How Pursuing Gut Health Improved My Neurological Health

Throughout my time as a nutritionist and as a patient, I have found some incredibly useful tools to help many, including myself, improve their health. The best way to improve overall health with any condition is to improve the health of the gut. What has become so surprising in my own attempts to heal is how much neurological health is tied to gut health. So, what does gut health really mean and how does one achieve it? In this post, I’ll discuss my own experiences with the Comprehensive Elimination and Challenge Diet as a first step to begin healing the gut. The importance of pure healthy foods cannot be under estimated. The importance of eliminating or avoiding foods that you are sensitive or allergic to cannot be underestimated. Whether or not these foods are cause for your condition, contributing to your symptoms, are just unhealthy, or are weakening your immune system, the need to find out which foods are causing trouble is of supreme importance in any attempt at regaining health. The subject of my own experiences with targeted supplementation in the form of probiotics, anti-inflammatories, and other novel therapies will be discussed in my next blog entry within about a week’s time.

What is gut health?

If you look at our digestive system, it looks as though we have a long tube that allows food in and lets waste products out. When we eat, our bodies are designed to break down and absorb anything for energy, for cellular activities, for the replenishment of skin, organ tissues, brain cells, hormones, and more. “You are what you eat” is not just a concept, it’s a fact. For millions of years, man has eaten plants, fruits, tubers, nuts, seeds, fish, and meat. Humans are designed to accommodate these foods. What do we eat now? Processed, dried, chemically enhanced and sugar laden foods, contaminated further by strange genetically altered food-like substances. What happens when you confuse the body with these newly created food-like substances instead of real food, and then suffer from chemical, viral, and bacterial exposures? I think the answer is disease. We often elevate ourselves above our human origins and assume that if we created the food-like substance, they must be safe because we are so smart, right?

So, gut health might begin by choosing the right foods that sustain and improve health and will be enhanced by avoiding the foods that your body does not recognize or digest well. That means avoiding chemical food additives, GMOs, eating very little, if any, sugar, and consuming lots of plants, clean fish, and meat, healthy fats, and small amounts of whole grains if tolerated. Gut health is as much about removing what’s troublesome as it is replenishing what is good, food first, supplements second. Supplements alone cannot make up for a diet that may be slowly poisoning your system. Nor can supplements alone replace what nature has provided for millions of years. However, they can assist in improving gut health and, at times, add therapeutic value more quickly than dietary changes alone.

“Canary In The Coal Mine”

My husband likes to call me that because I seem to react to so many things. My own conditions have probably arisen from years of poor food choices as a child and being doused by DDT when trucks sprayed our road every summer in Massachusetts. They may also in part stem from an old Lyme disease exposure with Bartonella. Or, perhaps the years of eating sugar with no limits may have added to my symptoms. Some of my symptoms are diagnosed as a condition while others are rather strange. I am sharing them because it may help others who seem to have odd symptoms, unresolved by conventional medicine, too.

  • -Hypoglycemia
  • -Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
  • -Arthritic hip symptoms
  • -Heart palpitations
  • -Chronic yeast infections
  • -Fatigue and brain fog, forgetting just about everything while walking from one room into another.
  • -Buzzing in my left ankle and at one time in my heart… No clue what to call that.
  • -Tingling in my hands and sometimes feet.
  • -Along with RLS at night, sometimes it feels as though a rolling pin rolls through my insides beginning at my head and going down through my toes.
  • -Sometimes I wake coughing and choking or feeling as if my heart or breathing has stopped-perhaps sleep apnea.
  • -Pulsing buzzing in my brain that ebbs and flows like too much electricity. It feels like the beginnings of a seizure?  This also happens during the day and is often triggered by stretching my arms over my head.
  • -And strange little itches all over my skin that feel something like being bitten by mosquitos.
  • -Often, my feet become hot and turn red and feel like they are 10 degrees warmer than the rest of my body.
  • -Dermatitis Herpetiformis (gluten rash) on my elbow intermittently.
  • -Rash across my left side.
  • -Itchy scalp with bumps.
  • -Constantly itchy back with welt-like scratches.
  • -Thirst and dry eyes.

