Ulcerative Colitis – Matt’s Gut-Healing Protocol
Of course we must start with the disclaimers–we are not trying to give you medical or nutritional advice. We are simply sharing what has worked for Matt. Every body is different and you must listen to your body in order to get better. This may not work for you, and you should always be in touch with a doctor when you are ill or on pharmaceutical medications. We believe a person can recover from autoimmune illness, but it takes a stinkin’ lot of commitment and work.
That said, you must know that there is no magic cure. There is no diet or pill that will fix you overnight. Matt’s disease took an entire shift of mindset and lifestyle to overcome. And even after that, it still took years for complete healing to occur. We started searching for answers in 2005, but did not really have a grasp on what it took to get over ulcerative colitis until around 2011. It was a six-year-long struggle. Without that commitment, Matt would still be on drugs, permanently dependent on the medical system, and he probably would not have a colon by now, if he were alive at all. It took a lot of change, but it was worth it to have his life, his energy, his body, and his happiness back.
How did he do it? Blindly, at first. Here is the short version of what we have learned over the past 8 years of dealing with autoimmune disease:
A New Focus
We focus on minerals and digestibility. We eat lots of (colorful) sea salt, pasture-raised non-processed animal fats, cod liver oil, homemade bone broth, and fermented foods like yogurt, lacto-fermented beets, kombucha, and lacto-fermented sauerkraut. We eat organ meats a couple of times per month. We eat bone broth at least several times per week. We eat generous amounts of pasture-raised lard and butter.
Most of our calories come from animal products. Why? Because they are more nutrient-dense and easier to digest than most plant-based foods. We have proven it. When Matt is sick and his gut is rejecting everything, he can still eat animal fat and some animal protein. We eat a pretty generous amount of carbs, but we have active lifestyles that can afford that. In fact, Matt needs some easy-to-digest carbs like potatoes, white rice, and oatmeal. We do eat some white flour, but we try to source non-enriched flour and use it sparingly (a few meals per week).
Some folks recommended juicing and raw vegetables, low-fat, non-dairy, gluten-free, grain-free. We’ve tried it all. GAPS, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Paleo, etc. Not to say that it won’t work for most. But it didn’t work for Matt. The key for him is pastured animal products, fermented foods, good probiotics, and few processed foods.
What We Gave Up
We eat what you might call a very “clean” diet. Our foundation for food is very solid, so we can afford the occasional junk food. Thus, we still eat out occasionally (meaning about twice a month–yeah, OCCASIONALLY). And we’re not that careful when we eat out about what we get, barring the really nasty stuff like cinnamon buns and tofu. If you over-analyze it, you’ll find something wrong with everything you order. If you’re going to eat out just do it. But don’t do it often.
We never consume pasteurized homogenized milk. Raw milk is worth the inconvenience of getting it, even if it means driving or paying $10/gallon. Relatively speaking, it is one of the safest foods there is. Coupled with the potential health benefits (reduction of allergies, treasure-trove of easily-digestible nutrients), that makes it just about a perfect food. On the other hand, homogenized and pasteurized (especially ultra-pasteurized) milk is positively harmful. Not worth the cardboard it is packaged in, EVEN IF IT IS ORGANIC. Many will disagree, and we did, too, for a long time. Now we know the truth.
We VERY rarely eat food dyes. There is no reason to purposefully poison your food. So your kids won’t get neon cupcakes for their birthday. Get creative and make something else. They’ll probably be just as happy with an apple pie or a brown velvet cake.
We never eat trans fat. Again. Poison. Inflammation and cell screw-ups are all this food has to offer. Always read labels. You’d be surprised how many places this stuff pops up, EVEN IN “HEALTH FOODS.”
We rarely eat foods containing soy. Soy is likely always genetically modified, plus it is difficult to digest and it disrupts all sorts of hormonal function in the human body. It was not meant to be eaten in large quantity.
We try to avoid preservatives, vegetable oils, refined sugars, and additives like MSG and artificial flavors. Most of the food that comes into our house comes as its raw, unprepared self: raw meat with the bone and the fat still in it; vegetables that are not pre-seasoned, pre-cut, or irradiated; fat is not hydrogenated; milk is raw and full-fat. A great rule of thumb is to read the label, and if it has more than 5 ingredients, put it back on the shelf and make it at home.
