Category Archives: Functional Medicine

How + Why to Avoid Gluten (most of the time)

Last week, we discussed some of the ways glyphosate (the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) is undermining our health and how you can reduce glyphosate residues by switching to organic wheat. To take it one step further, wheat itself can be problematic for many people even without the glyphosate. One of the most significant ways is that gluten (the protein in wheat, rye, barley, farro, and spelt), increases intestinal permeability through increasing levels of zonulin.

Here’s how it happens:

  1. You eat gluten
  2. Intestinal zonulin levels go up
  3. Your intestines become more permeable (like a sieve)
  4. Larger food particles that haven’t been sufficiently digested get absorbed into the blood
  5. Your immune system attacks the food and anything else that kind of looks like the food, even sometimes the body itself
  6. You get more inflamed which can show up as joint pain, headaches, fatigue, digestive distress, skin disorders, mood issues, and worse

This folks, is the origin of allergies, food sensitivities, and even autoimmune conditions, and why Functional Medicine doctors believe that all disease begins in the gut.

In fact, there is a whole spectrum of gluten-related health issues documented in the medical research. A review in The New England Journal of Medicine listed fifty-five diseases that can be caused by eating gluten, covering the gamut from inflammatory bowel diseases, fatigue, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and mental health issues. Twenty million Americans suffer from a gluten-related health issue without even realizing it. They’re taking medications for their migraines, pain, anxiety, etc, but they’re just treating the symptom, not the root cause.

What to do?

If you don’t have Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten) or suffer from other severe symptoms from gluten, we have a totally do-able, moderate approach to this gluten problem. We are big believers in the 90-10 (or 80-20) approach, where what you do most of the time determines your health outcomes, with wiggle room for a few indulgences here and there. So occasionally we’ll have some wheat, whether in a nice crusty bread, homemade banana bread, or pasta dish when we’re eating out. But 90% of the time, we choose gluten free whole grains or no grains at all.

Some ideas include:

  • Protein-rich quinoa (to clear up any confusion, it’s pronounced “keen-wah”)
  • Brown or black rice (black rice is especially nutrient dense and known to enhance libido)
  • Gluten free, organic steel cut or rolled oats (sometimes oats are sprayed with glyphosate too, so definitely get organic)
  • Pastas made with whole food legumes like chickpea or edamame pasta (quite filling, dense, and high in protein)
  • Sweet potato, lentils, legumes, or other potatoes instead of a grain
  • Omit the starchy foods entirely (which is very helpful for weight loss and increasing energy for many people)

You can make ALL KINDS of delicious meals with these ideas (check out some of our recipes). You’ll not only be avoiding glyphosate and gluten, but you’ll be getting even more nutrients than if you were eating processed, refined white bread or pasta.

Avoid the gluten free sugar trap:

The gluten free aisle offers a huge selection of highly processed gluten free alternatives – breads, cookies, brownies, pastas, cereals, etc. These are fine for a very occasional indulgence, but are not healthy options, even though they don’t have gluten. Because they are so processed, they are kind of like eating pure sugar, with a high glycemic index, lots of calories, and barely any nutrients. This is one of the reasons people can gain weight when going gluten free.

Although bread is yummy, we were never supposed to eat it with reckless abandon at every meal. Switching over to whole food, gluten free alternatives most of the time can make you feel better in so many ways! And it’s not even that weird – and actually starts to feel pretty normal after a while.

 

Image credit: Veera Maattanen

The Low Down on the Leaky Gut

There’s been an exciting collection of new digestion-related terms in the health media these days, like leaky gut, intestinal permeability, SIBO, dysbiosis, etc. This growing awareness of the importance of gut health to overall health is clear evidence of progress towards true health care! Hippocrates, the Father of modern medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Functional Medicine, a discipline that focuses on addressing the root causes of disease (instead of treating symptoms), recognizes the gut as the starting point of so much dis-ease that we experience today, including food allergies, joint pain, autoimmunity, fatigue, inflammation, and more. These seemingly unrelated conditions can all have the same root cause – a leaky gut.

What is a Leaky Gut?

It is a state of enhanced (and not in a good way) intestinal permeability. The intestine, the barrier between the outside world and our inner body, is only one cell thick. The cells are glued together by “tight junctions”, which prevent large, undigested food particles from entering the blood stream. Ideally, everything is broken down into very small components before being safely absorbed into the body.

But sometimes the tight junctions get a little more permeable and allow food particles that haven’t been fully broken down to enter the blood. Not recognizing these particles, the immune system mounts a defensive reaction. Going forward, the immune system gets activated every time you eat that food. This is a very common cause of food allergies/sensitivities. This constant immune activation causes increased systemic inflammation, which can show up in the joints (causing arthritic symptoms), the skin (causing eczema, acne, psoriasis…), the brain (resulting in mental fog), metabolism (causing weight gain and low energy). It can even progress to an autoimmune dynamic, where the immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues like the thyroid. This is just a short list! Since everything in the body is interconnected, the potential effects of a leaky gut are endless.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

  • Medications including NSAIDs, birth control pills, antibiotics, SSRIs, and acid reflux medications (in a more indirect way)
  • Gluten, by causing the body to secrete a substance called zonulin, which opens up the tight junctions
  • Low vitamin D
  • Disruptions in the precious gut microbiome (as in dysbiosis, SIBO, Candida overgrowth, etc)
  • Toxins and chemicals
  • Stress

Can you Fix it?

Yes! Follow the 5 R’s of gut healing. This is an order of operations that have been found to be most effective for healing. The order is important, but oftentimes the stages will overlap. The timing and exact approach will vary depending on individual circumstances.

  1. Remove what’s causing the issue – for example; foods you’re allergic or sensitive to such as gluten and dairy (this may only be necessary for a few months), toxins, stress, foods that feed undesired microbes like excess sugar, unnecessary medications.
  2. Replace what’s missing – for example; digestive enzymes, stomach acid, bile acids, adrenal/thyroid/immune support.
  3. Reinoculate – with probiotics, prebiotics, cultured foods, dietary fiber.
  4. Repair any damage to the intestinal lining – with mucilaginous herbs that soothe the digestive tract (such as slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice) and zinc carnosine, vitamin D, potentially L-glutamine (if tolerated), and foods like okra, chia, flaxseed, artichoke, legumes, and warm vegetable broth on an empty stomach.
  5. Rebalance – long term dietary changes, stress reduction, and eating hygiene.

Once you heal intestinal permeability and food intolerances, many seemingly unrelated symptoms can resolve. It’s so worth the effort! Please contact us if you would like individual guidance.

Image credit: Leanna Rosser