I have to admit, the first round of the Stop Leaky Gut Challenge worked out a lot better than I thought it would. It’s one thing to have some theories that you believe are correct, it’s quite another to see people get results that clearly support those theories. Optimizing circadian rhythms is by far the most bang-for-your-buck approach to addressing gut problems, and the risk of side effects is extraordinarily low.
Today we’re going to discuss the results seen by a 39 year old female who has been dealing with adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism for 11 years. Over time, restrictive dieting and a focus on supplements to manage symptoms has led to a progressively declining food list which has improved since the challenge.
Her improvements fit in to 2 neat little buckets that I’ll use to describe what’s going on: adrenal specific and gut specific. To be clear, these are not separate issues, they’re simply easy to categorize that way. The gut affects the adrenals and the adrenals affect the gut.
Adrenal improvements from circadian optimization
The importance of properly synchronized circadian rhythms for adrenal function cannot be overstated. Properly synchronized circadian rhythms help set the daily variation in cortisol which helps set your level of arousal throughout the day. High cortisol levels in the morning help wake you up and make you alert while the gradually declining levels of cortisol you see before bed helps you fall asleep.
This daily rhythm also helps set your sensitivity to stressors throughout the day. But it’s important to point out that your behavior also plays a role in the way your cortisol waxes and wanes throughout the day. This is why watching a scary movie at night or worrying about your finances 24/7 can negatively impact your sleep, which will negatively impact your adrenal function.
All that said, a combination of optimizing circadian rhythms and managing stress is the ideal way to address problems with your adrenals. Addressing it in this manner, this participant saw some major adrenal improvements including:
- Improved sleep – falling asleep immediately when I go to bed, no matter what my day has been like.
- A significant decrease in inflammation – previously the slightest activity would sideline me for days with severe inflammation that was both painful and sapped all my energy.
- Fewer spikes in heart rate and sudden drops in blood pressure, particularly while standing or sitting still.
- Improved resilience for physical activity
This is all a fantastic development for this woman. She even described a situation where she traveled across time zones to visit family and kind of went off the wagon for a few nights. Normally, this would sideline her for days but since she had been compliant for 10 weeks she felt fine, slept fine, and was even able to do things with her kids without 4 days of inflammation afterwards.
The key word here is resilience. She put in the time and work, and now she’s on her way to feeling and functioning better.
Gut improvements from circadian optimization
While she only mentioned 2 gut improvements, both are an indication of diverse improvements:
- A significantly improved ability to handle high histamine foods- No heart palpitations or cortisol surges.
- My urine has gotten much darker, which means I have much better bile. (It used to be completely clear)
The first improvement in gut function is something I expected to see universally for digestion. I feel many people believe their poor digestion is simply caused by low digestive enzyme output, but this is likely only part of the problem. A bigger issue, and one not addressed by taking digestive enzymes, is that the mucus layer in the small intestine isn’t thick enough and digestive enzymes aren’t given enough time to act on your food.
The mucus layer changes throughout your gut. The stomach and colon have a dense inner mucus layer and a loose detached outer mucus layer. But in the small intestine, there’s only one loose detached mucus layer because we need to be able to absorb nutrients in the small intestine. In order for that to go well, enzymes are dispersed in to that mucus layer so that they can act on our food.
When this mucus layer is inadequate, enzymes don’t have enough time to breakdown our food and bacteria can come closer to the epithelial cells that make up the intestinal barrier. To build up an adequate mucus layer, we need enough energy and time to build it up. This, as you can probably imagine, is regulated by circadian rhythms.
So while this woman saw improvements in her ability to handle higher histamine foods, this probably has more to do with a thicker mucus layer and less to do with increased diamine oxidase(DAO) synthesis, the enzyme that breaks down histamine.
The increased darkness in her urine, on the other hand, is an indication of either improved bile flow or a change in the microbiome. The color of your urine and poo are caused by bacterial action on bile pigments, so moving from clear urine to yellow is a sign that you are either making more bile or you are seeing increased abundance of bacteria that transform the bile pigments to the yellow color seen in urine. (NOTE: Cortisol plays a role in the recycling of bile acids so this may be linked to the improvements in cortisol)
Circadian rhythms play a big role in regulating gut and adrenal function. The modern world we live in often drives us towards behaviors that cause circadian disruption which can lead to dysfunction in both, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can optimize our circadian rhythms by changing this behavior, but it requires more work than playing around with blue light and time-restricted eating for most.
While tinkering around with light exposure and the feeding/fasting cycle can lead to moderate improvement for some people, deeper problems require more complex solutions. The more comprehensive 17-point Stop Leaky Gut Challenge was just what the doctor ordered for this participant, and her results are indicative of her efforts.
For more information on the Stop Leaky Gut Challenge, click here.