Leaky Gut – What is it & How Do You Fix It?

What is leaky gut? (AKA ‘Intestinal hyperpermeability’)

We all have 2 obvious holes in our digestive system, one at the top end (mouth) & one at the bottom end (anus). But along the way there are actually a lot more little openings, in our small intestine. These ‘tight junctions’ are teeny-tiny regulated openings designed to allow useful things from our food out of the intestines & into our bloodstream (i.e. nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc) & keep harmful things out (chemicals, microbes, & other unwanted particles like larger proteins). Leaky gut happens when your tight junctions are not working as they should, get ‘a bit too loose’ / don’t function properly, or when there’s some damage to the cells lining the gut. Damage can occur when the bad guys vs the good guys battle is favouring the baddies, also things like excess alcohol, medications (especially NSAID’S like ibuprofen), parasites, gastro bugs, stress, extremely strenuous exercise & poor sleep can cause / contribute to a leaking gut.

What happens when you have leaky gut?

With all these things leaking out into your bloodstream that aren’t supposed to be getting in there, your immune system activates, as its job is to protect the body from dangerous invaders. It sees all these random things leaking out from the gut into the bloodstream as intruders & potentially dangerous, so it goes into overdrive, sometimes a bit ‘trigger happy’ & may become overwhelmed. When your immune system is freaking out, it releases inflammatory chemicals & you may notice things like food intolerances / sensitivities, hayfever, asthma, arthritis, eczema & other skin issues (like acne, rosacea, psoriasis) getting worse. Brain fog, sleep disturbances, fatigue, aches & pains, depression, weight gain, hormonal imbalances & even autoimmune diseases will be triggered or feel much worse when your gut lining isn’t working as it should.  You may also notice more direct gut problems like bloating, gas, ’IBS’ type symptoms (constipation / diarrhoea / abdominal pain & discomfort). Long term, there are links between chronic leaky gut & insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome & the development of diabetes & cardiovascular disease (chronic inflammation caused by ‘endotoxins’ leaking from the gut into the blood stream). 

What causes / contributes to leaky gut? (That we know of so far).

We all have a degree of normal & healthy ‘gut-leakiness’. Our gut lining is supposed to allow certain things out, things that the immune system will see as normal & not react to. It’s when damage occurs to the gut lining or our tight junctions aren’t as tight as they need to be – that’s when trouble starts. Below is a list of potential triggers & things that can cause / aggravate a leaky gut.

  • alcohol (small doses can be ok in healthy people, bigger doses = gut trouble, & if your gut is already damaged you’ll feel much better if you abstain completely).
  • NSAID’s (Ibuprofen might save you from pain in the short term, but can create a heap more in the long term!) It is not designed for & is not ‘gut-safe’ to use long term. Avoid it wherever possible.
  • antibiotic use (killing your gut bugs every time you get sick = gut-immune devastation). The more often you use antibiotics, the more you’ll be open to the next infection going around. Take great care to rehabilitate your gut if you do need to take a course of antibiotics.
  • other medications. Ant-acids & stomach acid blockers are the biggest culprits for leaky gut, as these can lead to big changes in your gut microbial balance further down the GIT. There are numerous other pills that can also wreak digestive havoc, so ask your pharmacist which of your meds can cause gut side-effects.
  • a bout of gastroenteritis (a severe infection can be very damaging to your gut lining & often leave your gut bugs seriously out of whack – think post-infectious IBS, extremely common).
  • overgrowth of certain gut microbial populations or an ‘out of balance’ gut microbiome (caused by food, stress, medications etc), too many bacteria in the wrong area (i.e. SIBO / small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIFO / small intestinal fungal overgrowth).
  • gluten in food (gluten impacts the tight junctions in sensitive people, it makes them leakier). Anyone with suspected leaky gut or the conditions commonly associated with it should experiment with a gluten-free diet for at least 6 weeks, preferably longer to observe their reaction). Our breads & pastas are not the same as they once were due to agricultural developments & food processing changes, & our guts can’t cope as well as they once could (they’re in pretty poor shape now).
  • excess sugar & refined carbohydrates (processed food) causing poor gut microbial population. Minimise these as much as you can in your diet! For your gut as well as your blood sugar, your weight, your heart health, mental health etc etc etc – just don’t have them in the house, you know you’ll eat them if they’re there!
  • chemicals in our foods (non-organic foods esp those grown using the weed killer glyphosate aka ‘Round-up’). These chemicals can interfere with your gut bacterial activity, even if they are supposedly safe for humans, they have not been tested safe for our gut bugs (as important as any organ of our body).
  • artificial sweeteners (these can cause imbalances to your gut ecosystem, & they still lead to obesity – don’t eat / drink them).
  • extremely intense or prolonged exercise. If you are a serious athlete, you need to be aware that this will put you at risk for developing leaky gut (even if it’s just post competition / hard training). L-glutamine is a great supplement to support athletes with gut issues.

