I must confess, my desire to meet Dr Ruscio was driven as much by my own experience with health as my desire to share his work with you. Part of the promise we are given in the Paleo diet is that it is healing, that it can restore health and give you control over your wellness. But that doesn’t always seem to be the end of the story. I’m getting married in September and have been through some tough times health-wise with Adam, my husband-to-be. Before I met him, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s, which I can tell you from being a first-hand witness is a vicious diagnosis. After watching my fiancé fight to regain complete health – sliding one step back for every two forward – I can clearly see that diet is only part of the picture for those who have been severely damaged by a conventional diet. The Paleo diet is nourishing and healing, but it is merely a framework that empowers us to heal our damaged bodies. The diet provides a baseline – how we should have been eating from day one. It does not always provide the answer on how to rebalance and reset our bodies after years of misinformation, which has left us unbalanced and out of harmony.
People are smart … they can get advanced concepts if you explain it simply.
After years of constant tweaking, we finally got Adam’s Crohn’s symptoms under control. However, although all his tests came back with an A+, Adam was still experiencing lingering symptoms that simply did not add up. There were nights that seemed perfect as far as diet goes, yet he would wake up in pain. It was far less severe than during his last A&E visit, and it wasn’t building in intensity each time as had been the pattern of his previous Crohn’s episodes but it was still intensely worrying. As far as we were concerned, we were doing everything right!
Enter Dr Ruscio
We started to find a potential solution when my mother found Dr Ruscio’s work on Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). This was revelatory for us. I’d never heard of SIBO and none of the doctors we had visited previously had mentioned that there was an extremely high (70–80%) chance that Adam may also have SIBO. Adam’s symptoms suggested that this may be the lingering issue and diet alone may not be enough to treat it thoroughly. Listening to Dr Ruscio’s podcasts and reading through his online material it was immediately apparent to me that he focuses on sound, practical, clinical interventions and remains skeptical of the latest and greatest craze until it’s gone through appropriate research and clinical trials. In between his clinical work and his research, Dr Ruscio has been working on his book which he styles as a well-researched, well-reasoned, well-thought out, clinically relevant approach to understanding gut health. It breaks down the mechanics of gut health in plain English and then provides a step-by-step guide to healing and restoring the system. When I found out that Dr Ruscio was speaking at Paleo f(x) this year, I was dying to sit down and talk to him about the material going into his book coming out early next year.
“People are smart,” he said, “they can get advanced concepts if you explain it simply.” Dr Ruscio has been working hands-on with patients who have gastrointestinal (GI) disorders or disbalances – people like Adam who have stuck to a healthy diet but haven’t seen complete relief of their symptoms. And these symptoms related to poor gut health aren’t just limited to what we normally associate with gut imbalances. They can include “extra-intestinal manifestations” like brain fog, fatigue, depression, waking in the night, and high cholesterol that may not appear to be remotely related to the gut.
If you recognise a pattern here, if you’re frustrated with lingering symptoms that don’t fully subside no matter how carefully you watch what you eat, then there may be more than just a healthy diet to address. Dr Ruscio explained that there is a flaw in the theory that if we eat like hunter-gathers then we can expect our gut to correct itself automatically. It’s fundamental: we are no longer hunter-gathers. We have grown up in a relatively sterile environment. We have not been exposed to dirt and bacteria during the critical time our microbiota form and our immune systems take shape – when we are in utero up to three years of age. Moreover, we heap added stress onto our bodies, adding to the damage.
Dr Ruscio gave the example of a sprained knee. Normally squats and lunges would be considered healthy, an excellent form of exercise. But if you have a sprained knee, squats and lunges will only exacerbate the injury. In the case of a damaged GI system, we need to take special precautions that you won’t find hunter-gathers taking, at least until we are healed. Primarily, and as detailed in the first step in the upcoming book, you can experiment with a low-FODMAP diet. Modern hunter-gathers are known to consume a relatively high amount of fibre – their guts can handle it. However, a Westerner with a damaged GI system is likely to find such a high-fibre diet to be problematic. Often, GI issues are caused by an overpopulation of harmful bacteria, and feeding that bacteria with more fibre is only going to make the problem worse. A low-FODMAP diet is a temporary treatment which restricts the amount of fibre the bacteria receive, essentially starving them and helping to restore balance. It’s key to note that this is a temporary diet. The end goal should be to return to a diet incorporating as wide a range of healthy foods as possible.
But what about Adam? We have tried a low-fibre diet and have seen a relief of the painful episodes but he’s not fully healed. He still has trouble with bloating and the episodes quickly return if he’s not careful. If the end goal is a varied and rich diet, how can we get there?
Next up in our arsenal: probiotics. Probiotics, Dr Ruscio explained, are backed by a solid amount of data for the treatment of adverse GI symptoms. I was glad this came up as it gave me a chance to ask a nagging question: if you have an overgrowth of bacteria, wouldn’t it be harmful to add more bacteria to the mix? Apparently not. He explained that this is a common misconception. Probiotics very rarely populate the gut and they have an antibiotic effect coupled with anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.
In Adam’s case, this still hasn’t worked fully so the next step is to try and re-balance the gut through a combination of supplements. Dr Ruscio has been conducting clinical trials on treating gut dysbiosis by supplementing with agents that remove a biofilm. Essentially, a biofilm is a protective barrier that bacteria create to shield themselves from attempts to remove them. Dr Ruscio’s trials have shown a statistically significant relationship between adding the biofilm-removing agents and success in treating SIBO and related symptoms. The research is undergoing peer review and will be published in a medical journal soon. Dr Ruscio’s book will also go further into the details of removing the biofilm as a possible step to rebalance the gut.
Along with the biofilm-removing agents, Dr Ruscio will walk his readers through removing the bacterial overgrowth and healing their gut to restore balance. To say that I’m on tenterhooks waiting for the book to be released is an understatement. This is a solid contribution to the ancestral health movement, removing the emphasis away from the latest and greatest symptom-relieving drugs and placing it back onto healing through functional medicine.
What is your experience of healing the gut? Do you follow Dr Ruscio’s work? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!