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A Guide to Leaky Gut Syndrome and How to Heal It Naturally

A Guide to Leaky Gut Syndrome and How to Heal It Naturally

What do you think when you hear the term “leaky gut?” While most natural and alternative healthcare practitioners will understand it to mean increased intestinal permeability, the average person – and even many conventional physicians – may not. While there still exists some debate surrounding the recognition of leaky gut syndrome as a true medical condition, the host of gastrointestinal and non-GI symptoms that are attributed to it are certainly cause for further study.

What Is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut syndrome is believed to be the result of damage to your intestinal lining, which makes it less capable of protecting your body’s internal environment and filtering vital nutrients and other biological substances – both good and bad. When the small intestine is not bound by tight junctions, antigens and other biological substances from undigested proteins and fats to bacteria can pass (or “leak”) through it and into your bloodstream. The lining of the small intestine is only one cell deep, so when it is compromised, the toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles in your gut have complete, unregulated access to your bloodstream and, subsequently, your immune system.

“All Disease Begins in the Gut”

Hippocrates, who is often touted as the father of modern medicine, is reported to have said that “all disease begins in the gut,” and modern research has now shown that he was correct in his premise.  I see it in my practice every day: poor gut health leads to many more symptoms and underlying problems than those you might presume, and having a “leaky gut” causes more than just the expected GI symptoms. Leaky gut triggers an inflammatory autoimmune response throughout your body which lead can to many more common health concerns. We have seen dozens of these labs in my practice, and the correlation between labs that suggest severe leaky gut/increased intestinal permeability and autoimmune conditions like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, Crohn’s, and others is very strong. Other well-documented diseases and health issues that can arise from having a permeable gut include allergies, asthma, autism, eczema and psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, IBD, food sensitivities, thyroid issues, and much more.

What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

So what causes leaky gut? In seeing hundreds of patients each year, I have come to the conclusion there are five main contributors to poor gut health.

1. Chronic Stress

The first contributor to poor gut health starts with ill-managed and chronic stress, which manifests in increased or severely suppressed cortisol.  Increased catecholamines (a type of neurotransmitter) from stress also play a role in breaking down mucosal lining, which can be found all along your digestive tract from your esophagus (esophageal mucosa) to your intestine (intestinal mucosa).

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2. Medication

The second contributors that will disrupt your gut health are pharmaceuticals and common medications like antibiotics, antacids, and corticosteroids. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are not targeted meaning that when you take these medications, they don’t just work on the intended target; they will also impact the good (we experience and generally accept this in the abundance of side effects of the medications we take). Antibiotics, one of the most commonly prescribed medications today, for instance, are known to destroy the beneficial bacteria in your gut and can cause a variety of other health issues. Even common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like acetaminophen and ibuprofen don’t come without risks, which is why it’s best to always consult with your doctor for guidance on medication and look to a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies as your first line of defense.

3. Infection

A third common cause of leaky gut is parasitic, bacterial, and fungal infections. In my practice, we can and commonly do run the GI Maps or Bio-Health 401H panel to screen for these common gut infections, and get you back on the path to health if an infection is identified.

4. Hormonal Imbalance

The fourth contributor to leaky gut syndrome is hormonal issues.  A poorly functioning thyroid, sustained elevation of cortisol levels, too much or too little of hormones like estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone can all impact and damage the lining of your intestine making it permeable for antigens.

5. Poor Diet

The fifth and probably most prominent contributor to poor gut health and syndromes like leaky gut is also the most avoidable: poor diet.  Poor nutrition plays an essential role in the deterioration of your gut’s microbiome. Many of the prime examples of foods and drinks that will harm your gut are staples of the North American diet: alcohol, gluten containing products (like bread, bagels, and cereal), dairy, overly processed foods, refined sugars, and the poor quality and unhealthy oils and trans fats used in many of the foods offered in fast food restaurants.