How Do I Test For Leaky Gut?

Your doctor, specialist or naturopath should be able to organise some tests to see if your body is showing signs of gut leakage.

  • urine test. This is the easiest & most common way to test – you’ll be given something sugary to drink & they’ll check if large sugar molecules are leaking through the gut lining later on (your pee will provide the answers).
  • SIBO breath test (not strictly a test for leaky gut, but chances are very high that your gut is leaking if you have SIBO – small intestinal overgrowth).
  • LPS & actomyosin antibodies tests (blood testing to see what level of immune reactivity is going on to ‘lipopolysaccharide’ – something found in higher levels in the blood when gut bacteria are leaking out in the bloodstream, & actomyosin – exposed to the blood & immune system when the tight junctions get leaky).

How Do I Fix Leaky Gut?

If you think you may have leaky gut, you should get everything looked into & be tested to exclude other causes (like Coeliac disease for example). An integrative GP or naturopath who specialises in gut health will be the best person to book an appointment with, they can recommend what needs to be checked & also arrange some ‘leak detection’ testing if leaky gut seems likely.  

  • avoid the main triggers / aggravators mentioned above
  • make sure your upper GIT function is good as this is crucial for the function & microbial balance further down. You may benefit from apple cider vinegar, digestive enzymes, chewing your food more, taking a bitter liver-stimulating herbal formula.
  • exercise is essential for a healthy digestive system. If you’re an athlete or go to extremes – be aware this can compromise your gut lining as blood flow is directed away from the digestive system in favour of your muscles, causing damage to the cells lining the gut. If you’re sedentary, you need to start moving to fix your gut as a stagnating gut will breed lots of nasty bugs, that will stay lurking long enough to damage your gut lining. If you are not currently exercising due to pain / injury – you need to start moving the non-painful parts at least, this will help.
  • sleep. If sleep is a problem for you, it will be messing with your gut (it may also be caused by your gut microbes). Eating more fibre & less sugar = great for the gut, & can also help with sleep too.
  • stress management (regular massage, holidays, time off, counselling, meditation, laughing lots, spending time with people who relax you – not the stress heads…make time to do the things that you love). Do not underestimate the ability of stress to make you sick, or the ability to manage your stress better to get you well again.
  • sunshine (vitamin D is very important for your immune system & also your gut lining). Get yours tested.
  • eat lots of polyphenols & practice some intermittent fasting (increase your population of the ‘akkermansia’ gut bugs, these gut guys help maintain & strengthen your gut lining).
  • pre & probiotics (try eating a fibre rich diet that also includes fermented foods, or use a probiotic supplement regularly). Get guidance with these if you think you may have SIBO, often found with leaky gut). We find this probiotic to be well tolerated by those with leaky gut / SIBO.  PRESCRIPT ASSIST PROBIOTIC
  • kill off your gut bug nasties (decrease sugar & carb consumption, eat your prebiotic fibre, use antimicrobial herbs & probiotics when you know you’ve overindulged & have overfed your bad guys – seek help with this to get started).
  • L-glutamine, zinc, N-acetyl glucosamine are nutrients that you’ll find in most ‘gut repair’ type products in the health food store & are very useful in healing the gut lining.
  • licorice (the plant, not the lollies – you can try liquorice tea or a herbal tincture / capsules)
  • greens – your gut bugs LOVE their greens, even if you don’t! If you hate eating greens, drink them in a green smoothie instead. They can be sooo yummy this way! PondWater – our supergreens powder is a ‘2-in-1’ gut tonic (organic grass & algae plus a good therapeutic dose of aloe vera inner leaf gel, perfect for adding into green smoothies).
  • collagen is great to help heal leaky gut. It is found in meat, skin, gristle & cooked bones. Sip on bone broth, chicken soup, or add collagen powder to a smoothie regularly.
  • aloe vera, slippery elm, okra, oats, oysters = rich in mucopolysaccharides (good gut-healing foods)….some great vegan bone broth alternatives (except the oysters obviously!)
  • resistant starch. This is easily found in cooked & cooled rice & potatoes, potato starch & green banana flour (& in smaller doses in many other foods).
  • calm the immune system response. Eat oily fish, turmeric, ginger, flaxseed – include lots of the natural anti-inflammatories in your diet (or take these in supplement form).

