I was diagnosed with a leaky, infected gut via the Cyrex Labs Array 2 blood test at the end of February 2014. In March, I started a functional medicine leaky gut healing protocol. I made some dietary adjustments, lifestyle adjustments, and added several supplements. The dietary protocol that I began was the autoimmune paleo diet.
Important disclaimer: I am not a doctor and I don't play one on the Internet. This information is presented for informational purposes only and is not to be misconstrued as medical advice. I am just sharing my own experience.
What is the autoimmune paleo diet?
The AIP strictly excludes all of the following:
- grains (wheat, barley, rye, and non-gluten grains like rice, corn, teff, etc.)
- legumes & beans (including peanuts)
- dairy of all types (even raw)
- seeds (including seed-based spices such as cumin, coriander, etc.)
- nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers [but not black pepper -- it's not a nightshade], eggplant, goji berries, etc.)
- edible fungi
If you've never heard of the autoimmune diet before, I'm sure you are wondering how anyone could ever stick to such a restricted diet. It's a challenge at first, but it's really not that bad. The worst part is not really being able to eat out (seed-based spices and paprika are in everything...).
My protocol wasn't just about excluding things, though. It was also important for me to add the following things to my diet:
- 8 oz liver each week (rotating between grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, and pastured chicken)
- gelatin every single day
- homemade bone broths, prepared using joints and skin and slow-simmered for up to 72 hours
- Great Lakes red can grass-fed gelatin used as a binder in recipes like Green Plantain Pancakes and meatballs and used to make gummie/Jell-O snacks. I used recipes from The Gelatin Secret to help add variety. Read my review of The Gelatin Secret here.
- Great Lakes green can grass-fed collagen hydrolysate (translation: broken down gelatin that is easy to absorb and does NOT set into a gel the way the red can does.) It can be added to hot or cold beverages or any recipe you desire -- it does not affect texture or taste.
- fermented foods every single day
- I use Pickl-It Jars to make garlic dill carrot sticks (taste like pickles, but only take 3-5 days to ferment) and beet kvass (although I have heard that The Probiotic Jar may be a better purchase choice these days).
- I also buy Bubbie's sauerkraut, as it is truly lacto-fermented and full of beneficial bacteria **NOTE: Be aware that Bubbie's pickles contain red pepper flakes, and thus are not autoimmune paleo compliant
- a battery of functional medicine supplements, prescribed by my doctor. These include a hard-core anti-parasitic/anti-bacterial/anti-fungal herbal blend (GI Synergy), a gut-healing blend including l-glutamine (Repairvite), a glutathione recycler, and digestive enzymes. Read more about my regimen here. **NOTE: you cannot purchase the same Apex Energetics supplements that I am taking without a healthcare practitioner
- heavy-duty probiotics. I have taken all of the following:
- Qigong at least once a day, and twice a day as often as possible
- Sufficient sleep each night (at least 8 hours)
- minimum 30 minutes walking each day
- stress reduction. This includes Qigong, but I've also been using calming herbal teas (like this one) and have taken steps to remove as much stress as possible from my life. My husband has also been very supportive and has done what he can to help me, too.
Ever heard of people talking about "die-off" symptoms? Let me tell you -- die off is real and not fun. When you kill off a large number of pathogenic invaders (bacteria, yeast, parasites) all at once, your body is overwhelmed by the endotoxins that they release. I had a profound reaction that started about 5 days after I began my protocol. First, I felt like I was getting the flu and was a little achy and run-down. I wanted to sleep A LOT. I got a little worse the next two days, and then it hit me like a semi truck: I was bedridden for 2 whole days. I had a 101F fever, terrible body aches, headache, sore throat, and brain fog. All I wanted to do was lie as still as possible, because moving hurt. I gradually got better after that, and in total, I think my unpleasant die-off symptoms lasted about 8 days.
I also experienced some -- ahem -- interesting gastrointestinal effects in the first 2 weeks. There's not really a polite way to talk about this, and I think that if you are considering a similar protocol for yourself that you deserve fair warning. I had some of the most foul-smelling flatulence I've ever experienced in my life. It was awful...I don't know what I would have done if I had had to go to work or be out in public during that time. It would've been absolutely mortifying!
In addition to gas, there was also some pretty loud rumbling and grumbling going on in there. I remarked a few times that it was like I could feel the war being waged inside my gut. Also, the mega doses of probiotics caused constipation initially, but that resolved after a few days. That's an expected reaction to large doses of probiotics.
