The Leaky Gut Syndrome
The Healing Begins -The Leaky Gut Syndrome! (quoted directly from chapter 7. of my book, To Thine Own Health Be True)
Now I knew what I needed to do, and I was willing to do it. I started with my so called “leaky gut.” There has been a lot of talk about this subject recently. You can’t find it in a medical text book…yet…and some traditional doctors still doubt its existence, but the science behind the leaky gut is becoming clearer and more medical professionals are jumping on board this current bandwagon. One of my personal functional doctors, Dr. Adam Fields, is a specialist in the area of fixing one’s gut. The basic concept is this:
A lot of health problems, especially autoimmune diseases, are caused by having a leaky gut so it’s imperative to start here. Simple concept: You don’t keep pouring water into a leaky bucket but first, you fix the hole, and then you put water in the bucket. A possible cause of leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability. That could happen when tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. That could let toxicsubstances leak into the bloodstream. These substances, pieces of undigested food and large chain protein molecules are then seen as “foreign invaders” by our immune system and are attacked by our white blood cells. This causes inflammation that may lead to autoimmune diseases.
If you remember, I had an autoimmune disease called Polymyalgia Rheumatica or PMR. As I said, many “functional” doctors see a direct connection between having a leaky gut and autoimmune diseases.* (The Autoimmune Epidemic by Dr. Donna Nakazawa, MD) So this seemed like a good place to start.
Based on my research and the advice of my functional doctor, Adam Fields, I chose to start with my gut and find a way to heal it. There is some amazing new science through which they have discovered that the gut holds a high and lofty place of importance in our bodies. That discovery makes the case for getting your gut right. This is of primary importance.
The gut to brain connection is no joke; anxiety has been linked to stomach problems and the stomach has been linked to anxiety issues. Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation, all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected. So, when you are healing your gut, you are helping your brain to work more efficiently as well . . . and we all want that.
I was committed, but first, one of my other functional doctors, Jay Pennock M.D., wanted me to do a “poop test”. This is gross but necessary. You have this bio-hazard kit with 5 pairs of latex gloves and small cardboard boxes to collect your poop over a 5-day period. This is very scientific. The kit came with directions but there is no learning curve here. You better get it right the first time or . . . well you get the idea. The reason for the test is to see what kinds of bacteria are currently living in your intestines. This way, you can evaluate the current condition of the gut’s “garden” to see the kinds and concentrations of bacteria are currently residing there and which new ones you’ll need to add to your gut flora, or gastrointestinal microbiota - which is the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals, including insects. Wikipedia defines microbiota as an:
“. . . ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms found in and on all multi-cellular organisms studied to date from plants to animals. A microbiota includes bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses.”
The composition of the human gut microbiota changes over time, when the diet changes, and as overall health changes. Dr. Pennock, told me that, with this test kit, we would establish a base-line from which to build. It turned out I had a lot of bad bacteria, but no parasites, which is good. Unfortunately, the bacteria I had were the kind that like to eat McDonald's hamburgers and French fries — not the best kind. We needed to overwhelm the bad guys with the new good ones I’d be adding to my gut flora. Here is the basic protocol to heal a leaky gut:
The first thing to do is start taking a good probiotic. The easiest way to get the proper probiotics is to take it in capsules that contain billions and billions of micro-organisms that are the good bacteria that become the gate keepers of our gut. (There are many ways to get probiotics into your gut, but the capsules are easy and pack a lot of beneficial bacteria into a small space.) When one takes a proper dose over a period of time, it’s like bringing in reinforcements to the area that needs help. Think about it this way, when you add the probiotics to your diet, the good guys are coming over the hill to save the day. They will destroy the bad bacteria and create a new and healthy nutrient-loving garden in your intestines. And, they will close off the weak areas in your gut and prevent substances from leaking out of the gut and into the blood stream. So, bottom line: Find a functional doctor, MD or Chiropractor that is familiar with the probiotic protocol and can recommend a good probiotic for you to take. If you can’t find the right doctor in your area, go to a health food store and ask them for some help and buy the capsules and start the process of healing your gut.
Next step to take at while you are taking the probiotics: Learn what foods are good and protective and healing for your gut and what foods are destructive to your gut. Here is a partial list:
Great Food Options for Fixing a Leaky Gut
Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, arugula, carrots, kale, eggplant, beetroot, Swiss chard, spinach, ginger, mushrooms and zucchini.Roots and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, squash and turnips.Fermented vegetables: Kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.Fruit: Coconut, grapes, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, mandarin, lemon, limes, passionfruit and papaya.Sprouted seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and more.Gluten-free grains: Buckwheat, amaranth, rice (brown and white), sorghum, teff and gluten-free oats.Healthy fats: Avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.Fish: Salmon, tuna, herring and other omega-3-rich fish.Herbs and spices: All herbs and spices.Cultured dairy products: Kefir, yogurt, Greek yogurt and traditional buttermilk – (some people don’t like to take any milk products at all. I didn’t for the first two months and added some yogurt in after that with no problems.)Beverages: Bone broth, teas, coconut milk, nut milk, water and kombucha.Nuts: Raw nuts including almonds, walnuts and nut-based products, such as nut milks.
Some Foods to Avoid
The following list contains foods that may harm healthy gut bacteria, as well as some that are believed to trigger digestive symptoms, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea:Wheat-based products: Bread, pasta, cereals, wheat flour, couscous, etc.Gluten-containing grains: Barley, rye, bulgur, seitan, triticale and oats.Processed meats: Cold cuts, deli meats, bacon, hot dogs, etc.Red MeatBaked goods: Cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, pastries and pizza.Snack foods: Crackers, muesli bars, popcorn, pretzels, etc.Junk food: Fast foods, potato chips, sugary cereals, candy bars, etc.Dairy products: Milk, cheeses and ice cream.Refined oils: Canola, sunflower, soybean and safflower oils.Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.Sauces: Salad dressings, as well as soy, teriyaki and hoisin sauce.Beverages: Alcohol, carbonated beverages and other sugary drinks.
It’s so simple: eat healthy, mostly plant-based food and don’t eat unhealthy highly processed food-like substances. No fast food or processed food. Simple, right?
OK, I know it’s not so simple. Over the years, our bodies have built up strong cravings for certain foods that aren’t building you up but are in fact tearing you down. We know this, but we order the deep-fried French fries anyway because we crave them. So it looks simple on paper, but it’s not going to be easy. This is where the rubber meets the road. Oh no! you say, Not the diet part! Yes, the diet part but think “lifestyle” and not diet. It’s a way of life and a new way of thinking about food that counts. Knowing the truth about food and what it’s for and how it works with your system will take you a long way toward a successful transition to optimum health. Education, learning, and knowledge will lead you to the truth and knowing the truth will facilitate the needed lifestyle change.
What goes into your mouth should be of utmost importance to you because it goes into your stomach and gut, is fully processed and feeds your body. That specific food you put into your mouth obviously makes an impact on your body and how you feel and ultimately on your overall health. Why not give your body its best chance for a long and healthy life? It’s a simple understanding, but somehow there is often a disconnect between what we know is good for us and what we actually do. We need to overcome that disconnect and the way to do that is to become educated. This book is a guide but ultimately, you need to be proactive and do your own research so you can be total convinced that what you are doing makes sense to you personally. Again, the truth will set you free!