How To Exercise When You Have an Autoimmune Disease

One thing that all autoimmune illnesses have in common is inflammation. This inflammation affects different parts of the body and different people in unique ways. Many people with autoimmune conditions find that they struggle with joint and muscle pain, as well as overwhelming fatigue. An exercise program for someone with autoimmune disease should support healing and health, and prevent further inflammation.

Before beginning any exercise program, you should consult with your doctor or a licensed physical therapist. You need to make sure that you are healthy enough to begin an exercise program.

Benefits of exercising when you have an autoimmune disease: 

  • Exercise can boost energy levels 
  • Endorphins are released when you exercise and they're natural painkillers
  • Exercise can reduce inflammation
  • Anxiety and depression which are often associated with autoimmune disease can be relieved through physical activity (find source)

What are some ways to exercise with an autoimmune condition?

  • Walking on flat surfaces 
  • Yoga
  • Water exercise classes
  • Stationary biking 

Tips for exercising with an autoimmune disease 

1. Use exercise to make you feel your best  
Depending on the autoimmune condition low impact exercise may be the best option. I've found that pushing myself to hard means an extra long recovery and a lot of fatigue. So I've learned that for me it's not about burning a huge amount of calories or building muscle, it's more about keeping my body healthy. Even if light low impact exercise is all you can do, that can still help you feel better and healthier. 

2. Customize your workout plan for you
Some days you may be able to more and some less. If you're experiencing an autoimmune flare and can't exercise then don't force yourself to. Rest and get back to it when you can. 

3. Push yourself slowly
For me I find that very (and I mean very!) small increases in the workouts i'm doing helps me improve my fitness without pushing myself to far and resulting in major burnout. 

4. Find your sweet spot
When I first started working out I was pushing myself way to far. I would get home and immediately fall asleep for a few hours. Not good! You should be able to continue on with you day with energy. Conserve your spoons (as many chronic illness sufferers would say.)

My Workout Routine: 

What's my current exercise routine? (This is 2-3 times a week depending on how I feel)
10 Minutes of light stretching
Walk/ Run (20 minutes) Outside on a flat trail or beach
Walk 2-3 Minutes Run 1 Minute
This yoga routine: Simple Yoga Cool Down

What did my exercise routine look like at the beginning? (2 times a week)
10-15 minute walk
5 minutes of light stretching 

What's my goal? (3 times a week)
Run for 15-20 minutes
20-30 minutes of yoga
increased flexibility

How do you find exercising with your autoimmune condition? 

Top Foods To Eat If You Have An Autoimmune Disease

Foods To Eat To TameYour Autoimmune Disease.png

Science is starting to show more and more that the dietary choices you make when suffering with an autoimmune disease can either help or hinder your health. Food won't cure your autoimmune condition, but it can help put it into remission (like celiac disease) or it can help relieve debilitating symptoms. 

Eating foods that are rich in nutrients and free of contaminants (like pesticides) and correcting nutrient deficiencies will benefit your health. This is especially important in autoimmune disease because many medications that are used deplete the body of nutrients. The focus when choosing helpful foods should be to identify and eliminate inflammatory foods and nourish with real foods that deliver vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

So what are some important foods to eat to resolve those nutritional deficiencies, nourish your body and support overall health? 

Healthy Fats
Autoimmune diseases emerge when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. The exact cause of such physiological slip-ups is still unclear, but researchers are now beginning to learn that dietary fats could influence how these symptoms present themselves. Not all fats are created equal, some are pro inflammatory and others are not. Trans fats result in poor health and inflammation while omega 3 fatty acids can turn down your bodies inflammation. 

Short-chain fatty acids, typically found in fiber-rich diets, are only metabolized by gut bacteria. Omega-3 fatty acids are made of short chain fatty acids like in fish, nut and seeds. Since many autoimmune conditions are thought to originate in the gut and gut health is directly linked to autoimmune symptoms, eating omega 3 fatty acids is very important if you have an autoimmune condition. 

A research team discovered that giving the mice short-chain fatty acids promoted the growth of regulatory T cells, which help keep the immune system in check. They ended up improving the disease in the animals. (1)   

What foods to eat to get healthy fats
Increase your omega-3 intake by eating more wild caught fish (canned salmon and sardines are great inexpensive options), omega-3 eggs, and maybe also using a good quality fish oil supplement. It is also important to reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids to the best of your ability (and budget).  This means no modern vegetable oils or products made from them, like mayonnaise or store-bought salad dressings.  Also, be mindful of your nut consumption and try to eat grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and wild game whenever possible. 

