I’ve read a variety of articles over the past year about ‘leaky gut’ and functional medicine, but it wasn’t until recently that I was pointed back to it by a good friend (and dietitian) who recommended a book to me that some of her patients have read called Prescription on Nutritional Healing. I decided that I should probably dive into it and see if I fit the mold of leaky gut and determine if what I have been doing aligns with healing it. I haven’t been preaching the leaky gut mantra over the past few years because my remedies in my health journey came slightly before leaky gut had a name, however, my experience was essentially what is now dubbed ‘leaky gut’ and this holistic doctor practices functional medicine, and like many others, it completely changed how I was treating my Crohn’s Disease.
The causes for leaky gut are not exactly known, but they’re commonly attributed to a variety of triggers such as these, listed here. For those who are unfamiliar, leaky gut syndrome is often characterized by a number of symptoms, such as:
- Digestive issues
- Chronic fatigue
- Hormonal imbalances
- Autoimmune disease
- Gluten, dairy or soy intolerances
- Acne, eczema, other skin issues
- Mood and brain issues like depression, ADD, ADHD, etc.
Also, to be clear, you don’t have to have Crohn’s or Colitis to have leaky gut.
Winter 2013… I was three semesters in to law school and things were going relatively well Crohn’s wise, however, I was experiencing a lot of skin issues and was emotionally wrecked at times. I had really bad acne that was presenting itself in boil-like forms, white and discolored rashes began to spread all over my arms, fatigue set in despite an active workout schedule, and I was overly emotional. At that point, I was trying to incorporate healthier natural foods into my diet and thought that being a vegetarian for the previous five years was good and that eating meat made my Crohn’s worse (sometimes it does, just depends on what and how much I have… like every other food), I went to a holistic doctor in Indianapolis who really rocked my world.
The first thing I remember him saying was “your body is essentially failing itself”, in reference to my lack of protein, excess gluten intake, higher sugar levels, and over-indulgence in cheese, which I felt was a bit dramatic but did catch my attention. If five members of my family hadn’t gone to this doc already and claimed how helpful he was, I would’ve given it an eye roll and walked out – but he knew his stuff. He gave me a schedule for things we were going to completely cut from my diet, as well as things we needed to temporarily cut due to my overindulgence and to determine my triggers – essentially a comprehensive elimination diet, and a rigorous vitamin regimen combined with a discussion about the need to balance my hormones.
Stop 1: More protein. He didn’t say I couldn’t be a vegetarian, but when I did the cost-benefit of having to intake that much protein from soy based alternatives versus just having a steak, I decided I needed to at least try to eat meat again. Today, I am a picky meat eater… if I have one bad bite, I don’t eat it again for awhile. If I don’t like the way it looks, I don’t eat it. But, at least once a month I try to find a good steak because I will always struggle with anemia and getting enough protein, and that has made a huge difference.
Stop 2: No more gluten. I have always had a passionate love for pasta and bagels, and around 2013, the Midwest gluten-free game was sparse. This was definitely the most difficult portion of the elimination diet for me, however, once I got over the hump, I stopped craving it. Thereafter, I wanted to know if I was actually undiagnosed Celiac’s or whether I just can’t process it well. Turns out I am just gluten intolerant, like many others with Crohn’s, and now have to stay away from it as much as possible. I will be honest, there are times when I get a bagel sandwich and say I will accept what will happen next because it just tastes so good, however, I try to limit those to a few a year. What I noticed almost immediately was that – those spots on my arms that made me look like a cheetah? Yeah, those disappeared – and I haven’t had an issue with them since! It’s funny to think back on other doctors that told me to consider dropping the gluten heavy diet and realizing that it took a physical manifestation on my skin to get me to quit.
Stop 3: We continued to do the elimination diet with eggs, fruit and cheese, however, I was able to work those back in eventually – for the most part. You don’t realize how many things contain cheese, and when you are vegetarian who eat eggs for protein, things can get a little tricky – but the elimination approach was worth it to determine my issues.
In only two weeks my acne was completely gone, and within that first month the spots on my arms had cleared up entirely. I also started to notice higher energy levels that I was previously having to create by drinking a lot of coffee. Turns out these were all classic symptoms of leaky gut and what this doctor was treating it with were strategies to eliminate this issue! I was also put on a serious vitamin regimen that whipped me into shape from the inside. I really wish I could remember what all of them were, but here are the ones I continue to take today that I feel really help me stay as healthy as possible.
- Probiotics (I like the liquid ones that come with a dropper)
- Omega 3 Fish Oil
- Vitamin D/K2
I am definitely no expert on leaky gut, but these guys are: Dr Mark Hyman and Dr. Steven Gundry, so check out some of their resources about good gut health! Has a GI doctor ever mentioned leaky gut to you? Mine hadn’t yet. It was independent research and the involvement of my family which led me to address MAJOR diet and lifestyle changes that would change my Crohn’s journey. So once again, be your own advocate. Do research. Talk about it with your doctors and determine the best path for you!