I’ve been sitting with this for days…to blog or not to blog about the journey I’ve embarked on with my son, Aidan, following the auto-immune paleo diet. You see, my son has had bad allergies since, well, birth and it seems that they only get worse as each year passes. It began with an allergy to dairy (at which point I had to stop eating anything with dairy in it while nursing him so he could get some gas relief…can you say, COLIC anyone?). And, at around age 1 or so, he started having eczema and asthma. And by about age 5 or 6 he began to get what’s called Vitiligo, which is an auto-immune disease that causes white patches on the skin due to lack of pigmentation. Thankfully, his patches stayed on one thigh and half of his belly and it hasn’t spread in many years, but it’s still something we monitor and try to keep up on the latest science with in case there’s ever a chance to reverse this.
As the years have passed, Aidan’s allergies and eczema have only worsened (his eczema now covers most of his body) and we have tried just about every holistic approach out there to see if we could alleviate his suffering. But, really, not much has helped, and believe me when I say we’ve tried just about EVERYTHING. 🙂
So here’s the thing: I’m a holistic wellness and nutrition coach with a LOT of training in nutrition. I know about food, I know about pollutants, chemicals, and all the modern ‘gunk’ out there that is contributing to the many diseases we are seeing our children get that, 50-100 yrs ago, we didn’t see. I know that it’s not just genetic and that the environment plays a huge part in these epidemics. And, I know that there’s something out there I can do to help heal my son. What we’ve figured out quite definitively, is that Aidan has what’s called Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky Gut is when the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (i.e. “leaky gut syndrome”), and large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body mounts an immune response and attacks them. Studies show that these attacks play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and type 1 diabetes, among others.
Basically, the breach of the intestinal barrier (via a “leaky gut”) by food toxins like gluten and chemicals like arsenic or BPA causes an immune response which affects not only the gut itself, but also other organs and tissues. These include the skeletal system, the pancreas, the kidney, the liver and the brain.6
But here’s the big surprise! You don’t have to have traditional ‘gut’ issues to have leaky gut. It can manifest as eczema, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, auto-immune conditions affecting the thyroid, autism, mental illness, depression and more.
Generally, most people with this syndrome have a particularly bad ratio of healthy vs unhealthy gut flora and when you’ve got more bad than good, and your intestinal barrier is breached (think little holes letting large protein particles escape into your blood stream), than it starts the cascade of inflammation.
One big reason we see leaky gut is because wheat and other gluten-containing grains contain a protein called gliadin, which has been shown to increase zonulin production and thus directly contribute to leaky gut. Other factors are stress, medications (NSAIDS, antacids, steroids, antibiotics, etc.), hormonal imbalances, & infections.
Phew! I know this is a lot of information, but I felt it so important to give some background on what it is and what I’m doing about it. And if I’m being honest here, I’ve had a hunch he had leaky gut for years, but for some reason I never got a definitive answer from the practitioners I went to so I ‘swept it under the rug’, so to speak. And the one practitioner that did say he had leaky gut put him on a protocol that didn’t include eliminating foods! He just gave us supplements. Which we whole-heartedly did but never saw results. Of course. Shortcuts just don’t work. 🙁
So, with that, here is what I’m doing to repair Aidan’s leaky gut (and, btw, I’m doing this with him for support and experiment with it myself): it’s called the Auto-Immune Paleo diet. I’m following The Paleo Mom’s Sarah Ballantyne’s Protocol (check this out if you’re interested!) and yes, it’s basically paleo on steroids. And YES, it’s REALLY HARD for me!! The concept is simple, but I’m not going to lie, following it is a challenge.
“There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases including [celiac disease] and [type 1 diabetes]. Therefore, we hypothesize that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity.4″
The goals: eliminate food triggers while repairing the gut lining, and then building up immune gut health (and then, he may get to eat all the things he loves and misses again!)
Here’s what we’re doing:
- Eliminating all cereal grains, nuts/seeds, soy, gluten, dairy, sugar, nightshade veggies, and bad oils
- Focusing on grassfed meat, vegetables, fruit, healthy oils, bone broths (this is oh-so much easier than you think), and fermented foods.
- Taking l-glutamine (for gut lining repair), quercetin (a natural antihistamine supplement), probiotics, and cod-liver oil.
The good news is that as soon as we see Aidan go into remission, we will get to very slowly test these food groups again to see what he can tolerate (but, never gluten! :). I am hoping, HOPING that this remission happens fast. My sweet, sweet boy is so willing to do whatever it takes to get better but this is very difficult. Going to school and seeing his friends eat pizza and cookies for lunch every day tests his will mightily, and foregoing popcorn at the movies just plain sucks. We have set up a reward system for him, however, that he’s very excited about and is keeping him extremely motivated for now. We’re on day 6.
My truth: I don’t love cooking every single day, I like fast, quick and easy meals and to eat out at least once a week, and I love my treats and occasional wine.
So keep checkin’ in as I write about the good, the bad, and the ugly as we go through this journey. I will be posting our successes and challenges, recipes we like (and, most likely, a few emotional outbursts). My hope is that I inspire and support others who would like to do this protocol, and that I get inspiration and support from my community — please share your stories and comments!
In love, health, and a strong gut barrier!