Most of you will have heard the famous quote by Hippocrates, 'All disease originates in the gut'. Is this really true? Can it be as simple as this? Hippocrates said this over 2000 years ago and we only seem to be rediscovering the importance of a healthy gut now! Most of the serious diseases, in the Western world today, are strongly correlated with the type of food consumed. Countless research studies have revealed that populations who stick to a more natural, less processed diet have a very low incidence of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and, of course, MS and other autoimmune diseases. However, these illnesses are rampant in societies who live on processed, sugar and fat-filled food.
It's All About What We Put In Our Mouths
We seem to be completely unaware of what happens to our food once we have swallowed it and our tummies are nice and full. We have no idea that our body now has the mammoth task of synthesising nutrients, storing fat, balancing sugar levels and trying to excrete the waste. It tries its best to use the food we give it to keep us healthy. But how can it do this when all it gets is junk? So, what happens to the poor tummy? Unfortunately, the unhealthy food starts to damage the gut by causing inflammation. The balance of bacteria is thrown out of whack and this is when you wonder why you are feeling so bloated and uncomfortable. You might be constipated or experience chronic diarrhoea as the body starts to reject the junk. Further down in this post, I discuss five ways you can reduce these symptoms and start healing your gut.
The Leaking Gut
If the inflammation continues to persist, the gut lining often becomes permeable which means that small food particles can now slide through it, into the bloodstream. A healthy gut is impermeable to large particles of food and only lets through food that has been broken down into microscopic particles that the body can actually do something with. It is lined by a single layer of cells that make up this important barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body. This barrier is effective at absorbing nutrients, but prevents most large molecules and germs passing from inside the bowel into the bloodstream and potentially irritating the bowel lining. It serves as a strong barrier between the bloodstream and the food moving through the gut.
However, it becomes damaged and loses some of it's strength when it has been inflamed for too long. The larger food particles that are now allowed to cross the barrier can cause a mobilisation in the immune system. These 'innocent' food particles are deemed as foreign invaders by the immune system and can cause autoimmune activity. I would like to to draw your attention to a flow diagram that I put in one of my earlier posts, on gut health. It explains how a leaky gut can lead to MS symptoms.
Now, I'd like to tell you my own leaky gut story. Be warned, it's not pretty!
My McDonald's Year
After I finished high school, I decided to take a gap year before launching myself into studying a degree. I chose to spend a year au-pairing for a family in the UK. It was a fabulous experience and I loved every day of it. I made wonderful friends, saw beautiful sights and of course, sampled the local cuisine. This happened to include the infamous food from McDonalds. Each weekend, my friends and I would go sightseeing to a new and exciting place. When we got hungry, the solution was simple: find the nearest fast food chain. It was quick, cheap and filling. What more could you ask for? I am ashamed to admit that I ate fast food junk pretty much every single weekend that year. I was young and yes, really stupid! At eighteen, I suppose I felt that I was invincible.
During the week, my diet wasn't much healthier. The family I worked for wasn't very health conscious and bags of refined, fat and sugar filled food used to arrive every week. I can't remember there being much in the way of fresh, wholesome food. I wasn't used to having chocolate, chips/crisps and other 'yummies' so readily available. Needless to say, I wasn't shy about digging in!
After about two months, I started to notice the weight creeping on. I started exercising and tried to avoid the tempting food that was in my face all the time. But, I continued to eat it. By the middle of the year, none of my clothes fitted me anymore. I also noticed that my gut was extremely sluggish and that I was severely constipated. At one point I remember only going to the toilet once a week. I was also tired all the time and needed to sleep a lot on the weekend.
By the end of the year I had put on 10kg/22lb. I felt disgusting! It took me a year to lose the weight but through normal, heathy eating I was able to return to a my former figure and energetic self. However, the damage had been done and for years after that I suffered from symptoms of an inflamed gut. I know that I did damage to my gut that year and probably caused parts of it to become permeable and leak. I'm willing to bet on the fact that my food intolerances and autoimmune activity started developing as a result of this year abroad. Could a year of non-stop junk in my system have contributed towards the development of my MS? Definitely.
Food & Substances That Cause Damage to the Gut
There are a few well known culprits that cause damage to our precious gut lining:
- Refined Sugar: It feeds the the bad bacteria in the gut, causing it to multiply and damage the stomach wall.