Love to hear from anyone who’s suffered from leaky gut & managed to ‘plug the leaks’ using any of these strategies (or maybe something else). Comment below or send me an email direct :)

Jeanie
jeanie@goodmix.com.au 

 

Why You Need to Focus on Fibre: The Forgotten Nutrient

Protein, carbohydrates & fats have received plenty of attention in the health & medical industries over the past 20 years, with Drs & diet gurus telling us to ‘eat less fat’, ‘increase complex carbs’, ‘increase protein’ & then ‘eat more fat’ ‘decrease carbs’ & ‘eat less animal protein’….it’s confusing & exhausting just trying to keep up with research & changing opinions! Many of us health-conscious people now have a substantial collection of conflicting dietary advice books, largely focussed on fat, carbs & protein….but fibre has been quietly sitting in the corner waiting its turn – left out of the equation & only seen as important for constipated folks.

It makes sense – we humans can’t actually digest fibre. It’s obviously not that important to our health if we can’t break it down into anything usable, right?…it’s just good to keep everything moving through the bowel, right?

WRONG! It seems as though fibre will finally start getting the massive attention it deserves, now we’re discovering all the links between our gut microbes & health. Did you know that your fibre intake can influence everything in the list below? And this is just a very basic short list, there are many, many more.  

  • weight loss & body composition
  • cholesterol problems & cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes & metabolic syndrome
  • inflammation in the gut & throughout the body
  • allergies, eczema, asthma & hay fever
  • skin issues
  • mood disorders & mental health
  • energy levels
  • hormone balance
  • Immunity
  • digestion & absorption of nutrients

How Does Fibre Effect Your Gut Health?

The reasons it can help with the above list are complex – but basically, fibre helps to improve your ‘internal ecosystem’ (specifically your gut microbial diversity & abundance). Our gut bugs eat whatever makes it through into the large intestine intact (i.e. fibre), & when they are well fed every day – they do all kinds of great things for us. Our gut is like an internal compost heap, & the rest of our body the garden. When our gut is working well it can generate a lot of goodness to nourish & heal our body, & when it is not working properly – the entire system will struggle. The research on this topic is fascinating, & will completely change the way we look at food, medicine & health over the coming years.

Quick! Get Me Some Fibre, Any Fibre Will Do!!

Not so fast. Before you reach for the ‘All-Bran’, you need to know that DIVERSITY is really important with your fibre intake. 

The old approach of using a single source fibre supplement (i.e. bran, psyllium, inulin etc) may help you to become more regular, but is not optimal to support overall good gut health & microbial balance (which is a foundation of good overall health). You can’t just ‘fix’ a low fibre diet with a few tablespoons of some supplement! It’s like relying on just one type of vegetable for your vitamins & minerals, instead of eating a variety – you’ll miss out on so many nutrients & end up really unbalanced.  

We carry (in our large intestine) many different types / strains of fibre-loving microbes, & they all have different food preferences. Relying heavily on one type of fibre will create an unbalanced population as you overfeed some of these critters, but neglect to feed the rest – so you end up with an overproliferation of the ‘few’ who love & thrive on all-bran, or psyllium, or inulin, or prunes, or whatever – & these guys can take over / over-crowd the gut ecosystem leaving little room for the rest.

The key is to eat plenty of fibre daily, & ensure that you are getting it from loads of different kinds of plants – ie a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, seaweed, herbs & other plant fibre sources with diverse polysaccharides (parts of the plant that we cannot digest in the upper GI tract, but that will become food for our microbes in the bowel). Hint – these are not found in the refined foods that we’ve become accustomed to over the past 50 years!