Prebiotics
You have probably heard of probiotics, but what are prebiotics and what do they have to do with autoimmune disease? As I touched on earlier the health of your gut is directly correlated to your autoimmune condition. Poor gut health and autoimmune disease (especially digestive autoimmune disease) go hand in hand. So feeding your body foods that support and nourish your gut health is key for transforming your health. 

“Prebiotics” is a catch-all term that refers to all the different kinds of fiber that encourage beneficial species of gut flora to grow. You can’t digest them, but your gut flora can – and more food for the gut flora means more flora. Prebiotics are not the same thing as probiotics:

  • PREbiotics provide food for the bacteria already living in your gut.
  • PRObiotics provide a direct infusion of bacteria that weren’t there before.

Prebiotics are probably already in your diet; you just didn’t realize it.

Some foods high in prebiotic fibers include:

  • Dandelion greens
  • Garlic and onions (and any vegetables in that family, e.g. leeks)
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Chicory (used in coffee substitutes)

It's important to note that probiotics are great but not for everyone. In some prebiotics can sometimes do more harm than good:

  • People with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) often find that prebiotics are the exact opposite of what they need (if you already have too many bacteria, feeding them even more is not going to help).
  • Many people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or FODMAPs intolerance find that prebiotics make their symptoms worse.

So if you have or suspect these conditions then avoiding prebiotics is best, but for others these food can be helpful. 

Probiotic Foods
While the research into the role specific bacterial strains play in our body is on-going, we do know that eating fermented foods on a regular basis is beneficial when addressing autoimmune disease. A healing addition to your diet, they are involved in immune modulation; fighting infection; speeding the healing process; have anti-inflammatory effects; and provide digestive benefits such as improving the integrity of the gut wall, and helping to correct gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria).

Not only is it a good idea to eat fermented foods to ensure you get the good microbes into your gut but also so that you keep the bad ones out. Dysbiosis is a microbial imbalance on or within the body or an overgrowth of ‘bad’ microbes which can lead to health issues. I put bad within in commas because we all have a little bit of the ‘bad guys’ in our gut, and that is okay. It becomes a problem only when they get out of control and outnumber the ‘good guys’.

Foods high in probiotics:

Fermented Vegetables

  • Pickles (cucumbers)
  • Sauerkraut (cabbage)
  • Kimchi (cabbage and other veggies)
  • Capers (flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a shrub like bush)
  • Olives

Fermented Dairy

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir

Other

  • Kombucha

If you with a histamine sensitivity you may have problems with many fermented foods, but before you give up, try kombucha which is known to be better tolerated. If you have a yeast sensitivity, you may only use probiotic supplements because while fermented foods are known for their beneficial bacteria, they also contain beneficial yeasts that can cause a reaction.

Antioxidants 
Fruits and vegetables contain an many antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds that are very difficult to get anywhere else. Plant chemicals called phytochemicals can reduce inflammation and eliminate carcinogens, while others regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce, get rid of old cells and maintain DNA. 

We know that inflammation goes hand in hand with autoimmune disease. During an immune response, there’s an increase in the production of free radicals, which can result in oxidative stress (a negative shift in the natural balance between oxidants and antioxidants that results in damage to the body. In fact, much of the damage in autoimmune disease can be linked to free radical damage to cell membranes and tissues. Studies have shown that oxidative stress and low antioxidant activity occur in autoimmune disease. 

Foods Highest in Antioxidants

  • Goji berries
  • Wild blueberries
  • Artichoke
  • Elderberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cilantro

Focusing on nutrient rich foods that are high quality and organic reduces the toxic load on your body and fills the nutritional gaps needed to lower inflammation and support your health. 

What Are The Best Diets For Autoimmune Disease? (GAPS, Autoimmune Procotol, LowFODMAP & more)

Autoimmune diseases can affect nearly every part of the body. Scientists have identified more than 80 clinically distinct autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

Having an autoimmune disease means you're probably dealing with symptoms that could range from mild or severe. Often you're left with many persisting symptoms, despite treatment that may leave you curious about your other options for controlling your disease. In this article I'm going to do an extensive overview of many of the diets that have been associated with improving the health of those with an autoimmune disease. Using quality nourishing nutrition to manage autoimmunity can help control pain and reduce inflammation. While diet is not going to cure your condition, it can help improve your overall health and reduce symptoms.

