I share my story to give anyone else out there struggling with leaky gut some hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This time two years ago I was in a much different place. I was suffering from HPA Axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue), autoimmune diseases (celiac, endometriosis and dermatitis), and high levels of stress-induced inflammation. I had a nasty rash on my right hand and arm that would alternate from bad to worse. I was tired often even though I was getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night. I knew something just wasn’t right. And even though I had been faithfully following a whole foods lifestyle for the previous 7 years (including the removal of grains, dairy, soy and legumes from my diet), it obviously wasn’t enough.
I started to do some research and I came upon the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol or AIP for short. This protocol emphasized eliminating common causes of inflammation through diet, lifestyle, stress reduction and sleep optimization. The diet part seemed so hard to me. There were already so many things I couldn’t or didn’t eat and I would have to add even more to the list and become even more creative with preparing meals for myself. I was okay with getting rid of nightshades and eggs and even alcohol, but that hardest part for me was getting rid of my former favorite drink of all time, coffee.
Ever since my first sip at the wee young age of 13 I have loved coffee. I know now, without a doubt, that I had abused coffee over the years with way too much overuse. Coffee can be great, and healthful even for some folks. But for someone with my particular issues (adrenal fatigue and leaky gut) it was a nightmare. I had to wean myself of slowly or I would get terrible headaches by afternoon. Eventually I got down to a cup a day, then a half cup, then all decaf, and then I found a tea that tastes a lot like coffee and has dandelion as its main ingredient. This tea enabled me to finally break my coffee habit. I still drink that tea every morning and I haven’t had coffee in a long long time.
In addition to the dietary changes, I also had to greatly adjust my exercise routine. I have been a runner for many years. It was always my go-to exercise of choice. But I learned that all of that constant “chronic cardio” was adding to the inflammation already present in my body. I switched to walking and nixed all intense cardio. This was not easy for me. I used to be the type that would make fun of walkers in my head thinking, they could be running! Another piece to the puzzle was stress reduction. I had to learn to slow down and enjoy life, not just try to hurry through it. I took long nature walks and appreciated my surroundings, I started taking baths with epsom salts and essential oils while listening to calming music.
All of these things helped immensely, but I also needed to support my gut lining to try and help it to heal and seal up. Therefore I started to take a few supplements: grass fed Liver capsules (the most nutrient dense food available), zinc, magnesium, L-Glutamine (restores the gut lining), and pro-biotics. After about 3 months of implementing all of these various changes and interventions I actually started to heal. It was pretty amazing to see and I still cant quite believe the improvements that I have made. I was able to start re-introducing foods to see which my system could handle. Eggs and nightshades were in, but dairy, coffee, alcohol, soy and grains needed to remain out for the time being.
Eventually I was also able to start working out more vigorously again. I can now run and lift weights and do some HIIT style workouts. The biggest lessons that I learned through this process were: Gut healing cannot happen overnight and you need to be okay going at it with a “long and slow” kind of mindset. The stress reduction piece is huge and I would even say in some cases, more important than the nutrition piece. Just because you have to make some drastic changes in the short term, does not mean that you will have to keep them indefinitely.
In more time yet, I was able to add back in small amounts of coffee and alcohol (special occasions).