We avoid fortified products because the synthetic vitamins added to noodles, breads, cereals, etc, actually interfere with normal mineral assimilation. For someone with a diseased intestine, efficient mineral assimilation is critical. We never eat ready-to-eat cereal. We make our own desserts and donuts with real fat, whole sugar, and real salt.
Matt never eats whole grain breads or raw vegetables (aka no salad). He cannot digest them. If he eats white bread, it’s usually homemade with unenriched flour that I special order from a health food store. Store-bought bread and pasta is used sparingly. Matt tried sourdough and sprouted grain products, and can eat those on occasion, but definitely not daily. Eating whole grains are partly responsible for Matt’s second severe hospitalization. But the good news is that if you eat pasture-raised animals, they spend their days eating those veggies for you, so you can get the benefits of the veggies without the trouble of digesting them!
We limit sweets. We do desserts about once a week, and for those I try to use whole, traditional ingredients like coconut oil, butter, or lard, unrefined sugar, and unenriched white flour. I stick with desserts that are less sugary, and try to reduce the sugar in the recipes that I do use.
We never drink soda of any kind. Diet or otherwise. There’s nothing good about it. It’s not even tasty enough to warrant keeping your chronic disease. We don’t have to tell you it’s bad for you–you probably already know it. You will eventually stop craving it. We don’t even miss it now!
Matt follows his cravings, but doesn’t binge on junk food. When he craves salt, he eats salt. When he craves spicy, he breaks out the cayenne. When he wants carbs, he eats extra oatmeal, potatoes, or bread. When he wants fat, he eats butter and cheese. He drinks raw milk as much as he feels like. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes not at all. It took several years to be able to tolerate a lot of fresh milk because of the sugars. Yogurt was never a problem, but if you’ve developed a dairy intolerance, don’t push it—just stay away from the dairy until your gut heals. Eat what you crave (but use common sense). You will eventually train your body to tell you what it needs.
We eat very few GMOs. I (Jerica) believe a major part of Matt’s recovery stems from eliminating genetically-modified foods (GMOs) from his diet. This is accomplished by reducing the processed foods, not eating out, and eating pasture-based meats that are raised on non-GMO feed. It has been proven that rats develop ulcerative-colitis-like symptoms when fed a GMO diet. Smaller studies have shown similar results with pigs fed GMO grains. It is important to identify the sources of GMOs in the diet and get rid of them.
What We Do Now
1. Syntol AMD. It’s a pro/pre-biotic–the best on the market, and Matt has seen substantial improvement from it. Start slowly–one capsule per day for at least 3-4 days…then step it up to 2 capsules per day for another 3-4 days and so on…probably all the way up to 5 capsules twice/day (10 capsules per day). If you give this pro-biotic 2 or 3 weeks, I believe that you will see dramatic effects–the longer you take it, the better it gets.
Some prominent physicians are starting to say that Crohn’s has recently been determined to NOT be an auto-immune disease, but is actually a bacterial problem. You must correct the bacteria to make your immune system function correctly. Be very careful with antibiotics. There is a lot of emerging evidence that suggests that they may permanently alter your gut bacteria in a BAD way. I am sure that antibiotics saved Matt’s life at least once, but maybe some of the other times, they contributed to his poor health and severe bacterial infections like C-Diff. Proceed with caution when playing with the drugs.
2. Fermented foods. Real yogurt (try to find full-fat, unsweetened “plain” yogurt, preferably “cream top”, or better yet, homemade from whole, raw milk!). Add raw honey if you like… Fermented sauerkraut, pickles (Bubbies brand is good for starters), lacto-fermented beets, kimchi, kombucha, etc. Matt will sometimes take a shot of apple cider vinegar (another fermented food) to stimulate digestion before meals. During his recovery, he would do this during bouts of heartburn and it helped most of the time.
3. Supplement iron or liver. Matt tends to be anemic and has to keep his hemoglobin levels up by taking iron daily. He does not tolerate liver well anymore because he may have developed a sensitivity to it while eating it a lot during a severe flare-up. If you can eat liver, go for it–it is a storehouse of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, but be careful with it during a flare-up when your gut is potentially perforated and “leaky.”
4. Eat lots of animal fats (preferably pasture raised). They aid digestion, heal the intestine, and contain nutrients not found in abundance elsewhere in the food supply, like vitamin A, D, K, E, and many others.