How to Heal Your Gut Naturally

While it is important to understand what leaky gut and intestinal permeability means and to examine its root causes, even more critical is learning how to heal your gut naturally.  For the purposes of this article, we will focus on food as medicine as I believe a great deal of improvement can come from your diet and nutrition alone. Just as important as knowing what not to eat is knowing what foods promote gut health. These are some easy lifestyle and diet changes that anyone can make.

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Top 5 Foods for Leaky Gut Syndrome

In addition to eating a healthy diet that is low in processed foods and high in whole foods, there are some foods that I recommend to patients who are looking to heal their gut and support overall gut health.

Bone Broth

One food product that is excellent for healing the gut is bone broth. It contains both proline and glycine (amino acids that can help heal your damaged cell walls) as well as collagen which is great at “holding the body together,” so to speak. Collagen is found in some of the most important structural elements of the body from bones to tendons to joints. While simple to make, bone broth requires the right ingredients and a lot of time. While many people regularly make bone broth at home, there are also a growing number of distributors across the United States and Canada that will ship bone broth to your front door.

Fermented Foods

Another very helpful food in promoting gut health is fermented vegetables. They contain natural probiotics and organic acids that help balance intestinal pH. Fermented vegetables are a long-standing culinary tradition in many cultures. While the Germans are known for their sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Korea is known for kimchi (made from a variety of fermented vegetables and spices) and Russia for kvass (a fermented grain beverage). Whether you grew up with fermented vegetables as a common side dish or not, including them in your diet can do wonders for your intestinal health. While fermented vegetables pack the extra healthy punch of natural probiotics, a point worth mentioning is that good old steamed vegetables and fruits are also helpful in healing a severe leaky gut.

Cultured Dairy

This gut-healthy food is a staple in my family’s home and contains both short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and probiotics: cultured dairy. I know, first I mention dairy as a common dietary cause behind poor gut health, and now I tell you it’s a good choice for your overall gut health. While many people are sensitive to dairy in its most common forms (think a big glass of milk or cheese on your pizza), cultured dairy products impact the body differently. Some examples of healthy cultured dairy products include kefir, high-quality strained yogurts, and even butter made from grass-fed milk. These healthy options may not always taste the best when compared to their sugary counterparts like flavored yogurts and ice cream, but they are excellent for your gut health.

Sprouted Seeds

Another food category that is beneficial for your gut is sprouted seeds, which are seeds that have been allowed to germinate, a natural process that reduces anti-nutritional compounds in the seed. Sprouted flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are among those I recommend. These sprouted seeds are great sources of fiber and other nutrients that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

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Coconut Oil

I also recommend introducing select medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) like unrefined coconut oil into your kitchen and diet. I enjoy it with my morning tea and as a cooking oil. Coconut oil is easier to digest than other fats (due to its structure) so this makes it easier on your digestive system.

The Bottom Line for Your Gut Health

While you don’t have to eat all of these gut-healthy foods every day to reap the benefits, try combining them to get as many as possible. For example, mixing coconut oil and kefir gets you your probiotics and your healthy fats in one tasty snack.  These foods will help you optimize your gut flora and heal the damage that has been done to your intestine over the years. If you suffer from any symptoms or illnesses associated with leaky gut, I strongly urge you to start with simple diet changes so you can begin your journey back to health and vitality.

Mike, FDN, PT

www.mikedaciuk.com

info@mikedaciuk.com

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About the Author:

After completing his Degree at Ryerson University and spending 15 years in Corporate, he graduated from the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program in California and is now the CEO of Interactive Body Balance where he oversees a vibrant functional medicine health practice. Transitioning from Corporate to the entrepreneurial paradigm has involved seeing patients and clients via the conventional method but also virtually. He has authored the popular self-help book titled “The Transformation From Within” and the Functional Medicine Book ” How To Restore Your Health”, hosts the highly ranked ITunes Podcast called Interactive Body Balance, is creating multiple online health courses while also presenting to audiences around the world.

Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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