5 Steps To Healing Your Gut [And becoming more fun at parties]
Posted Mar 26 2013 1:47am
If I could do this I bet I would have been invited to a lot more parties! Or.. not.
I used to be fun at parties. I could do stupid human tricks like stand on my head while tying a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue and then drop into the middle splits, finishing with a rousing chorus of “Consider Yourself ” from Oliver! (done in a horrible English accent, I’m sorry). And – bonus – because I don’t drink, I could still remember my humiliation the next day! I’m pretty sure I was never on anyone’s Hot List but I think I was considered generally entertaining enough to get invited to some pretty sweet gigs. But like many things – my night vision, my skin and my tolerance for grocery store sushi – my party skills have declined with age. While I can still stand on my head, tie a cherry stem in a knot and do the splits (sadly I no longer attempt accents after too many apologies for offending natives), a recent trip to a friend’s house showed me how far I’ve truly fallen.
First, we were partying at 8 p.m. on a Thursday with cans of sparkling water and talking about our kids. (And I loved every second of it! Most fun I’d had in a week.) Second, when her husband, considerate guy that he is, kept bringing us food – I realized I’d become that girl. The fun sucker-outer. “Does that dip have cheese in it?” “Is that butter on that bread?” “Are those crackers topped with cheese?”
And then, as I was getting ready to leave, he showed up with two twee little cups topped off with stripey straws. “It’s a homemade smoothie! One of my best yet!” he proclaimed.
I cringed as he handed it to me. “Did you put milk in it?”
“Oh yes, but don’t worry it’s skim!”
I resisted the urge to kick myself in my own butt out of annoyance as I declined. Again. “I’m so sorry but I can’t drink milk or I”ll be in the bathroom the rest of the night.”
“Um, I get massive panic attacks and I bloat and get tummy aches. Then I vomit. Oh and I get explosive diarrhea! Sometimes all at the same time!” I realized I’d just crossed into overshare territory when I saw the look on his face. As I beelined to my car, I realized – again – how much being majorly lactose intolerant sucks.
But, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, lactose intolerance is a tricky issue – many people lacking the digestive enzymes necessary to digest dairy tolerate the foods just fine, while some who have problems with dairy produce plenty of enzymes - and one that might even be able to be “cured.” [Updated to add, see comment below] While lactose intolerance is well substantiated it in the medical literature and most doctors agree that it’s an issue that many, if not most, adult humans have to some extent, leaky gut syndrome is not a recognized medical diagnosis and as I wrote in previous posts , I’m still not sure about it. For me, it’s more of a hope. Since eating dairy makes me so stinking sick, I already know I won’t be eating it. But if throwing in some probiotics, broth, vinegar (stuff I eat anyhow), etc on a more regular basis will help mitigate my reaction to it then, to me, it feels like it falls into the can’t-hurt-to-try camp. And if it helps, then yay! In the same vein, however, I tried taking gluten out of my diet and it didn’t do anything for me. When I added it back in, I felt fine. So I eat gluten all them time and feel good about it. It’s really individual I think.
For LGS the science is not all there and I don’t know that I’m confident standing behind it yet. But I am intrigued enough to give this method a try as I’d love to be able to have some cheese without puking, especially since it is non-invasive and doesn’t require any meds. Whether this is something you feel comfortable trying is up to you and your doctor! My purpose in this post is not to substantiate LGS with my own testimony but just to give you the information and you can decide what feels right for you. [End update]
So while I’m guessing that being able to down a milkshake without vomming won’t allow me to speak in a Mike Myers-ian Scottish accent while quoting So I Married an Axe Murderer (saying “His head, it’s enormous! It’s like an orange on a toothpick!” isn’t funny at all in an American drawl), it might allow me to at least be less high-maintenance with my friends.
