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Gut Health Series Part One – How I Developed Leaky Gut

I have been wanting to write about this topic for a long ass time. I have touched on leaky gut syndrome from time to time on a surface level over the years, but have never really been able to do a deep dive into just how bad my gut issues were and the FULL impact it had on my overall health. There are two main reasons why I haven’t opened up fully until now. 1) I was fucking embarrassed to be honest, at how bad it had gotten and 2) If it was connected to a sponsored post, I would usually be asked to remove or tone down some of my symptom explanations because some brands felt they were too raw and descriptive *shoulder shrug*. So alas here we are, years later, with a healthier gut, but still a work in progress. Sooooo what exactly is leaky gut? Leaky gut, or “intestinal permeability” is a condition where the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing any undigested food particles, toxic waste products, and bacteria to literally leak into the gut lining and flood the blood stream. Yup, it really is as gross as it sounds guys! The body then treats these as foreign substances entering the blood. This can cause an autoimmune response in the body including sudden inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel/digestion issues, eczema, chronic fatigue, several food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

But let’s start at the beginning shall we. Here’s the thing about the gut, the microflora that lives in there is highly specific to each individual and typically stays in harmonious balance. That being said, there can be periods of time within someone’s life where that balance is disturbed by things like environmental factors, chronic stress, drug treatment or toxin overload (worst offenders being antibiotics, asprin, NSAIDS, excessive drug and alcohol consumption ), and the biggest culprit; a poor diet. With my lifestyle back then, I was ticking off most of the boxes with a corporate career that required extensive travel around the country, barely any sleep, entertaining clients late at night and partying hard with friends on the weekend. It took a toll and over the course of a couple years of this lifestyle it eventually caught up to me. And let’s remember, my body was already at a deficit, having been diagnosed with a very rare kidney disease while I was attending Howard University in Washington, DC eight years earlier. In the beginning, these symptoms were subtle and were ignored for almost two years. At the time, they could have easily been mistaken for other things. The vaginal infections, strong sugar and refined carb cravings, and the acne that appeared on my face the day after consuming foods that contained those things. The bloating and gas that took over my stomach immediately after eating. Mood swings and insane irritability. Seasonal allergies that just randomly popped up one day out of nowhere along with itchy ears – SO WEIRD. An increase in migraines and a nagging stiff neck. They were all the early textbook signs of candida overgrowth that eventually resulted in in leaky gut syndrome. How?

Well, even though I found the symptoms to be worsening, I continued to ignore them and be in denial. Truthfully, had I known then what I know now, it would never have gotten as bad as it did. I started to get concerned though when I noticed some real issues with my vagina. UGH. I swear to God, chronic vagina issues are every woman’s nightmare. I had never suffered from yeast infections or UTI’s growing up during my teenage years, but they started to appear out of nowhere. Over-the-counter meds took care of the first four or five infections that popped up and I also found in the early stages if my period came during a yeast infection, once the bleeding stopped, the itchiness and discharge disappeared along with it. I was given strong meds and antibiotics to try and tackle the yeast infections, but my body ended up becoming resistant to them and the infections just worsened. Anyone who has had their share of yeast infections know that antibiotics just wipe out all the good gut bacteria we need and can cause rebound infections. My vagina eventually was permanently left swollen to the point that the vulva was permanently spread apart. The candida/yeast overgrowth was so bad, I could barely walk. Then rectal irritations also became a thing. I remember the itching and burning being unbearable, I would just cry uncontrollably for hours at a time in despair. Frustrating because I didn’t know the root cause nor could I find a cure. I kept most of the gory symptoms to myself because they were so embarrassing. It is awful knowing there is something terribly wrong with your body and zero clue as to what’s going on. The physical symptoms eventually created psychological ones. I developed bad anxiety. My heart would literally race at night thinking of all the things that could be wrong with me that the doctors hadn’t yet discovered. I was convinced my time left on this earth was going to be short and it was clear that if this continued, my relationship with my fiancé would fall apart, there would be no wedding and no babies in my future. So, helloooo depression. It was like a domino effect of symptoms and I was falling deeper and deeper into a hole.