Unfortunately many of these diets are only supported by anecdotal evidence, meaning it's based on people's experiences and not actual scientific proof. That being said these diets are nutritionally dense and a far improvement from the standard American diet. Many have reported large improvements in their health following the diets below.

Autoimmune Protocol (Autoimmune Paleo)

What is it?
The Autoimmune Protocol is an extensive elimination and reintroduction diet with a paleo template. The diet removes foods considered to be gut irritants like grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, gluten, seeds, nuts, sugar, alcohol, refined oils, and processed foods for a period of at least 30 days. By reducing gut irritants and removing potential food sensitivities then replacing them with nourishing foods you can support gut health and lower inflammation.  

AIP was originally constructed by Dr. Loren Cordain who made a link between certain foods triggering inflammation in those with autoimmune conditions. Later Sarah Ballantyne (thepaleomom) PhD was attracted to to AIP through her own research and has become the leading expert in this diet. She wrote a book called The Paleo Approach where she covers everything you need to know about the autoimmune protocol. For at least the first thirty days you eliminate grains, eggs, gluten, legumes, dairy, seeds, nuts, sugar, alcohol, refined oils and processed foods. After 30 days or when you start to see feel relief of your symptoms you can start re-introductions. Some foods are to be eliminated permanently like gluten, grains, processed foods, emulsifiers and thickeners (guar gum, carrageenan, etc.), refined oils, refined sugars and dried legumes (including soy and peanuts). Other can be slowly reintroduced one at a time to see if there is a reaction.

Beyond Diet: The AIP protocol is more then just diet even though that's the main focus. Reducing stress, getting proper sleep, and reducing toxins is all part of the protocol.

What's eliminated?

  • Grains - wheat, rice, corn, and others; (millet, amaranth, teff, etc.)
  • Legumes – all beans including peanuts, black beans, pinto beans, hummus, etc.
  • Dairy – all sources of dairy, even raw or fermented
  • Nuts and seeds - all nuts and seeds including cashews, almonds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, seed-based spices, chocolate, coffee, etc.
  • Eggs - especially the white part of the egg, which contains inflammatory proteins
  • Nightshades - tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, goji berries and several spices
  • Industrial seed oils - pretty much all liquid oils, except for olive and avocado oils

What's Allowed?

  • Vegetables of all kinds and colours (except nightshades
  • Good quality seafood, particularly fatty fish rich in omega-3 fats.
  • Quality meats, especially organ cuts (offal) such as liver.
  • Quality fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, coconut oil (to a lesser extent).
  • Fermented foods (probiotic sources) such as kefir, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi.
  • Fruit in small quantities.

Who's it for?
Autoimmune protocol is for individuals who continually struggle to manage the symptoms of their autoimmune condition. But there are several important reasons not to try an AIP diet like numerous medical conditions, disordered eating and those who don't have an autoimmune condition.


Wahls Protocol

What is it?
The Wahls Protocol was created by Dr. Terry Wahls whose personal struggle with progressive ms resulted in life in a wheelchair. Even though Dr Wahls had access to the very best care and drug treatments available, she continued to deteriorate. She was told that any function lost as the disease progressed would never return. By 2003 Dr Wahls needed a cane to walk and shortly after needed a wheelchair. At this point she started researching why her body was failing and what she could do about it. She had already been on a Paleo diet but was still declining. After discovering some food intolerances she went on a more strict version of paleo. She highly increased her vegetable intake and also increased her intake of B vitamins, co-enzyme Q, antioxidants, and organic sulphur. She managed to reduce her symptoms enough where she no longer needs a wheelchair.

The Wahls Protocol emphasizes nutrient dense foods and lots of vegetables (up to 9 cups a day!). There are three levels of the Wahls Protocol, each one more strict then the last. The three levels are discussed below:

What's eliminated? 

Level 1 Wahls Diet This is the entry-level program for those transitioning from a typical American diet. The restrictions are no gluten, no eggs, no dairy (with the exception of ghee), no refined oils, limited sugar and no processed foods. The focus is nutrient density: she asks you to ramp up to 9 cups of vegetables daily (3 cups greens, 3 cups sulfur-rich, and 3 cups colorful). Eating organic grass fed meats are important.

