When a Gut-Healthy Diet is Not Enough: Gut Health Series Part 5
Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Wait, what was that? I just implied that healing the gut might not be enough? After everything I did to talk up a gut-healthy diet in Parts 1-4 of this series? OK, then what about supplements?! Shouldn't all of this be enough?! I thought it was.
I remember reading things like this after I had done a major diet and supplement overhaul, and flat out refusing to believe it. I had worked so hard to heal my gut. It put ulcerative colitis in remission; in fact, I no longer had it. How could all of that work not be enough? I thought it would only be a matter of time before my chronic pain and debilitating injuries would get better, because they actually did get better at first. It took me a long time to come to grips with the possibility that for me, healing my gut was not the only answer to solving my chronic health problems.
Once I was honest with myself, I had to recognize that while eating a gut-healthy diet was paramount, it wasn't quite cutting it for me. As I mentioned, initially after healing my gut, some of my pain symptoms improved. However, over the next 2 years after that, the chronic pain and injuries got progressively worse. I ended up getting a wheelchair, for heaven's sake!
I honestly thought I was going to lose my mind, and I actually became resentful of my gut-healthy diet. What was the point of eating this way if I was so physically disabled, anyway? It was a horrible place to be in. I knew I had to continue the gut-healthy eating, because if I didn't, my problems would be even worse, but I also knew something big was missing.
At the end of the day, healing the gut and eating a gut-healthy diet long term ARE the foundation to good health. Trying to solve chronic health problems without healing the gut would be like fixing a leaky roof with duct tape. However, if your issues are continuing, there are most certainly other areas that need to be addressed. For me, it was 3 different gut infections, heavy metal/chemical toxicity related to methylation issues, as well as a side helping of my hormones being very out of whack. There are other issues that can also be present. Let's dive into some of the most common possibilities.
1. Gut infections
Did you know that up to 80% of people with any kind of gut issue may also have a gut infection? Sometimes a majority of their gut issues are CAUSED by these infections. The reason for this is, a large majority of our immune system lies in our gut. When our gut starts to become damaged and leaky gut is present, that immune system also becomes damaged.
In my case, one of the main components of the gut's immune system, called Secretory IgA, became very low (and this is a common finding in anyone who has experienced significant gut problems). This left me very vulnerable to infection, because that immune component was not adequate to fight any "invader" that got into my gut.
By going to a special type of chiropractor that did muscle testing on me, 3 infections were identified: H. Pylori, Candida overgrowth, and parasites. These infections were later confirmed by lab testing. Holy smokes. I was very traumatized by this, especially the parasites.
But, it made sense, because I did remember a point during which the chronic pain, fatigue, and injuries got markedly worse, and my gut started feeling off. I would eat, and immediately be full and bloated. I had also started to get terrible reflux, which was a completely new symptom. These issues showed themselves a couple of months after I had gone swimming in a lake on a family vacation, and I am certain that this is how I picked up the parasites.
Parasites. It turns out that my experience is not uncommon! Parasites can be in water or contaminated food. The immune system of a healthy gut can take care of these parasites, but that is not the case in someone who has, or has had, significant gut issues.
Note that there are many types of parasites, as in, more than 100 different kinds. Most mainstream ova and parasite lab tests only test for a small handful of them, so it is important to get specialized testing if you think you may have a parasite. Viome is one such test.
H. Pylori is something that most of us either have, or are exposed to at some point. It becomes a problem when our immune system doesn't keep it in check. This was very clearly the case for myself. The hallmark of H. Pylori is gastrointestinal reflux, which, as I mentioned, presented itself for me right about the time that the parasites started causing the previously mentioned problems.
And, a note about Candida overgrowth: Candida, which is when pathogenic yeast overgrows in our gut, rarely occurs on its own. In my case, the parasites I had acquired altered the pH in my gut, making it a very favorable environment for Candida. We all have some Candida in our guts; it is when it overgrows that it becomes such a problem.
Mold exposure and heavy metal toxicity are some other causes of candida overgrowth, because they, too, create a favorable environment in the gut for candida to thrive. Heavy metals were also an issue for me, and interestingly, heavy metals are attracted to parasites; so parasites compound the problem.
