3 simple steps to a happier gut

I first read about the phenomenon known as ‘leaky gut’ over 20 years ago. I’ve suffered with an autoimmune skin disorder known as psoriasis since I was a teenager. By my early twenties I was so fed up of trying various medications and creams, I decided to research an alternative.

I came across a book written by Dr John Pagano that suggests the underlying cause of psoriasis is a ‘leaky gut’. Leaky gut is also known as ‚increased intestinal permeability,’ because the illness causes the intestines to lose some of their ability to filter nutrients and other substances.

Our digestive system is thought to influence so many things. From controlling digestion and protecting us from hostile bacteria, to communicating with the brain – sending physical signals such as gas or hunger, and emotional feelings such as anxiety and stress. Our digestive tract actually has its own reflexes and senses, working hard to move things through our body, absorbing nutrients, and removing waste.

Leaky gut creates a dysfunctional environment for proper digestion through affecting the lining of the intestines. When this happens, particles of undigested foods, bacteria or other waste by-products may leak through the intestines into the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The body recognises these as foreign substances and detects something is wrong, triggering the immune system to kick in and try to fight what it perceives to be danger. This over-activity in the immune system in turn causes inflammation.

Chronic inflammation in the intestines holds the potential to lead to many serious disorders ranging from depression, osteoporosis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s. A leaky gut is also thought to be linked to irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease, as well as immune system disorders such rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even asthma.

When the body is continually trying to repair itself from the effects of leaky gut, it can be caught in a never-ending cycle, especially when the source of the problem is undiagnosed. Food allergies can be a common irritant; eating those same foods over and over will perpetuate a constant inflammatory cycle, preventing the intestinal lining from healing.

So what can we do?

Identify your food triggers

Food triggers vary from person to person. For me, and indeed many of those struggling with autoimmune illness, nightshade foods can prove a real gut irritant. The most common, edible nightshades are; tomatoes, white potatoes, aubergine (eggplant) and peppers. These plants use chemicals called alkaloids to shield themselves from harm – think of them as a sort of self-contained fly spray. While the plant is alive and growing, these chemical compounds are designed to protect it from insects, in other words they are meant to be toxic.

Healthy guts can cope just fine with these chemicals, but for those of us with autoimmune skin issues or compromised digestive systems, they can pose a real problem. Certain alkaloids can increase the power of our immune response and that’s the last thing we need when dealing with an immune system-related condition.

It’s important to remember that these dangers are only relevant to people who are nightshade-sensitive. If you are not sensitive to them, there’s absolutely no reason to eliminate this group of foods from your diet as a precaution.

If you suffer from psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis or any other autoimmune condition, it’s definitely worth avoiding nightshades for a month or two. If you don’t feel you can cut nightshades out entirely, peeling potatoes will help – as the alkaloids are mostly found in the skin. And avoid green tomatoes, as unripe nightshades are higher in alkaloids, and cook nightshade vegetables whenever you eat them as this will reduce the alkaloids content even further.

Balance bacteria

The bowel is a warm, moist, nutrient-rich environment that lacks oxygen and strong digestive fluids, making it an ideal place for bacteria to grow and flourish. When you take into account the processed, junk and ‘convenience foods’ we often consume these days, it’s easy to understand how pathogenic bacteria can gain a strong foothold.

Making fermented foods such as yoghurt or homemade sauerkraut can be a great way to establish and replenish healthy bacterial flora. And a good probiotic supplement can provide additional support.

Heal your gut

Another crucial step in treating leaky gut syndrome is to eat a healthy diet. Nutrient-dense foods such as organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and healthy fats are essential to healing your gut.

Juices, soups and stews are easy on the digestive system. Vegetable broth that’s flavoured with turmeric, for example, can do wonders for healing a ravaged gut. It can improve digestion, and turmeric helps to strengthen the intestinal walls and is a proven, natural inflammation fighter too.