Did you know that certain foods can erode your gut lining? Over time, this can lead to leaky gut syndrome, meaning your gut lining is so damaged that proteins and other particles can escape from your digestive system, push through the holes in your gut lining, and end up in your bloodstream, causing inflammation and other kinds of problems like nutrient deficiencies, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
In this article, we’ll explore overlooked trigger foods that can erode your gut lining and what you can do to fight this problem!
Even though it might be hard for some people to hear anything negative about their favourite beverage, coffee might be damaging your gut health. That cup of coffee can do more than just make you anxious. Because it’s so acidic, it can also erode your gut lining and intestines, and cause inflammation. So how does a beverage that’s so popular around the world do this?
Excessive coffee consumption can cause reflux, gastritis, and ulcers. And if you have any existing conditions related to your gut health like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Chron’s disease, gastritis, or ulcerative colitis, it’s best to avoid coffee entirely because it will only worsen your symptoms. Giving up coffee might seem hard, but it’s actually a small price to pay for better gut health and symptom relief.
Never drink coffee on an empty stomach. If you have food in your stomach, the coffee won't have such a strong effect.
Legumes like soybean, chickpeas, peanuts, and lentils are high in lectins, which are carbohydrate-binding plant compounds that cause damage to the gut lining. Lectins can’t be digested by the body, and consuming high amounts of them can make it harder for your body to absorb certain nutrients like calcium, zinc, iron and phosphorous, which is why lectins are also commonly referred to as antinutrients (3, 4, 5).
More research needs to be done on exactly how lectins work, but there are some animal studies that show that some lectins will bind to the cells found in the gut wall, from where they then communicate with other cells, trigger reactions and cause inflammation.
Lectins aren’t only found in legumes, but they are also found in grains and nightshade vegetables like chilli, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and goji berries (6, 7). About 30% of the foods the average person eats contain significant quantities of lectins, which is something to consider. (8)
If you're trying to repair a damaged gut lining and/or want to prevent the erosion of your gut lining, it’s a good idea to lower your intake of lectins or completely eliminate them from your diet. You can also reduce the amount of lectins in high-lectin foods by soaking, sprouting or fermenting them. (9, 10, 11)
One of the most well-known types of lectin is gluten, but it deserves an entire discussion on its own…
Over the past decade, countless people have opted for gluten-free lifestyles. Some did it because they were diagnosed with celiac disease or are allergic to wheat, while others experimented with cutting it out and discovered that their digestion greatly improved. Those who don’t have celiac disease or aren’t allergic to wheat but are sensitive or intolerant to gluten are referred to as people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) (12, 13). They often experience symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, bloating, gut inflammation and diarrhoea when ingesting gluten (14).
While many people have discovered the benefits of going gluten-free, they might not understand why.
The truth is that gluten is a type of lectin that causes damage to your gut lining. And once you realise how many foods actually contain gluten, it might become easy to understand why you may be having digestive problems in the first place (gluten is nearly anywhere).
When people with celiac disease consume grains, it causes damage to their enterocytes (cells that line the small intestine), which then leads to damage in the intestines, poor nutrient absorption, weight loss and other gut-related symptoms like diarrhoea. (15)
If you have a damaged gut lining and haven’t cut out gluten yet, you should definitely give it a try. A gluten-free diet might be an adjustment at first, but over time, as you learn more about what you can and cannot eat, you’ll realise just how well you can eat on a gluten-free diet. There are gluten-free alternatives for all your favourites: bread, pasta, cookies, cake and even pizza.
Alcohol can do more than cause you to make questionable decisions and leave you feeling hungover the next day. Alcohol can cause damage to your gut lining and cause gastritis (inflammation of your stomach lining). Because it causes weaknesses in your gut lining and damages the barrier lined with mucus that helps to protect your stomach wall, it lets digestive juices damage your gut lining and cause inflammation. As your stomach lining gets damaged over time with excessive alcohol consumption, your stomach cells will lose protection against harsh stomach acids, leading to even more inflammation. (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).
Cutting out alcohol or reducing your consumption drastically if you’re a heavy drinker can do wonders for your gut health and give your gut lining time to repair itself.
If you’ve done some research on how to eat to improve your digestion and/or reduce symptoms of gut-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve probably come across the term “FODMAPs”, but what are they? FODMAP foods are foods containing carbs and fibre that can cause digestive problems for some people. They contain fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates (21). FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols. High FODMAP foods include wheat, garlic, onions, fruit, asparagus, cauliflower, legumes and leeks.
In a study done on mice, researchers found that when the mice consumed high amounts of FODMAP foods for 2 weeks, they saw an increase in gut permeability. They also found that intestinal permeability could become normal again after mice were put on a low-FODMAP diet for 4 weeks when mice were put under high levels of stress (22).
You can experiment with a low-FODMAP diet for a few months to see if you notice any improvement in your gut health.
Eggs are one of the most common foods that people are allergic to (26). An egg intolerance or allergy can also lead to stomach pain, gas, gut inflammation, vomiting, nausea, skin issues, asthma and nasal congestion (27).
Surprisingly, many people are allergic to the albumin in the egg whites but can tolerate the egg yolks perfectly fine. If you have an egg sensitivity or allergy, you might have to do some experimentation to see if you're allergic to the entire egg or just the egg whites, although it's hard to separate perfectly. (28)
Try an egg-free diet if you want to give your gut some time to heal and allow your gut lining to repair.
While reducing your consumption of yeast by eliminating yeast-containing foods like bread, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, and beverages like beer and kombucha can help reduce the total yeast in your gut and body, you also need to watch your overall sugar consumption. Yeast feeds on sugar and uses it to grow. Consuming sugar and high-carb foods will only fuel any yeast you have in your body and help it grow (32, 33).
You can go to a doctor and get tests done to see if you have excess yeast in your body that could be causing gut issues like gastritis and ulcers. If you can determine that yeast is your problem, you can then go on a low-sugar, low-carb diet for a few months to see if there’s an improvement in your symptoms.
Other than changing what foods you eat, there are some natural remedies that can help, depending on your symptoms. They include:
- Marshmallow root: can reduce stomach lining inflammation and can even help to heal stomach ulcers. In a 2010 in vitro study, researchers found that the aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from marshmallow root can help to treat irritated mucus membranes (34).
- Aquamin F: can lower digestive tract inflammation and thereby reduce bloating caused (35). It inhibits the signalling pathway known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), which is how it lowers inflammation (36, 37).
- Lemon balm: can help to soothe and relax spasms because of its anti-spasmodic and soothing effects. Lemon balm has an anti-inflammatory effect and is also gastro-protective thanks to its active ingredients. Foods containing lemon balm have also been shown to have anti-stress effects, and reducing stress alone can improve digestion (38).
- Liquorice root: It can help improve digestive problems and soothe symptoms such as nausea and upset stomach. It can also reduce gas and bloating due to its antispasmodic effects. It’s also often been used as a mild laxative (39).