When digestive problems begin, they bring with them inevitable questions. We want to understand why we’re experiencing the symptoms we are so that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. Feeling sick has a way of causing us to stop, reconsider, and act.
If you’re someone who has experienced issues with their gut health, you may be experiencing a phenomenon described by natural health enthusiasts as “leaky gut.”
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut is a condition that is understood to involve digestive issues that have ultimately resulted in the permeability of the intestines. Meaning, intestines are leaking contents of the digestive system into the body, and therefore impacting the rest of the body.
However, researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence that materials physically leak from the intestines. The condition doesn’t appear in the diagnostic manual. Therefore, it is not technically diagnosable.
Because of a lack of concrete understanding of the condition, treating it is somewhat vague. Leaky gut is said to be caused by tightness in the gut that causes problems for the lining of the small intestine, which could lead to substances leaking into the bloodstream.
When discussing the possible causes of leaky gut, you’re looking at what is contributing to someone’s intestines’ increase in permeability. The intestines contain a barrier called the intestinal epithelium, which separates the internal contents from the outer surface exposed to the rest of the body. It prevents harmful toxins or substances from entering.
While leaky gut needs more research, there’s plenty around intestinal permeability. There is evidence that the intestinal epithelium can be compromised or damaged. Some potential causes include:
- Lack of sterility of food
- Impaired function of the microbiota (gut bacteria)
- Chronic inflammation in the intestines
Diseases Associated with Intestinal Permeability
The following conditions share a link with irregular intestinal permeability.
- Diabetes: Increased permeability might precede type 1 diabetes in humans and animals
- Crohn’s Disease: Genetic associations of Crohn’s disease might involve the same pathways concerned with irregular permeability
- Coeliac Disease: Understood to trigger permeability when the body processes gluten
- Atopic Dermatitis: High permeability can trigger atopic dermatitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: High levels of permeability is most often consistent with those who experience symptoms of IBS
How Foods Can Affect Your Gut
Research strongly suggests that intestinal permeability may be improved upon, or regulated by changes with diet and bacteria. The gut microbiota facilitates the bacteria in the gut that is needed to absorb nutrients and flush toxins.
Diet connects to the contents of the microbiota, specifically, when pathogens and microorganisms that cause disease, impact the gut. Absorbing pathogens can disturb the intestinal mucus layer by causing it to produce too much mucus or not enough.
Diet can affect a person’s intestinal permeability, but it depends on their genetic susceptibility and the present function of their microbiota. Diet factors that promote an increase of permeability are those that cause the body to adapt to a poor diet.
Alternatively, it is possible to decrease permeability by being strategic with diet. Staying away from high sugar or fat intake, and consuming prebiotics and probiotics may be helpful.
What Seaweed Can Do for Your Digestive Health
Because leaky gut is inconclusive as an official health condition per the diagnostic manual, treatments for it are not fully understood. However, as the symptoms of leaky gut pertain to overall impaired function of the gut, diet practices that relate to it may improve symptoms.
What Experimentation Suggests
Stanford professor Justin Sonnenburg maintains that “It’s become very clear over the last 10 years that gut microbes connect to many aspects of our biology but that they are also very malleable.”
One addition you can make to your diet is seaweed. The study by professor Sonnenburg looked at strains of bacteria uncommon in American diets and arrived at the type of seaweed known as nori. This seaweed is common in sushi and other Japanese dishes.
Essentially, seaweed can enable those who do not have the ideal genetic makeup to process certain beneficial bacteria, to do so.
Seaweed is very high in fiber, which is generally a positive influence on the digestive system. Fiber allows for the cleansing of the digestive tract as it contributes to the bulk of stool. Aside from this, seaweed contains certain sugars or polysaccharides, which can increase the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
For amplification of their benefit, people ferment seaweed to boost its probiotics component. Many people add nori to Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish high in probiotics.
Seaweed may prove to be effective for treating leaky gut symptoms. However, it is important to consider that if symptoms are not related to the contents of bacteria, seaweed may not make a significant impact.
A Note from GR8NESS
Can seaweed ever hurt? Consuming too much seaweed over an extended period may lead to overconsumption of iodine. This can be dangerous for your thyroid, causing it to become inflamed, and possibly even leading to cancer. It is critical to note that particular sources of seaweed may contain additives, and nutrient facts will vary based on its source. Before using seaweed to treat your symptoms, consult with your doctor to be safe.