When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in December of 2014, I started researching how I could eat better to help me manage this autoimmune disease. As I believe nutrition is part of a complete health care plan. When I started looking into the science of why I developed MS I came upon information on leaky gut being tied to autoimmune disorders. So in my continuing saga to share my MS journey here is an instalment on leaky gut and how I’m working towards healing my gut to manage my MS sidekick.
What Is Leaky Gut?
If all you’re picturing is a stomach springing a leak here’s a little more detail about what exactly is leaky gut.
Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond. The research world is booming today with studies showing that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in the development of several common chronic diseases.Harvard Univerisity
After my diagnosis, I reached out to RHN, Chantale Michaud from Eat Heal Love. Here is the link to my post on my nutrition consultation. I booked a mini consultation with her and she immediately sent me her paper “Autoimmune Disease and the Leaky Gut Connection” to explain the science behind “leaky gut” and why it can be associated with autoimmune disorders. I have battled IBS in the past (gasp yes I’m talking about my gut problems on here). Before I got into fitness competitions, I was pretty unhealthy in my eating habits and ate foods that really affected my digestion. After being dairy & processed sugar-free for many years I wasn’t having any noticeable problems so I thought the IBS was gone. My digestion would be so-so if my diet wasn’t completely clean or I was stressed or I lacked sleep but overall it wasn’t that bad. Cue MS diagnosis, steroid treatment and bam unhealthy gut symptoms reappeared. I don’t know if my leaky gut symptoms are associated with the steroid treatment, stress, foods or sleep patterns so I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I’m of the mindset that holistic you can optimize your body’s ability to fight autoimmune disorders so I love researching every aspect I can that will affect my life in a positive way.
Here is an excerpt from her paper.
In order to explain why autoimmune reactions happen, we need to understand how the digestive system works.
During the digestive process, food is first taken in by the mouth where it is mixed with saliva, which contains digestive enzymes. These digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down starches into smaller molecules. After being chewed and swallowed, the food enters the esophagus. The esophagus is a long tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach. It uses rhythmic, wave-like muscle movements (called peristalsis) to move food from the throat into the stomach. The stomach, a large sack-like organ, churns the food and soaks it in gastric acid. If stomach acid is low, food proteins will be harder to break down and digest. Food in the stomach that is partly digested and mixed with stomach acids is called chyme. After the stomach, food enters the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. It then travels through the jejunum and then the ileum (the final part of the small intestine). In the small intestine, bile (produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder), pancreatic enzymes, and other digestive enzymes produced by the inner wall of the small intestine help in the breakdown of food.
The intestinal wall is constructed of tight, semi-impermeable junctions that allow the passage of nutrients to enter the bloodstream. This is how we absorb nutrients from our food. In a healthy digestive tract, the intestinal wall does not allow large protein molecules to pass through the membrane barrier, meaning they won’t be absorbed into the bloodstream unless they are completely broken down into single amino acids. When digestion is compromised in any way (due to food intolerances, poor eating habits, stress, low stomach acid etc.) irritation in the digestive tract occurs. This irritation inflames the intestinal wall and causes the tight junctions to loosen and become “leaky”. This is commonly called leaky gut syndrome or hyperpermeability of the small intestine. This leaky intestinal wall now allows molecules of partially undigested proteins to slip into the bloodstream where they do not belong. The immune system detects and registers them as foreign invaders, which triggers an autoimmune response, in which the body attacks its own tissues.
But it’s not just food particles that slip through into the bloodstream.
Pathogens, toxins, and other types of metabolic waste that should normally be screened out are also capable of circulating throughout the bloodstream. Insufficiently broken-down food particles or toxins may also cause the liver to work much harder, which makes it much more difficult to keep up with all the detoxification demands sent its way, and the toxin load starts building up in the body. Substances leaking through the intestinal lining can make their way to joints and aggravate them to the point of inflammation, or contribute to inflammation already present.
The key to stopping the body from producing an autoimmune response is to heal and repair the digestive tract and intestinal wall — to make the intestines less leaky!
Questions I Asked Myself After My MS Diagnosis
1. Do I have any food intolerances I’m not aware of?
2. Do I have poor eating habits?
3. Am I stressed?
4. Do I have low stomach acid?
Answer 1: I employed the services of Rachel Coradetti at Clinic Intrinsic to do a food intolerance blood test for me. The results came back and the results were so “weird” that she had to call the clinic and speak to others in the industry before delivering the results. I have ZERO intolerances. Not even to dairy which I’ve cut out for years. So why do I get bad digestion symptoms when eating it? Now begins the search for more answers…
Answer 2: At the time, I didn’t really know if I had poor eating habits. I considered myself a “healthy” person. Based on my RHN consultation I know one thing I can work on which is drinking water after my meals vs. during. I can definitely work on taking time to chew my food vs. scarfing my meals down while running from meeting to meeting at the office. I take a digestive enzyme before heavy protein meals to help with the breakdown. I can eat less red meat and more fish or chicken or turkey. I can always look to source better forms of protein like grass-fed, organic goodness.
Answer 3: Yes I’m stressed. I may not outwardly show it but it’s bubbling under the surface. I manage a full-time career in an office that keeps me incredibly busy. I enjoy my blog but it takes time to curate content. I train hard and frequently and am physically active. Although I feel amazing it does create stress on the body. I can continue to look at ways to destress. I haven’t been diligent in attending yoga. I take Epsom salt baths every night but I’ve forsaken my meditation and prayer practice every night. Can I do better? Yup. I need to set a new goal weekly or one thing I will not forsake to ensure I’m de-stressing.
Answer 4: This I actually don’t know. I’ve never been tested for low stomach acid. There are some at-home tests I can do to figure it out myself. This according to this article could be the reason why I haven’t been able to digest dairy in the past. My naturopath wanted me to just start taking shots of apple cider vinegar before my big meals but I think I may try the betaine HCL test before incorporating any digestive tactics into my daily habits. I of course like to be slightly scientific about my hippie health care ways.
I had lots to think about and try out but I am so happy to choose to be an active patient in my diagnosis and continually searching for answers.
What Else Contributes To Leaky Gut?
Other than pro-inflammatory foods there are several other potential factors that contribute to a leaky gut.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have the potential to weaken the walls of the intestines and increase intestinal permeability.Thrive Probiotic
Certain external factors, including food, infections [bacteria], toxins, and stress, can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall, leaving the drawbridge open.Dr. Amy Myers
What are some things you can remove from your diet?
- Refined and Process Sugar
- Food with Lectins (Beans, Corn and Nightshade Vegetables)
- Soy Products
What are some things you can add to your diet?
- Bone Broth
- Raw Cultured Dairy
- Fermented Vegetables
- Coconut Products
- Sprouted Seeds
- Healthy Fats
Of course, with any food suggestions, please work with a practitioner on your health care team to ensure that what you’re adding in isn’t harmful to you as a bio-individual person.