- Gluten: In my opinion, most people with MS have a gluten sensitivity. Gluten can cause the gut cells to release a chemical called zonulin. This is a protein that can break the tight junctions of the gut lining apart, thus making it more permeable.
- Heated Fats: Some fats, that are heated above 100C/212F, spell trouble for the gut. These include oils and animal fats. When fats are heated, their molecules change shape and cannot be digested and absorbed effectively. We simply do not have the enzymes to break them down. They hang around in the gut and cause damage. I can feel, almost immediately if I have eaten something with heated fat in it. My tummy feels crampy and very bloated. I know that it is just my gut saying, 'I can't work with this!'. One exception to this rule is coconut oil. This fat remains stable during the heating process and in small quantities should be fine.
- Alcohol: Some MS related diets allow for a glass of wine each night but wine contains alcohol which is a toxin. It also contains sulfites which are preservatives known to be irritants in the body. I don't feel great after just half a glass of wine. Spaced out, stiffer hand and lethargic. I just don't drink it anymore. It's not worth it.
- Aspirin: This common painkiller can irritate the stomach lining and cause heartburn, pain, nausea, vomiting, and, over time, more serious consequences such as internal bleeding, ulcers, and holes in the stomach or intestines.
- Antibiotics: These drugs kill off all the essential good bacteria along with the bad bacteria in the gut. The gut needs good bacteria to help with digestion and becomes compromised if it is not present.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: An example is ibuprofen: These drugs are also known to irritate the bowel lining, damage the seals between cells and allow water-soluble substances to pass through the gaps and into the bloodstream.
Healing the Gut - Five Effective Strategies
If you know that your there is something not quite right with your gut, all is not lost. You can take steps to significantly improve your symptoms. The key is to do them everyday and keep doing them for the rest of your life. Here are five simple strategies:
- Aloe Juice: This, quite bitter, tasting juice is extremely anti-inflammatory and will really help to calm an inflamed gut and get the healing process going a lot faster. It is also brilliant for easing constipation and returning bowel movements to normal. You can buy it from a reputable health shop or online. I'll be writing a post on the benefits of aloe soon. It has some amazing healing properties.
- Probiotics: These supplements will replenish the supply of good bacteria, thus restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut. This will also give the body an opportunity to heal the damaged areas of the gut.
- Raw Food: Foods such as raw carrot sticks, spinach and berries are fabulous for keeping the gut healthy. They have enzymes in them that aid digestion and reduce inflammation. I like to start each day with my, very green, BarleyLife drink followed by my raw juice. My tummy feels super amazing after this! And, If I have a raw food salad for dinner, it's amazing how much better I feel when I wake up the next day. My tummy feels completely unbloated (aka flat!) and I feel well rested. You don't need to do this every day but try and do it a few times a week to keep your gut in tip top condition.
- Water: Keeping yourself hydrated is exceptionally important for cleansing the gut and keeping everything moving through. A dehydrated body is going to lead to a dehydrated gut and constipation. Rotting food inside your gut will definitely do damage to its lining. Set yourself some specific times to drink water throughout the day. I find it best to drink a large glass first thing in the morning. Then, I down another before I start making my lunch and another while I am cooking dinner. I usually have some herbal tea or something else to drink in between this too.
- Reduce Stress: The effects of stress are as much physical as they are psychological. Stress releases hormones in the body that interfere with digestion and cause inflammation. When we are stressed, digestion slows down and putrefying food causes damage to the gut lining. We also probably eat more unhealthily when we are stressed which also leads to problems in the gut. It just creates a vicious cycle. See my post on managing stress for some tips with this.
Summing It Up - A Constant Process
Keeping our digestive systems working properly and our gut healthy requires constant attention. We need to be thinking, all the time, about what we are allowing into our mouths and not just eating mindlessly. We need to be drinking our water and taking our supplements each day. A phone reminder helps with this! After a few months of working hard at this routine, it will become habit and be a more natural process that you won't have to think too hard about each day. If keeping the gut healthy is the key to disease free living then, let's unlock the door, live the MS diet lifestyle and effectively manage our condition.
If any of you would like to share your own gory gut story then please drop me a comment below! I always love to hear from you and it's nice for others to know that they are not the only ones dealing with gut issues. Chat to you soon!