Level 2 – Wahls Paleo You start with the details of the Wahls Diet listed above and add the following elements: (1) Reduce consumption of non-gluten grains, white potatoes, and legumes to only twice per week and remove soy altogether (with the exception of fermented soy). (2) Increase meat consumption to a minimum of 9 ounces daily. (3) Increase your healing foods to include organ meats, seaweed, fermented foods, soaked nuts/seeds, and more raw foods.

Level 3- Wahls Paleo Plus This level is a ketogenic diet (high fat, low-carb and moderate protein), but unlike conventional ketogenic diets, it is specifically designed to include 6 cups of vegetables daily for nutrient density, while still maintaining ketosis through the chemistry of eating 5 tablespoons of coconut oil per day. It’s also stricter than the prior Wahls levels. It requires 100% compliance, eliminating all grains, legumes, soy and white potatoes, and limiting starchy vegetables to two servings per week and fruit to 1 cup of berries daily. Protein is reduced according to size and gender, with the emphasis of shifting the body to burning fat for energy.

What's Allowed?

  • 3 cups of green leafy vegetables (daily)
  • 3 cups of sulphur rich vegetables (daily)
  • 3 cups of bright colour (peppers, berries, fruit) (daily)
  • Grass fed meat (several times per week)
  • Wild seafood (several times per week)
  • Seaweed (at least once a week)

Who's It For?
While the Wahls Protocol is directed towards people with multiple sclerosis, it's mentioned in the book that anyone with autoimmune disease can benefit.
 


GAPS (Gaps and Physiology Syndrome) 

What is it?

GAPS stands for the Gut And Psychology Syndrome. It makes a connection between the health of the digestive tract (permeability, balance of microbes, inflammation, etc.) and the health of the nervous system and the rest of the body. GAPS was developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a medical doctor and neurologist, with a masters in nutrition.  She outlines the diet in detail in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

GAPS is a three part protocol which includes:

  1. Therapeutic diet
  2. Supplementation
  3. Detoxification therapies

The dietary component of GAPS is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet diet (SCD). The GAPS diet focuses on healing and sealing the gut lining by removing all food stressors for an extended time, and treating with foods like bone broths, as well as helping the gut flora rebalance with fermented foods and probiotics.

Typically one who is serious about the GAPS Protocol goes through the 6 stage Introduction Diet first (usually 3 – 4 weeks) and then moves on to the Full GAPS Diet for 18 months to 2 years. This allows the body to gradually and safely re balance and replenish nutrient stores while at the same time detoxifying and repairing damage.

What's eliminated?

  • Processed foods
  • All Grains
  • Processed sugar
  • Starchy carbs and potatoes
  • Artificial chemicals and preservatives
  • Conventional meat and dairy

What's Allowed?

Full List & Stages

Who's It For?
The GAPS diet is claims to treat Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea. It has also been used by others with autoimmune disease.


Low FODMAP

What is it?
The low-FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols or (FODMAPS) are carbohydrates that are not absorbed in the small intestine and may pass into the large intestine where bacteria ferment them, resulting in bloating and gas. This occurs in many individuals and does not cause significant issues for them, but for others it results in symptoms of IBS including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation, flatulence and other gastrointestinal symptoms. It is not exactly clear why FODMAPs bother some people with the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), but pilot studies have shown that following a low-FODMAP diet does help reduce symptoms in people with active Crohn’s disease.

What's eliminated?

  • Excess Fructose: Honey, Apples, Mango, Pear, Watermelon, High Fructose Corn Syrup,
  • Fructans: Artichokes (Globe), Artichokes(Jerusalem), Garlic (in large amounts), Leek, Onion (brown, white, Spanish, onion powder), Spring Onion (white part), Shallots, Wheat (in large amounts), Rye (in large amounts), Barley (in large amounts), Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccharides.
  • Lactose: Milk, icecream, custard, dairy desserts, condensed and evaporated milk, milk powder, yoghurt, soft unripened cheeses (eg. ricotta, cottage, cream, marscarpone).
  • Galacto-Oligosaccharides (GOS): Legume beans (eg. baked beans, kidney beans, bortolotti beans), Lentils, Chickpeas
  • Polyols: Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Cherries, Nectarines, Pears, Plums, Prunes, Mushrooms, sorbitol (420), mannitol (421), xylitol (967), maltitol (965) and isomalt (953).

What's Allowed?

