Pain is the best teacher, but nobody wants to be the student.
I have met hundreds of people who are now on gluten-free diets. My daughter used to be one of them. Gluten pain can make life difficult and become a heavy load to bear. How can this grain that has been around since time began suddenly wreak such havoc on so many individuals? Well, it is definitely causing a lot of problems, but I was never one to do something without understanding the reasoning behind it. I want to know the answers for myself and not just take someone’s word for it. When my daughter developed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and couldn’t eat wheat, and every week the list of foods she couldn’t tolerate kept growing, I became a woman on a mission to understand what was going on.
One of the things I have always hated about modern medicine is that they slap a band-aid on problems such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and a host of other problems. My question is, why do you have high blood pressure and why can you suddenly not digest wheat and other foods? What causes the body to develop these symptoms? This is the best part of our beautiful bodies. They call out to us with problems to get our attention. They are our best teachers and when we start having trouble there is much to learn. The only way to learn is to go within and become attentive to something we take for granted – the inner world of our bodies. I will share with you what I learned. This is my journey to understanding – yours may be different, but maybe I can shed light on some things that will help you.
I never feel good Mom
My sixteen-year-old daughter would climb out of bed every morning and drag herself to the kitchen. Each morning I would pray that she would feel better that day. Her words were always the same, ”I never feel good, Mom.”‘ It broke me. She was only sixteen and she hated getting up every day to a life filled with pain. I took her to doctors and they wanted to remove her gallbladder for no good reason. It was just a guess. Then I took her to an acupuncturist. This was my first lesson in the body’s ability to talk to you. With much kindness, our Chinese acupuncturist talked with Maci. He said things to her like, ”You have too much hurry worry and your body is hurting because of this.” I remember as those words came out of his mouth, I fought back tears, because it was so true. She came home that afternoon and broke up with her boyfriend, and then the journey really began.
I started researching the foods that hurt her gut the most and eliminated them from her diet, but that was only a temporary fix – the underlying problem was still there. Here is what I found – the reason she was having so much trouble digesting grains was really a three-fold problem. First, her gut lining was damaged. Years of antibiotics had stripped her of all her good bacteria. Stress, certain foods she was eating, and a lack of nutrient-dense foods was destroying her gut lining. The lack of the proper bacteria to turn her foods into vitamins and fatty acids was causing changes in her gut. There was nothing to protect her gut lining. She had been on an extremely low carb diet for several years, and her microbes were in dire need of fiber in the form of prebiotic carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains to thrive and grow. She was only eating 30 carbs a day, essentially starving her microbes and was taking antibiotics. When your microbes don’t have any food, this can cause the pH in your gut to shift. This shift can favor the growth of less healthy, negative endotoxin-producing gut bacteria such as Bacteroides, and reduce the growth of positive bacteria that are “more healthy” for your gut. Jeff Leach from the American Gut project states, 1 “As pH shifts, prospects for opportunistic pathogens increase, as do opportunities for gram-negative bacteria like Bacteroides and Enterobacter. When you add this up – and a lot more shifts in the microbial ecology of the low-carb gut – you most certainly have a classic case of microbial dysbiosis – as the name implies, an imbalance. This dysbiosis can lead to issues associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, autoimmune disease, metabolic disorders, and so on.” This now makes sense to me since it was the perfect storm – she was a perfectly normal teenager with no food allergies, and suddenly she developed all kinds of symptoms and food allergies she’d never had before. Antibiotics had stripped her of all her good bacteria and left her defenseless. This, along with starving her microbiome with a lack of fiber to feed her microbes, was changing the world within, causing great pain and symptoms that changed the course of her life. We also found that just eliminating the offending foods will eliminate the pain to a degree. but then you need to fix the microbiome to re-establish a new inner microbiome.
