The Importance of Gut Health in Supporting Auto-Immune Conditions

autoimmunity healing health meditation mental health nutrition personal stories yoga Nov 21, 2021

Kay was brought up eating healthy foods and grew up in a family that followed the Ayurvedic principles of eating whole and anti-inflammatory foods. However, when she started University, all of these good eating habits went out the window. Typical student life consisting of fast food, drinking and late nights eventually led to her diagnosis of Coeliac disease, epilepsy, multiple food allergies, and struggling with thyroid and gut issues, to name only a few. Determined to learn about the relationship between nutrition and the body, Kay is now on a plant-based, gluten-free diet and has completely transformed her health, overcoming her struggles with her once debilitating conditions. Her passion is to help others learn that they, too, can live healthier and happier lives with good nutrition.

The food-health link

I'm sure like many people, my change in lifestyle into university brought about many unhealthy habits and my busy schedule and lifestyle influenced my food choices. I was so disengaged with the effect that this was having on my body, and I definitely saw a change within myself but didn't recognise it was from food. I wasn't functioning as well as I used to, I gained loads of weight and my sleeping patterns were all over the place. I had a feeling of disconnection and brain fog that started to trickle in. Eventually, in my final year at university, I lost my grandma which triggered my first seizure and I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I then started to connect with meditation and yoga, build a better relationship with food and just felt more intuitively connected and stronger within myself.

I got back on track with the food side of things, but there was this real sense of confusion for me of understanding what's healthy and what's not, So I just took it back to basics but something still wasn't agreeing with me; I continued to have IBS-type symptoms, nothing offensive, but I just felt this real sense of heaviness. My gut issues started to accelerate and following a good couple of years of unmanageable seizures, thyroid complications, arteritis, my gut-related issues were finally diagnosed as Coeliac disease.

Despite giving up gluten, following my diagnosis, I didn't fully understand the extent of the damage, and I continued to suffer with my thyroid, extreme weight loss and seizures. Eventually, I was also diagnosed with Uterine Tuberculosis. This was the real turning point for me because I was put on a lot of medication, I went onto anti-TB chemotherapy and HRT. My anxiety levels were extremely high as I suffered the horrible side effects from the cocktail of medications that I was taking. I just wanted to come off the drugs, especially the HRT, so I started to do some research to see what I could change. I found an entire community of people with a vast amount of information about how food helped them and described how giving up certain foods enabled them to start feeling a lot better. So I spoke to my GP and came off of the HRT. 

Just taking the HRT out, my joints started to feel a lot better. I had also incorporated some of the food changes and started my journey to knowledge by spending hours and hours of research into food and understanding the biological effects it has on your body. 

Giving up food for health

I went through a lot of changes but my absolute love was bread and cheese, and these were the two biggest things I needed to give up - the dairy and the gluten, as it turned out that I had a milk allergy as well as Coeliac disease.

I learned that when you're recovering from anything, your body needs protein. And because I was on chemotherapy and my digestive system was in such a dire way, I couldn't digest new foods. I started to have whey protein, which is a protein from milk, and that’s when I learnt about my milk allergy as it was in an isolated form. I started getting wheezy and felt the tightening of my chest, which are both common symptoms of allergies, so I completely eliminated the dairy from my diet. Once I cut that out, I noticed more positive changes, but as I did this all from my own research, I wasn't replacing the nutrient gaps that I created. I became a pescatarian for a while but was unable to break down the animal protein. I was also getting breakouts with eczema from eating eggs. It was a real crisis for me and I just felt really down in many ways. When I resolved one issue, then another one would get worse and I didn't fully understand these relationships. All of the medications I was taking had broken down my ability to break down certain foods. 

Through my research, I learned the symptoms I was experiencing related to my gut was something called “leaky gut” - I was also getting lots of yeast infections from the treatment. There were many unpleasant side effects, including a disrupted sleep routine, which then further affected my gut - my immune system was really impaired so my whole body was just a complete mess. 

I started to try fish broth, bringing that in gradually, noticing some change but not immensely. It was only when I came off of the treatment, things started to feel a little bit more settled - not quite 100% but it was the best I had felt in a very long time. 

