When searching out the missing pieces of how to seal and heal a leaky gut it never ceases to amaze me how many components there are. A friend may find one or two missing pieces and voila, experience wellness. She can eat liberally again and is virtually symptom-free. She learned what does and doesn’t work for her body and her leaky gut is a thing of the past.
Sounds dreamy, right? While others may toil away on a restricted diet for years…
Our bodies’ complexities know no bounds. We are always discovering new connections, how co-factors function to knit our bodies’ parts together to a healthy whole. Without certain components, our bodies don’t have the tools they need to build or maintain.
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Let’s learn one more missing piece that may help some of us to heal and seal that leaky gut, too!
Consuming gelatin and collagen (here’s the grass-fed one I buy) has become justifiably popular among Traditional and Paleo health-food advocates. In addition to using bone broth for a source of healing, using these powdered supplements provides the material to help our guts rebuild themselves. Even in healthy individuals collagen production begins to decline once we hit our mid-20s. (source)
Have you wondered? What the process? We eat collagen… then what? How does it knit itself into our bodies?
In its natural state, collagen is composed of large molecules. In some supplements, the collagen is “hydrolyzed”—broken down into smaller molecules, called peptides, for better absorption. Studies have shown that collagen peptides are well absorbed in the digestive system and make their way to targeted tissues, where they act as building blocks and trigger our own internal collagen production. (source)
Research shows that when we consume collagen, collagen levels increase in our bodies. Research also shows that collagen can not form without one key vitamin: Vitamin C. If we have too little Vitamin C in our bodies, they can not produce as much collagen. This is why collagen supplements that come in capsule form often contain Vitamin C as well. These supplements are designed for joint repair and similar conditions. So why don’t we, who are trying to repair our guts, intentionally include Vitamin C as well? (Because we didn’t know we should!)
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that our bodies can not produce. It must be acquired through diet.
This is an ongoing need. The body must continually produce collagen, even without a leaky gut issue; it is the most abundant protein in the human body. And, surprisingly, Vitamin C is destroyed in the process of forming collagen.
When collagen is produced, there is a complex series of events, some occurring inside of the cell, and some outside of the cell. Vitamin C is active inside of the cell, where it hydroxylates (adds hydrogen and oxygen) to two amino acids: proline and lysine. This helps form a precursor molecule called procollagen that is later packaged and modified into collagen outside of the cell. Without vitamin C, collagen formation is disrupted, causing a wide variety of problems throughout the body. (source)
What’s more? Heart health relies on Vitamin C. (source) Anemia can be healed by adding in Vitamin C to (often temporary) iron supplementation. (source) Vitamin C also boosts the adrenals and lowers cortisol levels, helping to reduce stress and improve sleep. (source) It helps the body to detoxify and is used by the body as a co-factor in absorbing iodine. (source) Vitamin C even improves blood sugar levels, when combined with a low-glycemic diet. Prenatal supplements and those for children should include Vitamin C, too. Vitamin C has a significant effect on skin health and aging, again because of its correlation with collagen. (source) Vitamin C is great for post-workout stress, helping to rebuild muscle.
Yet we primarily think of it as an immune booster.
Low levels of Vitamin C not only cause conditions like scurvy, but are also associated with heart disease, gall bladder disease, cancer and even osteoporosis. (source) Conversely, those who eat diets rich in Vitamin C are less likely to get arthritis. (source)
When it comes to gut healing, we definitely don’t think of Vitamin C as a key ingredient to the process. But we should. Collagen can’t be formed without it. If we’re consuming collagen, but not getting enough bioavailable Vitamin C, we’re missing out on collagen’s gut healing benefits and the potential for healing this supplement provides.
In being intentional about including Vitamin C, the next question is bioavailability. This is a hot topic among Vitamin C companies and among healthcare advocates. Which sources of Vitamin C are the most trustworthy and effective?
