#8 Health Halos and Understanding Leaky Gut

Recently, there was a natural foods expo local to where I live and as I looked through the list of vendors and checked out the products on their websites, I was dumbfounded by how many of the products were nothing but junk food with a health halo.

 If you’ve never heard the term health halo, it means that certain foods are perceived as being healthy basically because of the way they are marketed when they are really just junk food with fancy packaging claims such as organic or all natural. When foods have health halos we consumers have less guilt purchasing and consuming them, therefore we often over consume them.

Studies show that we think an organic food is more nutritious and less calorie dense than an identical food that isn’t organic. Now let me clarify, if you could choose organic, non-GMO food over a non-organic, GMO food, I believe that is a better choice. However, be aware that may only mean a less toxic choice and not necessarily a more nutritious, less calorie dense choice.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

I compared a 28 gm serving Lays potato chips to the same amount of Sensible Portions Veggie Straws. You can guess which one had the health halo right?

Here are the facts:

Lays had 160 calories and 56% of calories from fat. Veggie Sticks had 130 calories with 46% of calories from fat. Not a huge a difference here, the Lays had 10 grams of fat, the Veggie Sticks 7.  The veggie sticks have 230mg of sodium and the Lays only 170mg. The Veggie Sticks have 0% of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and calcium, the Lays 0% Vitamin A, 10% Vitamin C, 2% iron and 0% calcium.

Is one product really healthier than the other? I’m going to take the leap and call these two a tie.

The second comparison I made was with the Quaker Chocolate Chip Granola bar and a Snickers candy bar of the same size, the Snickers had 220 calories, the granola bar had 200 calories. The Snickers had 10g of fat, 29g of carbohydrate, 110mg of sodium, 24g of sugar, and 4g of protein. The granola bar had-7g of fat, 34g of carbohydrate, 140mg  of sodium, and 1 gm of protein. Both sound like junk food to me.

I choose Snickers for this comparison because if I were going to eat a candy bar that would be my go-to favorite. However, I would not, nor have I ever seen someone, bring home a box of 8 snickers bars to have around for snacks. Why is that? Because the word granola generates mental images of hippies and health food, we think of it as a healthy snack. This product has a health halo and even though it is pretty much just candy, that’s not how we perceive it.  So, we don’t think twice about buying it, eating it, or keeping boxes of it in our house. Yet, when we’re standing in line at the checkout, we may beat ourselves up for giving into the temptation to indulge in what we believe is the guilty pleasure of a Snickers because we’re programmed to think of it as candy, and candy is forbidden.

As we get into the subject of gut health, it’s important that you become more aware of health halos and health claims vs. nutrition facts. Remember marketers are paid a lot of money to make you want to buy their product and they know the buzzwords that get consumers to do that. Read your labels and approach any packaged food with caution.

In the nearly 6 years since completing breast cancer treatment, I have put a lot of effort into managing the changes that have occurred in my body as a result of cancer treatment. Some of those changes include fatigue, joint pain, weird infections, frequent illnesses like colds and chronic sore throats, digestive distress like bloating and heartburn, and what seems to be the new set point for my body weight.


Last November, I was referred to Jim LaValle of LaValle Metabolix Precision Health and Wellness by my amazing trainer Alexandra Bernardin the Co-Founder of Kilo Strength Society.

After a very thorough initial assessment that included my medical history, a detailed blood panel, a physical assessment and a urine test which looked at how my body processed many different hormones, I was informed that I had a lot of inflammation in my body. This was really no surprise to me. The frustration that led me to Jim’s office was the feeling that I was doing everything possible to combat inflammation without seeing the results I was expecting.

Jim told me there was no doubt I had leaky gut.  He reassured me that leaky gut is something he commonly sees in people who have gone through chemotherapy and that the symptoms I was experiencing were very common to leaky gut which, fortunately, can be healed.

Radiation and other toxins such as prescription drugs can lead to leaky gut as well because of the reactions and free radicals they create in the body. However,  the studies I found on radiation and leaky gut were all related to abdominal area radiation treatments.

As a believer in and practitioner of Ayurveda, I subscribe to the underlying philosophy that all imbalances begin in the digestive system. Interestingly,

This Ayurvedic view of health agrees with the philosophy of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who believed that all diseases begin in the gut. Even though I had been working for some time on trying to improve my gut health with food and probiotics. Jim, with his pharmaceutical background and his naturopathic expertise, took things to a whole new level of diet and supplementation as we went to work on my leaky gut.

It’s now been three and half months and I have seen considerable improvement in almost every area I was concerned with. So I thought it was time to bring some more awareness to leaky gut, what the causes are, what it can result in and what you can do about it.

Although I am an advocate of natural health care, when I first heard the term leaky gut some time ago I have to admit that I dismissed it as some hokiness. Shame on me for being judgemental without having proper information, because there’s no question this is a real issue and that a lot of people suffer from it.

