Gut Health- Everything You Need To Know

gut health fat
Poor Gut Health can lead to…a gut!

In this article, we will discuss what are some of the anti-nutrients hurting your gut health.  First, here are some interesting facts about the gut:

  • 75% of your immune system is in your gut.  
  • There are up to 3lbs of bacteria in your digestive tract.  Your body houses more bacteria cells than your own cells.
  • Your gut and brain are connected (gut-brain connection).  During embryo development, a mass of nerve cells called the neural crest divides and one part goes on to create the central nervous system and the other part creates the enteric nervous system (the nervous system in your gut).  This is why the gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain.  
  • The gut has 500 million nerve cells and is one of the main creators of neurotransmitters like dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. (1)   .  In fact, 90% of your serotonin and 50% of the body’s dopamine lie in the gut. (2)

#1 Anti-nutrient hurting your gut- Gliadin 

Gliadin is a protein molecule found in most gluten-containing foods, and it is the main culprit responsible for your intestinal distress after eating wheat-containing foods. 

Some people are more sensitive than others to gliadin, so just because you can chow down on 8 slices of pizza and feel fine (like me) it doesn’t necessarily mean that damage is not being done to your gut.  

Gliadin sensitivity is prevalent in populations with northern European and/or Nordic ancestry.  Here’s what happens to the gut when foods containing gliadin are consumed:

“When gliadin is consumed, there is an inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract that involves heat, redness, swelling, and a change or interruption in the normal function of the small intestine (Mittag). As your body attempts to fight off a foreign, indigestible substance, blood vessels in the gut enlarge and become more permeable (13). This brings more white blood cells and other immune system cells to the site of injury to provide protection.

In addition, fluids exudates (leaks) from these blood vessels into surrounding tissues, bringing more white blood cells into those tissues for enhanced immune protection. A thin filament called fibrin (the same substance used for blood clotting) also forms in the site to aid in the intestinal wall’s physical repair process.” (bengreenfieldfitness.com)

The excerpt above will make you think twice before reaching for that piece of bread next time out to dinner.  

So, what exactly are the downstream effects of this?

Malabsorption of nutrients- your small intestine is lined with millions of one cell thick finger-like structures called villi.  These villi increase the surface area of your intestines and enable it to better absorb nutrients. Without them, not only would the surface area of the intestine be greatly reduced, but it would be much harder to absorb the nutrients.  Well, these villi can be destroyed by pro-inflammatory substances such as gliadin, and when they are destroyed, your gut’s ability to absorb the foods you eat is reduced.  

Erosion of the mucosal lining of the gut-

Much like the lining of your lungs, nose, and throat, your gut is lined with a mucosal membrane.  The main function of this lining is to prevent infection from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.  When your gut is constantly stressed by a pro-inflammatory substance like gliadin this can erode the lining of the gut and can create a hyper-permeable gut (A.K.A. Leaky gut syndrome).  

You see, having a leaky gut allows pathogens to bypass one of its first lines of defense, making you more susceptible to illness.  In addition, when you have a leaky gut, any undigested food, especially protein, gets into the bloodstream and causes an inflammatory response from the immune system. 

#2. NSAID’s

There is new evidence that shows NSAID’s, (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs e.g. Advil, Ibuprofen, Motrin) also cause damage to the mucosal lining of the small intestine As we discussed with gliadin,  this lining is our first line of defense against foreign particles and plant lectins.  Taking too many NSAIDs can eat away at this lining and make your gut hyper permeable, thus, allowing toxins or undigested food, particularly proteins, to enter into the bloodstream.  Your body’s immune system will target these particles and generate an inflammatory response to combat them. Taking NSAIDs on a regular basis can result in chronic inflammation and immune stress.

#3. Too much bacteria in the small intestine

Small intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO is another major ailment of the gut. What is SIBO? “SIBO is defined as an increase in the number and/or alteration in the type of bacteria in the upper gastrointestinal tract”(7).  Unlike your colon, your small intestine isn’t supposed to have a whole lot of bacteria, but when you have a poor diet consisting of high levels of sugars and carbs you can have an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.  The overgrowth of bacteria can lead to poor absorption of critical nutrients like vitamins B12, A, D, and Iron. SIBO can also cause deconjugation of bile acids which result in fat not being broken down and “fatty stools.” Another consequence of SIBO is bloating and flatulence from excessive gas in the gut.