Refined sugars & starches tip the balance in the wrong way – they support the growth of the bad guys. Not to mention the gut bacterial impact of things like preservatives, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers etc…these additives may have been ‘tested safe for human consumption’ but unless we know how they are impacting our gut ecosystem – how can we really know their long-term effects? The indirect health impact (through our gut bugs) may in fact be quite significant. The point is – we need to keep our diet as natural as possible, & include a good variety of nutritious plants to keep our gut bugs well fed, & balanced, thus maintaining a thriving internal ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the opposite is generally true. The average westerner eats too many refined carbs, a lot of sugar & poor quality fats, plenty of artificials with very limited fermentable fibre – sourced from only a few different types of unrefined plants (a token daily apple or lettuce & tomato on their lunchtime burger).

This means we are providing copious amounts of simple carbs / sugars to feed the ‘bad guys’, & very little roughage for the good guys in the bowel. As a result, there is precious little fermentation happening in the large intestine, which is one of the absolutely vital keys to good health – fibre is the fermentation material needed by our bowel bugs – they convert complex carbs (from fibrous foods) into SCFA’s (short chain fatty acids), which are potent anti-inflammatory substances & key nutrients for maintaining the health & integrity of the gut lining – among many other things (worth reading up on).

My Own Internal Anti-inflammatory Factory??

Gut bugs + diverse fibre = home-made anti-inflammatories = better health & happiness = yay! When you think about inflammation as a cause / key contributor in almost all modern disease states – it makes really good sense to be feeding our own ‘anti-inflammatory generators’ with diverse fibre, every day, as a priority.

It has even been questioned whether just adding a heap of plant fibre to a junk food diet can somewhat mitigate the damage / inflammation caused by the junk in this way…questioned, but not proven.

When Food Shopping, Think About This…

The less processed our food is, the more likely that it will make it through our stomach & small intestine undigested, which may sound like a bad thing… BUT, it is these undigested fibrous foods that become food for our friendly helper-bugs! I.e. raw veg are better for the bugs than cooked, whole grains better than refined flour… we seem to do best on a combination of really unrefined foods & some more refined / easier to digest stuff, but experts believe the modern diet is much too far towards the ‘easy to digest’ processed end of the spectrum.

Do The Experiment! 

If your gut is not super-sensitive / already out of whack, do an experiment on yourself by increasing your intake of unprocessed plant foods (making sure to focus on diversity), & just see what happens. Go slowly to transition comfortably – increase your intake gradually over time rather than all at once, or you may initially become bloated, gassy, uncomfortable & possibly constipated as your unprepared, unpopulated gut struggles to deal with the sudden influx of fibre. Over a few days / weeks though, your population of bacterial fibre-munchers should increase hugely & become much more healthy & diverse. Take note of how this effects you – look for changes in regularity / gut symptoms, body composition / weight-loss, mood, brain function, skin, immunity, aches & pains…it’s such an easy experiment with massive potential gains! If you feel that there’s no way you can tolerate fibrous foods due to severe gut symptoms – look into the low FODMAP diet. This can help many with IBS / gut issues to uncover the foods that are setting off their pain / bloating / gut symptoms.

Everyone is Different:

Remember that every gut is different, & the high fibre diet that works well for your neighbour might make you feel awful. This can be because you & your neighbour both have different digestive systems & gut bacterial populations. You may have lots of bean-loving bugs, but your neighbour may have very few, so she may feel uncomfortable after a big bowl of high-fibre hommus & celery sticks whereas you can thrive on it. Maybe apricots are ok for your neighbour but give you diarrhoea. Different fibre will have varying effects on different people, & sometimes it’s all in the dose. If you’re not used to a particular food, or way of eating – make changes gradually to ensure a smooth transition, or get some help from a professional to start with. 

So introduce slowly, find out what works for you, & enjoy the whole-body benefits of eating more fibre!

Print out this Bristol Stool Chart and laminate for the toilet door, & leave it there until your kids know exactly what they should be doing (or pooing) each day, & the many reasons they might go off track. You could save them from a heap of pain, stress & money later on in life by teaching them the importance of gut health.

Your visitors will get a good laugh (& possibly an education) too :-)

Click the image to get the free chart.

Bristol Stool Chart
Best Poos Ever

5 Health Tips From a Naturopath

Sometimes we need to look ‘outside the box’ – here are 5 things that can help you get healthier…

1. Listen To Your Body – Don’t Ignore it:

Some people get themselves into really big trouble because they ignore their body when it’s gently whispering that something is wrong. Ie – that itchy rash that you slathered with cortisone cream isn’t necessarily ‘better’ or ‘fixed’ just because it’s gone away now. The conditions in your body that created / gave rise to that rash are very likely still present, & you’ve made no attempt to change what you’re doing – just whacked some cream on to ‘make the noise go away’. That usually won’t be the last of it – often that rash will reappear somewhere else, worse than before – or you’ll get some other symptom (which may seem completely unrelated) popping up.