Those years are still a bit of a blur, so I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but shit just f*cking hit the fan. The chronic symptoms I had developed got even worse. I would get super sick on date nights before the meal was even over with insane bloating and fatigue that would set in before the cheque would arrive. When things were at it’s worse; migraines, vaginal irritation, and skin rashes would appear immediately after eating or drinking alcohol. I was so fatigued there was no amount of sleep that would make me feel rested. I could barely move. Soon, the migraines that would last for days, went on for weeks at a time. My neck pain legit was diagnosed as myofacial pain syndrome and there was zero mobility, making it difficult to even drive. You’re probably wondering why a physician had not diagnosed what the hell was going on. At the end of day, most general practicing physicians know very little about leaky gut syndrome and candida overgrowth. In fact, they know very little about a lot of things, but that’s a whole other story. They also are not in the game of “Let’s find the root cause of your issues” because let’s face it, they are taught to tackle illness with writing prescriptions for pharma meds. My G.P. had tested me for Lupus several times, celiac disease, MRI’s, HIV, anemia, thyroid disorders, mononucleosis, Lyme disease, nerve damage tests for the joint and nerve issues.  You name it, we tested it and it all came back inconclusive. Finding no answers from the tests was actually worse than being told they discovered something seriously wrong because at least if we found out what it was, we could do something about it. With no concrete answers, I was then being told I was becoming a bit of a hypochondriac and things along the lines of, “You know Sasha, you just need to get more sleep and reduce your stress levels. Or perhaps a career change.” I finally started to keep a diary. I withdrew myself from all my social circles and spoke to nobody. My diary allowed me to vent, dream and document shit. This is when I discovered that a lot of my symptoms were tied to what I was eating. That’s when I knew there was something bigger going on.

By this point, my kidney ailment and fibromyalgia had me basically bedridden, so there was not much for me to do but read and research on my laptop. This is how I first self-diagnosed my candida overgrowth and leaky gut issues. From what I had learned, I armed myself with the knowledge I needed to rehabilitate myself and find alternative practitioners that were down to help me get my life back in a safe and effective way. It took my body a long time to get to that state, so it took almost two years to properly recover, but I am happy to say that those dark days are far behind me. I still have to keep a watchful eye on my diet and stress levels and there are several things I do daily to help keep a healthy balance of gut flora. I promise to share more about this later on in the series, but based on all your DM’s and comments when I was in Miami with Activia for the Gut Health 2019 summit, there seems to be a lot of interest in the topic and I wanted to give some more background as to why I am so passionate about it. I also wanted to share my my truth in hopes that it may help some of you. Have you been struggling with similar symptoms that have gone undiagnosed?

HERE ARE 10 SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE LEAKY GUT SYNDROME

  1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  2. Nutritional deficiencies
  3. Poor immune system
  4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
  5. Excessive fatigue
  6. Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
  7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
  8. Arthritis or joint pain
  9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
  10. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s

My first suggestion would be to start a daily food journal or diary and keep track of everything you intake for at least two weeks. Make notes on your body’s reaction after consumption – physical pain, irritations, fatigue or mood changes.  Seek out assistance for a qualified N.D. (Naturopathic Doctor) and bring along your journal to your initial assessment appointment. A good N.D. will suggest a series of tests that will help confirm a diagnosis and point you in the right treatment direction. The tests are super helpful because they will help identify specific sensitivities and will reveal the types of toxins or deficiencies that are contributing to your symptoms. Here’s a list of ones you should suggest they perform:

  • Zonulin or Lactulose Tests
  • IgG Food Intolerance Test
  • Stools Tests
  • Organic Acid Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies Tests
  • Lactulose Mannitol Test

The answer to the question you’re probably asking yourself right now, “But how long does it take to recover from leaky gut?” Well, it differs from person to person and typically depends on the severity. Most sufferers of candida overgrowth and early signs of leaky gut can be healed in 1-2 months with a serious plan, but a case as bad as mine took nearly 12 months to fully heal. There’s a process, that I like to refer to as the 4 R’s that can help heal a leaky gut…

  1. REMOVE foods and factors that damage the gut.
  2. REPLACE these with healing foods as you follow an anti-inflammatory leaky gut diet.
  3. REPAIR the gut with specific leaky gut supplements like butyric acid.
  4. REBALANCE your microbiome with probiotics (beneficial bacteria). This is key because bacteria in your gut are a major component of the intestinal barrier. They help promote resistance to the colonization of harmful or pathogenic bacteria species by competing for nutrients. Gut microbiota also regulate the digestion and absorption of nutrients and help supply epithelial cells with energy.

