Tweak your diet to improve gut health
The food we eat goes down a long winding digestive tract stretching from the mouth to about the nave. The digestive tract protects the body from allergens, bacteria, fungi and parasites but hormonal changes, chronic stress, certain medications, long-term use of antibiotics, spicy food, smoking, and alcohol can lead to changes in gut biochemistry. This, in turn, can disrupt the gut lining and actually cause nutrients and other partially digested substances to leak, i.e. pass through to the bloodstream. This disruption is known as leaky gut syndrome. When the immune system comes in contact with these “leaked” toxic substances, it tries to attack and destroy them, triggering an autoimmune response.
Many gastroenterologists believe that inflammation begins in the gut by causing a change in “gut microbiota” or gut flora i.e. disturbing the balance of good and bad bacteria in the belly.
Common symptoms include joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, bloating, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, irregular stools, problems like constipation or diarrhoea. Autoimmune conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis can also be a result of a leaky gut.
It would be a good idea to consult a doctor, who may suggest a few tests, like a stool test for malabsorption, blood tests for infection, or a breath hydrogen test to assess bacterial load.
Keep a check on food habits. It might be a good idea to remove dairy and gluten (which includes food items that contain wheat, rye, barley, couscous, oats, beers) from your diet since the proteins in these foods can be difficult to break down, and sometimes even worsen the symptoms of a leaky gut. Consumption of fermented milk products like buttermilk and yogurt is okay—the lactose is converted to lactate.
Reduce alcohol consumption and keep refined sugar consumption to a minimum—both can worsen inflammation and leaky gut symptoms.
Intake of processed foods, vegetable and soy oil, artificial sweeteners, refined and processed carbohydrates like biscuits and candies, hydrogenated oils and fats, white flour, and pasteurized milk products should be stopped or decreased drastically.
It is also important to factor in lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, decrease in the overall level of stress, regular exercise, etc.
Try to eat small meals every 3 hours. Protein-rich foods are essential. Yogurt, fish and chicken broth are good foods for those with leaky gut syndrome.
Look to include supplements such as glutamine, which is essentially an amino acid complex that helps rebuild gut lining. Do consult your doctor first, of course.
Another supplement can be the use of digestive enzymes, especially those containing amylase and lipase, as these help those suffering from bloating and indigestion.
Probiotics too can help restore gut flora, improve digestion and absorption. Choose one with a high colony count and a wide number of strains.
The intestinal barrier plays a critical role in keeping you healthy and disease-free. Fix your gut and you will see your overall health improve—whether it’s improved energy levels, clear thinking or weight loss.
Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.