Symptoms are best treated as signals to pay greater attention to your health & make a change, not as annoyances to just remove ASAP. You can even use ongoing mild symptoms as a gauge to monitor where you’re at, & to help judge if a change you’ve made has been a good one for you. Respect your body’s attempts to communicate with you – if you ignore the whispers, you’ll have to deal with some shouting later on!

2. Diagnosis & Treatment – Shop Around, Get a Few Opinions:

Always get a 2nd (even a 3rd, 4th & 5th) opinion when a Dr recommends medication or surgery, or any invasive treatment that comes with its own set of risks &/or side effects. I speak to sooo many people who’re medicated unnecessarily, who’ve undergone surgery when other options would have been better. These are not decisions to take lightly, this is your body & you have the right to question your practitioner & get another opinion or 3 if you feel even slightly uneasy about the recommendations being given. I’m not suggesting that you ignore the diagnosis & recommendations of your practitioner, just putting it out there that different practitioners will have different approaches, different training, different experience & different tools to work with your issues. And no Dr has all the answers. You don’t have to go with the first piece of advice you’re given.  

3. Diet – Be Open to Change, Be Flexible:

Nobody really knows what diet is the best one for you – despite what they might say! But if you’re not feeling 100% on your current diet, it makes sense to try something different.  There are a lot of people who feel great on a vegan diet, a lot who feel better on a paleo diet, some just need to steer clear of dairy or gluten…some seem to thrive on the blood type diet…& then those who felt great for a while on some diet or other then slipped for no apparent reason.  

We really only know the tip of the iceberg about how our gut works, the way we digest & assimilate nutrients & the interactions between the gut microbiome & our brain & immune system. My personal feeling is that we need to remain open & flexible to try different approaches when we’re ‘out of whack’. You can find negatives in almost every single food if you look (even many vegetables), so don’t freak out when you read / hear something negative about one of your faves that you thought was healthy – maybe it does have some unhealthy bits, but often the overall effect is a good one when you take into account all the good bits!

4. Look After Your Emotions – They’re Much More Powerful Than You Think:

It doesn’t matter how healthy & balanced your diet is, or how active you are if you’re feeling unbalanced emotionally. Negative feelings can absolutely cause you to become unwell, especially anything that goes on for too long without you recognising it, addressing it & working through it. Things like strong sadness, grief, loneliness, anger, work or relationship stress.  We all have our challenges & stresses, we wouldn’t appreciate the ups if there were no downs – but, if there’s something in your life that is a constant niggle or a big loud disturbance to your mental-emotional wellbeing, it needs to be dealt with as a priority! Don’t set the expectation that you should be a completely zen monk-like human being, but if you’re placing all the focus on diet & exercise, & wondering why you’re not seeing results – look into the mental-emotional side of things. If you’re not laughing, playing, connecting, learning, challenging yourself, relaxing…doing whatever it is that feels most nourishing to your soul – do something about that today!! And if there’s an obvious stressor that is affecting you strongly, do something about that today too. Sometimes you just need to change the way you’re thinking about it, sometimes you need to make big scary changes.

5. Nature – Get Amongst It! You Were Designed To!:

So easy in this crazy concrete day & age to go for days / weeks without spending time immersed in (or even in contact with) nature. If you live & work in an apartment in the middle of a giant city, & have little downtime – it can be especially hard. A few ideas to help you ‘stay connected’:

