Gut Health 102: Strategies for Intensive Healing
This is the second installment of a three-part series in which I'll be outlining the basics of leaky gut syndrome and how to effectively restore proper gut function. If you haven't yet, please read "Gut Health 101," before proceeding.
Step Two: Replenish. These strategies address the issue of nutrient deficiencies due to malabsorption/poor digestion, a common symptom of leaky gut. For starters, you'll want to emphasize gut-friendly (i.e. AIP-compliant) nutrient-dense foods. While nutrient-density should the fundamental principle of any healthy diet, it is particularly important to promote intensive healing; you need to provide your body with all of the necessary tools (nutrients) that it needs to repair itself (side note: a major tenant of holistic healing is the idea that we shouldn't be trying to specifically treat our health issues, but rather provide our bodies with everything they need to heal themselves, which they can and will do quite effectively in most cases). The list of nutrient dense foods includes all AIP-compliant foods, with an emphasis on organ meats, bone broth, shellfish, dark leafy greens, cruciferous and sulphur-rich vegetables, and plenty of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chi, and kombucha. Unfortunately, intestinal permeability can often reduce the gut's ability to properly break down and absorb nutrients, meaning that it is possible to become nutrient deficient even while eating plenty of the aforementioned foods. This is where digestive enzyme supplements can be helpful. I recommend starting with a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme along with a high-dose, high-strain probiotic to ensure your body has access to all of the wonderful nutrients you're providing via a nutrient-dense diet. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may also consider a high-quality multi-vitamin (like Damage Control or Master Formula) for the first month or two to help boost your nutrient stores. In summary, one of the best ways to get yourself feeling better is to address nutrient malabsorption with digestive supplements and nutrient deficiencies with a nutrient-dense diet and a high-quality multivitamin.
Step Three: Rest. Getting enough rest isn't just about sleep when you're dealing with a leaky gut. You can also give your digestive system some extra rest by fasting. There are myriad health benefits to fasting on a regular or semi-regular basis, but for today's post I'll be sticking to those related to gut health. Fasting can be a huge boon to your journey back to optimal gut function and may be the quickest and most effective method to jump-start the healing process. Intermittent Fasting (IF) entails a relatively short amount of fasting each day, essentially through the use of a condensed "eating window." The most popular schedule is probably 16:8, meaning that you fast for 16 hours each day, eating all of your daily calories within an 8-hour time frame. In this case, most people will simply skip breakfast; if you eat dinner at 6pm (and I definitely advise not eating within 2-3 hours of sleeping), you simply don't eat again until 10am the following day; though you can just as easily eat breakfast as soon as you wake up and finish of your days calories by the afternoon. Other popular schedules are 18:6, 20:4, or OMAD (one meal a day), though anything over 12 hours will be beneficial. Personally, I usually fall anywhere between 16 and 20 hours, depending on when I feel hungry, my daily activity levels, or sometimes just when a meal is convenient with the day's schedule. The important thing to remember about intermittent fasting is that it doesn't need to involve caloric restriction (though it can if your goals include fat loss) so it's not about starving yourself or not eating even though you're hungry. If you're following a relatively low carbohydrate diet, your body's ability to effectively mobilized stored body fat for energy will help to tide you over and promote satiety even while fasted (say goodbye to getting "hangry"). Technically, IF includes any fast up to 36 hours, and I'm a big fan of 36 hour fasts for myself, though they are definitely a step up in terms of the mental commitment. I utilize these less frequently, maybe once every 2-6 weeks for slightly more intensive gut healing.
Once you surpass the 36 hour mark, you're now sliding into the realm of extended fasting (EF). There are plenty of additional benefits to be experienced by committing to an extended fast, but they do come with complications, particularly involving electrolyte balance, hydration, and activity levels. For this reason, I won't get into extended fasting too much in this post, but it can be an incredible tool for gut repair among other things.
Don't forget to check out Gut Health 103 in which I detail steps four and five of my healing protocol: repair and reintroduction.
Remember, a generic protocol may work for some, but in most cases, individual specificity is required. I highly recommend working with an experienced health professional.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and although I am a certified health coach, I am not your health coach. This information is given solely for educational purposes and is not meant as diagnosis nor treatment of any medical conditions.
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