by Heidi Toy, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner
Nutrition is a hot topic these days and with just cause. Nutrition is more than just the food that you eat, it is also the body’s ability to digest and absorb that food, in order to derive the nutrients it needs to build and grow. What you eat plays a crucial role in the management of chronic disease, including multiple sclerosis (MS); however, even the most perfect diet is seen as toxic if the integrity of your digestive tract is compromised.
If you have MS, you are well aware of what it is; however, for the folks who are unfamiliar with what this disease really is, let’s have brief discussion. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune process of the central nervous system that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve due to the degeneration of the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is a protective layer of insulation like plastic around electrical wires. The nerve is the wire and myelin is the sheath that surrounds it and makes it so that it can conduct nerve impulses or signals. An autoimmune disease is when the body perceives its own healthy tissue as a foreign invader like it does with a virus, and mounts an attack against it. With multiple sclerosis the myelin is being attacked and destroyed, causing scarring and a miscommunication in the central nervous system.
Hippocrates said, “All disease begin in the gut,” and from my clinical experience I would have to agree, not just because of digestion and absorption of food, but because of the role our intestines play in our immunity.
If the absorptive surface of the intestinal tract was taken and laid out it would cover the size of a tennis court, but it doesn’t end there. The intestinal tract is covered with a protective thick band of beneficial bacteria, virus, fungus, and other organisms. Microorganisms are inhabitants of our body, and they outnumber our own cells 10 to 1 and we carry two to six pounds of bacteria in our gut.
These very microbes play a vital role in our health because they are our immunity, digestion and absorption, and neurotransmitter synthesis. It is estimated that 85 percent of our immune system is housed in our intestines. The beneficial bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract produce antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral substances and protect us from illness. Moreover our gut bacteria have an ongoing communication with the rest of our immune system, and it is the microorganisms in our intestine that keep it in balance.
A healthy gut ecosystem should consist of 85 percent beneficial microbes and 15 percent opportunistic or bad. This gut flora also serves as a protective barrier between what enters the gut and the gut wall. However, when this beneficial gut flora is damaged, for example, by a round of antibiotics, pharmaceutical grade drugs, or overconsumption of processed foods, the door has been opened for an autoimmune disease.
Once the good bacteria are killed off, the opportunistic or bad gut flora take over, the protective band is no longer present, and the integrity of the gut wall is compromised. In a healthy GI tract, nothing is able to leave the wall unless it is accompanied by an enzymatic escort, which packages it up and takes it through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. However, the bad gut flora have dissolved the band and left the intestinal wall bare and void of its protection. A healthy intestinal lining is made up of a tightly woven mesh called tight junctions that “glue” intestinal cells together. Opportunistic (bad) bacteria are able to dissolve the glue, and the wall of the intestine becomes permeable. This is called “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability.
Once the gut wall has been breached, food particles are able to leak out into the blood stream where they are not supposed to be. The body sees them as an invader and mounts an attack against them. Many food particles look similar to our own body tissue in their molecular structure, specifically foods with a protein component like wheat (gluten and gliadin). While, I’m a proponent of removing inflammatory foods like gluten from a person’s diet while they heal, it is not the end all be all. Healing and sealing the gut and re-inoculating the intestinal tract with good gut flora is.
The healing and re-inoculation of the gut is possible, and there is a method to it and it starts with what you eat. Namely homemade bone broth to heal and seal your gut lining and probiotics in the form of fermented foods. While probiotics purchased in capsule form can be a great supplement, the best place to get your probiotic is from your diet. It is more economical and fermented foods contain 100 times more probiotic than a supplement.
Fermented foods need to be introduced slowly. As mentioned above good gut flora’s job is to keep invaders out and bad bacteria is seen as an invader. When the opportunistic gut flora starts to die due to being killed by the good gut bacteria and also starvation from the of its food supply (i.e. sugar and processed foods) it is called “die off”. Part of bad gut bacteria’s survival is to emit a gaseous toxic substance as part of this die off process, this is its way of fighting for survival. These toxins are what caused your health issues and myelin attack in the first place. If you have never eaten fermented foods before you need to start very slowly and gradually, adding only teaspoons of the food into your diet at a time. If you experience “die off” don’t stop, simply back off.
Eliminate inflammatory foods that feed opportunistic gut flora. All grains and anything made out of them: wheat, rye, rice, oats, corn for example. All starchy vegetables. Sugar and anything that contains it. All beans including soy and garbanzo beans (chick peas). Lactose found in dairy products, and anything that contains it.
Bone broth, the real stuff, not bullion from the store that is artificial and nothing but a chemical. Find a grass-fed cow, bison, or free-range chicken farmer and get long bones and knuckles from them. Slow cook them in a crock pot for 24 to 72 hours. This is just like your mom or grandmother used to do when she made homemade soup from a soup bone. This broth is loaded with amino acids, gelatin, glucosamine, fats, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial to the gut wall and will heal and seal your gut.
Meats from pasture-raised animals like beef, chicken, and pork and line caught fish cooked in the bone broth.
Fermented foods provide an excellent source of probiotics. All of our ancestors ate a diet rich in beneficial bacteria, and every culture has fermented foods that they eat traditionally. For example sauerkraut made at home, kept raw not pasteurized. Homemade kefir and yogurts are also rich in probiotics. Unfortunately, store-bought yogurts are too high in lactose and are pasteurized which kills the beneficial bacteria.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will learn about why we need gut flora to absorb vitamins and minerals.
Heidi Toy is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and the owner of Educated Nutrition, located in Altoona, WI. Her focus is helping people heal holistically, with an emphasis on autoimmune disorders. See ad below.
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