If there are two things we love here in America (and elsewhere, too), it’s our gluten and our alcohol. But these two foods could be potentially harming your health and causing unwanted digestive issues.
In this article we’re going to make the case for significantly reducing or completely eliminating gluten and alcohol from the diet in order to heal the body from a health condition known as leaky gut or intestinal permeability.
The gluten-free fad has certainly picked up some steam in the last few years. As of 2017, it was estimated that about 3.1 million people are trying to ditch gluten. And about 72% of those people were non-celiac.
But I have to wonder if they even know why, or if they’re just doing it because they have been told it’s healthy, or will help them lose weight. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly can help in that area, but I also believe it’s important to understand our relationship with gluten and to know exactly what we gain from eliminating it.
We should be eliminating it because it makes us feel better and can improve our health, not because we’re following another fad train. Chances are if you’re just eliminating it because “everyone else is doing it” you may struggle with relapsing or you may even be resentful. And you may swap your gluten out for gluten free processed foods and treats that are still lacking in nutrients, cause inflammation and lead to weight gain over time.
So, with that in mind, here’s some food for thought: every degenerative disease is a disease of inflammation.
This isn’t exactly new information. We know that modern chronic diseases that are degenerative in nature are a result of inflammation, which can be a result of poor food choices, high stress, environmental toxins, and lack of adequate exercise and movement, among other lifestyle factors.
These neurological and degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s/dementia, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis and Parkinson’s disease are actually autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder is where the body’s immune system starts attacking itself. This leads to degeneration of tissues, muscles, the brain, the gut, etc. depending on which specific autoimmune condition it is.
Our body’s immune system is essentially “over responding” to what it thinks are foreign invaders but are actually healthy normal substances. Eventually, our cells begin to attack themselves, which is what we generally mean when we talk about autoimmune conditions. And from here, the floodgates for myriad other chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, metabolic disorders, skin disorders, thyroid problems, and weight loss resistance are opened.
Conventional medicine will likely tell you that your autoimmune illness is 1. genetic and 2. untreatable. While it’s true that you can’t fully “cure” an autoimmune disease, you can control it (or put it into remission) with diet and lifestyle changes.
In fact, genetics account for only 30% of autoimmune disease. The rest (70%) is due to environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle and toxins — things we can control.
Genetics load the gun, but our choices pull the trigger. And we know that wheat is the most common source of inflammation in the Western diet.
It is now estimated that over 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where individuals experience an immune response to gluten. Even worse, about 80% of these people are undiagnosed and are needlessly suffering in the dark.
So where does leaky gut come into play here? A famous study by Alessio Fasano, an Italian pediatric gastroenterologist and prolific researcher on the gut and autominuity connection, found that the active protein in wheat, gliadin, causes transient leaky gut. This means that every time we consume gluten the barrier of our intestinal lining opens up. But the most shocking part of this revelation was that transient leaky gut was present in everyone who consumed gluten.
This below image shows a healthy gut (left) vs a leaky gut (right).
If you need a quick refresher on leaky gut, check out my blog here that outlines what it is and how to know if you may be suffering from it. But essentially, this is when the mucosal lining of the intestines is breached, and food, toxins, and other particles seep into the bloodstream where they don’t belong, causing systemic inflammation and downstream health effects.
Now, in the absence of gluten, the study showed that the intestinal barrier can repair itself, but repeated exposure to gluten leads to systemic leaky gut, which opens the floodgates for digestive and mental/mood disorders, food sensitivities, joint pain, persistent skin rashes like eczema, and more severely, degenerative neurological and autoimmune disorders.
In fact, 51% of people eating wheat suffer from degenerative neurological disorders like the ones listed previously above.
Another study showed that leaky gut can actually trigger the initiation of autoimmune conditions by creating an immune response when toxins and food are leaked into the bloodstream, and cross something called the blood-brain barrier. If left unchecked, this can eventually cause the body to begin attacking normal health substances like foods and our normal healthy cells thereby starting the cycle of autoimmunity.
If you have a history of chronic antibiotic use, then your risk of developing leaky gut is even greater. I wrote about the connection between leaky gut and antibiotics here in case you want to learn more.
I know we don’t want to hear this but we’ve got to get gluten out of our diets, even if we do not have Celiac disease (also an autoimmune condition) or a gluten intolerance. This is especially true if you are already on or just beginning a healing journey. Removing gluten, even temporarily, can accelerate your healing by removing a source of inflammation and preserving the gut barrier.
It’s also one of the first foods that can and should be removed when you are dealing with an autoimmune condition whether that’s Celiac disease, Hashimoto’s Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, or one of the 80 identified autoimmune conditions today.
Gluten in the US is tainted. It’s sprayed heavily with toxic pesticides like glyphosate, which only exacerbate these health concerns. And then most of us are consuming wheat from processed foods like refined pastas, pastries and other baked goods as well as breads with a ton of artificial ingredients/additives.
Some people do just fine with making their own bread at home, especially sourdough, which is fermented and contains good bacteria for the gut. Bread should really only consist of a few ingredients like wheat flour, salt and water (and some yeast starter).
The cleaner the ingredients, the healthier the product. Most store bought breads contain artificial preservatives and additives that are detrimental to our health.
But simply removing gluten and making no other dietary or lifestyle changes won’t prevent you from developing leaky gut. There are certainly other factors at play here, like antibiotic use, stress levels and alcohol consumption.
So what’s the connection between leaky gut and alcohol? A study in Alcohol Research found that “alcohol and its metabolites can overwhelm the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and liver and lead to damage both within the GI and in other organs.”
The main way in which alcohol aggravates the gut lining is by creating intestinal inflammation through multiple pathways. That inflammatory response can exacerbate alcohol-induced organ damage thereby creating a vicious cycle that leads to many negative health effects such as a leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, and alterations in the mucosal immune system.
Chronic alcohol consumption also dilutes our stomach acid by lowering the pH (our stomach acid should be so acidic that it would burn a hole in the carpet if you dumped it on the ground) and alters the diversity of our gut microbiota. Our stomach is our first line of defense against pathogens and it’s necessary for breaking down food particles and helping our bodies absorb the nutrients.
In fact, it’s been shown that just one drink a day for women and two for men can actually cause small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and the associated symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
Maybe you feel ready and confident enough to experiment with removing gluten and alcohol from your diet for 30 days.
If so, I have a self-guided online gut healing course called Gut Smart Restart that can help you jumpstart your gut healing on your own time. I will teach you how to test for hidden food sensitivities and will guide you through an elimination diet as well as educate you on the proper gut healing foods and supplements that can help get your gut healthy and reduce or eliminate any of your GI symptoms. We also cove topics like acid reflux, heartburn and other unwanted digestive issues.
It’s $75 and takes you through the basics of cleaning up your diet to heal your intestinal lining. Plus, you own the content forever, which is a real steal of a deal!
You can also check out my blog on the top 8 leaky gut healing supplements that I recommend to my clients and have used myself to heal my own leaky gut.
If you need or want additional support in your gut healing journey, I’d love to chat! I specialize in digestive issues and have personally healed myself from leaky gut and as a practitioner, I only want the best for you. That’s why I offer a free 20 minute consultation to see if we’d be a good fit. Schedule your free consult below and check out my pricing and packages here.