How do you know if you have SIBO?

The gold-standard for testing for SIBO is analyzing microbial aspirates from a patient’s jejunum.  Today, there are less invasive methods for testing for SIBO like hydrogen breath testing kits that analyze the composition of your breath based off the gas emitted from your microbiome.

How to stop SIBO?

Controlling the amount of sugars and carbs you eat is paramount.  Eating too many sugars and too many carbs feeds the bad bacteria and causes the overgrowth of bacteria.  By limiting the fuel source for the bacteria you will help reduce the total amount of bacteria in the small intestine and restore normal gut health.

#4 Yeast Candida 

We have talked a lot about bacteria, but we have talked about the other type of microbe that lives in your gut: fungi.  One of the major species of fungi that live in the gut is Candida albicans.  Low levels of Candida in the gut are considered healthy, but when Candida overgrowth occurs it can cause major problems such as digestive issues, mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, and brain fog.

One good at-home remedy for Candida overgrowth is by supplementing with apple cider vinegar daily.  In one case study, it was shown to blunt Candida growth.  I personally like to mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a glass of water right before or after a meal.  Not only will this help with controlling Candida growth, but it will also help with blunting insulin levels.

Here are some other anti-nutrients that are most likely also hurting your gut biome:

  • Sugar is bad gut bacteria’s favorite food source and it is one of the major reasons why reducing sugar intake can have such a beneficial effect on the microbiome.  
  • Processed meats such as cold cuts, cured bacon, and low-quality red meat also adversely affect the gut.
  • White Bread, lots of milk, and excessive alcohol intake all are detrimental to the health of your gut.  Try and keep these anti-nutrients to a minimum.  

Foods that help the gut microbiome:

Fermented foods:

Sauerkraut and kimchi are super beneficial for your microbiome. Both foods are comprised of fermented cabbage which the good bacteria and fungi in your gut love. When it comes to sauerkraut make sure it hasn’t been heated or the beneficial probiotics can be destroyed.  (6)

Apples– apples have lots of fiber and a large chunk of that fiber is comprised of a molecule called pectin.  Pectin is a major fuel source for beneficial bacteria in the gut. Bacteria that feed on pectin produce a short-chained fatty acid called butyrate.  Butyrate benefits good gut bacteria and helps to eliminate bad gut bacteria. (4) Apples also contain many polyphenols.  Polyphenols and pectin have been shown to improved digestive health and fat metabolism. (5)

Garlic

You really can’t get enough garlic.  Besides its antiviral properties, it also has great probiotic properties.  It has a natural antimicrobial called allicin.  Allicin can help lower candida overgrowth.  Studies have found that garlic can increase the development of beneficial gut bacteria, due to the prebiotic properties of garlic. (3)

Bananas

Bananas, especially bananas that are still green, are high in resistant starch. Resistant starch is a prebiotic, a type of indigestible carbohydrate that acts as food for gut bacteria, encouraging the good bacteria to grow and flourish. While resistant starch has many health benefits, one of its most promising aspects is its ability to increase insulin sensitivity.  

Asparagus

Asparagus is rich in prebiotics. Asparagus stalks are also rich in inulin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.  

Yogurt and Kefir-

Kefir and yogurt are super beneficial for your gut.  They are filled with probiotics and cultures that are beneficial for your gut.  They also are high in digestive enzymes which aid digestion.

Cruciferous vegetables-

According to this study, Broccoli has been shown to improve the health of the intestine when eaten regularly. broccoli also has been shown to reduce inflammation and also help decrease aromatase enzymes that convert sex hormones into estrogen.  Other vegetables that are “cruciferous” are cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. 

References:

  1. Young, Emma. “Gut Instincts: The Secrets of your Second Brain”. New Scientist. New Scientist. Retrieved 8 April 2015.(also NeuroScienceStuff, archived 2013-05-04)
  2. Pasricha, Pankaj Jay. “Stanford Hospital: Brain in the Gut – Your Health”
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453013000311
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070119/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12771330
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456350
  7. SIBO is defined as an increase in the number and/or alteration in the type of bacteria in the upper gastrointestinal tract

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