 

These symptoms have also caused regular insomnia for years that had me hooked on a little Benadryl almost every night to help sleep. Did I mention any digestive symptoms? Not really. I really haven’t experienced many except some GERD at times and gas. Does that mean my gut was healthy? It’s fair to say that gut health is not always about eating food and seeming to be fine with it.

Comprehensive Elimination and Challenge Diet

Did changing what I ate help these symptoms? Yes! Was it easy? It’s a work in progress. Gut health has been a learning experience for me over a span of several years. As new scientific discoveries are made in the field of nutrition, I have been known to try some different dietary interventions. The most powerful step I took to change my health was to do the Comprehensive Elimination and Challenges Diet (CECD). The CECD diet removes most foods that people are either allergic or sensitive to, while allowing whole foods processed with few if any chemicals to help add nutrient rich foods back into the diet. Therefore, you remove offending foods and chemicals while adding back nutrient rich foods to replenish the body. What I have personally learned from the CECD so far:

  • -The most important take away from the CECD is the healing power of food.
  • -After 3 times on the CECD, I am completely gluten-free, even though I knew after the first time, there was a real gluten issue. Plus, like many, I might have even been a bit resistant to change…
  • -The CECD will decrease arthritic pain, sometimes dramatically. Aging does not always mean pain.
  • -It took more than 3 times through to get a handle on my food sensitivities. Sometimes removing one troublesome food, unmasks another less dominant food sensitivity.
  • -RLS and neurological symptoms were gone while on the diet.
  • -Brain fog cleared.
  • -Became more sensitive to foods and sugar and really noticed how food tasted.
  • -Learned that there are so many other good foods to eat that induce health and happiness without sickness.
  • -Found out that some foods really affect how you feel and think.
  • -Some foods will cause faster reactions than others.
  • -Different foods cause different symptoms at the same time.
  • -It’s not foolproof, and conditions can be complex, which is why many need to do it more than once.
  • -Realized I was very sensitive to MSG and other food additives.
  • -Felt alive and healthy! Didn’t know until I did the CECD that I could feel so good.
  • -Learned to listen to and honor my body.
  • -Learned some self-discipline and that it’s ok to say no to food and drink that might harm me.
  • -Used therapeutic supplements, to be discussed in the next blog entry.

 

What does the CECD entail? Removing gluten grains, all dairy, all corn and soy products, eggs, peanuts, citrus fruits, nightshade plants, most nuts, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, GMO foods, coffee, hydrogenated oils, alcohol, processed foods and meats, meats from animals fed GMO grains, farmed fish, and condiments. It’s good to take six weeks to get through the diet. Longer is often better. A good nutritionist (like me!), functional medicine practitioner, Naturopath, or other qualified holistic health care practitioner can guide you through this process correctly, especially in the phase where you add foods back in. It’s important to do it right, especially when you put your valuable time and effort into the process.

As for my symptoms, this is what I have learned so far:

Corn, gluten, eggs, chicken, pecans, cashews, food additives (even in organic products), MSG, artificial sweeteners all caused a range of symptoms, some shared and some individual symptoms. None of them seemed to bother my stomach much. All of these foods and chemicals cause the neurological symptoms. All of the buzzing, tingling, itching, hot feet, rolling pin, sleep apnea, and brain symptoms disappear when I avoid all of these foods.

I want to make a special reference to chicken and eggs. I kept eating them for years after the CECD because I never noticed anything right away for a while about these foods. I was suspicious of eggs because sometimes I became itchy and that should have been enough. My RLS is always at night and sometimes it was really tough to figure what I did to set it off. I did begin to notice that my fingers tingled within 30 minutes after eating chicken. It was always the white meat that was the worst. Suffice it say, I gave up chicken and eggs to see what would happen about 2 years ago. Well, the tingling disappeared unless I ate something with MSG, which was unmasked by stopping the chicken and the eggs. I also lost 4 pounds and the rash on my left side vanished. I had also been suffering from… so embarrassing… perianal itching… That vanished immediately and never returned until I tried to eat some organic chicken… Then, I tried some eggs and it came back again. Lesson being that I stopped chicken for one thing and was surprised to find it was responsible for much more than I originally suspected. Also, it was the chicken and the egg for me…

Another lesson learned is that the balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats matters in your daily diet. When you choose foods, the majority should come from plant foods, more vegetables than fruits. Less of your diet should consist of starches and sugars. Small portions of carbohydrates, as in less than 1 cup at a time is advised. If I eat too many carbohydrate foods–including starchy sweet vegetables, I become very thirsty and my eyes become dryer. When there is more healthy raw fat, as in coconut oil, avocado, and grass fed meat, there is more satiety and less desire to binge on sweets, and therefore less symptoms.

