Leaky Gut and Probiotics

Hey y’all! I hope the last week has treated you well!

I’m been dealing with some health issues of my own lately. My back and shoulder has been out of whack – pro tip: don’t go a year without a chiropractor appointment when you have a history of easily going out of alignment. In addition to the back issues, I’ve had a lot of joint pain.

So I’m on a mission to figure out what is going on with my health. And it fit in perfectly that the health portion of the nutrition course I’m taking had to deal with digestive health. Today, I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned about Leaky Gut, and how probiotics can help heal.

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition described as intestinal permeability – the intestinal lining has become porous and things such as undigested food molecules, yeast, and toxins, instead of being screened out, get through into the blood stream. Leaky Gut has been linked to various autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, MS, RA, depression and anxiety. (I especially found the depression and anxiety link interesting because one of my symptoms when I had too much gluten – pre-paleo – was depression.)

What causes Leaky Gut?

There are a variety of factors:

Diet: if your diet is low in probiotics and fiber (more on probiotics in a moment), high in sugar or processed foods, and high in grains and conventional dairy, you might have Leaky Gut.

Medication: if you overuse medications such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, asprin, or take hormones such as birth control, you might have Leaky Gut.

Stress: If you have high emotional stress in your life, you might have Leaky Gut. (I’ve previously discussed how stress messed with my health here.)

Bacterial imbalances: If you suffer from candida, SIBO, or frequent yeast infections, you might have Leaky Gut.

Leaky Gut can lead to food intolerance, immune abnormalities, and autoimmune conditions. Inflammation plays an important role here: the body tries to protect itself from what it views as foreign objects. If your gut lining is disrupted, food particles can be viewed as invaders, and the body will create antibodies to protect itself. Maybe your body views gluten as an invader. Or casein. Or lactose. Food intolerance is one of the first signs that something could be going on with your digestive system. After a while, the body might get confused and think that the gluten protein, for example, is in the cells of your skin, and so you develop psoriasis.

In my case, while I’ve been good about avoiding gluten, I have had more gluten-free foods, dairy, and high sugar items (curse you, ice cream!) in the last few months than I usually have. So I believe it’s quite possible that my joint pain could be related to my diet.

How do I heal Leaky Gut?

First, the diet needs to support the digestive system. Eat simple carbs in the form of non-starchy vegetables, fruits and raw honey, healthy fats like ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil and egg yolks, and easily digested protein like fish, chicken, and grass-fed beef. Bone broth is also a wonderful addition to the diet to help heal, and I always drink it when I feel a cold starting in order to boost my immune system, since gut health and immune health are so strongly linked. Lastly, eating probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut and pickles, can help add the “good” bacteria back to the gut, especially if you’ve taken antibiotics recently, or often wash your hands with antibacterial soap (which is practically everyone). I also learned that foods that come fresh from the farmer – the ones that still have a bit of dirt on them – will naturally have probiotics from the soil. Unfortunately, these probiotics are washed away by the chlorine spray that supermarkets may use to keep their food fresh. Yet another reason to shop at your local farmer’s market!

Supplements can also help. I am not a doctor, so I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone what to take, I can only share what I’ve learned, what I’m currently taking, and what I plan to take.

I learned that there are 4 supplements that help allow the body to heal itself.

1. First, for more acute reactions, digestive enzymes may help. There are a variety of different enzymes, and this post from Whole9Life gives some great advice about how to find a quality product. But basically, digestive enzymes do exactly what their name says: they are enzymes that help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients. If we aren’t digesting food properly, we can’t digest nutrients properly, and that will interfere with our health. And if you’re making the effort to eat a diet like the one suggested above, you really want to make sure your body is able to get all the nutrients it can. I personally have been taking serrapeptase due to a recommendation from my Krav Maga instructor as a way to help relieve my joint pain, and I do notice I have less joint pain in my knees and ankles when I take it.

2. L-glutamine is another supplement that is recommended to help protect the gut lining. I don’t know much about it and will do more research before I start taking it.

3. Fermented cod liver oil – this supplement is my favorite. I’ve already been taking it since December as a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and K2. As some who tends to have low vitamin D levels (the joys of living in the northeast!), I wanted to find a real food supplement that my body could use more efficiently than a Vitamin D pill. I use the Green Pastures brand, and this post from Balanced Bites explains a lot about cod liver oil vs. fish oil and answers practically any question you might ever have about cod liver oil.

4. Lastly, probiotics. Probiotics are responsible for: producing vitamins such as B12 and K2, crowding out harmful bacteria, creating enzymes that destroy the harmful bacteria, and stimulating the secretion of regulatory T cells (cells that modulate the immune system and may help treat autoimmune diseases) and IgA (an antibody that is found in the intestinal tract – without it, you will have a suppressed or deficient immune system). 

A few tips when it comes to buying a probiotic supplement:

1. Get a reputable brand. You pay for what you get.

2. Look for a probiotic brand that has a high number of probiotic (15 billion-100 billion) and a high strain diversity (10-30 different strains).

3. Strains such as bacillus coagulans, saccharomyces boulardii, bacillus subtilis, and lactobacillus rhamnosus are heat resistant, so they will live long enough to get to the gut and colonize. It’s very useful (and cost effective) to take a probiotic that will have survivable strains.

As always, do your own research. Different strains will help with different needs. For example, bifidobacterium longum supports liver function and reduces inflammation, so for my needs I would search for a brand that contains that strain. If you have lactose intolerance, lactobacillus acidophilus could help with that. To support treatment of Crohn’s disease, saccharomyces boulardii has been proven effective, and this strain also reduces inflammation. Other strains boost the immune system, some support vitamin production, and others suppress the growth of bad bacteria like salmonella and e. coli.

I do not yet take a probiotic, but I started eating sauerkraut a couple months ago…and I don’t think I’ve had it in the last few weeks. Oops?

So my action plan to heal my own gut:

– Clean up diet – cut out the dairy, sugar and gluten-free treats for at least 3 weeks (although 4 weeks would be best). Just in time for a 21-Day Sugar Detox!

– Make more bone broth

– Eat more sauerkraut

– Research and buy a probiotic supplement

– Continue taking fermented cod liver oil

That’s all for tonight! If you liked what you read, please take a moment and leave a comment telling me a bit about yourself. I’d like to get to know my readers!

See you next week!

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Let’s Talk About Grains

Hello all! I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend, and that your Monday wasn’t too horrible.

Rule #473984 that I’m learning about blogging: Don’t make promises you can’t keep! I’m still planning on writing about making bone broth, as I said I would in my last post. But my last batch (the one I was making to share with you all) didn’t turn out the way I expected. It was my first time using beef bones, and it didn’t gel. It bummed me out. I think I figured out why (not enough gelatin in the bones), and I look forward to trying again, and hopefully I’ll get to take pictures of some wonderful gelled bone broth.

For today, however, I’d like to have a talk about grains, and their value, or perhaps their lack-there-of, in our diets. People can be pretty polarized on this topic. I understand that for many people, grains make up a major part of their diet. Most celebrations, whether holiday, birthday, or I’ve-got-good-news, tend to contain grain products. And people don’t want to miss out on social events that involve those products. I definitely get it. But for me, the negatives out-weight all of that – especially when there are millions of grain-free recipes of many favorite baked goods. Being grain free, I still can have my cake, cookies, brownies, pancakes, bread, French toast…there’s only a handful of foods that I haven’t been able to reproduce, and out of that handful, there’s only a few that I actually miss. Now, some Paleo-Purists might criticize the fact that I do make things that are not from the Paleolithic Era, but I feel that as long as these baked goods are treated as treats and not daily staples, it’s fine. And like Jeph Jacques put on an apron, baking is science for hungry people!

My issues with grains:

1) Processing

Refined grains are incredibly processed. That means that there was a lot of machinery, chemicals, and/or heat involved in making the product. The bran and the germ of the seed are removed, so you lose a lot of nutrients in those layers. The lost nutrients are often added back in – that’s what “fortified” means – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the body recognizes those chemical versions of nutrients as the real deal. And, going back to my definition of real food, since it’s processed, it’s not a real food. It’s a food product. It’s edible, but is it really healthy?

2) Anti-nutrients and Hard-to-Digest Proteins

Get ready for some science!

There’s an anti-nutrient in whole grain called phytate, which is found in the bran. Phytates combine with the minerals in the bread or other grain product and prevent the body from using that mineral. It doesn’t matter that there’s calcium and magnesium in the whole grain – the phytates won’t allow your body to absorb it and benefit from it.

As for proteins, there are two (I suppose technically three) big ones that are troublesome: lectin and gluten. Lectins are problematic because those molecules can stick to the lining of our intestines, causing all sorts of digestive distress and erode you intestinal barrier – also known as “leaky gut”. Gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye, is made up of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. You’ve probably heard of celiacs disease, in which people have no tolerance for gluten due to the autoimmune disorder in the small intestine. But recently, researchers and doctors are discovering that many people who test negative for celiacs disease can still have severe reactions to gluten – I’m one of them – and we now have a name for it: non-celiacs gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Those of us with NCGS may not have the digestive issues that celiacs have, but we could have other symptoms: fatigue, joint/muscle pain, headaches, skin irritations, brain fog and depression are just a few. Non-gluten grains, like corn and oats, contain a different protein than gluten, but can cause similar symptoms.

3) GMOs

If we all had access to einkorn, one of the original wheat grains, our bodies would probably be a lot happier. That’s because it was a naturally grown grain that had 14 chromosomes, and our bodies recognized it as nourishment. Today’s modern wheat has been genetically modified for various reasons, and now has 42 chromosomes. It’s almost impossible to find corn now-a-days that isn’t genetically modified. Now, what’s wrong with GMOs? I believe it hasn’t been tested enough to be 100% sure that it’s safe for consumption long-term, and I wonder if there’s any connection between GMOs and the rising obesity population, or any connection to a variety of diseases. We just don’t know. Also, I don’t like the idea of my food being modified to a point that my body doesn’t recognize it as nourishment. What is so wrong with the food that nature provides?

4) Inflammation

According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, “Every degenerative disease – cancer, heart disease, brain diseases, joint diseases – every degenerative disease is a disease is a disease of inflammation inside the cell. It means the cell’s on fire…there’s too much activity, too much heat.” Every bite we eat is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Either the food will cause that “fire” to which our immune system then responds, or it will help slow down or stop the inflammation. And more and more research points to the theory that most people, if not EVERYONE, has an inflammatory response to grains. What could this mean? It could mean that the inflammation is in your brain, and you can’t feel it, so you continue to eat grains. Maybe in your 30s you start forgetting things, and you blame it on “getting older”. Then, when you’re in your 60s, you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. That’s the result of inflammation killing your brain cells. And that’s not good! But what I find really cool is that our blood will show elevated antibodies YEARS before we show symptoms of a disease, and we have the technology to test our blood to discover these antibodies. Kind of like Doppler radar, but it predicts disease instead of storms.

5) Blood sugar levels

I think it was Dr. Perlmutter who said that two slices of whole wheat bread can spike your blood sugar higher than a snickers bar. He was on Dr. Oz, and they tested some women and found that for 3 out of the 5, this was true. Ideally, we want to keep our blood sugar as stable as possible. If it spikes, it’s going to eventually come down, and that’s how we get sugar crashes. Your body did what it needed to do – produce insulin to help your body adjust to the increase sugar. When our blood sugar levels keep rising and falling, it’s almost like a drug affect – we want more of what we already had to bring that level back up. If you’ve done a Whole30, then you’ll recognize this as the Sugar Monster. We might expect this from a candy bar, but not from something that the government calls, “healthy”. If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping a stable blood sugar level is crucial for success.

 

So there you have it! That’s what I’ve learned about grains so far…I will update when I learn more.

Now, does this mean I won’t occasionally indulge in some grains? Hey, I’m not perfect, and I love sushi. I’ve learned through lots of self-experimentation that rice does not affect me as severely as other grains, and I don’t have sushi all the time. Some people, for example, have no apparent symptoms when they eat rice or oats. Could inflammation still be occurring somewhere in the body? Probably. But if every other forkful you have that day is anti-inflammatory, maybe your body will balance it out and heal itself. Who knows? We are all our own chemistry experiment. I can’t tell you what’s best for you, but I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

If you have questions, please ask! Also, I want to post a grain-free recipe. Is there a particular dish or dessert you’d like to see grain-free?

 

Sources:

The Grain Manifesto

Mark’s Daily Apple

Speed Endurance

Einkorn.com

The 21 Day Sugar Detox book

Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s Real Food Con lecture