Hippocrates, the Greek physician and “Father of Medicine” stated that “all disease begins in the gut”. Leaky Gut Syndrome is becoming quite the catch word these days. A few years ago I was at a conference and heard a presentation about this issue. I listened, found it fascinating, but did not see the connection to it and my health problems at the time. Having digestive issues, skin issues, and hormone issues were just my lot in life. Maybe passed down genetically, or quite “normal” to feel this way. Taking a dose of Pepto Bismol was pretty standard practice during my childhood.
Babies are in fact, born with a “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability. This means that there are small gaps in the intestinal lining, which are beneficial in a new baby because larger immune-boosting molecules can pass directly into the baby’s bloodstream. As a newborn, this is important because the baby is using the antibodies of mama’s milk to protect against viruses, bacteria, and other dangerous microorganisms. During the first few months after birth, a baby’s organ systems develop rapidly and the gaps in the intestinal lining begin to close. That is if all systems are working appropriately– the best case scenario. In my post on the microbiome I share that Ezra was not born in the best case scenario for gut health.
In our world, much about development is based on facts and figures. Conventionally, if a baby is 6 months old, has a pincer grasp, and can sit up– it is time to start solids. I am not sold on that school of thought. Leaky Gut Syndrome is not recognized in western medicine, although I believe it is gaining some popularity in functional or integrative medicine. My little guy has been showing symptoms of digestive discomfort since we brought him home from the NICU. He had reflux, was a “happy spitter“, and grunted constantly for several months with very uncomfortable gas. We kept him as comfortable as possible with many holistic interventions. The biggest shift in Ezra’s health occurred when I changed to a ketogenic diet. He immediately began to gain weight at an accelerated rate, and managed to grow off the preemie charts and on to the full-term charts, and sleep through the night. He was meeting his growth and milestone requirements, so I took it for granted that his internal environment had caught up. The diet was helpful for us both, and a wonderful system reset– however not quite sustainable for a long period of time.
When the gut is “leaky”, the one layer thick lining of the intestines has tiny holes scattered throughout. These essentially spring “leaks” allowing undigested food particles, bacteria and other substances to pass directly into the bloodstream. The immune system is then fired to attack these foreign invaders, creating a near constant immune response. So, what is designed to protect you in times of distress is over functioning and going a bit haywire. When the body is in this near constant state of distress, chronic inflammation begins to set in. After only a few months of eating solid foods, Ezra began to have many symptoms of chronic inflammation. At the 12 month mark, we had several indicators that his gut still needed quite a bit of support, so some changes were in order.
Some symptoms are: eczema, psoriasis, anxiety/depression, migraines, respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, sugar cravings, allergies, behavior problems, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, weight loss or weight gain issues, and so many more. Navigating the world of infant feeding is difficult. We all want to give our children the best start. Often cereals are the first recommended food, then moving on to green beans or peas (legumes), many fruits are suggested, and age 1 is the magic age for whole milk. What if our recommended feeding guidelines are keeping us and our children sick? How do we discern what the experts are suggesting?
If Hippocrates was correct that “all health begins in the gut”, what can I do to ensure our guts are healthy? For Ezra the diet change begins with me, since he is still breastfeeding. My internal environment will be the precursor to his. At this point, our family diet is roughly 80% vegetables. We stick to leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, small portions of pastured/grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, and A2 dairy. We are avoiding grains, root vegetables, legumes, nightshade vegetables, most fruits, conventionally farmed meats/fish, and sugar. So far, we are adapting quite well and my husband and I have both released some weight within just a few weeks of this switch. This week I will introduce a new supplement into my daily regimen, I will adjust and adapt as we go along, although right now I am seeing the proof that our systems are beginning to heal and shift toward wellness.