Okay, time to put this out there in the next post, I’ll talk about those supplements that worked for me personally. I would also like to close this post by mentioning again that my neurological health is intricately tied to my gut health and working on my diet has saved me from pursuing more pharmaceutical relief beyond Benadryl. Throughout the years, I have taken Benadryl to help me sleep through the night, any where from 1-7 days a week. I do not condone it, this was a move to survive. I desperately needed to sleep so I could raise my child and work. It also seemed to help the itching that plagued me. Recently, it has been about once every 2 weeks and that usually follows a suspicious restaurant meal…

4 Comments On “How Pursuing Gut Health Improved My Neurological Health”

  1. January 2012, Total immune freak out. Severe onset of adult food allergies to almost everything. Worse year of my life. Tons of pain and inflammation. It’s been all trial and error and intuition and lots of reading, some good advice has landed me in a similar position but far from understanding or perfect. I’m so crazy about how every little thing effects me now. I pondered for hours over why my hand blew up the other day and realized a dog licked me at the park, it’s really one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever dealt with. I had a tick bite, I have family with celiac’s, I lived in developing countries, grew up on trendy food of the 80’s and 90’s, no clue why this happened and stopped searching for a why and just aim at living the best highest quality of life possible. Traveled for the first time this year. Rented an apartment so I could cook, had a great time. Even ate out a few times and just requested grass fed burger plain on greens. Went well. Luckily with the right attitude these odd health crisis that ostracize us from society can be dealt with, I do believe with consistency I will heal to some degree. I don’t ever expect to eat nuts/peanuts/ or grains ever again, But I’m hoping things like some seeds, certain berries and stone fruits (avocado and olives etc!) will slowly come back. And maybe I haven’t fully identified everything but the food list is getting small! GAPS diet has helped me.

    • Thank you so much for your comments! Ali, I can relate so well to your comment, ” It’s been all trial and error and intuition and lots of reading, some good advice has landed me in a similar position but far from understanding or perfect.” While my own issues are dramatically improved, I cannot claim perfection yet either. I have gained a greater sense of awareness and sensitivity to what is good and what may be harmful and can avoid most of the bad foods. My message would be, don’t give up! I feel like a detective sometimes, looking for clues… And thank you Kris for your thoughtful comment!

  2. Heather,
    This is a very valuable post! Even for a doctor like myself, with a life of health issues and 30 years of helping others with these challenges, your experience reminds and reinforces!
    Thank you!
    Great work!

  3. Kathleen Sanderson

    It’s been almost a year since you made this blog post, so I don’t know if you’ll see this or not. I’ve been trying for years (at least ten) to try to figure out what my daughter and I can safely eat. I have yet to get rid of dairy or eggs — if I didn’t have dairy goats and chickens it would be easy to just not buy milk and eggs, but….

    We can’t eat gluten, I know that (and my daughter had symptoms of celiac disease when she was little — she’s now 34. She’s autistic, mentally retarded, has celiac and lupus and vitiligo, lots of stuff going on with her. It’s hard to tell exactly what because of her poor communication skills.). My mother and I also have celiac disease. Mom has Restless Leg Syndrome and Fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s syndrome, as well. I have milder symptoms of all three of those. What I have recently discovered is that the dry mouth and dry eyes of Sjogren’s are made worse if I eat carbs! If I don’t eat carbs, they are much reduced. I’ve tried to tell my mother about this, but I don’t think she’s tried it yet. I mentioned it to the optometrist I saw last week, when he was talking to me about my dry eyes and Sjogren’s, and he said he’d never heard of such a correlation. So I thought I would mention it here, since you are the first person I’ve seen who also made that connection. Eating carbs also causes an arthritis flare.

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