In part two of my Gut Health Truth series, I will dish on the foods you should eat and the specific ones you should stay away from if you’re dealing with leaky gut issues. Even if you’re not, following this specific food protocol can be very helpful to anyone that is suffering from undiagnosed chronic pain, inflammation, sleep disorders, and skin issues so stay tuned!

Gut Health. Why it’s Important and the Focal Point to Overall Health

Fermented Vegan Proteins+

Did you know our health is ultimately determined by the state of our gut? I’ve touched on this before here on the blog but I can’t reiterate it enough how important it is and here’s why. For the better part of the last decade I’ve dealt with a rare kidney disease and chronic pain issues…and it’s still a constant battle daily. After being on pharmaceutical drugs for some many years I started to experience a laundry list of side effects, but what I found odd was that I started to develop new allergies and sensitivities to foods that never bothered me before. Immediate reactions to any foods that contained gluten, sugars, processed white flour, wheat, vinegar, dairy and nuts. So I had to say goodbye to desserts, carbs, chocolate of all kinds, peanut butter, and all the other great tasting foods I loved to eat (welp). Cue the tears. Traditional doctor’s zoned in to only the gluten issue which isn’t surprising and I took more than one celiac test, but I knew deep down there was another culprit for this drastic change. After several months of obsessive reading and research, I discovered that my symptoms were textbook Leaky Gut Syndrome. Ok, pick your mouth up from off the floor now. The thought of a having a leaky gut sounds odd and terrible, I know and truth being told, it really is . Especially when you have no idea what’s happening to you.

There are several factors that play a role in diminishing our gut health: poor dietary choices, stress, over-use of antibiotics or other drugs and sanitizing cleaners are all part of our culture that reduces good gut flora. When your gut is leaky, things like toxins, microbes, undigested food particles and more can essentially escape your intestines and travel throughout your body via your blood stream. When this happens, your immune system marks these as foreign invaders to the system and attacks them back. How? The response to these invaders can appear in the forms of any of these very unpleasant symptoms:

  1. Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS)
  2. Seasonal allergies or asthma
  3. Hormonal imbalances like PMS
  4. Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis or celiac disease – all of which I was tested for
  5. Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  6. Mood and mind issues such as acne, rosacea or eczema
  7. Diagnosis of candida overgrowth resulting in yeast infections
  8. Food allergies or intolerances

Fermented Vegan Proteins+Photo by Jillian Botting at the Four Seasons Toronto

I suffered from all the above with the exception of an autoimmune disease and asthma. Funny enough, most of my treating physicians did not put the pieces of the puzzle together and I had to take my health into my own hands. I realized something that most traditional practitioners never really address. If you promote health, disease cannot exist. Our gut lining is essentially a second skin that helps ward off viruses and infections. Once that wall is damaged, we are left vulnerable and susceptible to many types of illnesses. I had to take drastic measures to help my gut lining return to it’s intended state. This was a long and torturous process. I still encounter issues every now and then so I have been spending some time learning about fermented supplements and discovered that Genuine Health has just introduced a fermented vegan proteins+ into their product line-up. I recently started using the vanilla protein powder in my smoothies and the proteins+ bars to help me increase my protein intake and improve the lining of my gut.

Don’t let the term fermented intimidate you. Trust me, when I first started doing research, I didn’t understand why the process is so important. Simply put, fermentation amplifies the nutrition of the food we eat by increasing it’s nutrient profile and bioavailability of essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. According to the Genuine Health team, studies have shown that the process basically magnifies the benefits of plants and herbal blends and in some cases produces unique photo nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that didn’t exist before fermentation.

Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Proteins+

Whether yore trying to restore a leaky gut like me or maintain a healthy one, this specially formulated powder is designed to not only promote gut health but also aids in digestion and allows for more nutrient absorption. The best part, it’s plant protein based making it great for vegans and doesn’t cause any bloating. I have asked our foodie expert Kristen Vander Hoeven, whose culinary skills never cease to surprise me, to help create some tasty ways to enjoy fermented vegan proteins+ at home, so stay tuned for some unexpectedly delicious recipes that will not only strengthen your gut health but will also amplify your nutrition. In the meantime, to learn more about fermented vegan proteins+ powder and bars, check out Genuine Health’s “The Daily DigestYou can find Genuine Health products at most health food, grocery, and supplement stores across Canada. Click here to find a retailer near you.

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