I’m finishing what has turned out to be a grueling winter term, but I’ve survived! One of the classes I took was a nutritional science class. Turns out there is a lot more to food than just from hand to mouth, chew and digest, and done. For my final paper, I looked into Leaky Guts, something that was completely new to me. I learned so much from this class and I think that we all need to take a look at how we think about food.
Prebiotics, Probiotics and Leaky Gut
The human body is always at work, day and night, rain or shine, through thick slices of bread and thin slices of cucumber. In the Western way of eating, it seems like many people have forgotten how to do something very basic: eat real, healthy food. It is apparent that our bodies are trying to tell us something as they become pillowy with fat, groan with arthritis and gurgle with indigestion, or frail with malnutrition. Our bodies are telling us we need to change our relationship with food and become more conscious of what we put in our mouths. Many diseases are a result of our bad diets and many diseases can be alleviated, if not completely cured, with proper nutrition and an overall healthy active lifestyle. In the past few weeks many new things concerning nutrition have come to my attention, one of which is a called “leaky gut syndrome”. My interest in leaky gut is how it affects those with eating disorders, in particular, anorexia nervosa and how proper nutrition can help overcome the eating disorder itself, as well as repair the “leaky gut”.
What is leaky gut? I didn’t know what this was just a few weeks ago. Leaky gut syndrome is associated with many health issues: obesity, autoimmune diseases, adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel diseases. It is prominent in psychiatric disease such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, bulimia and anorexia. Diet plays a primary role in getting leaky gut syndrome and curing leaky gut syndrome. Chronic stress is also a factor. Making modifications in lifestyle which includes stress reduction and dietary improvements are among the best ways to treat leaky gut. In the case of anorexics, stress is part of a daily struggle with food and dietary improvements are hard commit to.
Anorexia pushes the body into a state of chaos, as the body and the mind suffers from this disorder. Not only is there obvious weight loss but also muscle and tissue degeneration and organ damage. Healing from the often severe and life threatening disorder takes time and patience; much of the healing that needs to take place is not visible to the human eye. It is not uncommon for the stomach, intestines and the entire bowel system to have lost normal function because of anorexia. This means that the mucosal barrier of the intestines, which is the body’s “first line immune defense” and which helps keep harmful bacteria out of the body, is damaged (intestinalbarriertest.com).
This means that patients recovering from anorexia not only need to recover from malnutrition by reintroducing a balanced diet (and possibly taking oral nutritional supplements), but they also need to eat in a way to help them balance, regain, and repair the mucosal barrier health of the intestines.
In order to understand the relationship between anorexia and leaky gut, I have an example to present. Let’s say a young woman wants to lose weight and so she cuts out fat and drastically reduces her daily caloric consumption and increases her exercising sessions. This leads to vitamin deficiency and a compromised immune system. Due to her deteriorating health, she gets an infection and her doctor prescribes her antibiotics. The antibiotics, which were meant to help with infection, also damages any gut flora that hasn’t been obliterated by her malnutrition. Due to the bad state of her intestines, toxins are leaking into her body from the intestines and her brain is being fogged up by the toxicity of her body. Her brain was already not functioning properly because it wasn’t getting the proper nutrients, which worsens her resistance to food and leads to body dysmorphia. Stopping the flow of toxins into the body and to the brain by healing the gut is essential for recovery. Proper nutrition needs to be established and enforced, as well as the use of prebiotics and probiotics to help regain a healthy gut environment.
Pre- and probiotics might seems like a relatively new thing for most people, but in reality their benefits were recognized long ago. “The recognition of probiotic effects dates back to the 19th century when the French scientist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) postulated the importance of microorganisms in human life; this was further reinforced by work done by 1908 Nobel Prize-winner Elie Metchnikoff” (www.foodinsight.org). Both prebiotics and probiotics influence intestinal flora in beneficial ways.
Prebiotics, as defined by Dr. Cresci, are non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially stimulate the growth and activity of a number of bacterial species in the colon, usually bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Prebiotics are considered the “food source” of probiotics. Prebiotics can be food naturally in foods and can also be isolated from plants or synthesized. In order for a food ingredient to be classified as a prebiotic it has to
– not be broken down in the stomach or absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract
– be fermented by gastrointestinal flora
– selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria associated with
health and wellbeing (www.foodinsight.org)
Prebiotics have been shown to increase absorption of certain minerals and inhibits the growth of lesions in the gut. Foods that naturally have probiotics are: whole grains, onions, bananas, garlic, honey, leeks, and artichokes. Dietary supplements also can contain prebiotics. Prebiotics also help enhance the effects of probiotics.
Probiotics are microorganisms that can be found in supplement form and as components in foods like yogurt or cultured milk. Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are two specific strains of probiotics, and in order to fall into one of these categories the health benefits of the food must be clinically established. Consumption of probiotics increases the number of helpful bacteria and helps reduce the harmful bacteria that can enter the intestines. They also help with the gut immune system response and improves barrier function (including prevent of leaky gut).
In the case of anorexia patients going through recovery, establishing healthy eating habits is essential to recovery and to prevent relapses. The body of anorexia sufferers needs to recover weight, repair organ damage, as well as reframe the mind’s relationship to the self and to body image. Proper nutrition and support of family and friends, as well as self-determination is the best way to beat this disease.
The refeeding stage of anorexia should not only emphasize eating enough calories to maintain normal bodily functions, but should serve as a time to educate the anorexic of what foods are best to eat for the body to be happy and healthy. A prolonged period of near starvation and malnutrition puts the entire body in a stress mode and slows the metabolism and depletes the intestines of the gut flora. At first, eating proper amounts of food is stressful and due to the damage of the digestive system, the body feels sluggish. In order to recover a balanced intestinal environment, it’s important to eat the right types of food to speed up recovery. Making sure the recovery diet incorporates foods such as yogurt, whole grains, bananas and garlic can help regain gut flora since those foods are natural resources of prebiotics and probiotics. The use of dietary supplements might be necessary as the amount of food is increased.
Leaky gut not only affects those that are obese or that abuse the consumption of processed foods, it also affects those at the other extreme and chooses not to eat proper amounts of food. Anorexia can severely damage intestinal function and deplete the gut flora. Therefore, proper nutrition is important for everyone, of any size, shape, gender or age. Proper nutrition should include natural resources of prebiotics and probiotics in order to maintain a happy gut and prevent or cure leaky gut.
Examples of Probiotics and Prebiotics
|Certain species and strains
of Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria,
|Certain yogurts, other cultured
and non-dairy applications
|May improve gastrointestinal health
and systemic immunity
|Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS),
|Whole grains, onions, bananas,
garlic, honey, leeks, artichokes,
fortified foods and beverages,
and other food applications
|May improve gastrointestinal health;
may improve calcium absorption
|Chart adapted from International Food Information Council Foundation: Media Guide on Food Safety and Nutrition: 2004-2006.
*Examples are not an all-inclusive list
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