  • Vegetables- Alfalfa, bean sprouts, green beans, bok choy, capsicum (bell pepper), carrot, chives, fresh herbs, choy sum, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, zucchini.
  • Fruit- Banana, orange, mandarin, grapes, melon
  • Lactose-free milk, lactose-free yoghurts, hard cheese
  • Meats, fish, chicken
  • Grains- Gluten-free bread and sourdough spelt bread,  oats, gluten-free pasta, rice, quinoa
  • Nuts & Seeds- Almonds (<10 nuts), pumpkin seeds

Who's It For?
There was effectiveness in treating functional symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease from small studies (2). There has also been some evidence that it helps with IBS.(3)


Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SDC Diet)

What is it?
The SCD was first described by Dr Sidney Haas in 1924 as a way to treat celiac disease. The SCD was popularized for the treatment of IBD by biochemist Elaine Gottschall through her book Breaking the Vicious Cycle after her daughter was daughter found relief of ulcerative colitis using the diet. This diet is based on the theory that disaccharides and polysaccharides pass undigested into the colon, resulting in bacterial and yeast overgrowth, which causes overproduction of mucus. The concept continues to state when complex carbohydrates are poorly absorbed during digestion, they act as food for the harmful bacteria in our intestines. This can result in bacterial overgrowth, which can cause inflammation of the intestinal wall. The SCD diet is meant to starve these bacteria by eliminating complex carbohydrates from the diet for several years and restoring the balance of bacteria in our gut.

What's eliminated?

  • Sugars: lactose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, molasses, maltose, isomaltose, fructooligosaccharides, and any processed sugar
  • All canned vegetables
  • All grains: anything made from corn, wheat, wheat germ, barley, oats, rye, rice, buckwheat, soy, spelt, and amaranth
  • Some legumes: chickpeas, bean sprouts, soybeans, mung beans, fava beans, and garbanzo beans
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yam, parsnips, seaweed products, agar, and carrageenan
  • Canned and processed meats
  • Dairy: milk, milk products, ice cream, whey powder, commercial yogurt, heavy cream, buttermilk, sour cream, and the following cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese, cream cheese, feta, processed cheeses, and cheese spreads
  • Canola oil, commercial mayonnaise, commercial ketchup, margarine, baking powder, and balsamic vinegar
  • Candy, chocolate, carob

What's Allowed?

  •  Vegetables (except canned)
  • Legumes (except the ones noted below)
  • Unprocessed meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
  • Natural cheeses
  • Homemade yogurt fermented at least 24 hours
  • Most fruits and juices without additives
  • Nuts, peanuts in the shell, natural peanut butter
  • Oils: olive, coconut, soybean, and corn
  • Weak tea and coffee
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • Mustard and vinegar
  • Saccharin

Who's it for?
SCD claims to people with various forms of bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, diverticulitis, cystic fibrosis and chronic diarrhea).


Plant Based Diet

What is it?
A plant based diet is based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil. It focuses on reducing inflammation through out the body. A whole, plant-based foods means more antioxidants, more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and more fiber.

What's Eliminated?

  • Meats (minimized or eliminated)
  • Dairy (minimized or eliminated)
  • Eggs (minimized or eliminated)
  • Sugar
  • Bleached Flour
  • Oil

What's Allowed?

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes

    Who's it for?
    While this diet can be controversial in the autoimmune nutrition world where a more of a paleo diet has become popular, many people have seen the benefits of the anti inflammatory nature of this diet.
     

Which one works for me?
Feel like your head is spinning? I don't blame you! Trying to figure what dietary changes to make is overwhelming. There seems to be a for and against for almost every diet and food out there. My best advice is do your research, don't let it stress you out and plan plan plan. Remember a diet that works for someone else may not work for you. Everyone is biochemically different, meaning that we all have different nutritional needs. A good place to start is with an elimination diet because that way you can figure out which foods react with your body. You want to learn all about what works for you and makes you feel your best. That's the end goal, to have created a custom diet where you are feeling your best. Everyone can benefit from increasing your vegetable intake and reducing (ideally eliminating) your refined sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods intake.

Many people with autoimmune conditions have found relief using other diets like a vegan diet or a Mediterranean diet. Though I didn't mention them above that doesn't mean they are poor diets for those suffering autoimmune conditions. If you are eating healthy and feeling well then keep doing what you're doing!

 Before Starting a New Diet

1. Research- Don't just jump in without planning (research recipes, learn the ins and outs, be realistic). Also, don't start during a stressful time because that's just setting you up to cave and go back to old habits.

2. Get Support- Talk to your doctor and health care team before starting any new diet. Consider hiring a nutritionist to get one on one guidance.

