Leaky gut sounds pretty unpleasant. The idea of anything seeping out of your intestines or stomach has to be wrong. In fact, leaky gut is nothing to be joked about. It is thought to be a primary cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Gluten is thought to be the number one cause of leaky gut, though by no means is it the only reason. Therefore, before continuing to give advice about how to deal with leaky gut, it is important to be clear on what we are talking about.
Leaky gut syndrome is in fact a number of symptoms and conditions that are related to the immune system and its reaction to germs and toxins and other substances absorbed into the bloodstream through the porous bowel. So, the first problem is the leakiness of the bowel and the second problem is the immune system’s ability to deal with what enters the bloodstream.
A porous bowel can be caused by a number of factors. The inner bowel is line by just a single layer of cells known as the mucosal barrier. This barrier is designed to be pretty effective as absorbing all the nutrients we need but it also needs to prevent large molecules and germs passing through and into the bloodstream. The mucosal barrier is essentially a pretty effective sieve, which for most of us allows the good stuff through and the bad stuff gets ejected out the back door. You can see what this metaphor refers to without need for greater explanation!
Over time, with age, this barrier gets a little warn down and is generally not as effective. However, the level of leakiness is such that most of us live with a perfectly acceptable mucosal barrier throughout our life. However, there are certain factors that decrease our chances of sustaining a workable mucosal barrier. Alcohol, aspirin, certain anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen – these are all well-known irritants to the bowel lining. They essentially break down the glue that binds the cells together, allowing for substances to pass between the cells and into the bloodstream.
However, before you leap to the conclusion that you should never drink alcohol again and painkillers are a no-no, gastroenterologists believe that these factors will cause little more than a swelling of a small part of the bowel. This means that the inflammation might be bad enough to cause the occasional ulcer, it is unlikely to compromise the integrity of the barrier between bowel and bloodstream.
That said, there are certain conditions that can impact on the integrity of the bowel wall. These include: IBS, salmonella, norovirus, giardiasis, coeliac disease, chemotherapy, chronic kidney disease, radiotherapy of the abdomen, HIV, Cystic Fibrosis, Type 1 diabetes, sepsis or a particularly complex surgery. With these conditions, the occasions of leaky gut are more prevalent – especially with conditions such as Crohn’s disease – with causes chronic inflammation of the bowel to such an extent that people are sometimes reduced to a liquid diet.
Nutritionists are of a different opinion. They believe that leaky gut is a result of an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the bowel. They believe this is a results of a poor diet and over prescribing of antibiotics, which mean your body loses a lot of the good bacteria that deals with a lot of the bad bacteria. This then causes a build of pockets of undigested food, which produces toxins and germs, which then breach a weakened gut wall. Nutritionists also attribute leaky git to a much wider range of conditions, such as: food allergies, migraines, fatigue asthma, lupus, arthritis, MS, eczema and autism. However, there is little scientific evidence to back up these claims – even though anecdotal evidence is strong.
There are a lot of claims and counter claims about what will and will not work to counter the impact of leaky gut. Some people claim that gluten is a primary cause, as our body was not designed to deal with this. Others claim that a low FODMAP (Fermented Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – glad you asked?) – or diets low in short-chain carbohydrates will help, as these are difficult for the gut bacteria to deal with and therefore they stay longer gathering damaging toxins. If you want someone to cut through the noise, the best advice seems to be to have a diet that is low in processed foods and high in natural products.
The best advice on how to manage leaky gut would be the same advice given about all aspects of our life: a holistic model of good diet, proper exercise, appropriate rest and, where necessary, supplements to aid unpleasant symptoms.
What is the best supplement to take?
If you were told that the best supplement for leaky gut was licorice, would you believe us? It is in fact true. However, before you run out to the local candy story – hold back – because the long black or red licorice shoelaces of your childhood isn’t actually licorice. The black licorice does use the smallest amount of actual licorice but is actually mostly flavoured by anise. This makes sense if you are an amateur cook, as you often add star anise to recipes if you want to simulate the licorice flavour! The candy doesn’t in fact have any health benefits – and in fact is pretty much loaded in sugar. However, real licorice root, or glycyrrhiza glabra – which means sweet root – does in fact have a great many health benefits.
People in the time of King Tut were rocking the licorice vibe. Archaeologists found bundles of licorice root in his tomb. It was thought that the root was placed there to help him in the after-life. It is in some ways a miracle product but this may have been expecting too much from a plant root. Greek physicians more realistically used the root for the treatment of asthma, coughs – or any disease of the lung.
