We all have experienced times when our stomachs and bellies can feel like a tornado is barrelling through. Sometimes, that can come from nerves (the proverbial butterflies can feel more like buzzards). Sometimes, that can come when you eat something your body doesn’t agree with. Sometimes, that can come as a side effect of the flu or a virus. And sometimes, it can come as part of our natural cycles of being a woman.
No matter the root cause, those gastrointestinal storms have the same effect: They don’t feel good, and they can have a strong influence on our overall health.
Your gut — so often thought of as the body’s trash bin — is actually a miraculous biological ecosystem that has so much control over your health. That’s because of your microbiome (the bacteria in your gut), the intricate GI system of organs that control your digestion, and your hormones (many of which have connections to your brain).
Another condition — called leaky gut syndrome — can also be a root cause for some GI symptoms you may be experiencing, such as stomach upset, cramping, bloating, or just general discomfort.
The cause of your GI troubles can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint because so many different things can trigger the same symptoms. Right? It’s hard to know if an upset stomach came from spoiled food, or maybe some kind of bug that’s going around, or something that’s developing as part of a general GI issue.
So it is worth getting in tune to what you may be feeling to help squash the storm that’s brewing. One of my favorite approaches for quieting a distressed gut comes in the form of an anti-inflammatory herb called turmeric, which can help counter the effects caused by the inflammation that happens because of a leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
As you know, your digestive system has many organs, such as the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and more. The intestines serve as the long tubes that play a major role in digestion and transportation of the food you eat. This twisty, turny organ is a big one (the intestinal lining has more than 4,000 square feet of surface area!).[*]
When that lining is working well, it’s constructed tightly — allowing some nutrients to get into the bloodstream, while also keeping out the toxins that can be damaging to the body. It also protects against the loss of water and important electrolytes.[*]
So what’s a leaky gut? It’s just as the name implies. The intestinal lining can develop cracks or holes, sort of like a fence with wear and tear, which allows biological critters to leave the intestines and escape into the bloodstream. Those critters that leave the confines of the intestines? They can be toxins, bugs, or food that isn’t digested all the way. And when they escape, your body doesn’t like it. So that triggers inflammation — your body’s attempt to get rid of the stuff that shouldn’t be there in the first place. And that leaky gut also changes your normal bacteria in your gut, because of the change of things that are moving out of the intestines.[*]
You may not know your gut is “leaking,” but you can feel it, as the symptoms associated with it are bloating, food sensitivities, fatigue, digestive issues, and even skin problems.[*]
While it’s still being studied, researchers suspect there are several root causes, including:
- Nutrient deficiencies: Vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc deficiencies have each been suspected in increased intestinal permeability.[*][*][*]
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation in the body can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and impact intestinal permeability.[*]
- Excessive sugar intake: Diets high in sugar, especially fructose, harm the barrier function of our intestinal wall.[*][*]
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: The long-term use of NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and aspirin, can potentially increase intestinal permeability.[*][*][*]
- Excessive alcoholic intake: Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to be associated with increased intestinal permeability.[*][*]
- Stress: Stress, which can be defined as an acute threat to homeostasis, has been demonstrated to have both short- and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract, including leaky gut syndrome.[*]
- Poor gut health: There are millions of bacteria in the gut, some beneficial and some harmful. Imbalances in the composition of bacterial communities in the intestine can lead to transient intestinal dysfunctions, barrier modulation, and chronic disease states such as irritable bowel syndrome.[*][*]
And while science hasn’t proven a direct link to leaky gut and certain GI disorders, there are connections made between a leaky gut and some chronic diseases,[*] including:
- Celiac disease: An autoimmune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. Several studies have found that intestinal permeability is higher in patients with celiac disease and one study showed that ingesting gluten significantly increased intestinal permeability immediately in celiac patients after consumption.[*][*][*]
- Crohn’s Disease: A chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Increased intestinal permeability plays a significant role in Crohn’s disease.[*][*] Several studies have observed an increase in intestinal permeability in patients with Crohn’s disease.[*][*]
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: IBS is a digestive disorder that affects our large intestine, characterized by diarrhea, constipation, bloating and abdominal pains. Studies have found that people with IBS are likely to have increased intestinal permeability.[*][*]
What is Turmeric?
Native to Southeast Asia, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant belonging to the ginger family. But it’s the hard rhizomes — what we call turmeric root — that are used either fresh in familiar Indian and Asian cuisine or boiled and ground into a deep orange-red powdered spice. It’s also known as Indian saffron and haldi.
It contains potent properties that support healthy aging, smooth skin, better memory, and yes, good mood. Known as the “spice of life,” turmeric has a long history of use within homeopathic and cultural rituals. It also has a bounty of research supporting strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Turmeric, or turmeric root, has also become a popular ingredient in skincare, self-care, and anti-aging regimens. Curcumin is the bioactive chemical compound in turmeric root (it’s what responsible for its bright color). Some basics:
- Currently, there are over 12,500 peer-reviewed articles published proving turmeric benefits.[*]
- Curcumin is known as a strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has different pharmacological effects.[*]
- Several studies have confirmed that curcumin possesses various biological and pharmacological properties including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-carcinogenic, hepato-protective (protects our livers), nephro-protective (protects our kidneys), hypoglycemic, and antirheumatic (slows down the progression of certain diseases) activities.[*]
- The primary active constituent of turmeric and the one responsible for its vibrant yellow color is curcumin, first identified in 1910 by Lampe and Milobedzka.[*]
What is the Connection Between Turmeric and Leaky Gut?
The key: By reducing intestinal inflammation, curcumin helps to heal leaky gut syndrome. When curcumin is absorbed, it tends to concentrate in our gut and GI tract (which is why the association is so strong).[*]
Curcumin reduces proinflammatory molecules in intestinal epithelial cells, so it helps keep the intestinal barrier functional (and thus decrease chronic inflammatory disease).[*] It also works by helping to relax intestinal muscle cells, which in turn helps prevent damage on the intestinal wall from pushing food through.[*] In addition, it also helps prevent a lipid component (called lipopolysaccharide) from stimulating proinflammatory molecules, which can change the permeability of the gut lining.[*] Finally, it seems to have an effect in calming inflammation by helping to maintain the barrier function to keep gut bacteria functioning normally.[*]
Recommended Turmeric dose:
You can add Turmeric to food or beverages or use a Turmeric supplement with at least 500 mg curcuminoids for concentrated benefits.