A compromised gut is unable to properly break down and process nutrients. When left unaddressed, small openings in the lining of the intestine begin to malfunction, allowing small particles of undigested nutrients to slip into the bloodstream—hence the name leaky-gut syndrome. The liver must then cleanse the particles from the body, causing the alert system to be raised against these substances. This causes a breakdown in the immune system, which results in consequences ranging from food allergies and autoimmune disease to chronic anxiety and depression.

Here’s how it works:

As the body begins to detect food fragments which have been allowed to escape from a leaking gut, the immune system deploys agents to fight these “enemies.” As a result of seeing the need to fight these elements, over time, the body begins to recognize certain foods as being dangerous for the body, thus the development of food allergies. As this issue progresses, the immune system begins to behave erratically as a result of continual overuse and combat triggered by the frequent influx of what it perceives to be intruders (food). Slowly, the immune system reacts in the same way it does when it recognizes an intruder virus or bacteria, which now also burdens the system’s filters (the liver, kidneys, etc.) and begins to turn inward, attacking the host, resulting in auto-immune diseases (in which the immune system literally assaults parts of one’s own body). As this occurs, the immune system becomes worn out for a few reasons: 1) it’s fighting continually, and 2) it cannot be refurbished via incoming nutrition because the gut and immune system are malfunctioning, inhibiting absorption of nutrients, 3) damaged areas cannot properly heal because the body’s healing resources are being allocated toward fighting, so the damage to the gut escalates, cutting off the immune system’s source of support. Because the body is aware that injury is occurring, it deploys its defense response (which is inflammation) all throughout, causing joints to hurt and sleep to become interrupted and shallow. (In fact, the gut is the greatest inflammation contributor within the entire body). The individual falls into a routine of not getting enough rest and “waking up still tired.” Since the immune system is busy (and depleted) fighting its host body, bacterial infections and viruses begin to take hold, causing a person to be continually sick and likely on antibiotics which kill gut flora and perpetuate the problem. Slowly, the body’s adrenal resources—which are supposed to be conserved for dangerous situations such as those demanding a fight or flight response—are tapped into more and more regularly as the body seeks resources to continue the combat mode which it is now fully engaged in (against itself) at all times. As adrenal resources are utilized and eventually depleted, illnesses which the body would normally have otherwise been capable of keeping at bay begin to surface, resulting in the need for additional immunal combat and adrenal deployment, which perpetuates the cycle. If this loop isn’t interrupted, the individual will eventually become severely chronically ill and this could result in fatality.

One of the most important things we can do for our health is avoid falling into this trap. And that’s the good news: It’s a pitfall we can avoid—by eating healthy foods, steering clear of taking gut-destroying antibiotics, and kicking other habits that compromise the lining of the gut. The interesting thing to note about leaky-gut syndrome, as stated before, is that it manifests in many symptoms that, at times, seem unrelated to digestion, such as frequent fatigue or headaches, depression, anxiety, or waves of panic, dehydration, hair loss, insomnia, prediabetes or diabetes, reproductive issues or hormone imbalance, abdominal cramping, liver problems, joint pain, acquired food allergies, kidney problems, heartburn or acid reflux, skin conditions (eczema or acne), autoimmune problems (lupus or Crohn’s disease), or bowel issues such as IBD or IBS.

If you suspect you’re suffering from leaky-gut syndrome, take heart: It’s reversible merely by beginning to take good care of your diet. You can even vastly improve and greatly manage the most severe cases. I (Joe) know this firsthand, as this is the basis of my entire health journey. After two decades of struggling with chronic illness and never having this core issue addressed, I finally began a road to true healing when leaky-gut syndrome was brought to my attention.

Exercise and the Gut

Exercise is a great way to support the gut in its role of digestion. Exercise will be discussed at length in an upcoming chapter, so we’ll only briefly touch on the subject here. But, as it pertains to digestion, working out speeds the metabolic process and improves circulation, along with boosting endorphins—which fosters feelings of well-being.[i] When the gut is relaxed, it functions better. In fact, a study released by the University of Gothenburg in 2018 showed that “increased physical activity improves gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.”[ii] On the other hand, numerous studies confirm that a sedentary lifestyle is counter-productive for the bowels.

