When healing the gut there is an old principle to remember, known as Denis Healey’s First Rule of Holes; “When you find you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging”.
In other words, first find out what is harming the gut and get rid of it. Think about these factors:
Alcohol and NSAIDs
Both alcoholic drinks and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs strip the mucus and increase gut permeability after just one dose. So that’s aspirin, indomethacin, ibuprofen (Advil), celecoxib, all of them. Some are better than others, but none are completely safe. Cut them out.
It’s not the first thing you think of, unless you recently had an acute episode of diarrhoea or vomiting or both, but it’s certainly possible. You will need a practitioner to set up testing and treatment though.
At least consider cutting out the big ones, wheat and dairy.
Having got rid of these harmful agents, you can put together a relatively easy treatment regime with the following components.
Treatment dose: approx 40mg twice daily Form: capsules Best taken: unknown
We have always known that zinc helps wound-healing, and carnosine is well-known as an antioxidant and liver-protectant. We now know that a compound of the two, meaning they are chemically bound together, not just the powders mixed up, has much more effect than the sum of its parts. Zinc-carnosine can completely block the increased permeability caused by NSAIDs for instance (of course you have to be smart or lucky enough to take it first). in experiments it also reduces stress ulcers, and the fibrosis (scarring) that happens in NASH (fatty liver). Whatever the cause of an inflamed, leaky gut it is likely to help.
Treatment dose: 10 grams 3 times daily Form: powder dissolved or mixed into liquid Best taken: away from food
Glutamine is the commonest amino acid in food; you would think that we got enough that way. But it has specific benefits when taken as a purified supplement. If you are fed intravenously, with Nil By Mouth, it does not take long for the small intestine to start to atrophy (shrivel) and become leaky, and then for gut bacteria, which are not necessarily “friendly” to get into the bloodstream. Glutamine by mouth, on its own, can repair all of that, which makes it a pretty powerful agent. The one drawback is the very large quantities you need to take, but at least it’s tasteless.
Treatment dose: 10,000 IU (International Units) daily, for no more than 3 months Form: must be vitamin D3, aka calciferol, not D2 Best taken: with a meal containing protein and/or oil/fat, for best absorption. Mix it into the food; this will spread it around to as much of the bowel as possible.
Vitamin D is really a steroid hormone like cortisol, oestrogen or testosterone. It is only a vitamin (a molecule that it is vital to obtain in food) because we don’t get it the way we were meant to, from sunlight hitting our skin. In many studies all over the world, the only group that consistently had adequate vitamin D levels was Israeli life guards — people with European skin out all day in a very sunny place. So people at the opposite end of the spectrum — with Afro-Carribean colouring, living in the UK, are highly likely to be low on the “Sunshine Vitamin”.
In any case it’s hard to overdose on it — possible but really hard. To my knowledge it has only ever happened when manufacturers have seriously messed up on the number of zeros in the dose they put into something. It won’t happen because you take a few extra pills.
We know that vitamin D protects against a number of cancers, and in fact colon cancer was the first to be figured out. We are now starting to understand how it does this, and it has to do with the junctions between cells. If you are low in vitamin D these junctions are less effective, the communication between cells that keeps them well-behaved is reduced, and the risk of them going “rogue” increases.
But in the digestive tract the junctions are also important in keeping the gut contents from leaking out, and when you are vitamin D deficient what happens is that you don’t repair those junctions after an injury. Just one dose of aspirin could cause what amounts to an injury, setting off one of those self-perpetuating cycles of inflammation. So you really need enough vitamin D to repair that gut lining.
Vitamin D also helps to protect you against viral and other infections; remembering what a bout of flu can do to your gut lining, isn’t it wise to stay topped up on this nutrient?
Vitamin D has a synergistic effect with vitamin C; research suggests that you may get benefit from a combination of vitamins D and C that you don’t get from either of them alone. The study looked at free radical damage (oxidative stress), which is part of every type of inflammation; the two vitamins together improved every marker for injury.
Treatment dose: bowel tolerance dose — see below Maintenance dose: 2-4 grams (1/2-1 teaspoon of powder) daily, in water Form: dissolved powder is better than capsules which are better than tablets. If it irritates (it is a weak acid after all) use a buffered form, or mix it 50-50 with bicarbonate; be careful, it will fizz. Best taken: sufficiently diluted, in frequent small doses throughout the day
Another nutrient that we are generally deficient in, but for different reasons, is vitamin C. Humans, unlike most creatures, cannot make in our bodies, so we have to get it from food. But we often don’t manage, or don’t bother, and these days we are exposed to so many different toxins that we probably need more than our ancestors did.
Vitamin C — Ascorbic Acid — is important for the gut in a number of ways; A major antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage from all sorts of toxins Your immune system uses it when fighting infections It is the body’s natural anti-histamine, preventing inflammation from getting out of hand Necessary for the production of collagen, the connective tissue that effectively holds us together. Defective collagen causes the bruising, bleeding and failed wound-healing in scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency).