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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Blogging, Take 2

I’m back!

And boy, do I have a story to share with you. It’s one of intrigue, and suspense, and mystery, and DEATH. *dun dun dun*

Okay, not really. Well, actually, my mom and I have to put our eldest dog down during my blogging absence, so in truth there was some death involved in my life story these past few months.

But the main reason I’ve been away from this blog for what feels like forever comes down to this: I got sick.

While my journey of clean eating as mostly stayed on track (I do love sushi, frozen yogurt, and gluten-free cookies), I learned an incredibly valuable lesson about keeping the rest of my life healthy.

So this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute – just sit right there – (I got you singing, right?) I’ll tell you how stress can make you sick! Be aware!

Ah, self-amusement is fun.

For those of you who know me or read my info, you know I’m a substitute teacher. I mostly substitute in suburban schools, but on occasion I’ll sub in one of the city districts in my area. Back in March, I was asked to substitute for three weeks in my area of specialty in a city school. I had subbed there before, so I knew a few of the students, which I find helpful, and hey – three weeks of steady work is fantastic. So of course, I said yes.

A few days before I started this job, I came down with some kind of stomach bug/food poisoning. I ate a burger (with no bun) at a restaurant that REALLY didn’t agree with me. I couldn’t work for a few days, and my first day back to work was the first day of the substitute job. In hindsight, I should have taken more time off to let my body properly heal, but I didn’t, so moving on.

I have so much admiration for the teachers at this school. They are able to do such amazing things in a tough environment. My schedule was brutal, I rarely had a break between classes, and for some classes the students just WOULDN’T. SHUT. UP. I’m not someone who enjoys raising my voice to be heard, and I had to do that for most of the day. Seriously, taking attendance for 20 minutes is ridiculous. Thinking it was just an adjustment period of being in a new school and adjusting to the energy it takes to create lesson plans, keep control of a classroom AND learn names of students, I didn’t think anything of the fact that I was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. I started to go to bed at 9:00 pm – a bit earlier than my usual 10:30 bedtime.

But then 9:00 pm didn’t work – I was still exhausted when I woke up. So I tried 8pm. Didn’t work. I took a nap at 3pm for an hour when I got home, and also went to bed at 8pm. Still didn’t work. Even 12 hours of sleep didn’t make me feel any better. There was absolutely no reason for me to be that tired.

And the stress of the job kept building. I started sending kids to the office because I couldn’t deal with their insubordination by myself. I spent most of my day needing to yell just to be heard. I stopped caring about making the curriculum fun and interesting, and just did the bare minimum, counting the hours until I could leave. Instead of teaching students, I felt like I became a babysitter. That is not why I became a teacher.

I think it was during the 2nd week of this job that I started crying at night because I didn’t want to go to work the next day. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and I started to hate being a teacher. I began to seriously contemplate looking for a new career outside of teaching. Not just a new job – a completely new career. And anyone who knows me knows teaching has been a love and a passion for most of my life. Even in 2nd grade I was a mini-teacher, keeping those around me on task (which is why I strongly believe my teacher always put me next to the students who often were off-task). This job was making me depressed.

During that 2nd week of the job, I came across an article on adrenal fatigue and an easy at-home test. I was intrigued. I looked at the symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

Feeling tired for no reason – check.

Trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour – check.

Feeling rundown or overwhelmed – double check.

Recent illness or high levels of stress – double check.

Craving salty and/or sweet foods – check.

More alert at night than in the morning – Check, in the beginning of the job – I felt great after a nap, so from 5pm-7pm I felt pretty good. Then I’d get tired again. By the time I was reading these symptoms, I was tired all the time.

So I decided to take the at-home test, which was an eye test. Basically, it’s testing how well your pupils can stay contracted. A poor ability could be a sign for fatigue. And how long did my eyes stay contracted? FOUR FREAKING SECONDS. And man, pulsating pupils are kinda freaky.

Being me, I then start researching everything adrenal fatigue. I listened to podcasts (Balanced Bites as three pretty terrific ones) and read articles. I figured I’d try to heal myself first, and if that didn’t work I’d then go see a doctor.

To help heal, I quit the things that added stress to my body, good or bad: blogging, exercise, and work (within reason). I had been too tired to blog anyway, but it helped ease my stress to tell myself it was okay to get healthy first. Krav Maga, my go-to exercise, while super fun, wasn’t helping my body heal from stress, so I stopped going for about a month. I’ve been easing my way back, starting with only one day a week, working my way back to going three times a week. As for work, I finished out the job – I’m responsible like that – and then took a few days off. I won’t be subbing in that district for a long time, and I now make sure to choose subbing jobs in schools that have a low-stress factor.

But I’m not yet 100%. I still wake up sometimes feeling stressed for no reason. I have more trouble bouncing back from stress than I think I did before…it’s hard to remember. I can feel the difference in my body if I get less than 8 hours of sleep. If that happens for more than two days in a row, I know I don’t have the energy resources to do a high-intensity workout like Krav.

I never, in a million years, would have thought that stress could change my life so much.

Food has been crucial in my healing. I lost my love of cooking for a while – I was just too tired to do it – and I’m happy that’s changing. My food focus has been on eating more vegetables and natural fats (it’s a good thing veggies and butter taste amazing together!), sardines, bone broth, and taking my fermented cod-liver oil daily. Let food be thy medicine, and all that jazz.

As for blogging, I’ll be here as long as it doesn’t stress me out. And I totally know it was self-imposed stress. I felt bad when Monday came around and I didn’t have the energy to update. So, from now on my updates will be whenever they happen. They’ll be much shorter than this, since I don’t have hours every day to write (although what a cool job that would be). Sometimes they might just be what I had for dinner that night. Who knows? It’ll be a surprise.

Other things that have been going on: I finished reading Cholesterol Clarity and have almost finished Eat the Yolks, and I’d love to write up review for both books…someday (summary: they were awesome, I learned a lot, and everyone should read them). I’m 80% sure I want to take some online nutrition program and become a health coach as a supplement to my day job of teaching. And my boyfriend’s been fantastic through my illness/stress/fatigue stuff. Thank you, babe!

Until next time…be good to yourself.