  • Open your windows (unless your area is quite polluted, let the sunshine & outside air into your home – it will bring in loads of natural & healthy microbes & prevent your indoor environment from stagnating & growing toxic mould). This might not be appropriate in springtime if you’re suffering a hayfever flare, but for everyone else – open up!
  • Plant indoor plants (they can help filter & oxygenate your inside air, they attract healthy microbes & they brighten up your space). Ask at your local nursery for plants that are happy inside in pots, it doesn’t suit them all!
  • Start a veggie garden – even if it’s only a few herbs in pots on the balcony! Gardening is a proven antidepressant, it can be quite meditative & very satisfying – plus you get all those lovely dirt microbes when you work on it & when you incorporate your uber-fresh produce into a meal.
  • Head to the beach, lake, park, forest, farm etc in your downtime. Breathe deeply, hug trees, play in the mud, pat the animals, roll in the leaves / sand, swim & don’t rinse too quickly…get covered in microbes from healthy natural ecosystems! You’ll give your immune system something to do, & introduce some ‘old friends’ (microbes we evolved with) into your personal microbiome.
  • Get a pet. Yes, they drop hair all over the place & walk dirt from outside into your home, & lick the kid’s faces – but that actually makes your space healthier! Get over the grubbiness & embrace your messy pet. They make you healthier in many other ways too (studies actually show that pet owners are happier & healthier). Remember that as you’re sweeping hair & picking up poo :)
  • Buy farm fresh organic fruit & veg (shop at the markets), or grow some of your own. Plants taken fresh from a healthy organic soil ecosystem have a completely different microbiome than those grown on a chemical soaked conventional farm in chemically fertilised soil. Chemicals kill things / interrupt ecosystems. Even if the produce looks & tastes the same, you’re not getting the same good bugs with it. And bugs can have a huge impact on your health. It’s a good thing when you see a slug on the lettuce you’ve just bought…it means the food you’re eating supports life & that a living creature has chosen to eat it / make it’s home there…it’s much more scary if you never find creatures in your food!

…it’s not ALL about diet, exercise & supplements…these have their place, but they aren’t the only things to consider! Tell me what you’ve found to be the biggest health challenge, or the most unexpected healing tool you’ve figured out? Leave a comment below or send me an email.

Jeanie Xx
jeanie@goodmix.com.au

My Poo Story / Join the ‘Poo Club’

Yep – it’s a private Facebook group for poo enthusiasts! This is the place where you can ask anything (yup, anything), share your own bad poo stories / good poo tips, gut health resources & experiences, & just feel free to chat about stuff that…nobody ever really feels comfortable chatting about in the outside world! No faeca-phobes allowed, this is a gut health zone & you can’t effectively cover gut health without a heap of poo talk!!

So don’t be shy – jump in & invite your friends. With this group, we’d love to be able to connect with:

  • anybody currently suffering from gut problems & looking for help
  • anybody who’s previously had gut problems but managed to fix them
  • anybody keen to learn more about gut health in general
  • anybody who’s good at / qualified in helping people with gut problems

So when you join, take some time to share your gut / poo story so that everyone has an idea of where you’re coming from & why you’re ‘in’!

 

JOIN THE PRIVATE GROUP

Here’s my poo story to get things moving (pun intended).

Looking back, my own poo problems as a kid were the catalyst for starting a career in the natural health field, so I guess I am now very thankful for them! I grew up on a cattle & sheep farm, in outback Qld. My mum was the best mum in the world in most ways, but an ex-nurse, & a bit of a worry-wort (bad combo)! Growing up on a farm was a great thing for my gut / immune system – I had lots of exposure to microbes from all the animals, dirt, manure etc that I was exposed to constantly from a young age. But mum coming from a nursing background (having seen lots of very, very sick children) was perhaps not such a great thing! Especially since at the time (the 80’s) there was no holding back on the prescription of antibiotics – they were given out like lollies. I was always getting coughs & colds (like many kids), & I cannot count the courses of antibiotics I would have been given to ‘treat’ them (a cough could easily lead to pneumonia & death remember!). I recall one time for a particularly nasty & long-lasting cough I took 7 courses of back-to-back antibiotics!!! No wonder that by the time I was 11, & went away to boarding school – my immune system was shot to pieces & there was some serious gut trouble brewing.

Leaving home at 11 was in hindsight a fairly stressful event (although I was totally keen & ready to go, there was a lot of change as I went from being home-schooled to fitting into a schedule with bells for everything, new people everywhere & completely different food that was only available at certain times). I lived in a dorm with around 40 other girls (only a few of us were still in primary school, the rest were older). It was nerve-wracking going to the bathroom for number 2’s as you were almost never alone, & at that age sharing my poo-stink & noises with everyone else was not something I was comfortable with! So – not knowing any better or thinking anything of it, I began to hold off until ‘the coast was clear’. Not a good idea, especially given the state of my already antibiotic-ravaged bowel! I would avoid the disgusting boarding school food & was living on sugary cereal or toast for breakfast, then sandwiches, cream buns or cake were morning tea, followed by a stack of 4-6 slices of white bread at lunch…with more cake / buns / sandwiches for afternoon tea, then depending what was on offer for dinner I’d eat it, or again have more bread & dessert to fill me up until homework break time where we had flavoured milk or juice, plus cream biscuits!  Looking back, knowing what I do now – I don’t actually know how we all survived on that kind of diet!! Plus the extra junk food we’d buy from the tuck shop when we had money, & the weekend excursions to Sizzler / Pizza Hut / McDonalds!

