces bacterial diversity and causes inflammation of the intestinal lining. Not good when you’re trying to heal.
- Fermented foods may help: Although these foods are rich in probiotics, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and pickles can also cause a histamine reaction in certain individuals. If you can tolerate dairy, fermented foods like yogurt and kefir are high in probiotic bacteria that can be beneficial to the gut.
- Skip conventional dairy or eliminate dairy altogether: Dairy contains the protein A1 casein that’s rough on the gut and can cause allergic reactions and sensitivities in many people. About 75 percent of the world’s population intolerant to lactose, the sugar in milk products. Not to mention the fact that commercial pasteurization diminishes vital enzymes inherent in milk products, making lactose even more difficult to digest. I recommend only grass-fed organic, raw milk, or yogurt from A2 cows. If you suspect you’re still sensitive to dairy, skip it altogether.
Here are some of my favorite supplements to help support gut healing and a healthy, balanced gut microbiome:
- Prebiotics: Prebiotics feed intestinal bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which support colon health. Resistant starches like banana flour, plantain flour, cassava, and raw potato starch are great in small quantities.
- Digestive enzymes: Your small intestine, pancreas, stomach, and salivary glands produce enzymes that help you digest your food properly. But the production of these enzymes diminishes naturally with age and may be even more limited when the health of the gut is compromised. Try removing enzyme inhibitors like grains and legumes from your diet and supplementing with digestive enzymes.
- Betaine HCL: Betaine HCL may help improve fat and protein digestion if you have low stomach acid due to chronic stress, age, or autoimmune disease.
- Activated Charcoal: Charcoal is not just for the grill. Activated charcoal is also an ancient and scientifically backed remedy. It’s used to absorb endotoxins that cause gastrointestinal disease and remove toxins from processed, low-quality foods. Take activated charcoal anytime you’re unsure of the quality of your food.
- Collagen: Collagen is a protein that makes up a majority of the connective tissue in your body, including your joints, hair, skin, and nails. Collagen and bone broth offer vital amino acids that are necessary for tissue repair in the GI tract.
- L-Glutamine: Adding l-glutamine to your protocol is a This anti-inflammatory amino acid promotes healing in the GI tract, while promoting muscle recovery and brain health.
Be on the Lookout for Histamines
Some probiotics, like sauerkraut, contain histamines, compounds that can cause symptoms like headaches, itchiness, rashes, and can increase systemic inflammation in certain people. If you experience symptoms after eating probiotic foods, you may be one of those people that can’t handle histamines.
Use antibiotics with caution
Antibiotics are commonly and often excessively used in Western medicine. But these meds don’t just kill pathogenic bacteria, they eradicate a host of other important microbes along with them. Avoid the excessive use of antibiotics, but if you do have to use them, use Bulletproof Diet principles and plenty of good quality probiotics to help heal your gut.
Don’t wait until it’s too late!
The gut microbiome is established in utero and as the baby passes through the vaginal canal. After birth, the microbiome is nurtured through diet and his or her interaction with the world. Breastfeeding provides infants with beneficial prebiotics that help to form their gut microbiome and high-quality, organic foods will promote gut health and a strong immune system as they age.
Besides diet, stress management is one of the best ways to heal and support your gut flora. Studies show that stress affects the brain-gut axis and can lead to decreased hydrochloric acid production, nutrient absorption, enzyme production, oxygenation and blood flow to the GI tract. So eat well and de-stress for optimal gut health.
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