1. Surprisingly… Liver Pills!
Beef liver contains 4 times more Vitamin C than carrots or apples, both of which are good sources of Vitamin C. (source) Although citrus fruits seem like the most obvious source from which to find this vitamin, not everyone can eat fruit! (I can’t.) So liver provides a concentrated source, while also providing necessary fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, as well as B12, folate, copper and iron. I take 4 capsules daily and love that I’m accomplishing multiple nutritional feats from one source.
The other reason I like liver as a source of Vitamin C is because of how gentle it is. It digests well for almost anyone, (except those with a food intolerance or sensitivity to beef). So for those on the GAPS Introduction Diet, for example, who are not yet eating citrus fruits or taking supplements, beef liver is simply a whole food and is well suited. For those on low-FODMAP diets who feel bloated after eating cauliflower and broccoli, liver pills are gentle and healing. Many sources of Vitamin C are not absorbed well. With beef liver we can be more confident the body knows how to assimilate the nutrients.
Here’s the beef liver I buy. (See coupon code at the bottom of this post.) If you choose this route, you may still want to add in another source of Vitamin C as well.
2. Other Food Sources
Of course the vegetable kingdom is full of beautiful Vitamin C sources, too!
Excellent produce-based food sources of Vitamin C include bell peppers, leafy greens, watermelon and cantaloupe, citrus fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, berries, cauliflower, parsley, kiwi and bok choy. (source) It’s noteworthy that produce picked too early or stored for long periods of time has less Vitamin C. (source) Eating vine-ripened, local produce means a higher Vitamin C content.
3. Which Vitamin C Supplements Absorb the Best?
This is the hardest subject to tackle, actually. Because absorption of the vitamin can be fickle. Not everyone absorbs ascorbic acid well, which is synthetic. Natural L-ascorbate, on the other hand, has co-factors present and is food-sourced.
Vitamin C-dense supplements that are comprised of only whole foods include camu-camu (a fruit from Peru), South American acerola berries (also called Barbados cherries), and amla (or Indian gooseberry). I’ve used amla powder for my kids for years; and there are several good supplements (like this one) that combine many Vitamin C rich foods into one pill. These are a fine option for those with optimum health.
For anyone with cogent health struggles, who needs to be assured their body is receiving Vitamin C, but is worried about how much is actually assimilating, there are better options. (For those with acute infectious or toxic health issues, intravenous Vitamin C [sodium ascorbate] may be recommended.) (source)
For almost complete absorption, the liposome-encapsulated form of vitamin C wins. This is a Paleo-friendly supplement, being non-GMO and excellent for those with compromised immune systems. It will literally help to trigger collagen production!
Liposomal Vitamin C does not require digestion, as it’s absorbed on a cellular level almost immediately. Because Vitamin C is used up and destroyed in the biosynthesis of collagen, and collagen is continually being formed, it may be ideal to consume Vitamin C 2 times daily.
Avoid Ester-C; although proponents claim better absorption, it is not a natural form of the vitamin, being created with high heat and under heavy pressure. (source)
Which Collagen to Buy?
I’ve started buying Perfect Supplements’ Hydrolyzed Collagen because they’re the most transparent about their processes, including their cows grazing on sustainably-grown grass. I’m super excited that they’re offering 10% off their already affordable price for Eat Beautiful readers! Just type in the coupon code BEAUTIFUL10 when you check out. (You can use the coupon code on any supplements from this site, including liver pills.)
When contacting Perfect Supplements about their gelatin and collagen, here’s what they told me:
Our Collagen and Gelatin are 100% natural and free of pesticides, hormones, chemicals, GMOs and other contaminants. They are sourced from Brazilian Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised Cows that spend their entire life free grazing on grass. There is regular testing to verify the area is natural and free of pesticides as well as regular testing on the products. The establishment that takes the cows for finishing ensures that they feed the cows grass while they are there, but they cannot guarantee the cows have not gotten into other animals food sources such as grains.
If you’ve ever investigated other gelatin companies you may know that this is an excellent assurance, much better than the leading competitors’ claims. I’m pleased to support this company. I’d love to know for sure that the cows only consume grass for finishing, but until that time, I’m grateful for the company’s transparency and commitment to sustainability.