Alternative and natural solutions

I managed to get my strength back as I had lost an immense amount of weight and got myself into the gym. However, my Personal Trainer advised me that I wasn't consuming enough calories to be training in the way that I wanted to. I was then introduced to a homoeopath who had nutritional experience and did something called bio-resonance testing. At this point, I had a number of fertility issues, and although this wasn't the priority at the time, I knew I needed to get myself feeling well to eventually get me to the next stage in my life; the bio-resonance testing had picked up on all the things that I had gone through. He put me on a program to just bring my body back to homeostasis and to start repairing the gut. 

Shortly after, I fell pregnant with my son and this was another turning point for me, I had done so much with food and nutrition, but it was this homoeopathic nutritionist who bridged everything together and gave me the confidence to understand the science behind what I do today. That's when I decided to go and study at the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM), as I wanted to just marry the two and have the science behind why it works. A lot of people at this point had seen me go through a huge chunk of my life, we're talking about eight to nine years, of having real health challenges, and finally being able to come out the other end. 

For me, the most important thing I've learned is that without your health, you haven't got anything. 

I'm not only very committed to the way I eat, but I actually enjoy it. 
And I think that's my driving force. 

Prescriptive eating to support auto-immune conditions

I always knew that gut health was going to be my specialist area because my own journey was all around gut health. I've suffered quite a few auto-immune and skin conditions over nearly 20 years of my life - Coeliac disease, vitiligo, lupus, eczema and arthritis - and learning about diet and lifestyle has enabled me to manage all of these conditions. So when a client comes to me with an auto-immune condition, it's not just about putting them on an eating plan - it's much more than that. It's very much thinking about what their immune system is doing, or what's going on for them specifically. They then get put on an eating plan to start the healing and repair process, and finally, they will be given some long-term lifestyle changes to follow. For autoimmunity, we have a very different way of eating because there are certain nutrients that can accelerate our immune systems. We want to dampen that down because it's an already overactive immune system. So then we'll look at foods that are stimulating that and then down-regulate them, it's a very prescriptive process. Depending on what autoimmune condition you're looking at, you may be able to re-introduce some foods back into your diet, or it may be the case where you're actually better off without them.

It's important to understand that this is a complete lifestyle change and not a 6-week crash course that's going to cure all of your ailments. 

It's reframing the way you eat, the way you think, and how you take more self-care. 

The entire lifestyle change is not just about nutrition, and that's what we work through together.

More than just about nutrition

An awful lot of time I find that clients are shocked with how much emotion they're actually carrying. It's when they've opened up, they realise that they've had quite a lot of traumatic events. When they've mapped it all out, they realise actually that's when their health started to decline, or that was the straw that broke the camel's back. 

 For me, it's about working out measures so that you can be supported on all levels. If your nervous system is overly stressed, this is the driving force of everything else. And so I look at foods to calm that down, and I certainly look at other lifestyle measures that can be implemented in your life. This is normally the hardest point - getting people to sustain that self-care for themselves, which could be meditation, exercising or even talking therapy. It all depends on what resonates with each individual.

The importance of self-care

For me, my self-care routine depends on what my life looks like at the time and how busy I am. But ultimately, exercise is always there. What type of exercise this will be depends on, for example, whether it's school holidays and half-term - it's short, sharp and quick. I love yoga and I love meditation, and I try to do these as consistently as possible. Walking is also a big, big thing for me as it helps to keep my autoimmune in remission, as does the HIIT training, it gives me more productivity too. It's the best form of antidepressant and great for anxiety as well. I think that social connection is massive and social integration makes your life feel content, and that calms your nervous system down before you return back to whatever life has ahead of you. So those are the big ones for me outside of nutrition. And music - I have to have music on all of the time - it definitely helps to lift my spirits. 

Having an auto-immune condition is a body's way of telling you that something isn't agreeing with you, and that something needs to change. 

I used this to my advantage, to understand more about what was going on in my own body. 

And now I'm able to help others to journey into better nutrition and lifestyle habits to sustain a happier and healthier life.

To learn more about Kay and how you can be empowered to change your life starting with your nutrition, you can visit her website or contact her using the details below:

Click here to read Kays's article:

Autoimmunity and Mental Wellbeing

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