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Tummy Troubles

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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.

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Untitled design-10My oldest son, Keenan was the first love of my life. As soon as I found out I was pregnant with him, my journey into a healthier lifestyle began to emerge. I started looking for alternatives to chemical laden cleaning products, began to think about what I ate, learned to cook, and started yoga by myself in my living room. He was my catalyst to change my own paradigm. I wanted to provide a lifestyle much different from the one I was given as a child.

My mom was a special case, by the time I was 14 years old she had checked completely out of motherhood and I had to grow up pretty quickly. At that point, I relied a lot on vending machines at school and my grandparents’ bologna sandwiches. The next year, I got my first job in an arcade and started grocery shopping for myself. My diet at that time consisted of yogurt, cheese cubes, Granny Smith apples, Twinkies, Healthy Choice frozen pizza bread, and often fast food on the weekends. I also had free rein with the candy at the arcade. My dietary choices were pretty lifeless.

The independence and desire to be different from my family started my journey toward many levels of healing and wellness. For my son, I am seeing his independence emerge– and he is the challenge point in our new dietary changes. He had a similar birth experience as his younger brother, however he rebounded quickly without any major outward symptoms. However, he exhibits minor signs of food sensitivity with near constant eczema and some digestive issues, so having him on board would be ideal. At this point in his life, status in middle school is gained in the lunch room. The “cool” kids get to microwave their macaroni and cheese in the “Eagle’s Nest” hangout, they bring Starbucks each morning, and my son’s newest obsession is to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies from a friend to share. Although, much to my surprise he did buy the gluten- free version.

Peer pressure is real. Keenan typically does a good job leading and rising above much of what he hears, although there are some moments. Food and technology are our current battles. The meltdown of this past weekend was because of a habit change. We are eating all of our meals at home, and a usual habit would be to go out to a restaurant. Keenan was craving a restaurant and had to vocalize how we were ruining his life by going lectin- free–oh, the drama ;). Ezra will eat whatever we place in front of him, and Keenan was that way when he was one.

The only thing I know to do as a parent is give boundaries, be flexible when it is appropriate, and leading by example. Hopefully, witnessing his brother’s health changes will speak to him. At least on a subconscious level. I have been playing around with recipes, adapting a few things like chicken nuggets or chocolate chip cookies to fit in our parameters so he does not feel completely deprived. I also occasionally use the changes to educate him further on why we make these choices– maybe I’ll steer him to research the poultry or wheat industry for one of his next projects. Mom tactics at their best!





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Food for Thought

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Any time I take on a new project or passion, I will research it, feel secure with my plan, and then usually get the rocket off the ground with intense focus. So much so, that my husband often feels left behind a bit in my trail of smoke. Since my last post, I have made our meal plans, researched further into healing autoimmune responses, went on the search for appropriate pantry products, and now have experienced the change within my body for 6 days.

With Ezra’s anemia, I have had to spend some time in the medical world. I kind of go a little bonkers looking around and seeing what the mainstream recommendations are for our health and wellness. Even with breastfeeding there is a lot information floating around suggesting the mother’s diet does not impact the infants health. I read an article today that stated “research tells us that the quality of a mother’s diet has little influence on her milk. Nature is very forgiving – mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect baby even in times of hardship and famine.” I do feel that has some truth, however to say our dietary choices will not impact the infant seems to be a bit stretched.

I guess that is how we can live in a society where the quality of our food is poor, the labels we read are not transparent, and chemicals are in every nook and cranny. Since moving toward the lectin-free diet this means removing quite a few foods from my diet, it requires finding high quality meat, eggs and dairy products, and eliminating some of the foods that have often been deemed “good” for us. Having a pretty clear list of what is acceptable and what is not is helpful for my mind. Prior to this diet I imagined I was doing a good job with food quality. I was buying and cooking mainly organic food. Little did I know that 100% organic, or free-range, and all of that labeling is actually NOT the highest quality. Those animals are still fed “vegetarian” feed that is full of corn and soy. So inadvertently I was still being subjected to those ingredients through the meat/eggs/dairy that I was consuming. The old saying is “you are what you eat”– and that includes the entire food chain.

I often reflect on the diet I had as a child. The Standard (or even quite a bit below standard) American Diet of the 80’s & 90’s. We had a few seasons of fresh fruits and veggies during my childhood, although the majority were canned vegetables. We ate a diet very heavy with meat and potatoes, “country cooking” and the common processed foods/fast foods of the time. In my nearly 40 years of life, I have gradually began to put the pieces together of how the toxic build up could cause some of the heath issues that I carried into adulthood. Finding an answer for infertility (without going the medical route) was where I started learning about endocrine disruptors and the chemical overload we have in our homes. I started removing chemical cleaning products, changing my household items, stopped reaching for OTC solutions for common ailments and really began making the shift. That became quite easy and just a way of life. Dietary changes have been more difficult. It has definitely been one step at a time.

