Contrary to what Erin Andrews' latest probiotic commercial would lead you to believe, there is nothing "cute" about your gut (i.e., your digestive system). Fortunately, the growing popularity of probiotic supplements (see STACK's article on the Best Probiotic Supplements) has focused public and medical attention on the importance of maintaining a healthy gut. This is a step in the right direction, because everyone, especially athletes, needs a healthy gut for optimum health.
What often gets lost in the conversation is the true complexity of the gut. It contains healthy bacteria that aid in digestion and immune function. It's not as cut and dry as we're led to believe. Everything from exercise to supplements and nutrition can alter how your gut functions daily. Although many people seek to protect themselves with a probiotic supplement (containing healthy bacteria), supplements are often unnecessary for a healthy gut. Sometimes all we need is a simple adjustment to our diet and lifestyle to rid ourselves of a leaky gut and subsequent illness.
A leaky gut is damage to the intestinal lining that alters the body's ability to protect its internal environment. Unhealthy bacteria and toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats, and waste not normally processed may "leak" out of the intestines into the bloodstream.
Symptoms include abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes and autoimmunity. Physicians diagnose gut problems indirectly via a blood test. The blood contains markers that provide cues of gut leakiness, potentially indicating damage. Such markers include:
Many of those seeking the best probiotic supplement probably think they help a leaky gut. Unfortunately, money spent on expensive supplements is likely wasted, as Lamprech (2012) demonstrated. After 14 weeks of probiotic treatment, zonolin was reduced by only 30 percent. This suggests that probiotic supplements are not the solution for preventing the contributors to a leaky gut.
A safe bet is a combination of pro- and pre-biotics, which are luckily found in many foods:
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