Leaky Gut Protocol
In my last blog I wrote about my intentions for the new year starting with following a leaky gut protocol during the month of January. I promised to share with you my experience and findings. It’s hard to believe January is already over but I can say that my trial with the leaky gut protocol is far from over. First I’ll begin by telling you a little bit more about what a leaky gut is, why it is important, the “rules” around healing it, and then how I went about it and my experience.
If you have been online at all the last couple years or walked inside a grocery store you will have noticed that there is a lot of information and many products touting the importance of gut health and our microbiome. There is a strong connection between our gut health and our mental health and also a strong connection between a weak microbiome and disease. Our gut flora supports our immune function, hormones, detoxification, and mental well being. And the intestinal lining is a protective barrier that allows our food and drink to stay in the bounds of the digestive tract… usually. That is unless it becomes weakened and develops gaps in the tight junctions between the cells allowing foods, medications, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The body recognizes these intruders as foreign invaders and the flags go up. It responds by creating antibodies to deal with these intruders.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
A leaky gut can come from many different things, but most commonly a poor diet, stress, or antibiotic overuse (or improper use) are the culprits. And a weakness in the lining can cause digestive disturbances, food sensitivities, inflammation, and chronic disease. Symptoms include digestive discomfort like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or IBS and SIBO. Other ways to know if you may suffer from a leaky gut is seasonal allergies, sensitivities to mold and dust, known food intolerances or sensitivities, fatigue, skin conditions, autoimmune conditions, anxiety and/or depression, yeast overgrowth, joint pain, poor concentration and memory.
Leaky Gut Protocol
Now if you have worked with a naturopath or functional medicine practitioner they will tackle this and help you to heal with the 4 R approach. Remove, replace, reinoculate, and repair. This can also be seen as following a leaky gut protocol. I am being very careful NOT to use the word diet here. That is because I hate the word diet, it has a very negative connotation and the goal of the protocol is to heal and support your microbiome so that you can improve your immune function and be able to digest and process offending foods in the future. That doesn’t mean you can go back to eating pizza and french fries, but instead be able to tolerate the occasional treat of a Friday night pizza and beer without feeling like you need to chain yourself to your bathroom toilet the next day. Not only will you be able to digest food better, you will have more energy and feel better each day!
So here is how it goes:
Remove – take out the offending foods or follow an elimination diet for two weeks.
Replace – take digestive enzymes and bitters prior to meals to help digest foods more efficiently. Some may also need to take a Betaine HCI supplement as well.
Reinoculate – add a probiotic with at least 50 billion CFU’s in each dose and fermented foods at each meal.
Repair – add other supplements to help heal the intestinal lining. These can include some of the following: aloe vera, l-glutamine, marshmallow root, turmeric, and DGL licorice, then adding supplements like zinc, fish oil, and antioxidants.
*Some people find it helpful to add in antimicrobial herbs during the remove phase to help combat the yeast and bad bacteria.
In addition to this many practitioners will encourage patients to eat plenty of foods that are known to help heal and seal the gut like healthy fats (coconut, salmon, olive oil), buckwheat, sweet potatoes, squash, blueberries, bone broth, fermented foods like kefir, suakraut, and miso.
My Experience Following the Leaky Gut Protocol
If you want to hear about my experience, please keep reading, but if you aren’t into the personal anecdotes then go ahead and close this tab. It is important to note that I took this on by myself without the direction of practitioner and I am by no means an expert on this protocol. However, as a Chinese medicine practitioner, I work very closely with patients to help heal and improve digestive function everyday through the use of acupuncture, diet and lifestyle recommendations, supplementation, and Chinese herbs.
In a lot of my research I found that there are many variations on this protocol and that some include foods that others say are not allowed. I also strongly believe in listening to your intuition and doing what feels right to you. You know your body better than anyone else. I also found that the timeline of this protocol varies, from four weeks to six months! Now that is a big difference! After this month, I fall into the latter camp, and will be doing this for six months likely. Part of this reason is that life is busy and following something 100% of the time is not a reasonable expectation and there is no such thing as perfection. I found that my willpower to avoid all chocolate, cheese, and wine for a month was lacking. It is also important to know that I have struggled with digestive problems since I was a small child and have been working most of my adult life to heal my digestion.
What I Ate
I focused on eating lots of the foods that help to support the gut and kept it pretty simple overall when it came to breakfast and lunch. Mostly eating the same thing each day with minor variations (which is not recommended for long periods of time due to its restrictive nature and lacking in all the necessary nutrients our bodies need). I cut out grains, dairy, sugar, nuts except for walnuts, soy, nightshades, beans, alcohol, and caffeine. I added lots of fermented foods, flax meal, coconut, dark leafy greens, raw buckwheat groats, and extra protein to help keep me satiated along with the gut healing foods I mentioned above. I was not 100% compliant especially when it came to the weekends. I also made sure to add in plenty of slow burning carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and squash two meals a day during my luteal phase (approximately day 17 to 30) when I needed to support my hormonal balance to build adequate progesterone. Luckily it’s soup season so many nights I made a large pot of soup with homemade bone broth from grass fed cows. For beverages I had dandelion tea, occasional decaf coffee (I don’t consume caffeine anyway so this area was not difficult), and kombucha or water with cucumber or fruit added in for flare.
My supplement regimen included digestive enzymes and bitters before each meal, a good probiotic in the morning, l-glutamine, flax, and collagen powder in a smoothie. I occasional drank pau d’arco tea at night for its antimicrobial effect, ashwaganda for adaptogens, and continued my regular regimen of supplements for general well-being. I also continued a supplement for liver and GI tract support for optimal elimination. I also continued my regular acupuncture appointments, took extra time to rest, more epsom salt baths, and gave myself mini acupuncture treatments when I had a short break between patients.
How I Felt And What I Learned
Initially I felt worse than I did before and was pretty disappointed but then began to feel better by the end of week three, this of course corresponded with me thinking I could add in some goat cheese, tomatoes, and chocolate before I was ready and felt the backlash of this decision immediately. On a positive note I now experience way less bloating after meals, more regular bowel movements, great sleep, less headaches upon waking, have eaten my weight in kale salads, less rosacea and flushing after meals, and have a better idea of what doesn’t agree with me. But I also realize my journey is still in the very initial stages and that I plan to continue this way of eating for several months to reap the benefits and truly help to heal my microbiome and intestinal lining. I also found that my stress and anxiety has a direct correlation on my digestion and by moving a little slower, taking more “me” time, and being gentle with myself goes a long way. And I have found that this is way too many supplements even for me. I’ve always loved trying out different herbs and supplements to see how my body responded, but in this case, less is more.
I encourage you to check in with yourself and how smoothly your digestion is running to see if this resonates with you. I would love to hear your experience!