So is this really possible? I asked Jill Grunewald, a Holistic Health Coach and expert in treating food intolerances that I was interviewing for Shape . “Actually it is,” she answered. “The key to successfully overcoming this is to not just eliminate dairy for a time but to ‘heal and seal’ the gut before trying it again.” You may recall that thanks to an unhealthy diet, illness or antibiotic useage many people suffer from “leaky gut syndrome” where the lining of the intestinal wall has thinned thereby allowing pathogens and undigested food into the blood stream. So whether your tummy troubles come from gluten, eggs, dairy or just the smell of envelope glue, Grunewald offers five steps for helping cure your food issues:
1. Identify. First you have to figure out what the real issue is. Called the “elimination/provocation diet,” s he recommends you entirely eliminate the following foods – the most common allergens – for 21 days (3 weeks):
gluten (including wheat, barley, and rye) *
nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, and peppers, including cayenne powder)
peanuts (which are legumes, not nuts)
* If you have Hashimoto’s [one type of hypothyroidism], gluten should be categorically, 100% avoided, always.
This requires some pretty serious vigilance – while I have never tried eliminating this whole list, my experiment taking out dairy made me realize the importance of reading every label and making sure you know what’s in random ingredients. (Betcha didn’t know that most soy sauce has gluten!) If you’re time crunched then a quick-and-dirty solution is to check the back of packages for the allergen list in bold letters under the allergy warning to weed out sneaky sources. After the elimination period Grunewald says the next step is provocation. Starting with one food at a time (say dairy for the sake of this example), you eat a large serving, such as a large glass of milk, to see if you have a reaction to it. A reaction is characterized by pain, bloating and diarrhea but can also include brain fog, skin problems, fatigue and irritability and will become apparent within 72 hours after eating the food.
2. Eliminate. This step is as simple as it is hard: Take dairy (or whatever it is that you’ve identified as problematic) – even minute sources like icing on a granola bar – out of your diet for a minimum of six months in order to give your body plenty of time to “seal and heal” the intestinal lining.
3. Substitute. During the elimination period, find healthy substitutes – Grunewald’s favorite substitutions for dairy are anything using virgin, organic coconut as the base. Things like coconut milk, coconut oil (instead of butter) and even coconut yogurt not only are gentle on your sensitive system but offer healthy medium-chain fatty acids. If coconut isn’t your favorite, almond milk and even goat milk are also good substitutes. Just stay away from anything soy as it can mess with your hormone balance. Flax seeds can be subbed for eggs in baking, rice/almond/amaranth/garbanzo/whatever flour can be used in place of wheat flour and Sea Monkeys can be swapped for shrimp. (Just kidding about the Sea Monkeys.) Google will become your new best friend.
4. Heal. And here’s where most people trip up: It isn’t enough to just remove the offending foods. You need to take care of the “leaky gut” causing the issues in the first place. Grunewald recommends daily doses of homemade bone broth, probiotics, fish oil, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar and fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. There is no set prescription for how much of each to take (other than supplements, in which case follow the serving size on the bottle) but she says that the more you can eat these foods, the quicker your gut will heal. These foods are high in pre- or pro- biotics as well as other compounds that encourage a healthy immune system and intestinal function.
5. Reintroduce. After the six months are finished, start by eating one serving of a previously troublesome food. Which one? “Whichever one you’ve missed the most!” Grunewald says. The National Institute of Health (and the one who commissioned the consensus panel that determined lactose intolerance can be mitigated) recommends starting with a couple of tablespoons of yogurt as it comes with digestive enzymes built in. From there work up to 2-3 small servings per week. All the experts agreed that the key to this final step is moderation. Depending on how severe your reaction was to it and how well your gut has healed, you still should eat it in moderation – which frankly is good advice even if you don’t have tummy troubles.
Have you ever healed a food sensitivity? (Note: I’m not talking about a food allergy – those can be deadly and should only be tested under the care of a doctor.) Do you have a food or supplement you particularly recommend for good gut health? Do you have a stupid human party trick?