After I made it through the die-off reaction, I started noticing a LOT of improvements in my GI tract symptoms. My status after 2 months:
- consistent type 3 or 4 Bristol stool
- bowel movement 1-3x/day (up from 1 every day or every other day)
- low or no bloating after meals
- no more borborygmus (medical term for gurgling) coming from under my right ribcage after meals
- ileocecal valve (ICV) pain: I began this protocol with a constant pain in my lower right quadrant at the ICV. I've practiced ICV massage and it used to be quite painful, but now it isn't most days. Pre-protocol, I was always aware of a vague sense of inflammation coming from my ICV.
- no longer have a "heavy stomach" feeling after eating. I used to require something like boldo tea (also available on Amazon) or a South American digestive herb blend (including boldo and carqueja -- the Cachamai pink blend is my absolute favorite!) after meals to feel like I was digesting my food properly. I do still drink these teas on occasion out of enjoyment, but I'm no longer reaching for them out of necessity after each meal. More info on boldo here and carqueja here.
- my abdomen is no longer diffusely tender to the touch
- I no longer have this vague sense of "infection", which I had read about in some scientific papers on leaky gut (from Dr. Michael Maes). Before, I had what almost felt like a sense of hotness in my belly, which has gone away.
I am due to be reevaluated by my doctor, and I just had (a lot of) blood drawn for some WellnessFX labs last week. I will most likely begin a protocol to support my liver, which is something generally done after a detox (and boy did I have a strong detox...). I am also beginning to reintroduce foods and will write about that experience separately.
What do do if you have leaky gut
Since posting about my leaky gut diagnosis, I've had a large number of people reach out to me, publicly, privately, online, and in person asking for help because they suspect or know that they also have a leaky gut. Please: do not ignore leaky gut. Leaky gut is now recognized as a risk factor for developing autoimmune disease, with some scientists arguing that you must first have a leaky gut in order to develop autoimmunity.
Leaving leaky gut unresolved could result in serious health consequences, including the development of an autoimmune disease, later in life.
Many of the people who have reached out to me have expressed a strong preference to NOT seek the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner, saying things like "there's no way I could find someone locally who understands" or "there aren't any alternative practitioners in my town, only conventional MDs", etc. I understand. I totally get it. I didn't go to any doctor for 3 full years after going paleo and immersing myself in the holistic healing world because I was convinced I would never find one who would "get it". I was incredibly stupid for doing this.
My #1 suggestion is to do whatever you can to find someone to work with. I drive 5 hours to see a Chinese Medicine Doctor who also utilizes functional medicine principles in her practice (and also regularly prescribes the paleo diet or AIP to patients). Naturopathic doctors can also help, as can traditional MDs who practice Functional Medicine or Integrative Medicine. Also check Primal Docs and The Paleo Physician's Network. If you are open to working with somone remotely, many Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (NTP) take long-distance clients.
If you absolutely can't or won't see a practitioner, there is an option that I believe will be tremendously helpful. It's an online course called Heal Your Gut run by my friend Lydia at Divine Health From The Inside Out. Lydia is an NTP and she has a special interest in helping people overcome digestive problems and she has put together a really excellent course.
Heal Your Gut only enrolls a few times a year, and the next session begins on June 5th. This course will teach you everything you need to know about digestion and leaky gut. I've spoken directly with Lydia about the design of her course and the content that's included, and I feel comfortable recommending it to people who are dealing with leaky gut.
Even if you are currently seeing a practitioner or plan to eventually, I still believe that education is extremely important to success at resolving gut-related health concerns. You have to be your own health advocate. Heal Your Gut will empower you with the information you need to be the best advocate for your gut health that you can possibly be.
Click on the banner below to learn more. Be sure to check out the testimonials, and you can also read an overview of the course content. To be fully transparent, I am an affiliate for this program, but I would not recommend it if I did not whole-heartedly believe that it is a valuable resource for my readers. As I said, a lot of people have reached out to me asking for help, and I think this is exactly what many people are looking for.
BONUS: Lydia is offering an incredible 2-for-1 deal and will throw in membership to her other course Revitalize Your Health for FREE if you enroll in Heal Your Gut. That's a $169 value! Read my review of the Revitalize Your Health course here.