Leaky gut is not just a result of cancer treatments but it can also be caused by a poor diet, chronic stress, other drugs, and toxins, imbalances in the gut microbiome or the bacteria in your intestines, inadequate digestive enzymes, infections and excessive alcohol consumption.

In western medicine, leaky gut is commonly referred to as intestinal permeability.  Our intestines are designed to allow nutrients to pass through the lining into our bloodstream. If this didn’t happen then everything would just stay in our intestines, and literally, go in one end and out the other. Obviously, that’s not how our bodies work. The cells in our intestines are connected to each other by what are known as tight junctions. This is the space that allows materials to pass through to our bloodstream. Leaky gut occurs when these junctions widen and allow larger molecules that aren’t supposed to be in our bloodstream to pass through, and herein lies the problem.

Before getting too far into the problem, I also want to point out the benefit of increased intestinal permeability. According to an article published in the Natural Medicine Journal, which looked at a small study of 60 breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, the chemo agents used did increase gut permeability.  However, the fact that intestinal bacteria were relocated to other places in the body was believed to make the chemo agents more effective at fighting tumor cells. This was especially true with the platinum-based chemotherapy drugs like cyclophosphamide. Interestingly, in a November 2013 issue of Science, a study found that that the bacteria released into the blood due to increased intestinal permeability in mice being treated with cyclophosphamide was so important in fighting tumor growth that when these mice were treated with antibiotics to combat the rogue bacteria, the antitumor effects if cyclophosphamide became so ineffective that 80% of those mice died.

The important message here is, like so many other things we have to go through during cancer treatment, that treatment may suck but it saves your life. Moreover, if you understand what happened to you during treatment, then you’ll know what needs healing and you can start down the path of making yourself healthy again.

Some of the symptoms of leaky gut include food sensitivities especially to gluten and dairy, which are the first two things Jim asked me to eliminate from my diet. To be truthful I still haven’t done that 100%. I would say I’m 85-90 percent compliant with eliminating both of those foods. I just happen to love my coffee and I want it with cream, please.  This goes to show that you don’t have to be perfect to get results. Unless of course, you have lactose intolerance or celiac disease, then compliance is much more important. Other symptoms of leaky gut are joint pain, fatigue, bloating, acne, mood issues, and inflammatory skin conditions just to name a few.

If leaky gut goes untreated according to an article published in BioMed Central Gastroenterology, some of the diseases that are related to intestinal permeability include:

gastric ulcers, allergies, infections, irritable bowel syndrome, acute inflammation, celiac disease, arthritis, some cancers, and obesity-related metabolic diseases like type I and II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

If you have some of these symptoms or you think you may have leaky gut, there are some things you can you do about it. Jim LaValle in his book Cracking the Metabolic Code recommends taking a lactulose/mannitol challenge test. He also has a lot of information in this book on intestinal health as well as a short quiz you can take to assess your intestinal health along with some suggestions for improving it if you have an issue.

You could also try eliminating dairy and gluten-containing foods from your diet and see if you begin to feel better.  Another option is to add or increase the number of prebiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotics are foods that have a lot of indigestible fiber which is basically food for probiotics. Eating more of these foods can support building a healthy gut environment or microbiome. Prebiotic foods include leeks, jerusalem artichokes also called sunchokes, if you like artichoke hearts, I think you’ll really like jerusalem artichokes. They look a little off-putting at first because they’re not pretty, but all you have to do to eat them is to clean them really well and then prepare as you would a potato. You can pan or oven roast them by tossing in some fresh herbs like rosemary and a good olive oil. Cook them until they’re soft as you would with a potato and then enjoy.

 Other prebiotic foods are garlic, onions, asparagus, and dandelion greens which you can toss into salads and other dishes the way you would with spinach. Just think of eating more greens and you’ll be on a good path.

You can also add a good probiotic into your daily routine, once you’ve checked with your doctor of course.

 Definitely eliminate processed sugary foods and beverages, even ones with a health halo. Go with the mantra of more whole foods!

 If you haven’t heard of the Whole30 food plan, that’s something you might want to try in order to give your gut a 30-day break from things like dairy, gluten, phytates, and lectins.

It’s my hope that as cancer treatments progress, we’ll begin to see more follow up care by experienced, licensed professionals who understand the damage that the toxicity of cancer treatments can create in our bodies. I’m forever grateful that my life was saved by these drugs, but I would have loved to have had an aftercare plan that included healing from the damage that was done. I love to see a future of nutrition, exercise and supplementation recovery programs for anyone who has to deal with any type of cancer and its treatments.

If you have tips and information that have helped with your healing, I would love for you to share them with our community on my Facebook page, There are so many well-informed ladies out there, let’s help each other on the path to a healthier life.


Here’s to your health,



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