Herbs and Bitters

Most people are aware of what herbs are, but won’t recognize the term “bitters.” These are plants that once were used to aid in digestion, but whose use eventually became forgotten or migrated toward distillation for alcoholic purposes; thus, the household recognition and knowledge of them was lost. Herbs and bitters are healthful options that have been forgotten in recent decades, likely out of preference for more palatable foods. That makes perfect sense: In a world filled with delicious, sweet, or savory processed foods or soft drinks loaded with sugars, salts, and flavor enhancers, who wants to take the time or effort to find a source fora dandelion tea or eat an artichoke? Unfortunately, as this thinking has evolved, we’ve left behind a group of plants that strongly support digestion. Further, foods in this category often aren’t subjected to genetic modification as many modern crops have, because their popularity diminished when people started opting for more palatable (often toxic) food choices.[iii] Herbs and bitters—some of which are chamomile, burdock, milk thistle, and the aforementioned artichoke and dandelion, just to name a few—yield benefits that include better digestion and nutrient absorption, improved bowel regularity, a suppressed “sweet tooth,” anti-inflammatory properties, healthier joints and skin, an elevated mood, and many others.[iv] And, because foods such as these haven’t been top dietary choices in previous years and have thus escaped the GMO tampering that has befallen so many other plants, they are still extremely nourishing and have even been considered much denser in nutrients than many “superfoods” sold at the grocery stores.[v] Herbs and bitters also soothe and strengthen the body’s digestive and detoxification systems.

The Role of Chewing

One of the simplest ways to promote gut health is to thoroughly chew our food. There’s no “magic number” of times to do this, because each food has a different consistency. As a general rule, we should chew our food enough so that chunky textures are mashed up well before swallowing.

Chewing food reinforces the digestive process in a few ways. First, the body has a sense of muscle memory that’s tied to the act. When the jaw begins working, the lower abdomen begins to relax in preparation for receiving food. (Have you ever eaten in a hurry, and spent the next couple hours feeling as though your midsection was full of rocks?) When these regions relax, the food is processed more slowly and efficiently, which gives the gut an easier time as it processes the nutrients. Fragments of food that aren’t chewed can introduce negative bacteria into the gut, throwing off gut flora and leaving us vulnerable to illness.

Additionally, when chewing begins, saliva is dispatched and digestive enzymes are secreted to circulate throughout the throat and stomach, encouraging easier passage of the food through the esophagus. Hydrochloric acid stirs within the stomach to prepare to break down nutrients. These fluids assure that the metabolic process runs smoothly and that digestion occurs in proper timing. When these elements haven’t had time to prepare, the result can be bloating, heartburn, indigestion, bowel irregularity, after-meal headache, and fatigue.[vi]

Moving Forward

It has been stated in this work, as well as in (Joe’s) previous book, Timebomb, that the gut is the epicenter of health for the entire body. Hormonal functions, cognitive processes, immune responses, insulin tolerance, and skeletal, muscular, and vascular health are all affected by what we allow to enter the digestive tract. Yet, for some people, even after addressing such issues as digestive health, there are lingering anomalies in their search for wellness. For these folks, understanding the body’s ability to methylate and its need for detox may add a layer of answers and increase their well-being.



Methylation, MTHFR, and Detoxification

“Methylation.” You may not be familiar with that term, and even if you are, you may find it intimidating. However, since methylation affects all aspects of our health, it’s important to address it. The reader may recognize the word, but find themselves wondering what it means. A quick Google search of the term has great potential to worsen a person’s confusion on the subject. Worse, it seems that nearly daily the media is filled with new and even conflicting data, which seems to be currently emerging at a rapid pace. While a thorough study of this process could easily be (and is) the topic of many books, we’ll do our best to keep the complicated topic as simple and palatable as possible. The first step, then, is a definition.

What Is Methylation?

The term “methylation” refers to a process that takes place at the cellular level throughout the entire body. Since the body functions using proteins such as hormones and enzymes (just to name a couple), cells attach what is known as “methyl groups…a chemical structure made of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms”[vii] to these molecules in order to control how the body responds to them,; thus defining (and sometimes altering) the benefits or drawbacks derived from anything taken in to the body. This can refer to food ingested, chemicals breathed, or even substances applied topically. This process is known as methylation. When the body can methylate properly, nutrients are taken in and absorbed as they should be, but when the body is unable to properly undergo this process, health problems can be the result.[viii] While many elements can hinder the body’s ability to methylate properly, one emergent area of  recognition and concern is genetic MTHFR variants.

