I get a lot of patients these days who are interested in the health of their digestive system. Some come right out and ask if I can help them with their “leaky gut.” Others don’t know what to ask specifically but just know that something isn’t right. In an ideal scenario we eat food, feel full, digest the food and have a nice bowel movement at some appropriate time in the future. I can tell you however that this is not the common story people tell. If you are in a position to talk to people about their digestive experiences like I am, you hear a much more common story indeed.
So let’s consider this common scenario…
A person eats a typical meal. They enjoy the heck out of it because it consists of all of their favorite foods that they eat all the time. About thirty minutes later they realize that it feels like they ate too much. The bloating sets in. Perhaps some indigestion over the next few hours. And to add insult to injury, diarrhea a couple of hours later. So what could be going on? And why on Earth would that person continue to eat the foods that are causing such discomfort?
The answers to these questions can vary but the core concept is usually the same - as we eat foods which are inflammatory to our digestive system we lose the vital barrier system that our intestines provide. Once this happens larger particles of food can squeeze into our blood and attract the attention of our immune system. What should normally be only a few amino acids long (that’s very small) is now floating around as much larger pieces of protein. These pieces are large enough in fact to look a lot like a virus or something that the immune system is designed to remember and destroy.
So why are foods doing this to us?
There are a lot of reasons for this, and they are growing every day. Grains for example are high in Omega 6 Fatty acids which promote inflammation. They all also promote surges in blood sugar and insulin which again promote inflammation. In my opinion grains should be eaten in much smaller amounts compared to proteins and veggies. Then there are all the chemicals found in many foods. Preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, etc. Gluten can also be a huge problem, but then people say it isn’t the gluten but the sprays on the grains. And I say, yes! It is all of those things!! Food has become quite literally dangerous for us to eat. So we must do our best to heal our intestinal barrier system as much as we can.
To make matters worse, it just so happens that once this barrier integrity has been breached, the foods we eat the most are the ones that are the most likely to become real sensitivities. It is common for someone to develop sensitivity to cheese or gluten or any number of foods over time if they are eating a lot of that one food constantly. Diversity is key here. It isn’t natural to eat the same thing all the time!
Why do we keep eating the things that are harming us or making us feel lousy?
Well interestingly and sadly, we are addicted to them, and when I say addicted I mean in a physical addiction sense of the word. When we eat a food we are sensitive to we launch an inflammatory reaction that is systemic in our bodies. We then respond to this inflammatory insult with opiate compounds much like endorphins. Some food proteins like gluten and casein (from dairy) can turn into their own opiate compounds known as gluteomorphin and caseomorphin meaning we might get a double whammy here. So eating these foods many times a day literally bathes our brains in opium-like drugs. Not enough of the drug to get us high mind you, but enough to make us seek out our fix, and enough to cause withdrawal symptoms if that fix isn’t provided. That’s why a lot of people report a “detox reaction” when doing a cleanse program. It might just be a mild version of opium withdrawal.
So enough with the doom and gloom here. What can be done?
Well the answer is a bit outside the scope of this article and I do give lectures on this very topic, but I can offer some quick tips and concepts here for you.
First and foremost take a close look at what you are eating every day. Are you eating fast food or drinking orange Fanta with every lunch? If so then stop it. We all know that won’t lead to good health and it is probably doing more to destroy the sensitive gut barrier system than you think. Start to work on replacing those comforting and convenient foods with whole foods you prepare yourself. Perhaps bring your lunch to work a few times a week to start, and start preparing your own breakfasts and dinners. Do something now to create positive change and share what you are doing with someone close to you so that you have some accountability. It helps!
It may also be important to come in and have a food sensitivity panel done to see if you are reacting to any foods. We can run some tests to see if there is a loss of intestinal barrier (Leaky Gut) going on.
Regarding how to eat - all I can say up front, without knowing about any sensitivities ahead of time, is to rotate the foods that you consume. Eat the things you don’t like eating, and be sure to fill your plate with different vegetables. Doing this promotes greater diversity in beneficial gut bacteria which helps protect the digestive tract and calms down the immune responses.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of things that can be done to help protect you from these food reactions. Aside from diet and lifestyle there can be supplemental strategies we can employ. It may be slightly different for each person, but investing a little in what is right for you can pay off in the long run. Eating should be something we can enjoy not only at the moment but throughout the day as well in the form of good energy, clear thinking, and intestinal comfort.
I encourage you to read through some of my other articles on my website, watch the videos I have posted, get together some questions and get in touch! I am here for you anytime and want nothing more than to help you in any way that I can.