Leaky gut is getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. More often referred to by doctors and health professionals as intestinal permeability, leaky gut has many symptoms and complications. So what is it exactly?
We all have a one-cell barrier between out blood stream and the space where we digest all of our food. In a healthy person, this one cell barrier lets through amino acids, glucose, nutrients, water and fatty acids to feed the cells of our body and create energy. In a person with leaky gut, the cells have been damaged and now have space between them that lets through larger particles of incompletely digested food. When this partially digested food reaches our blood stream our immune system is put on alert to attack because it isn’t meant to recognize the larger particles. This causes inflammation that can further damage the gut lining, along with causing many symptoms associated with leaky gut, such as gas, bloating, edema, joint pain, among many others. Part of the problem with leaky gut is that it doesn’t show up the same exact way in any two people, which in the past has made it difficult to identify the problem.
Leaky gut is extremely common, and it is likely that everyone has it to some degree. So why do we care, beyond the symptoms? When the gut lining is damaged we are unable to absorb nutrients efficiently, leading to depletion of vitamins and minerals, insufficient protein and fat absorption, and dehydration. The most common cause is allergenic foods, such as gluten in someone with Celiac, though not to that degree. Gluten activates a protein called zonulin in everyone, and zonulin is being identified as a trigger for creating gaps between the cells of our intestinal lining. Stress, dehydration, intense exercise and a nutrient poor diet are all contributors as well.
When patients come to me with increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, I do two things immediately: improve their overall diet and suggest they drink 8 ounces of bone broth three times a day. Improving their diet consists of identifying and removing food triggers or sensitivities, reducing or elimination sugar, alcohol and refined carbohydrates and increasing the overall nutrient density of their diet.
Bone broth is a wonderful food to increase nutrient absorption, heal the lining and improve hydration status. Made by simmering whole bones for 24-72 hours (depending on the size of the bones), it is full of vitamins, minerals and gelatin. Since there is no digestion required of the liquid broth the vitamins and minerals are easily absorbed by the body, and do not cause stress to the digestive tract. This can help with any nutrient deficiencies that may have developed, and the minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium all act as electrolytes to balance and improve hydration. The gelatin in bone broth is the healing part: it comes from the joint bones and is what makes bone broth solidify into a jelly-like substance when refrigerated. Gelatin is intensely healing for the cells of the intestines, closing the gaps that are leaking out nutrients and aiding with overall nutrient absorption. The high content of amino acids provides the building blocks for your body to rebuild all tissues, not just in the gut. It is also used to heal join pain, lose weight, and build muscle mass.
Here is a recipe for bone broth, from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon:
2 pounds (or more) of bones from a healthy source (organic, grass fed is imperative)
2 chicken feet for extra gelatin
1 piece kombu (seaweed)
2 carrots (or a handful of carrot tops reserved for this purpose)
2 tablespoons White Vinegar
Optional: 1 bunch of parsley,
1 tablespoon or more of sea salt,
1 teaspoon peppercorns,
additional herbs or spices to taste.
You’ll also need a large stockpot to cook the broth in and a strainer to remove the pieces when it is done.
Add all the ingredients to a large stockpot, about a gallon of water per pound of bones. Now, bring the broth to a boil. Once it has reached a vigorous boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer until done.
Beef broth/stock: 48 hours
Chicken or poultry broth/stock: 24 hours
Fish broth: 8 hours
During the first few hours of simmering, you’ll need to remove the impurities that float to the surface. A frothy/foamy layer will form and it can be easily scooped off with a big spoon. Throw this part away. I typically check it every 20 minutes for the first 2 hours to remove this. Grass-fed and healthy animals will produce much less of this than conventional animals.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain using a fine metal strainer to remove all the bits of bone and vegetable. When cool enough, store in a gallon size glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.