You’ve heard of leaky gut—the sneaky, hard-to-diagnose illness that robs you of your vitality and turns every single meal into a minefield of potential health destroyers. And as a board-certified doctor of natural medicine who’s also a doctor of chiropractic and certified nutrition specialist, Dr. Josh Axe has seen up-close how relatively small gut leaks can lead to huge health problems.
With his revolutionary and targeted approach, Dr. Axe helped his mother heal from cancer, poor digestion and a litany of other conditions, and in his new book, Eat Dirt, he is sharing that same method with the world. Here we discuss the dirty truth of healing leaky gut.
How did leaky gut become so prevalent?
The truth about leaky gut is that we all experience it at some point in our lives, but most of us never even realize it. We may eat something toxic (or that we have an allergy or sensitivity to) that passes through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. But when we’re healthy, our bodies immediately dispatch antibodies to neutralize those invaders. The major problem arises when these “leaks” become chronic and the body’s inflammatory response is sent into overdrive, ultimately attacking both toxins and healthy tissues.
What people don’t realize is that many of the modern conveniences that we enjoy—what we consider “advancements” in our daily lives—are actually contributing to the problem of leaky gut. Processed foods that make it so much easier to get food on the table in the midst of our hectic schedules are full of excess sugar, genetically modified ingredients and other foreign objects that the body doesn’t recognize as food. Meanwhile, we are exposed to countless environmental toxins on a daily basis from pesticides, to household cleaners, beauty products and, of course, food additives and preservatives. We are also overstressed (yes, stress and anxiety can contribute to physical conditions) and overmedicated, while our obsession with cleanliness and sanitization has wiped out not only the bad bacteria that would cause us harm, but also the beneficial bacteria that would help maintain our gut microbial balance.
As a result of all these factors, I would estimate that around 80% of people have some degree of leaky gut. It manifests differently in everyone, but the root causes are virtually the same.
What are some typical symptoms that people may not currently attribute to a leaky gut?
It’s interesting because people are often shocked when they learn that the same root cause of disease can lead to so many different conditions. You may suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, and your mother may have debilitating fatigue, but they both may well be a result of a leaky gut. In my clinic, I have seen everything from eczema, to migraines to gallbladder disease to unexplained weight gain that could all be traced back to leaky gut. Additionally, research has shown that leaky gut can contribute to a myriad of other symptoms and illnesses, including ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and more.
The good news is that by healing the gut, all these conditions and more (you’d be surprised how many health conditions we just learn to deal with and consider “normal”) can be completely wiped out.
What does dirt have to do with health?
It isn’t the dirt, in itself, that’s so beneficial to health as what’s in the dirt. Dirt is full of vitamins, minerals and beneficial microbes that serve a multitude of purposes within our bodies, including supporting the good bacteria in the gut; helping the body to make certain nutrients that it doesn’t get directly from the dirt, including vitamins B12 and K2; aiding the process of digestion; reducing inflammation; and, of course, healing leaky gut.
And what I’m talking about is not some new-age, hippy concept for vegans or Paleo eaters or some other subset of the population. our bodies are composed primarily of water, but if you drained all that water out, you would be left with, essentially, large mounds of mineral-rich dirt. I am simply stating that we need to feed our bodies with the building blocks it needs to support health.
Do people really have to eat dirt?
Not really—though you certainly can. Eating dirt simply means that you’re exposing yourself to dirt and getting close enough to it that those beneficial microbes and minerals can seep through your pores and into your bloodstream. So no more antibacterial soaps and frantically scrubbing every ounce of mud that appears on your skin. Next time you’re outside, take a walk in the grass barefoot, or spend some extra time petting your dog to allow his some of the dirt from his paws to rub off on you. Actually, my favorite way to eat more dirt is simply this: Purchase organic produce from a local farmer’s market and, instead of dousing it with a cleaning solution, simply give it a quick rinse, thereby leaving many of the surface microbes in tact.
Why do you avoid offering a one-size-fits-all approach to healing?
Each of us has a different genetic makeup, medical histories and life experiences, all of which determine how leaky gut manifests in us as individuals. In Eat Dirt, I describe the five most common gut types: candida gut, stressed gut, immune gut, gastric gut and toxic gut. And by examining the unique causes and symptoms related to each, I have created a strategic plan that will greatly improve the odds of healing.
Just as you wouldn’t prescribe the same pharmaceutical medication in the same dosage across the board to treat any condition, natural approaches to healing must be customized as well. And the targeted approach I explain in Eat Dirt ensures that people who may have been trying everything and still not seeing results—not because they were doing something wrong, but because they were doing something that was wrong for them—will finally being to see real breakthroughs in their health.