Developing food allergies after antibiotics
Recently, researchers at New York University Medical Center made some exciting discoveries regarding food allergies and intestinal bacteria. Not only did they discover why children develop food allergies, but they also found a way to solve it. The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that young children who were given too many antibiotics early on were at greater risk of developing food allergies. The researchers identified naturally occurring bacteria in the human gut that keep people from developing food allergies; if these bacteria were killed by antibiotics early in life, children became more susceptible to food allergies later on. 2
The scientists tested this theory by feeding antibiotics to young mice and found they were more likely to develop a peanut sensitivity than the control group. When the young mice were then given the good bacterium Clostridia (a diverse group of bacteria), like magic their allergic reactions vanished. Many more studies are confirming the same thing. For years I didn’t know why Maci began to heal when she started having cultured foods at every meal. It was working so well that my friends noticed and then their kids began to heal, too. Fast forward years later, science caught up and explained to me what was behind the magic in these cultured foods.
Cultured food and prebiotics were key
Maci had a cultured food at every meal – kefir for breakfast and one to two tablespoons of cultured veggies at lunch and dinner, then kombucha or coconut kefir to drink at every meal. She also had a lot of bone broths made into soups. They are healing to the digestive tract because of the collagen in the broth. Maci also began drinking a tea that she said soothed her gut. They no longer make and sell this tea but here is another drink that is very similar called,Teeccino. She drank this every day, sometimes several times daily. I later realized this special drink actually had several prebiotics (food for bacteria) in it which were feeding the good bacteria in her gut. The combination of cultured foods consumed with every meal along with this prebiotic drink made her gut heal and her food allergies became a thing of the past. This particular tea had a blend of the prebiotics – barley, dandelion root, and chicory root, along with just a touch of carob, coconut, and cinnamon – and was delicious. Dandelion root, chicory root, and barley are all huge prebiotics that helped her flora grow, flourish, and heal. All these foods are healing to the gut. Each one plays a different part in the healing.
Grains are not the same as they used to be
As she got better, I happened to discover why we have such trouble with grains now. Grains are not the same as they used to be. For hundreds of years, they would cut the sheaths of grain and stack them in the fields, leaving them to be gathered the next day. The dew would make the grains sprout – this sprouting would unlock the nutrients as well as deactivate the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Then the workers would gather the grains and take the seeds off the stalks to be used. Today we have combine machines that take the seeds off instantly, never allowing the grains to sprout. Then for years, and still today in European countries, we used sourdough starters to raise our breads. Sourdough transforms the bread in the same way that sprouting does. It puts lactobacillus into the bread and the breads rise slowly over seven to twenty-four hours, transforming the bread through bacteria. These wonderful bacteria not only change our breads into healthful foods, but they also change our bodies the same way. However, we now have instant yeast and the bread never has a chance to transform. Couple this with guts that are so damaged they can barely digest anything, and you have a recipe for disaster. Grains take huge amounts of B vitamins to digest and when you are under a lot of stress, you don’t have what you need. Sprouting or using a sourdough culture changes the grain and activates all the B vitamins that are locked in there, giving you what you need to digest it. Grains are prebiotics too, but often you need to take care in how your grains are prepared or wait till your gut is healed before adding them in. Maci added sprouted and sourdough grains while she was healing and seemed to thrive on them, but if they weren’t sprouted or made with a sourdough culture that had a long, slow ferment, her body couldn’t handle them.
So, the formula: remove or deal with stress, then heal the gut with fermented foods and prebiotic foods. This is what I did and have watched many others do. My daughter can now eat anything and is free from a life sentence of having to live without grains. She loves life and can’t wait to get out of bed. Food is not something that she is afraid of – food is now something that brings her great joy. If you are reading this blog, chances are your body is trying to tell you something. Your body is your best teacher – are you listening?
- Andrew T. Stefka et al., “Commensal Bacteria Protect Against Food Allergen Sensitization,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 36 (September 9, 2014): 13145–13150: www.pnas.org/content/111/36/13145