It was sometime in that first year away that I started to notice weird things happening with my bladder (don’t worry I’ll get to the bowel bit).  I would get the urge to pee really often & really urgently, & would have to run from class – then there would be hardly any pee (?) & I’d have to keep going to the loo all day like this. I can’t remember too many details, but in the end I was taken to see a paediatrician who found (by ultrasound or x-ray) that my bowel was at 3x it’s normal holding capacity & that the ‘poo build-up’ was causing constant pressure on my bladder!

I was given a heap of foul things to swallow – paraffin oil I think, & laxatives…& told not to avoid the urge to go anymore (no dietary advice other than to eat more fruit). I think after that I was more conscious of my bowel activity, but I can’t really remember much happening after that. I was not very healthy during the following years though – I had frequent bouts of vaginal thrush, very painful periods, skin issues & I missed a lot of school with colds that would turn into bronchitis, I had glandular fever for a whole term, gallstones & the surgery to remove them….my mum eventually took me to see a naturopath who asked what seemed like a million irrelevant questions about everything, & recognised immediately that my gut still needed a lot of rehabilitation. What she said made so much sense, & I had confidence that she knew more about what was going on inside my body than any of the Drs I’d seen. We walked out of the pharmacy I knew so well, this time with shopping bags full of really weird (& expensive) things that I was to start taking, along with a heap of dietary changes.

I remember taking cascara capsules (stimulating herbal laxatives), hydrated bentonite (detoxing clay liquid), psyllium husk (bulking fibre laxative), Pau D’arco bark (anti fungal herb tea – that was the worst), probiotics, liquid liver herbs, omegas & a heap of other really gross stuff. By this time I was 16 & luckily had switched to living with family friends off the school campus, so I had the ability to choose more healthy foods & take my pile of supplements regularly! This family were awesome, arranging their shopping & cooking to accomodate the ‘weird’ diet I had to switch to. I remember I had to have tuna & lots of salad on yeast free wrap bread for lunches (hard to find at the time) & dinners had to have heaps of veggies & rarely red meat. I had to report back to the naturopath on my bowel movements, energy, mood & what I was eating at each visit. She helped me so much – I can’t remember her name, but she was great.

I felt much better & became fascinated in this strange type of ‘medicine’, & so convinced that the world needed more people sharing this system – that at the end of year 12 I enrolled to study naturopathy. I continued to work on my own health as I studied. I remember the first time I got my usual ‘terrible’ cough / bronchitis that would normally have attracted a course (or 3) of antibiotics, & I stayed away from the Dr.  I was quite nervous (so was mum on the other end of the phone) but I just used fresh garlic, zinc, vit C & echinacea…& I survived, feeling so empowered afterwards!


I’m now 37 & – touch wood – haven’t looked back, or needed to take antibiotics since my teenage years (over 20 yrs). My gut seems to be in the best shape it’s ever been in, but I don’t take that for granted.  I know how easy it is for things to get ‘out of whack’ & I support it every day with my food, supplement, & lifestyle choices, knowing how important my gut health is to my general wellbeing. I’m also very grateful for my experience & learning as it’s allowed me to educate & keep my own kids healthy without the need for pharmaceuticals – I really feel for parents who are trying to raise healthy kids naturally without the training / help I’ve had. As a parent you have to ‘do the best you can with the info that you have’ (like my poor mum was doing)! In this internet age, it’s just so much easier to find health info & to share it –  let’s make the most of it, to help ourselves & others!