3. Be Careful- It's easy to misuse these diets and end up with nutritional deficiencies. Before you start cutting out food groups make sure you know what nutrients you'll need to replace. 

Beyond Diet:
While changing your diet is a big piece of the puzzle to feeling better, there are other factors that are really important. Lifestyle factors like high stress, a high toxic burden, lack of exercise and infections (like SIBO, parasites, dysbiosis) can all affect your health. Looking at your health from a whole perspective gives you the best change at feeling your best.

Have you tried any dietary changes to help reduce autoimmune symptoms?

 

 

Will Healing Your Gut Relieve Autoimmune Symptoms?

Research is starting to direct attention towards the health of your gut and how it relates to autoimmune disease. A condition called leaky gut has been linked to many autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn's disease and many others. The intestine is lined with single layer of cells that allow the transport of small molecules (vitamins, minerals) into the bloodstream to be used by the body. When this layer of cells is inflamed or damaged, larger molecules (like bacteria, undigested food particles, viruses) that would normally be blocked can enter the bloodstream and interact with the immune system. This is called leaky gut or more formality known as increased intestinal permeability.

For many years it was believed that between these cells were "tight junctions" that never opened. A protein has been discovered called Zonulin. It helps regulate leakiness in the gut by opening and closing the spaces or "tight junctions". Much of the research on leaky gut syndrome is focused on zonulin, that to date is the only thing known to regulate intestinal permeability. (1)

Gut Facts!
Inside the small intestine there are billions of bacteria (as much as 3 1/2 pounds!)

The small intestine is 20 ft long and if you laid it out has the surface area of a tennis court!

Bacteria in our gut outnumber our own cells 10:1.

Is Leaky Gut Real?
Leaky Gut has been proven real but there is a lot of misinformation out there. Dr. Alessio Fassano, someone who has done extensive leaky gut research has said "The term "leaky gut” has for decades been “used and abused” by some alternative medicine practitioners who—without scientific evidence—cited it as the cause of everything from autism to cancer. There is a link to autoimmunity but there is no proof as of now that leaky gut is the cause of any disease. 

How Does Leaky Gut Happen?
Zonulin is believed to be the protein that opens and closes the tight junctions and therefore it may be what triggers leaky gut. Two of the most powerful triggers of the release of zonulin are harmful intestinal bacteria and gluten, via gliadin, a glycoprotein present in wheat, in the small intestine. (2) It's important to note that some diseases like celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome can affect intestinal permeability making it difficult distinguish between cause and effect(3).  Meaning it's impossible to tell if leaky gut caused the disease or was simply a result.

What Causes Leaky Gut?
Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system, affecting your ability to fight off invading bacteria and viruses and worsening the symptoms of leaky gut. Medications like aspirin and non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDs) that can damage the lining of your gut, as well as antibiotics that kill off your essential good bacteria are also associated with increased intestinal permeability. An imbalance between beneficial and harmful species in your gut called dysbiosis is one of the theories about what causes increased intestinal permeability. Excessive alcohol consumption, infection with parasites, radiation and chemotherapy can damage the lining of the intestine and have also been linked to leaky gut.

What Conditions are associated with Leaky Gut?
An increasing number of diseases are recognized as involving changes in intestinal permeability including autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease. High stress levels have been linked to increased intestinal permeability (4).

Will healing your gut relieve autoimmune symptoms? 
It's important to recognize that while leaky gut has been connected with autoimmune disease that doesn't mean it's the cause. That being said many of the proposed solutions to leaky gut are sensible recommendations that can lead to improvements in your overall health, whether or not you have increased intestinal permeability.

Treatment
While evidence based treatments for leaky gut are limited it's important to remove any potential root causes of the problem. To help improve gut health it's important to remove any potential underlying roots of the problem (eg, gluten, alcohol, and NSAIDs).

  • Get tested for infections to see if they are the root cause of your health symptoms.
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates refined sugars, dairy, gluten, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.
  • Consume anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids in fish and nuts, and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, high-fiber and fermented foods that help to promote the growth of good bacteria.
  • Get tested for Celiac Disease
  • Eliminate any potential food sensitivities via an elimination diet
  • Minimize alcohol intake
  • Avoid NSAIDs if possible
  • Reduce Stress

A lot still needs to be learned about leaky gut but improving your digestive health will only benefit your overall health with or without leaky gut.