How Grains, Dairy & Sugar Can Lead to Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Issues

Usually the most difficult things to cut out of someone’s diet are grains, dairy, sugar and alcohol.  So we thought we’d brush up on the basics behind why it’s good to take a break from these. Read on because knowledge = power (or willpower in this case).  On that note, worst case scenario: you go 4 weeks without some foods you like, best case scenario: you realize that you’re eating something that’s making you sick or fat.

GRAINS
Grains want to germinate in the soil and not die in our bellies…and while they can’t run away, they definitely have mechanisms to fight back. These protective measures cause low-grade digestive distress in many people (even gluten-free). Also, grains contain prolamins that lead to gut permeability and phytates that bind to other minerals in our body and make them unavailable for absorption…read on.

  • Lectins – these are protein components within grains that don’t break down properly during digestion (because they are high in the amino acid proline and protease inhibitors). These undigested proteins then fool transport receptors in the intestinal lumen and are transported intact through the intestinal lining into our bloodstream.  This leaves a hole for more things to follow behind (“leaky gut”) and it also sets off the alarm system because these intact proteins are viewed as foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses or parasites.  So our immune system mounts an attack and creates antibodies to fight these protein structures and any that follow through the hole they’ve left behind them. You can imagine that this becomes quite exhausting and puts your immune system in constant battle mode, making you more susceptible to colds, cancer and just about anything else you can think of.

    Back to the assault — the antibodies are very specific to the shapes of these proteins, but unfortunately these proteins also tend to look very similar to proteins within our own bodies. So if these antibodies encounter similar molecules…better safe than sorry, they attack. The problem being that they might be killing off pancreatic cells — type 1 diabetes, connective tissue — lupus, joint tissue — rheumatoid arthritis, myelin sheath — multiple sclerosis…and so it goes. There is now an undeniable link between leaky gut and autoimmune disorders.

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    If you now have a hole in your intestinal lining that’s allowing inadequately digested food into your bloodstream, you are likely to develop allergies to a host of normally benign foods.  Have you ever met anyone that was allergic to chicken, beef, apples, grapes, avocados, etc. and thought that’s weird…well, in fact, that’s leaky gut. Their immune system is overworked and confused and attacking everything.

    To summarize: anything that damages the gut lining (bacterial, viral or parasitic infections, as well as alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy), can predispose you to leaky gut and the possibility of an autoimmune response.
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  • Phytates – these tightly bind the minerals within the grain (magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, etc.) so that they can reach germination intact and ready to support growth.  These bind to other minerals in our body and make them unavailable for absorption. So if you’re worried about your magnesium or calcium levels, grains are not the way to go.
  • Low nutritional value (even whole grains) – anything you get from grains (nutrients, fibers, etc.), you can get from veggies (without all those extra carbs and digestive irritants).

One important note: you only need to be exposed to things like gluten once every fifteen days to keep the gut damaged, so just cutting back will not lead to real healing.  Also, it’s worth mentioning that many people with celiac (and autoimmune disease caused by lectins) are symptom free.  So it’s worth cutting out for 4 weeks and reintroducing just to be sure.

DAIRY
We’ve been taught that dairy is a natural food and essential for calcium, etc., but the truth is that it’s highly allergenic and high in carbs: lactose and casein cause bloating and inflammation, and the insulin spike from milk tells your body to accumulate fat. On the other hand, whey has been shown to have anti-cancer effects, lower cortisol, raise glutathione levels, etc. So this is pretty controversial topic and you’ll have to find what’s right for you.  For the purposes of the Clean Challenge, you’ll need to take it out for 4 weeks and then add it back in and see if you notice a difference.

A few things that are not controversial:

  • Gastrointestinal Distress – studies show that only 40% of adults worldwide retain the enzyme to break down dairy after childhood. If you are one of the 60%, then you may experience common gastrointestinal symptoms…you know what I’m talking about.
  • Irritates or Causes Leaky Gut – If you have leaky gut or poor digestive health, it’s more likely that your immune system will mount an attack on some of the more allergenic components of dairy. This is especially true for people who are gluten intolerant, because it has been shown that milk proteins share structural similarities with gluten. Dairy also has lectins (see above).
  • imgres-2Buy Organic or Raw from Grass-fed Cows – If you decide that dairy works for you after the clean challenge, then quality is key.  99% of dairy cows are unhealthy – they are fed corn and soy which makes them inflamed and sick and then they are fed antibiotics to keep them going. Industrial dairy cows are made to produce 500% more milk than they would under natural conditions – a miracle of efficiency, but not necessarily ideal for their health or yours! So if you’re going to drink milk, drink Organic Valley Grass Milk (from local co-op farms with grass-fed cows and available at most stores) or Windsor Dairy raw milk (also 100% grass-fed and you can pick it up at the Outlook Hotel in Boulder – it is thoroughly tested each week). Also, drink whole milk – you need the fat in milk to absorb the nutrients.

SUGAR
This is an obvious one, so I won’t belabor the point.  However, as you’re considering that Snickers bar while standing in the checkout at Target, remember the following:

  • Sugar promotes fat storage and weight gain
  • Sugar impairs your immune system by hindering white blood cells
  • Sugar decreases your body’s production of leptin, which regulates appetite control
  • Sugar provokes adrenaline and cortisol release (fight or flight)
  • Sugar intake over time spurs insulin resistance and subsequent type 2 diabetes
  • Sugar feeds cancer cells
  • Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract, including throwing the balance between your flora completely out of whack leaving it susceptible to all kinds of problems

How much do we consume each year?

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ALCOHOL
I think we can also agree that alcohol is not good for us. It puts a heavy load on the liver and it’s high in carbs that turn to fat. If you must – red wine or premium tequila/vodka/gin with club soda and lots of lime is the way to go. Ever wonder why most people don’t sleep well after drinking? Aside from screwing up our blood sugar and causing dehydration, another reason is that drinking alcohol actually blocks Human Growth Hormone while we sleep. If you drink earlier, around happy hour time, the alcohol might not impact your sleep as much.