Leaky gut ... ew, just the sound of it sounds horrifying. Remember the 1979 sci-fi-horror blockbuster film, Aliens? Especially the infamous scene when the baby alien explodes out of the body of actor John Hurt? That's kind of what leaky gut sounds like.
However, leaky gut isn't science fiction. In fact, for the approximately 50 million people with an autoimmune disorder (source), especially those affecting the digestive system, such as Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn's Disease, as well as the 75% of Americans who live with digestive discomfort (source), it's a horror show that's all too real.
But what exactly does 'leaky gut' mean? The medical phenomenon has been featured on segments on the likes of Dr. Oz. And bone broth is often touted by so-called nutritional experts as one superfood that can cure leaky gut. So can it?
Let's answer the first question....
What is leaky gut?
With frightening aliens in your mind, by now, you're probably thinking leaky gut is a bad thing. But the truth is, you need your gut (your intestines) to leak. Without any leaks, your body would not absorb any nutrients. But like most things in life, too much of anything is bad. Leaky gut is no different. That's because your intestines have a lining. The lining is made out of endothelial cells. These cells are the primary constituents that hold your gut lining together. In a healthy, normal GI (gastrointestinal) system, the junctions that hold the lining together are small enough to keep undigested food particles and toxins out of the bloodstream. Think of these cells as bouncers at a bar keeping the rowdy patrons out.
Leaky gut is when these junctions become weak and the gaps between the cells become wider. This allows pathogens (particles your body recognizes as invaders) to flood the bloodstream. Your body can only fight off these pathogens for so long before your immune system is taxed to the max.
In short, leaky gut, which is also called "Intestinal Permeability" is when your gut lining breaks down. And when too many undigested food particles and other toxins that would otherwise work their way out of your body have free reign in your bloodstream, you become at risk for developing, at least food allergies, and, at worst, autoimmune disorders. How are autoimmune disorders related to leaky gut? When proteins from food are not completely absorbed through regular digestive mechanism, the body recognizes those proteins (for example, gluten) as toxins. Your body's response is to attack those proteins. Consequently, a chronic inflammation response is deployed by the body to deal with these mistaken invaders. Over time, the body essentially attacks itself to deal with the bombardment of undigested food proteins.
What causes Leaky Gut?
There are several possible causes of leaky gut. If you've taken lots of antibiotics over the years, you may not have enough good bacteria to balance out the bad. This bad bacteria can break down your gut lining.
Another culprit of leaky gut is environmental toxins. Even if you currently use mostly all-natural cleaners and cosmetics, think about when you were growing up. Your parents probably had harsh chemical cleaners. Exposure to all those cleaners can wreak havoc on your immune system. And since the overwhelming majority of your immune cells are in your gut, it's easy to see how your gut lining can break down. However, it's still a good idea to make sure your household contains no cosmetics, cleaners or other products containing abrasive chemicals. In addition, lead from paint and other heavy metals can accumulate in your tissues, causing the gaps in your gut lining to widen.
The next possible cause of leaky gut relates to the first one above. However, even if you don't have much of a history with antibiotics, your gut could still be low in beneficial bacteria. This may be true if you don't eat a healthy diet that includes fermented and cultured foods. (If this is the case, consider taking a high-quality, high-count probiotic supplement.)
Moreover, if your belly is low in gastric juices, this could also contribute to leaky gut. That's because if you don't have enough digestive acid, you won't break the food down. People with this problem typically have acid reflux. Unfortunately, the mainstream medical solution for acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease) are antacid medications, which further degrade the stomach acids. What's needed in this case is supplementation with HCL and Pepsin. These are your two primary digestive acids.
Anything else that causes chronic inflammation can degrade your gut lining. This includes financial/emotional/psychological/spiritual turmoil as well as lifestyle stress. Thus, if you're always worried about your bills, always arguing with your spouse, worried about the state of the world because you're glued to the news, depressed because your job sucks and drinking 5 beers a night or eating a tub of ice cream to cope, these all contribute to leaky gut.
How do you know if you have leaky gut?
There are a few different diagnostic tests to confirm leaky gut. However, getting tested is probably not necessary. Especially if you have any of the following chronic symptoms: bloating, gas, acid reflux, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, sleep disturbances, food allergies, skin problems, difficulty focusing and concentrating. Moreover, autoimmune disorders are considered a certain sign that leaky gut is present.
How do you cure leaky gut?
For those with autoimmune disease (AD), the gaps in the intestinal lining are very large; sufferers of an AD have serious cases of leaky gut. In light of this, and less serious cases, how can a leaky gut be repaired?
The answer is a multi-pronged approach. First, there's the aforementioned probiotics. Also, detoxing the body of heavy metals and other toxins is paramount. There's supplements such as colloidal silver that can chelate (bind) and eliminate stored toxins in the tissues. In addition, there's several other supplements such as l-glutamine that can help repair the gut lining.
The problem with supplements is that they can be very expensive. If you can afford it, visit a functional medicine specialist or naturopath to counsel you on gut permeability. A health expert like a naturopath will likely recommend supplements for you so you don't have to guess. And if you don't have the money for one or two visits with a health expert, see what you can do to slash other things you can spend money on. Maybe after a couple months of not buying that $4 cup of specialty coffee, you could afford an initial session....
Of course, diet is also crucial for repairing the gut lining. Eliminating all foods that may promote inflammation (sugar, wheat, dairy, nightshade vegetables, starchy vegetables, white flour, alcohol) is the first step. Next, it's important to include foods that may actually repair the gut lining. One of those foods is bone broth.
Can Bone Broth Really Heal Leaky Gut?
Functional medicine experts and nutritional therapists recommend bone broth as one remedy for leaky gut. But can bone broth really heal leaky gut? Or, does it just sound good in theory?
LonoLife says "YES!" But don't just take our word for it. Here's what the science says.
This study says that glutamine, an amino acid that's abundant in bone broth, can help repair intestinal permeability (IP). In fact, the researchers say it's the best known compound for reducing IP. Furthermore, glutamine supplementation has been shown to increase intestinal barrier function in malnourished children, and in IBD treatment, the use glutamine alone or in combination with other amino acids is considered promising.
As you might already be aware of, bone broth contains collagen protein because of the extra-long simmering of bones (and other animal parts that you normally wouldn't eat because they'd be impossible to digest without simmering).
Blood markers of collagen, according to this study, are lower in people with IBS or UC. In light of this, it's logical that supplementing with foods with collagen protein would increase serum collagen. Another study shows that compounds in bone broth fight inflammation.
There are several other studies that demonstrate collagen, which is abundant in our bone broth, can help repair gut lining. Make bone broth (and collagen peptides and Protein Coffee) a part of your daily routine to keep your gut healthy. Or repair it, if necessary.