The Fat-Gut Axis: Is Leaky Gut Keeping You Fat
This strange term may conjure up visuals of a giant belly rotating around a pole like a merry-go round horse, but is actually scientific speak for the fact that our gut (digestive tract) & our fatty tissue (our adipose cells / wobbly bits) are intimately connected, communicating with & influencing each other constantly! You’ve probably heard of the gut-brain axis, maybe the gut-skin axis or the gut-liver axis? There are endless axes because everything IS connected - everything inside our ‘human’ is really just different bits of the human (our brains like to name them all ‘parts’...but it’s all still us / there really are no separate bits! What is the fat-gut axis and what are the things to avoid and increase for gut support?
So…it’s a complex interaction, but worth understanding the basics - here’s the extremely short version! What you need to know if you struggle to lose weight / stay lean despite doing ‘all of the things’ :(
Maybe your gut just needs a bit more help…
Gut-Fat Axis Basics:
- Your gut lining is supposed to be a little bit leaky, but not too leaky. There are tiny gaps called ‘tight junctions’ between the epithelial cells lining your gut (& also between the same cells lining your blood vessels, your organs…lining most things in your body actually). These tiny gaps allow some things to get through, but keep anything bigger locked inside (or out, depending on the situation).
In our gut, we definitely want tiny nutrients like amino acids, minerals, vitamins etc getting through into our bloodstream, so our cells can utilise them. We don’t however, want larger things that are supposed to stay safely inside the gut escaping out into circulation & freaking our immune system out / making it work constantly / creating inflammation & oedema (fluid build up) / insulin resistance / metabolic dysfunction.
Yes - a leaky gut can cause insulin resistance & metabolic dysfunction (which can eventually, if allowed to continue, land you with obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc). Leaky gut people might feel a bit tired, maybe experience some brain fog, a bit of depression or anxiety, a few sore spots, frequent cold & flu or allergies…or maybe just struggle with a layer of unwanted insulation. It can cause different symptoms for different bodies, or even in the same body at different life stages or under new circumstances.
- You can influence the leakiness of your gut. It can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t know what you’re doing, & again, everybody is different…but below is a (very basic) list of things that can help with gut support particularly if you have an overly-leaky gut.. And a list of things that you might want to avoid.
Gut Support: Things to Avoid / Minimise:
Yes, even if you are not coeliac - gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt & contaminated oats / other grains processed with same equipment) can increase the production of something called zonulin, which makes the gut leakier by making the tight junctions ‘less tight’ - allowing bigger molecules to get through into the bloodstream. If you think you may have leaky gut driven inflammation / metabolic issues, definitely worth giving a GF diet a good trial. You can still eat GF, organic ancient grains like the millet, buckwheat & amaranth in Blend11, as wholegrains help gut support through microbial diversity, motility & the production of short chain fatty acids (esp. butyrate), which has a gut healing & anti-inflammatory effect, plus they are not increasing zonulin.
This is a strong anti-microbial. Alcohol kills not only the bacteria on your benches & cutlery, but also the gut bacteria who’s job it is to maintain the gut mucous lining. Add to that, it’s directly a gut irritant & compromises liver & pancreas (both play important parts of your digestive function). Consider your gut extra leaky & vulnerable after a big night, & if you regularly drink alcohol & struggle with your weight & inflammation, you’ll notice a big improvement from quitting alcohol.
Excess refined sugar is bad news to gut support and gut health. It supports detrimental gut microbes, fuelling dysbiosis or an unhealthy, dysfunctional ecosystem, which then compromises the important mucous barrier, immune stability & nutrient absorption. Minimise or avoid sugar not only because it directly wreaks havoc with your metabolic health, but also pushes you towards obesity via its influence on your gut health. Our diets have become so sugar saturated over the past few decades that even what most would consider ‘a moderate to low sugar diet’ is way more than ideal.
If you have known food intolerances, & are reacting to them, it’s likely due to the fact that your gut is / was letting big pieces of them into the bloodstream, where they set off your immune system, create inflammation & immune exhaustion / dysfunction. Avoid any foods you react to until the gut barrier is back to healthy & the immune system is well regulated again, then try a very gradual reintroduction if you miss them greatly. How do you know if you have food intolerances? (Same varied symptoms as leaky gut - could be brain fog, hay fever, frequent cold & flu that last longer than others with the same bug, aches & pains / inflammation, fluid retention, depression / anxiety, headaches, bloating, gut symptoms etc etc).
Glyphosate disrupts our gut microbiome, makes the tight junctions dysfunctional, causes gut inflammation & decreased absorption of nutrients that are critical for gut integrity (ie zinc & manganese). Strive to eat as organic as possible. The worst / most likely foods to be heavily glyphosate contaminated are non-organic grains (wheat, oats, barley etc), followed by legumes (soy, lentils, beans, chickpeas etc), & canola. Roundup is used to control weeds & also as a ‘desiccant’ just prior to harvesting (causes the leaves to die so it’s easier to harvest the grains). Nasty stuff & probably one of the main reasons our collective gut health / general health has become so compromised.
There are several food additives known to compromise gut integrity, plus many that negatively impact our microbiome. Stick to natural, fresh, minimally processed, real foods (which you want to do anyway, for endless reasons!)
