Reading EAT DIRT : Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It by Josh Axe was a necessity for me as someone who has struggled with off-the-charts inflammatory markers and diagnoses that have included “unidentifiable autoimmune disorder” and “fibromyalgia” (not the right diagnosis either) since I was 21 years old. Fast forward 23 years, and I can now add to the list severe joint aches/pains, arthritis, high cholesterol (at age 16), food sensitivities, and the moniker pre-diabetic (some years hovering in the safe range, some not).
So, before the term “leaky gut” became a more acceptable condition by the traditional Western medical community, I’d already heard of it back in the early ’90s, having done lots of my own research to figure out ‘what was wrong’ and how I could have gone from Dean’s List student with a tack-sharp memory to continuous brain fog and near-debilitating sluggishness. I never did figure out how to fix it… And somehow, over the past 23 years, I have learned to live with all of it and continue to function in my new ‘norm.’ But now, thanks to this book, I believe I have some real ideas for how to combat many of my issues.
EAT DIRT tackles the “what” and “why” of leaky gut, a condition in which the intestinal walls become compromised and get holes in them. The tears lead to leakage of food byproducts and hard-to-digest proteins, etc. into the bloodstream and other parts of the body, which often creates an inflammatory reaction and sets off an autoimmune response. (The research the author cites links various diseases – diabetes, autism, allergies, food sensitivity, skin issues, Celiac Disease, GI problems, autoimmune disorders like MS, Lupus, etc., and even mental health issues – to leaky gut).
EAT DIRT does a great job of scaring the hell out of you (again, a necessity for me, personally) regarding just how non-nutritive our diets are, even if we are eating salads and lean proteins – and what the devastating, long-term effects are on our bodies. Why is our food so void of nutrients? Our fruits and vegetables come from soil depleted of nutrients from over-farming on a mass scale, and they are then sprayed with chemicals, then genetically modified to be able to withstand those same chemicals that are killing the nearby weeds. (This is not NEW news to anyone, of course). But one stat in the book indicated that your grandmother’s orange is not today’s orange (You’d have to eat 8 of today’s to get the Vitamin C equivalent of ONE of grandma’s). The wheat of the past is not today’s wheat, either (There is MORE gluten in it, it is less nutritious and harder to digest, and those genetic modifications account for the spikes in gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease).
So not only are we getting very little nutritional value from the foods we eat, even when we think we are eating healthy – unless they are organically grown or from Farmer’s Markets – many of us also have malabsorption problems because of the lack of good bacteria in our guts that have been killed off by those chemicals, through stress and antibiotic use, and due to leakage (take some vitamins and most shoot right through the holes and aren’t being absorbed into the body). We’re essentially malnourished, despite bigger waistlines.
The concept of “ Eat Dirt ” is that we’ve become a very over-sanitized, over-medicated, over-stressed society, and that our guts are paying for it (Healthy bacteria in the gut is at the epicenter of whether we are healthy or unhealthy. Even my MD believes and understands this). Dr. Axe advocates for eating ‘dirty’ foods – local foods coated in the rich minerals of the soil; and eating fermented foods that provide probiotic-rich nutrients. His book outlines natural foods and various supplements that may help, as well as essential oils, and ‘get outside’ activities that actually aid the immune system. He urges people to cut back on Rx drugs and consider homeopathic options, to plant their own gardens (and literally play in the dirt).
I am planning to implement many of the suggestions from this book (especially the addition of bone broth to my diet and the re-introduction of probiotics, plus local honey consumption daily and the addition of keifer to my diet – and well as barefoot walks in the dirt) and will monitor my results.
My biggest complaint about EAT DIRT is that, while it offers recipes in the back of the book and a plethora of suggestions for food substitutions and types of digestive enzymes and vitamins and make-at-home foods that can help, the brunt of the work is still left to the reader to ‘figure it out.’ It would have been helpful, for example, to offer recommended probiotic blends and brand names; or to provide a detailed ‘schedule’ for implementing changes – Week one: do this, week two: do this. And, here’s a week’s meal plan, complete with snacks and supplements. But the book is not structured this way. It’s essentially, “Here’s the base plan and the gazillion things that COULD help YOU. Try the parts of it that you want for a few weeks. Keep a journal and see what’s working. If you don’t get results, go to this next section of the book where I identify specific gut types. Then follow those plans for more specificity.”
That will likely be a drawback to people like me who generally want books like this to be structured and laid out and don’t want to or can’t take the time to ‘figure it out.’ But I will because I, personally, HAVE to. As it stands, I have quite a few unanswered questions, such as: After you heal your gut, can you then tolerate some of the more difficult to digest foods like traditional breads or pasta on occasion? What happens if you eat the occasional cookie or have a traditional Thanksgiving meal one time per year (Will you be running for the toilet? Will you be deathly ill after eating so cleanly?). These questions were not answered.
I realize a book can only cover so much since each person’s intestinal woes are unique and specific to his/her life history/environment/stress level, but more structure on the “ how to implement” side would have been appreciated. The majority of the book is focused on the science of leaky gut and supporting evidence/patient anecdotes. An added bonus, however, are the links to various additional documents and recipes on Dr. Axe’s website.
Overall, I’d recommend EAT DIRT because I think the topic is that important. If changing my diet can result in focus/mental clarity and energy, I’m in. As they say, “I’m tired of feeling sick and tired.” I will be sure to post an update once I’ve implemented the dietary and life changes.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on Feb 20, 2017. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)