When you remove the parasites, mold, and/or the heavy metals, the Candida will likely disappear on its own. Please, save yourself the frustration of going on a zero-carb diet, or being treated for Candida by a practitioner over and over, only for the Candida to return. Candida is ALMOST ALWAYS a clue that there is something else present, so get that "something else" identified and remove it. The Candida will then either go away on its own, or will go away for good with treatment.
SIBO. Finally, SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth is another possibility. It is actually often present in IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). SIBO should also be considered if a person has had long term use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI's) which refers to a common class of reflux medications. PPI's decrease stomach acid, which is the body's first line of defense against pathogens that enter into the gut.
2. Detoxification Issues
I've mentioned that I ended up having heavy metal and chemical toxicity. THIS was the root cause of my chronic pain and debilitating injuries. However, we had to figure out WHY this issue occurred. For some, it is because their kidneys or liver are overwhelmed and not detoxifying their bodies properly.
For me, it was because of my genetic methylation issues. The subject of methylation could easily take up a long multi-part series of articles, but the point being is that methylation issues can seriously impair the body's ability to remove any type of toxin, or even medication by-product, from the cells, in order to get to the kidneys and liver and out of the body.
Once we identified and fixed my methylation/MTHFR problems by adding in the right supplements, I was then able to start a serious detoxification program. I went from the wheelchair, to walking around the block after a few weeks of starting this, walking a mile within a few months, and walking many miles as well as doing some light active sports within a year. I continue this detoxification program to this day, and each year my abilities improve more and more.
Most of us could stand to do some detoxification from time to time. But, it is very common for anyone with chronic pain, including fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome, to need some extra help with detoxification. If you have unexplained chronic pain, with or without autoimmunity, consider being tested for heavy metals (usually done through a Naturopath or Functional Medicine Practitioner with a urine and hair test). In addition, genetic testing like 23andMe is incredibly helpful, both in diagnosing the issue, as well as when it comes time to detoxify the body (if needed).
3. Hormone issues
Hormonal issues are almost a given when chronic illness is present. This is because in chronic illness, there is always ongoing excess inflammation. When ongoing inflammation is present, the body is basically always in "fight or flight" mode. Our bodies are only meant to be in fight or flight mode for short periods of time, as in, back in the day, when a tiger was chasing us.
During fight or flight mode, the adrenal glands make cortisol, which provides very helpful benefits in order for us to manage the crisis at hand. But, the crisis is supposed to resolve, so that the adrenals can go back to normal. In chronic illness, the crisis never resolves, so the adrenals are always making extra cortisol. This condition eventually causes what is known as adrenal fatigue, and the cortisol messes with pretty much every system in the body, including the other hormones in the body.
The reason for this is that all hormones start out as one of two precursor hormones called pregnenolone and DHEA. When we are in fight or flight mode on an ongoing basis, the extra cortisol that is needed to manage this mode is deemed as more important than the other hormones in the body, so the adrenals, in a sense, "steal" the precursor hormones in order to make the extra cortisol that is needed*. This causes the other hormones to suffer. Usually in females, the reproductive hormones are the first to be affected. In males, low testosterone can be common. In addition, thyroid or pituitary hormones can be affected.
In my own case, the pituitary hormone "arginine vasopressin" became drastically low. This hormone, formerly called "anti-diuretic hormone", tells the body when to retain fluid and when to release it. Because the hormone was so low, I was basically always losing too much fluid (by peeing all the time), to the point of having low blood volume. My heart would pound, since it had to still pump the blood to all parts of the body despite the low blood volume, and this made it hard to sleep. Plus, I was always dehydrated. I was able to put a bandaid on this issue by drinking water with sea salt in it every morning and evening, as well as taking adaptogenic herbs to calm my adrenals. Once the gut infections and detoxification were addressed, combined with an adrenal health protocol, the adrenals were able to heal.
It is also very common for people to have thyroid issues when adrenal fatigue is present. In fact, often thyroid disease is diagnosed, when in actuality, it is the adrenals that are the problem. In any case, the solution is to remove the cause of the chronic illness and then take steps to heal the adrenal glands, while also supporting the thyroid.