What Is MTHFR?

The body possesses an enzyme called methyletetrahydrofolate reductase, abbreviated as MTHFR. It should be noted before moving on that there is a MTHFR gene that writes the code into the agent it sends into the body: the MTHFR enzyme. Many mistakenly believe that the determination of good or bad methylation is made by the enzymatic agents working within the body—but that’s only partially the case. The true key to successful methylation is when the gene that codes these agents programs them successfully. However, for some, the MTHFR gene itself has a deviation that causes it to poorly encrypt the enzyme it sends out. When this happens, methylation can quickly become more challenging.

Methylation and Nutrient Absorption

For those who have an MTHFR variant or other methylating issue, the body has problems properly absorbing nutrients and expelling toxins. The resulting nourishment deficiencies or stacked pollutants found within the body then potentially set the stage for illness to occur. For example, homocysteine is a common but toxic amino acid found in the blood of many of us, often as a result of eating meat. Through methylation, the body is usually able to convert this substance into its beneficial counterpart: methionine. How does this change take place? As it pertains to homocysteine, the MTHFR enzyme plays a large role in the body’s detoxification process via a chain reaction which involves the cofactor 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate becoming 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, which then creates methionine from homocysteine utilizing an enzyme called methionine synthase.[ix]

Complicated—right? In English: The MTHFR enzyme operates to ensure that several complicated chemical conversions take place so that the body absorbs every nutrient it possibly can, and that the rest is flushed from the system without incident. So, when the MTHFR gene properly codes the enzyme, methylation is successful. When the MTHFR gene is deviated (or other communicational pathways in the body inhibit methylation), it is unable to properly encrypt its agent, and methylation fails.

This is where pointing out methylation as a contributing culprit to other illness becomes vague. After all, the nutshell definition of methylation is the body’s ability to discern the nature of all incoming elements—both toxic and nutritious—and then absorb or dispose of them accordingly. How, then, can poor methylation lead to advanced health issues? Consider the already mentioned example of homocysteine. It has been stated that this is a common element in many people’s systems. It is brought in via meat (which should boost our protein nutrients)—so it would appear harmless, or even healthy, right? However, homocysteine, unchecked, has been linked to heart disease, stroke, dementia, hypertension, vascular issues, hypothyroidism, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other complications. This situation becomes a key identifier in showing how the level at which an individual methylates can be a vital marker in overall health. As is with the case of homocysteine, optimum methylation is necessary for the conversion from a negative protein to a beneficial one to take place within the body, otherwise toxins remain rampant in the bloodstream, leaving us vulnerable to disease.[x] This is only one type of substance that can mount up in the system as a result of poor methylation. Other toxins left unchecked can lead to complications that include but aren’t limited to vitamin and mineral deficiency; neurotransmitter communication that can contribute to anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia;[xi] and depression, autism, and migraines.[xii] Because functional, healthy detoxification is so important to cellular health, advanced methylation impediment can indirectly contribute to many forms of cancer such as colon cancer and leukemia[xiii] and can be the underlying culprit for inflammation, chronic pain, nerve pain, fatigue, and obesity.[xiv] On an even more somber note, this issue can cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and miscarriages as well.[xv] For many women who have repeatedly had trouble conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to full term may unknowingly have an MTHFR deviation or another methylating challenge as the source of their issue.

UP NEXT: Does This Even Apply To Me?




[i] Bodian, C. H. “4 Positive Effects of Exercise on the Digestive System.” Livestrong Online. March 8, 2019. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Robinson, Jo. “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food.” The New York Times, 25 May 2013, Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.

[iv] Sarrasin, Shannon. “10 Benefits of Digestive Bitters.” Lifestyle Markets Online. February 23, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

[v] Horn & Anderson, Timebomb, Pg. 126.

[vi] “The Importance of Chewing Your Food.” Heritage Integrative Healthcare Online. 2020. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

[vii] “What Is Methylation and Why Should You Care?” Revolution Health & Wellness Online. 2020. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Marcin, Ashley. “What You Need to Know About the MTHFR Gene.” Healthline Online. August 14, 2019.

[xii] “What Is Methylation and Why Should You Care?” Retrieved March 10, 2020.

[xiii] Marcin, Ashley. “What You Need to Know,” August 14, 2019.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid.

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