Having Ezra has been my major trigger to fix this piece of the puzzle. I saw him go through so much in the first few days of his life, and now recognizing our food choices have further compromised his health has been a major ah-ha moment. Having an awareness of how my body has reacted to certain foods is making it easier to recognize when the same thing occurs with my children. Parents are truly the first teachers.

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Untitled design-8This is my word of the day. Here is my obligatory disclaimer– I am writing as a mom, not as a medical professional, or a scientist, or any of that jazz. I am a mom of a kid I need to understand from a functional perspective. There are a ton of articles and books out there on the gut microbiome. The way I am understanding it; being born vaginally, with a full-term healthy pregnancy and breastfed is the ideal way to go. During a vaginal birth, the microbiome exposure begins to take place as soon as mom’s water breaks. The baby is exposed to its mother’s vaginal microbes and cellular structure. These microbes enter the babies ears, eyes, and mouth. The ones that enter the mouth, make their way down the digestive tract and begin to do their work. Passing through the vaginal canal, leads to more exposure– all of which are helpful to the babe. A newborn has a very weak/immature immune system, so these microbes enter the baby’s body and begin to colonize quickly to protect the immature system. The colonization works as a security system, teaching the immune system what to let in, and what is an invader. Fast forward to step #2. Skin-to-skin contact and breast milk add to this colonization. The sugars in mama’s milk feed and allow the biome to multiply and get stronger.

For someone born like Ezra, he missed out on a lot of crucial good gut microbes. Like I said in my previous post, he was born a month early at a low birth weight of 4lb. 13oz., he was born via C-section, so did not have this exposure for his immature immune system. He did begin breastfeeding quickly, however he was missing the digestive microbes that the milk would help multiply in his gut to strengthen his immature digestive system. Also, he had to have my milk fortified in the NICU which is standard for a preemie. On top of that, he was quickly infected with enterococcus and had several rounds of heavy antibiotics to kill the infection. So, any good bacteria he had colonizing were quickly being destroyed. And the other kicker was that I was preeclamptic– which means my liver and kidneys were not functioning appropriately, so he had exposure to the waste I could not release, and I had antibiotics since he was surgically born. Whammy, whammy.

Now, that he is a little over a year old and is dealing with a severely low hemoglobin level, my research is pointing it back to problems in the gut. I shared in my last post the way I’m starting us off on the healing track, and eventually will add in some supplements and other necessary items. Another step in our wellness is that we keep our home free of toxic chemicals. This is where I had a heads up, since I have been on that path since environmental toxins first crept into my awareness when my oldest son was born 12 years ago. I am a mom that likes to have a plan, and today my mind took me into the microbiome of the gut.

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The past week has been a stressful one for our family. Our little Ezra went in for his 1-year well check and did not quite meet all of his requirements. This little kid has given us a few scares in his short life. He began his life being born a little more than a month early; preeclamptic mama, emergency c-section, low-birth weight, could not maintain glucose, body temp, and was finally diagnosed with an enterococcal infection which required a 21-day NICU stay and a lot of antibiotics.

Otherwise, he seems to be doing quite well. He is still a breastfeeding champ, has started solid foods, is almooossttt walking– he is a super happy, active boy. The issues we are currently dealing with are low hemoglobin levels, eczema, and recurrent respiratory issues. The low hemoglobin alarmed a large crew of medical personnel and now we are being referred to a hematologist to take steps to diagnose and treat.

I have worked in natural health for several years. I began my wellness journey as a yoga instructor, have added in doula work, lactation counseling, and work teaching people how to lead a toxin-free life. My husband is on a similar career path, so jumping on medications and procedures is not us. I immediately started researching and putting the steps together to figure out what the cause of this issue could be. I have a lot of friends who are in this holistic world as well– so I called in my troops to help figure out the root of what this could be before we get thrown into the realm of specialists. The first place I began to look is our diet. Ezra has just begun his journey into the food world, I am still breastfeeding so I am his main source of major nutrients/immunity.

The information we have and have to sort through is daunting. USDA rules/regulations, pediatrician recommendations, standard American diet recommendations, etc. I am good with a plan, and from my research I am finding this kid is dealing with an autoimmune issue…. and so am I. Our gut health is extremely poor. The amount of antibiotics we were dealt last year has definitely done a number on both of us. Ezra has several factors going against him in the world of gut-health. Birth via c-section, antibiotics, NICU stay– although necessary steps, can really wreck havoc on the digestive system. I have been aware of mine for quite a few years and I have tried different elimination diets. The problem with many of the diets I’ve tried is that they are not sustainable over a long period of time. So, today begins our journey into another food plan. This time I am beginning with a lectin-free diet cleanse. 3 days of this, and then moving on to the lectin-free diet.

My blog is my accountability and journal of how this goes, as well as our struggles and successes over the next few weeks of this lifestyle change. So far, the biggest struggle is finding pastured chicken. I’ve been to Publix, Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s, a local farm market, and a health food store. Nada. As I am making this change, Ezra will be eating some of the veggies on the plan and breastfeeding at his request. I am the one cleansing, and will see how his body reacts to my diet change. Tomorrow, my book the Plant Paradox arrives– so I will delve a bit more into this philosophy.