4. Other Possible Chronic Infections
If the above issues are addressed and a person's symptoms continue, then it is possible that there is some other type of infection. These are three of the more common possibilities:
Lyme Disease is known as "The Great Imitator". This is because symptoms of Lyme can mimic almost any disease under the sun: Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Lupus, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's, and Rhematoid Arthritis, to name just a few. It is always a good idea to consider Lyme when no other root cause is found for a chronic illness. And, if Lyme was previous diagnosed and treated, but symptoms persist, then be aware that unless the Lyme was caught right away, a short term treatment is very likely to fail. The gold standard testing lab for Lyme is Igenex, and this testing often catches Lyme diagnoses when other tests have not. If Lyme is a possibility, seek a Lyme-literate doctor. Treating Lyme is not impossible, but tricky for doctors who are not well-versed in this disease.
Epstein Barr Virus
Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is one that often gets missed. According to Medical Medium, EBV, which is the virus that causes mono, can remain dormant in the body long after a person has suffered the initial symptoms of mono. Some symptoms of an chronic EBV illness are thyroid problems including Hashimoto's, vertigo, and even Multiple Sclerosis. If any of these conditions are present, EBV should be considered. This condition can be treated!
Mold can cause chronic illness, and it can perpetuate an already present chronic illness. For example, in Lyme disease, the presence of mold can cause the Lyme to be even more difficult to treat. It is important to note that some people, roughly 25% of the population, cannot process or rid the body of molds as efficiently as the other 75% of people. So, if there is an ongoing mold exposure, such as in a home or a workplace, it will be very difficult to overcome an ongoing chronic illness.
5. Upper Cervical Issues
This is a new addition to this blog post, and may sound a little bit out of place! But I have been researching this issue more in the last few weeks, due to two cases of severe cervical alignment problems in close friends, as well as some of my own upper cervical issues.
In the two cases of my dear friends, there were significant neurological and pain concerns, including brain fog, anxiety, weakness, and even a possible Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis! What's more, sometimes cervical misalignment can even cause thyroid and autoimmune issues (in addition to MS).
In both cases, these individuals (after significant blood, sweat and tears) sought expert cervical care from trusted chiropractors. An Atlas Orthogonal Specialist is highly trained in cervical issues and how misalignments can affect cervical flow. ••Please note: upper cervical care is nothing to mess around with. You MUST feel confident that the practitioner you are seeing has adequate experience••.
While the road is not easy, relief can be found in addressing the upper cervical alignment! I will emphasize, fixing cervical alignment may or may not be the whole answer. If there are ANY of the other issues present that I've discussed above, those MUST be addressed in addition to the upper cervical care.
In my case, my upper cervical issues are caused by my heavy metal toxicity, and only addressing alignment does not alleviate symptoms. It does, however, support my symptoms while I continue my heavy metal detox. Others may get more comprehensive relief from the correct upper cervical care. Either way, I feel upper cervical issues are important to mention because it is an often overlooked condition.
Find the Right Health Care Provider
Most of us can't do it all on our own. Find a good naturopath or functional medicine practitioner who will not give up on you, and who has the commitment and training to find root causes of disease. When a health care provider tells you "it's all in your head", or "you must be depressed," it's time to move on from that provider. It means that he or she just simply doesn't have the knowledge or resources to help you any further.
Does it Seem Too Overwhelming? Don't Give Up!
I was truly overwhelmed when I was faced with various possibilities of what might be going on with me. I was, in all honesty, close to giving up hope. But, that is the last thing you should do! Why? Because all of the above issues are treatable. Did you notice that? They are all root causes of illness that can be addressed! So my message to you is, if you have a mysterious chronic illness, don't believe for one second that your body is going haywire for no reason. And don't listen to any doctor who tells you it is all in your head! It's not. Our bodies are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and they do not turn against us. Symptoms of chronic illness are awful, but they are our body trying to tell us something. Listen to your body and look at the clues it may be giving you. The body has a wonderful ability to heal once root causes of illness are removed!
This post was last updated on 3/14/19.
*The Pregnenolone Steal is described by Dr. Dan Kalish in the Kalish Method