The Vicious Cycle Tri-fecta

Nov 15, 2022
Functional Medicine, stress, leaky gut, food sensitivities

The Vicious Cycle

Stress, Leaky Gut, and Food Sensitivities

You're out at dinner having a good time with friends and then things begin to take a turn.  You start to feel bloated. Your pants feel uncomfortable.  You start to feel like you either need to lay down immediately or need to run to find a bathroom. The next day you feel like you've been hit by a truck- achy, headache, did you come down with a bug?

Or did you find yourself stuck in this cycle?

Round and round it goes. This vicious cycle perpetuates itself without intention. Maybe you've even found yourself in it without realizing it?

Signs and symptoms that you may be caught in this vicious cycle include:

  • Feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, or depression
  • One or more food sensitivities (known or suspected)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Diagnosis of IBS
  • Low energy
  • Muscle or joint aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Inflammation
  • Adult acne
  • Autoimmunity
  • Post-prandial fatigue (aka after eating)

Here's how it works and what you can do about it.

Stress

Deadlines looming. Tension in the family. Stress can come from every angle. Downstream in the body, stress causes specific changes in the gut. Cortisol (the "stress" hormone) can cause changes the decrease the binders between intestinal wall cells that allow them to protect the internal body from foreign particles. It also causes a shift in the microbiome that decreases the thickness of the mucus barrier protecting the intestinal cells.  Both of these changes combined make the gut lining more "leaky", meaning that it allows more particles and substances to pass through that normally would be stopped.  Hence, "leaky gut". 

Leaky Gut

Lapses in the intestinal barrier can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes stress (hello abdominal migraines...). Sometimes toxins such as the chemicals on your food or in your water cause it. Certain foods are known to cause breakdowns in the barrier, such as GMO wheat. Sometimes it's caused by medication use such as birth control pills, over the counter pain medications, or antibiotics. The end result is the same no matter where it comes from. Your gut is supposed to be like the Great Wall of China- impenetrable unless something is invited in. Leaky gut is a breakdown in the wall that allows uninvited guests to come in.  These particles, whether they be foods, microbes, or toxins then meet the immune system lying in wait on the other side.

Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can start off the cycle or be a side effect of the cyclone tearing through the gut.  Once food particles get past the lining of the gut, they connect with your immune system on the other side.  These particles activate the alarm signals of your immune system and act as a common culprit of inflammation.  Some food particles also play molecular mimicry with other parts of the body, sparking off unintended autoimmunity.  Hashimoto's Thyroiditis is an example of autoimmunity caused from molecular mimicry from gluten.  Food sensitivities can show up as muscle or joint pain, headaches, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, autoimmunity, fatigue, or rashes to name a few (though unfortunately not an exhaustive list).  

Autoimmunity is the next step in this viscous cycle.  If you or someone you know has a diagnosis of autoimmunity, chances are, this cycle is already a storm wreaking havoc in your system.  

Thankfully, there are ways to calm the storm and stamp out this viscous cycle to reduce symptoms and even reverse symptoms. Here are steps you can start taking by using the Functional Medicine approach:

Identify food triggers

There are two great ways to start identifying food triggers.  An elimination diet challenge is an inexpensive way that relies on avoiding certain foods for a period of time and then slowly re-introducing under a period of close monitoring.  Another option is to check for food sensitivities using blood tests that check IgA, IgG and IgE levels.

Manage Stress

Reducing cortisol levels allows the body to begin repair.  Practices such as mindfulness and breathing help reduce circulating cortisol. Taking a brief pause for about a minute before meals helps prepare the body for digestion to increase stomach acid and improve absorption of nutrients.  For some, supplements such as ashwagandha or phosphatidylcholine may be helpful. 

 Reduce Inflammation

Simply avoiding foods that are triggering the immune system will reduce inflammation a great deal.  The body can be supported further with foods high in essential fatty acids and Vitamin D. Herbs such as turmeric and ginger are also anti-inflammatory. In some cases, protocols to reduce toxin burden and inflammation may be necessary.

Assess Gut Function

At the point that food sensitivities and inflammation are involved, the integrity of the gut is at stake.  This means that the gut likely has damage to the lining which may reduce absorption of other nutrients or may have other abnormalities that contribute to disease and symptoms such as dysbiosis. A comprehensive stool analysis will assess gut integrity, inflammation, microbial balance, and markers of digestion.

Assess Nutritional Status

If there are food sensitivities at play causing damage to the gut, chances are high that the body's ability to absorb nutrients is compromised.  If this is the case, it doesn't matter how good of a diet you have, your body will simply not be able to take in the minerals and vitamins and you may be nutrient depleted in certain areas.  Add to that that stress depletes vitamins and minerals such as Magnesium, and you have a recipe for deficiency.  Assessing micronutrients using a test such as the Nutreval allows you to get a sense of the body's needs for nutrients on a functional level.  The body tightly controls nutrients in the blood, meaning that blood tests (serum nutrient levels) may not show signs of deficiency until late in the game.  Assessing functional status will identify earlier on needs for micronutrients and allow opportunity for replenishment on a personalized level so you don't have to keep adding to your supplement graveyard. 

Precision Guidance

How often have you tried advice from the internet and found zero benefit? And here I am, on the internet, providing these guide posts.  The thing is, you don't need another protocol that will waste your time, money, and energy leaving you disheartened and hopeless.  You need precision and personalization that will allow you to harness and focus your energy and resources on exactly what will make the difference.  This is the future of medicine. Not anther pill for an ill that everyone gets the same prescription for.  Personalized protocols based on your body, your life, and your goals from someone that's listened to you and taken the time to understand your body.  That's the real Functional Medicine difference.  

Learn more about how Functional Medicine can help you on the path towards healing by watching my free How to Hack Your Hormones Webinar

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