Stress can change your regular gut contractions via the nervous system (thus changing the microbial balance). Stress prevents you from being in ‘rest & digest’ mode. It can also effect your food choices negatively, decrease your sleep quality, increase alcohol & drug use, decrease healthy habits like regular exercise, & make you more inclined to get sick & take medications. Easier to say ‘avoid / minimise stress’ than to actually do it. It’s largely unavoidable, but if you take time out to truly examine your life choices & perception of situations, you’ll figure out some ways to decrease it and achieve better gut support.
Endurance / long / heavy exercise sessions
Your gut gets leakier for a few hours post a heavy & / or prolonged workout, so stick to moderation if your gut is prone to being leaky. Moderate exercise improves bowel motility, blood flow, oxygen & nutrient supply to the gut lining, microbial diversity - so definitely some huge gut benefits to exercise, just don’t over do it. Sessions should not exceed 90 minutes & not be overly intense for the individual. Your exercise tolerance will vary (don’t expect to go straight back into your routine after an injury break etc). LIsten to your body, don’t keep ‘pushing through’ if you are trying to fix a gut issue. Do exercise, but not to the point that it puts another major strain on an already struggling system.
NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen etc)
These will irritate & damage the gut lining, causing micro bleeds & ulceration, so use sparingly - only in emergencies or pain that is disrupting sleep for too long. And never on an empty stomach. They may seem like an ideal quick fix, but in the long run can actually exacerbate pain & inflammation if relied upon (plus, using pain killers routinely to address pain means you are able to ‘push the pain aside’, therefore will not be as motivated to figure out the actual root cause). Remember - pain is your body trying to communicate with you that adjustments are needed, pain killers are just like saying ‘shhh’ all the time. If you don’t listen to these polite requests for attention, you’re gonna get screamed at someday!
The pill, antibiotics, stomach acid blockers & many more meds can damage the gut lining & microbiome. Ask your Dr / pharmacist for info on what you are taking, & if they can be replaced with more gut friendly alternatives, or see an alternative health practitioner who can assist in taking you off some - of course this is not possible for all, but in many cases it is, with the right guidance.
So…how many of these listed things are you sabotaging your gut health with?
The main aim with the ‘avoid / minimise’ list above, is to give the gut a chance to just normalise itself (without the constant stressors). It wants to get back to normal, & we can certainly help it.
Keeping these things in mind might stop you from ‘stacking’ your gut-destructing life choices, for example - having a party night including excess sugar & alcohol, then the next day taking some neurofen or aspirin for a hangover, then (to compensate for all the pizza / kebabs eaten), pushing through a heavy workout that evening. NOOOOO!!!! Gut disaster coming your way. Not too uncommon though, some folks do this kind of thing on a weekly basis. And that’s just one example of how easy it can be to really mess your gut lining up.
So that’s the avoid list - now the gut support list:
Gut Support: Things To Introduce / Increase:
If you tolerate them / feel good eating them (if you don’t at the moment, see a naturopath or other gut & nutrition literate health professional). Or try this well tolerated probiotic. Probiotics & fermented foods ramp up fermentation in the colon, which leads to the production of more anti-inflamamtory SCFA’s that help repair a damaged gut lining.
Diverse, fermentable fibre
Same reasons as above - fibre = food to support fermentation & the production of SCFA’s. Turn your gut into an anti-inflammatory factory by increasing fibre that supports SCFA production.
Gut barrier healing foods, herbs & supplements
Ask in your local health store - there are many great gut support specific supplements. Look for ingredients like collagen, slippery elm, turmeric, L-glutamine, zinc, greens+aloe vera inner leaf gel, marshmallow, licorice, etc etc.
Regular moderate exercise
See exercise explanation above, in the avoid list - avoid excessive exercise, but being sedentary is also going to compromise your gut health. It’s all in finding your balance, & being consistent.
Regular, moderate sun exposure.
Sounds weird, but sunshine exposure positively impacts your gut bugs & gut lining. It increases growth of some known friendly bugs, plus acts as an anti-inflammatory & immune system booster / normaliser. It’s also great for stress management & general happiness (which helps your gut too). Prioritise getting sun, without burning.
You want to spend as much time in your ‘rest & digest’ state, so you can digest properly. Stress causes digestion to shut down, nothing will work properly from the production & secretion of stomach acid & digestive enzymes, to the maintenance of the gut lining, to the peristaltic movements when you are spending too much time with your sympathetic nervous system driving. Address your stress, do things that push you back into parasympathetic (rest & digest) to optimise gut support.
Replace gut disruptive medications
Chat to your Dr / pharmacist, if they won’t listen / help you, you need an integrative GP or a naturopath working alongside GP’S.
Hopefully you found something you can work on in those lists!
If you’re overweight & you are messing up on all or many of the things on the ‘avoid / minimse’ list, chances are your gut barrier is hyper-permeable, your body is inflamed & hyper reactive, your immune system is struggling & (the good news) you could start to see some really great results with your weight loss goals if you truly pay attention to & apply this.
If you are struggling not so much with your weight, but with aches & pains, bloating, gut pains, immune issues, hormonal issues, brain fog, poor energy, & mental health issues, the same applies.
Try implementing these 2 lists (do it strictly for best results), for at least 6 months & just see how you look, feel & function. You won’t want to go back!
Print out & stick to your wall / mirror / fridge.