This is part 3 in my series about my journey with leaky gut. Read part 1 and part 2. And please, do not use this as a substitute for medical care from a qualified practitioner. I urge you to work with a professional if you suspect that you have leaky gut. This is my story and is to be used for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.
Brief recap: I was diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome in February 2014 and embarked on a functional medicine program to heal my gut in March. I strictly followed the Repairvite Diet, or as you probably know it better, the autoimmune paleo diet (no grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, nightshades, nuts, or seeds). I followed the entire Repairvite program, beginning with GI Synergy (to destroy all the baddies living in my gut --- bacteria, yeast, and parasites), followed by gut-healing Repairvite, and concluded with liver-supporting Clearvite. I also took high-dose probiotics as well as probiotics with soil-based organisms.
The Apex Energetics supplements are only available from a medical practitioner. You don't want to embark on this kind of journey without professional guidance in case you have bumps on the road along the way. But I can tell you from my own experience: this program is incredibly powerful.
But, as wonderful as the Repairvite program is, it wasn't the only thing that led to my success. I didn't just focus on food and nutrition. I took a whole lifestyle approach. I'll give you the details on that in a moment.
After 6 months on my program, I had resolved 100% of my leaky gut symptoms and achieved a level of digestive strength and wellness never felt before at any time in my life.
Here are some more details about what that means for me:
- no more unpredictable bloating after meals
- no more acne after eating certain foods
- no more flushed or itchy face after eating certain foods
- consistent type 3-4 Bristol stools
- regular bowel movements (1-3 per day)
- abdomen is no longer tender to the touch throughout
- the borborygmus underneath my right rib cage no longer happens after meals
- no more stuffy nose after consuming certain foods
- no more constant pain in my ileocecal valve (ICV)
- no more intestinal mucus production in response to certain foods
- I no longer require a digestive aid tea after meals and have been weaning myself off of my digestive enzymes
Currently, almost 9 months after beginning this journey, I am able to eat dairy, eggs, nightshades, grains, legumes, and seeds (everything that's excluded on the AIP) without any negative digestive consequences. I no longer have to follow the AIP to feel well, but I still choose to eat a nutrient-dense paleo diet and to develop AIP recipes. I know just how difficult and stressful it is to have to follow it strictly, so I feel passionate about creating and sharing my delicious AIP recipes.
How I Reversed My Leaky Gut in 6 Months
6 months may seem too short of a time to achieve the results that I did. I have to admit that I was a bit shocked at my progress, too, so I want to tell you everything that I did. I believe that the combination of a comprehensive functional medicine approach to addressing leaky gut, regular treatments from two different Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors, and diligent, frequent Qigong and Tai Chi practice (branches of TCM, actually) are what led to my quick recovery.
Let me back up here, though, and pick up where I left off with my 2nd update.
Food Reintroduction Failures
In part 2 of this series, I mention that I'm about to begin food reintroduction trials. This was just over 2 months on the protocol. I shared random tidbits about my trials in a few blog posts and discussed it pretty frequently on my Facebook and Instagram, but here's the gist: I had a lot of failures, especially with nightshades. Tomatoes flushed my face and made it itchy and caused an immune response in my gut (sorry for TMI, but they loosened my stools and caused my GI tract to produce quite a bit of mucus for several days after consumption). Peppers made my stomach cramp and caused indigestion. Potatoes just made me feel kind of "blah" and heavy and like I couldn't digest them.
After those failures, I decided it best to just stick to the AIP diet until I was able to start seeing my doctor regularly for treatments. In July (3.5 months in), I moved to the same city as her in Florida.
The Role of Chinese Medicine and Qigong
Once I moved, I began seeing my doctor twice a week for treatments. I also started seeing one of her best friends who is in her final semester of acupuncture school at their clinic.
Tip: if there happens to be an acupuncture school in your town, check out their clinic. You will save a ton of money and get a very in-depth treatment if you are seen by an acupuncture student in their clinical rotation right before they graduate. And, of course, everything they do will be checked by a professor and licensed practitioner. I have had some real breakthroughs thanks to the treatments at the school's clinic!
I also revved up my qigong practice after moving, since my doctor happens to be married to my Sifu and his studio is attached to the clinic. The power of group practice led by a Sifu is undeniable. I also began to add Tai Chi to my routines, which is what I needed to help build more "Qi" (pronounced "chee"), the life-energy at the root of Chinese Medical theory.
Oh yeah: I also took another trip to The Blue Mountain in Costa Rica for a week-long qigong retreat in late July. You can read more about how incredibly powerful Qigong has been for me here (scroll down).
In late September (just over 6 months in, and 3 months after seeing my doctors regularly), I tried again with food reintroductions. This time, I had no problems with anything. Potatoes? Digest them just fine. Peppers? Gobble them down without issues. Tomatoes? No skin issues, no change in bowel function.
I have yet to reintroduce anything that causes a negative reaction. Exception: alcohol (more than 2 drinks). And I suspect that has more to do with my genetics (including MTHFR) and my liver rather than anything related to my small intestines.
Bottom line: I did not simply focus on food or even food + supplements to address leaky gut. I took a whole-lifestyle, multi-faced approach that included appropriate medical care, and importantly, stress management. And, if you want to speak in terms of Chinese Medicine, I worked to build up a lot of Qi, since I have been dealing with chronic deficiency for many years.
Here's a recap of all the things that I did:
- I eliminated any pathogens living in my gut (GI Synergy)
- I removed all possible food irritants from my diet (Repairvite Diet, aka autoimmune paleo)
- I added nutrient dense foods, like offal (liver, kidney, heart, bone marrow), daily bone broth, daily gelatin or collagen supplements, fermented foods with every meal, and high quality fats and meats from pasture-raised animals.
- I added supplements to support the health of the lining of the small intestine and to address leaky gut (Repairvite)
- I began twice daily qigong practice, including in a class setting with my Sifu
- I added Qi-building Tai Chi to my practice routine
- I saw my TCM/functional medicine doctor twice a week for treatments
- I saw a second TCM doctor for more intensive acupuncture treatments and TCM herbal formulas
The Lesson I Learned: Paleo Is Not Enough
I've gotten a lot of comments like this on my social media and in private messages: "I don't understand. I've been following the autoimmune protocol perfectly for ((insert time frame -- could be months, could be years)) and I still can't reintroduce any foods!" or, more generally "I'm doing everything right but I'm still not seeing progress".
That's because the paleo diet is not a magic bullet. Neither is the autoimmune protocol. Yes, they are incredibly powerful tools and are necessary for most people, but they are not The One Thing.
Look, I made the mistake of putting an almost unhealthy emphasis on diet alone in my first 2 years paleo. It's no secret that I achieved truly incredible results with diet alone. Just read my success story. But, I was very sorely in need of stress management to really get control of my IBS. Just like i was very sorely in need of medical care for leaky gut. And, apparently, I really needed to work on my Qi deficiency as well.
I see this attitude too often in the community. I read a lot of blogs and I see a lot of comments on social media. "I just need to stick with it and be 100%, then I'll get the results I'm after!"
For some people, yes, it's true that diet change will produce miraculous results. But, for the rest of us, there's more to take into account. And I see too many people who just quit going to any doctors whatsoever after going paleo. I made this dangerous decision myself and I regret it now.
I've got a product in development right now that addresses the problem of focusing too much on diet. It's about nourishing yourself with things other than food. Be sure to join my newsletter below to get updates about this product! It will be released by the end of 2015.