About 50 years ago a scientist by the name of Revers discovered that licorice paste reduced abdominal pain. It could also apparently heal stomach ulcers – and not just relieve the symptoms. However, due to overdose of raw licorice roots many of the patients developed edema and headaches. This is because one of the active ingredients in licorice is toxic.
So, in fact, the supplement you need for leaky gut is DGL licorice. DGL (Degylcyrrhizinated – what’s with scientists? Why can’t they name things better – like – Bob - or something?) DGL Licorice is well known in the treatment of gut problems. The supplement is brilliant for people who have clinical issues such as heartburn, ulcer or gastritis. The British Medical Journal did a study comparing over the counter drugs used for ulcers and DGL and found that for 82 patients the licorice had healed the ulcer. After two years taking the supplement, the low recurrence rate for the ulcer within the two groups was far better in the licorice group.
The important message here is that the supplement doesn’t just treat the symptoms. A lot of over the counter medicines for heartburn or ulcer or general digestive discomfort, deal with the symptoms. DGL licorice cannot necessarily heal the ulcer, as it returns once you stop taking the supplement, however it can give the gut time to heal and give you time to change your lifestyle, which potentially caused the leaky gut in the first place!
Licorice is also a great support for fatigue, which is a common symptom in people struggling with leaky gut. This is because the supplement can also be used to support the adrenal system, therefore promoting more energy and a greater sense of vitality. It is always better to take something that addresses two major concerns in one. Therefore, not only will it take away the ulcer and stop it reoccurring for the time you are taking the supplement – you should also feel the benefit of improved energy. Note, though, this relief will only occur whilst you are taking the supplement. The study found that once the subjects stopped taking DGL, then the ulcer would often reoccur. Therefore, the holistic approach: changing the diet and increasing exercise, is an important part of the advice on offer here.
How does DGL Licorice work?
DGL Licorice stimulates the body to increase the number of mucus-secreting cells in the digestive tract. So, this is the glue that holds the cells together and if you remember, it is this glue that is eroded in leaky gut. The improved quality of this mucus helps to lengthen the intestinal cell life and helps enhance the microcirculation in the gastrointestinal lining.
It is true that the effect you will feel is similar to the taking of antacids. On the surface, the symptoms are managed with these over the counter medicines. However, antacids literally counter the creation of stomach acid. This eventually will prove counter-productive because your stomach needs acid to digest food. The long-term use of antacids leaves your body believing it needs to work harder to produce acid – leaving you with more than you started with.
The impact of DGL Licorice goes beyond that of simple antacid medicines. The root is also useful for addressing problems with inflammation, killing viruses, bacteria and parasites. Therefore, it is useful for promoting a clean and therefore healthy colon. If part of the problem is undigested food clogging up the gut, then licorice is the means of cleaning this build up. Licorice is also part of a class of substances known as desmutagens, which bind with toxic chemicals and prevent the toxin from attacking or changing cells. This means it is a useful tool in preventing colon cancer, when used as part of a holistic health regimen.
Is it safe to keep taking DGL Licorice
All biochemical compounds come with counter indications, it is part and parcel of the risk and reward of taking any medicine or supplementation. However, for most people DGL Licorice is perfectly safe. Remember, the DGL is the process of removal of the toxic element of licorice and therefore renders the supplement safe for continual use.
Even with this process, however, there are some of these toxins left. Therefore, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and if you have heart disease you should certainly speak to a medic. However, as with most supplements, the rewards are often far higher than any potential risk. However, similarly with all supplements, this reward is often boosted by using DGL Licorice as part of a holistic approach to wellness.
What’s the overall advice?
There is no great consensus amongst medics and nutritionists about what leaky gut is and what the consequences are. It is clear that the condition is unpleasant and is likely on the rise due to our modern lifestyle. Increased stress and poor diet is making our gut a hostile environment, where the thin layer of protection between bowel and bloodstream is quickly eroded.
Over the counter medications often work to counter the symptoms but do not address the cause. This in turn can lead to counter-productive results, as the body creates more and more acid and therefore more and more medication is required. DGL Licorice can give time for your gut to heal. This means that the cause of the problems will disappear for the time you take the supplement. This is turn will improve your energy and your immunity, as your body is not fighting the toxins, viruses, parasites and bacteria that is being released through the wall of the gut.
However, DGL Licorice will work only for the time that you are taking the supplement. Therefore, it is a tool that can be used during a period of time when you are moving to a better diet and an exercise routine. It will heal your gut and then when you stop taking the supplement the gut will feel the relieve of natural products and a system fit enough to cope with the stressful environment in which we live. Who knew that something so simple could manage so much – but leaky gut could be a thing of the past thanks to DGL Licorice.
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