Anyway – that was my personal poo story – I hope you learned something from it, or at least can take heart that a terribly unhealthy gut can become healthy again! Please share your own poo stories as you join the page – even if you are in a terrible state & have no idea what’s happening – between all of us, we might just be able to help you get to the bottom of it (pun intended) ; )

 

JOIN THE GROUP & SHARE YOUR POO STORY

Jeanie Xx

Four Simple Ways to Get Healthier Through Food

As a naturopath and mother of 2 kids, I use a huge amount of time and energy trying to create nourishing, healthy food which actually gets eaten, (and hopefully enjoyed)!

Years working with and observing sick (and healthy) people in healthfood shops and pharmacies has taught me a lot. Food plays a MASSIVE role in how we feel, our energy levels, what sicknesses we get, our general quality of life and how our kids grow and develop. If you look around the average classroom today, most of our kids are fatter and sicker than ever before and when you look inside their lunchboxes it’s pretty obvious why that is…then add computer games into the equation as the main recreational activity, and duh! We are all too busy to cook and provide what they really need (real, natural, nourishing food) and heaps of outdoor play / physical activity. Even some of our parents were too busy when we were kids, so we just never learnt how to use a kitchen properly, how to shop properly and what a wholesome daily household menu should look like. The pantry cupboard of today looks completely different to those just 2 generations back, and unfortunately we’ve gone backwards in the ‘nourishment’ department. Blame food companies and advertising all you want, but seriously guys – the information is out there now for everyone, all over the mainstream media and internet – we KNOW this crap is killing us and our families – and for the sake of convenience? Well it’s pretty inconvenient having your family suffer major, preventable illnesses which develop as a direct result of eating out of convenience too, yeah?

So what are we going to do about this – how can we get healthier through food? We can’t slow down the pace of our world or ban dodgy food producers from stocking our supermarkets, but here are some simple ideas that can make a world of difference.

1. Get educated

Do a short online course, work with a personal trainer or natural healthcare provider, buy a couple of good books or get some from the library, subscribe to a healthy eating / fitness magazine, pick the brains of a ‘health-freak’ friend, relative or acquaintance, listen to podcasts while driving, like healthy companies on Facebook to get the tips – whatever it takes, whatever works best for you – this is NEED TO KNOW stuff! No-one else is going to save you or your family, and there is no valid “but we didn’t know” excuse anymore. Your kids might hate you a bit during the transition period if they can’t eat all their old favourites every day, but they’ll probably hate you more if you just let them become obese, pimply, unhealthy teenagers / adults through your own poor habits, ignorance and laziness!

2. Shop smart

Be careful in the supermarket – a lot of the shelves really are chock full of absolute garbage in disguise as proper food. When you go there, your trolley should be mostly vegetables, fruit, some quality protein (eggs, fish, meat, nuts, beans, legumes, seeds, quinoa, chia, natural yoghurt etc), some good oil / fats (macadamia, olive and coconut oil, butter, ghee). Pick up some tamari, a few tins of tomatoes, some herbal teas, natural nut butter; herbs and spices for flavour, sauces and seasoning; maybe some plain rolled oats, unsulphured dried fruit, a tub of good quality hommus (check for vegetable oil and preservatives) and that’s about it. Grab some toilet paper and whatever laundry / dishwashing needs, then GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE, leaving behind all the pre-packaged, preserved, flavoured, sweetened, coloured, modified, hydrogenated, processed, extruded, shaped, individually-wrapped serves of ‘food’ in the middle aisles.

3. Learn how to read a food label

Before something goes in your trolley / mouth, you want to know what it’s made of. If your kids can’t read, you need to be in charge here. Basically, look at the first few ingredients, and if they are all things you know your nanna would have had on the table, its probably ok (just watch sweeteners though, sugar and many sweeteners are natural and also pretty poisonous in large quantities). If the list of ingredients starts to look like a chemistry textbook or mathematical problem, back on the shelf with it – numbers and big words are generally bad news (with a few exceptions – but the ‘chemical maze’ app or booklet to help decipher numbers and chemicals).

4. Consider the environment and the creatures we share it with

Choose products with minimal packaging, companies who use responsible / sustainable / organic / local ingredients, animal products should be kept fairly minimal and all be free-range, grass-fed and organic wherever possible. The best way to gather food that’s good for you, the planet and the community is to find a local farmer’s market in your area – usually the produce is heaps fresher, grown more naturally and cared for in a way that mass-producers just can’t, and you’ll get to ask questions about where things come from, how they’re produced, how to prepare them, what nutritional value they have etc. Also a fantastic learning experience for kids – milk doesn’t just come from cartons!