5. Get plenty of exercise and sunshine. Exercise keeps Matt’s immune system in check. Even during a terrible flare-up, he would go for a run to sort-of make his body stop attacking itself. Sunshine and fresh air reduce stress, help the body to produce vitamin D. We were not created to sit still all the time. Take a walk. Plant a garden. Do something outdoors every day.
6. Limit caffeine. Matt just doesn’t tolerate a lot of caffeine. We have found a couple of grain-based coffee substitutes at health food stores that are pretty decent. Experiment.
7. Make homemade bone broth. Real broth contains gelatin, an easy-to-digest protein that enhances absorption and heals the digestive tract. Real broth also contains loads of easy-to-assimilate minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Traditionally, people ate this stuff often–many ancient people groups would eat it with every meal! Now we eat it several times a week, whether as soup or gravy, or hidden in rice as the liquid for cooking the rice.
When Matt couldn’t eat anything else, he could eat broth. Homemade broth is a wonderful way to provide nutrients during a severe flare-up. It is the ultimate hospital food. But I (Jerica) remember when Matt was in the hospital on a liquid diet, they would bring him sweet tea, artificially-colored popsicles, artificially-flavored jello, Ensure (which contains artificial nutrients and high fructose corn syrup) and watery, reconstituted broth that wasn’t made from bones–it was made from bouillon, which is a concoction of flavor additives and refined salt with little, if any, real nutrition. We like to refer to that as “salty chicken-flavored water.” What a sad state of affairs for those with intestinal disease who are hospitalized.
Broth is easy to make yourself, and very affordable. In fact, it’s like making money, because if you don’t make broth, you probably just throw out the bones and waste your money! You can jump over to our ranch website to get a great recipe for how to make your own broth here. Canned or boxed broth is NOT the same as homemade. If you can put it into the refrigerator and it does not turn to jello, it is NOT real broth. That’s where the gelatin in jello comes from–animal bones.
8. Eat only real salt. There are all sorts of crazies out there telling everyone that salt will kill you dead. Maybe that’s true of refined salt or all the other additives typically found in today’s salty processed foods. But salt as a whole food (aka unrefined salt) contains trace minerals in just the right balance to manage heart rate, fluid balance, cell function, and all sorts of other stuff.
As much as sodium has been demonized, it is necessary for life. In addition, the body’s primary source of chloride is salt. And guess what chloride is used for: making stomach acid (HCl). And guess what many folks with intestinal disease have issues with–low stomach acid! That can cause poor protein digestion, intestinal infection (since your stomach isn’t acid enough to fight off pathogens), and heartburn. A lot of the cases of heartburn aren’t from too much acid. They are caused by too little acid, the pH being too high (not acidic enough) to tell your tummy valves to close! Next time you have heartburn, try drinking a small shot of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in water and see if the heartburn doesn’t go away.
One of the most prescribed drugs today is antacids. Yet everybody is on low-sodium diets nowadays. I’m sure it’s not as simple as that, but you have to wonder if they are connected. Maybe what we need is not less refined salt, it is the right amount of real salt! How do you know if it’s real? It should be colorful. Salt in nature is rarely pure white, so be careful of “sea salt” that is pure white. Real salt is mostly pink, gray, or black. We eat as much salt as tastes good to us, but we only eat unrefined salt. Cravings for salt are your body’s way of saying, “I need trace minerals!” So be sure your salt has those minerals.
9. Drink whole, non-processed milk. We already addressed this above, but it’s important enough to reiterate in the “what we do now” section. Non-processed milk is one of the most digestible healing foods. On the other hand, homogenized, pasteurized milk is very difficult to digest. Folks with intestinal issues need all the digestion help they can get, but be careful when you implement any proteinaceous foods during a flare-up because they can cause severe issues and maybe even permanent damage if your gut is leaky.
Remember: you don’t always have to do without some things. Maybe just for a time. Perhaps some day Matt will be able to drink coffee regularly. There were times when he could not drink fresh raw milk, but he is over that now. It takes time to heal the gut. Give it time.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just organic that counts. Food has to be nourishing and digestible. You can buy organic cheetos and poptarts. These are not real foods. For someone who has a chronic disease, it is especially important to keep nourishment on the front burner. If you don’t have access to good meats, milk, and fat, you probably need to limit the sweets and the junk more than us because sweets deplete your nutrient stores.
We hope this helps! We were once so desperate for answers that once we found them we were committed to sharing them. Please share your successes with us, too!