Why have gluten intolerances, food sensitivities, food allergies, and autoimmune diseases become so much more common in modern society? What are some natural, holistic ways to address these issues that can reduce the painful symptoms and heal the gut? In this article I discuss several factors in the development of gluten intolerance and food sensitivities, and offer a suggested protocol on how to address these problems and heal the gut with good nutrition, an elimination diet, herbal medicine, and probiotics to rebalance the gut microbiome and correct a leaky gut.
As a person struggling with CF-related diabetes, I've tried lots of things to balance my blood sugar over the years. It wasn't until 2020 when I discovered the ketogenic diet that my life really changed for the better and my blood sugar came under excellent control. Diet is the primary intervention for controlling most types of diabetes, but sometimes we may need medications and/or herbal medicines to assist with glucose control.
I recently taught an in-depth class on holistic nutrition and herbal medicine for diabetes and blood sugar imbalances including CFRD, types I and II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, reactive hypoglycemia, and glucose intolerance (which you can check out here). I cover the topics of diet and herbs very comprehensively in that class, but in this article I'll mention briefly a few medicinal herbs that I have used and recommended to other diabetics to assist with blood sugar control.
The sex hormone estrogen is implicated in hastening the progression of many chronic diseases. In particular, when compared to people with testes, menstruating people with ovaries are at higher risk of developing estrogen-dependent cancers[i], autoimmunity[ii][iii], and more rapid disease progression along with poorer prognosis in respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cystic fibrosis[iv][v]. In different tissues estrogen has differing effects that include cell proliferation, immunomodulation, and stimulation of mucin secretion[vi][vii][viii]. Here I will briefly touch on what role estrogen is theorized to play in the pathogenesis of estrogen-dependent cancers and autoimmunity, but I will discuss in more depth the role that it plays in the disease progression of chronic respiratory diseases. Lastly, I will discuss the potential therapeutic effects of phytoestrogens on estrogen-related disease progression.
The long term use of stomach acid-lowering drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) in the cystic fibrosis (CF) population, both adults and children, has been common for approximately 20 years. Today, more than 50% of CFers are using PPIs[i]. They are used for two main reasons: to treat gastroesophageal reflux and to improve supplemental pancreatic enzyme activation, particularly lipase. However, there are flaws in the reasoning for use of acid-lowering drugs in both of these situations. Firstly, the cause of reflux is not excessive secretion of stomach acid but dysfunction of upper gastrointestinal (GI) motility and secretions[ii], and further reducing gastric acidity with PPIs or antacids will further exacerbate reflux, causing a dependency on the drugs and worsening symptoms over time. Furthermore, the long-term use of PPIs has significant and far-reaching side effects that can negatively affect CF prognoses. Secondly, although several preliminary studies have demonstrated that the pH of the duodenum can be too low to provide the right environmental for supplemental pancreatic enzyme activation, it is not completely clear that bicarbonate secretion is inadequate in all cases, even if steatorrhea is present. A 2014 Cochrane Review of the use of PPIs in CF found that related clinical trials were not only biased, but showed zero or overall insignificant improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms[iii]. In fact, there may be other mechanisms at play within the duodenum that cause steatorrhea and contribute to low duodenal pH, namely inadequate bile secretion, possibly due to a diet low in bitter plant constituents. Here, I will discuss the issue of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in CF and the negative consequences of using PPIs to treat it. I will also discuss the many negative side effects of long term PPI use in the CF and general populations. In addition, I will discuss the low bicarbonate theory in its relationship to pancreatic enzyme activation, and how the use of PPIs may not be helpful in this situation. Lastly, I will discuss the role of bitter plant constituents in stimulating release of GI hormones and bile in the duodenum, their relationships to macronutrient absorption, and how the use of bitter tastants in the CF population may kill two birds with one stone: addressing GERD by correcting gastric sphincter function and GI secretions, and improving lipase activation by stimulating release of bile which emulsifies fats and stimulates bicarbonate secretion.
Hello friends. I'm excited to announce that I am now publishing online classes on herbal medicine, nutrition, supplementation, and more! It seems that sharing my knowledge and experience through online videos may make it more accessible to different learning styles. If you'd like to learn more, please visit the Classes page here.
In addition, I now have a Patreon membership program! Patreon is an online platform where subscribers can contribute a small monthly amount (as low as $1) to support the content I've provided for free on my website since 2013. Members get a host of benefit options including early-bird discounts on classes, an invitation to a private Facebook group, an invitation to a monthly live Q&A with me, monthly one-on-one herbal consultations, and more. Click here to learn more about Patreon!
Back in 2014, I conducted a series of experiments inhaling essential oils through my nebulizer. I began these experiments at a time when I was due to use oral antibiotics again (a regular occurrence for me as a result of my chronic cystic fibrosis lung infections) but a snow storm prevented me from getting to the pharmacy. As they say, necessity if the mother of invention (or in this case, discovery)!
Why Use Essential Oils?
In 2014, I was in the midst of my clinical herbal training and had been learning about various medicinal plant constituents. In particular, the constituents called essential oils often have potent antimicrobial (antibacterial, antifungal, & antiviral) power. So I decided it was time to try an experiment with them to see if they could help me control my lung infections. I was very happy with the results and I'd love to share my findings with you!
For the last ten years or so I've struggled with reactive hypoglycemia related to CFRD (cystic fibrosis-related diabetes). In the last couple of years it has become very difficult to manage. Reactive hypoglycemia is a condition where the blood sugar crashes 1-3 hours after a meal containing carbohydrates, leading to distressing hypoglycemia symptoms such as shakiness, anxiety, weakness, brain fog, fatigue, tachycardia, and in severe cases, unconsciousness or even coma. Reactive hypoglycemia is more common in CFRD than many CF-specialists realize. Despite avoiding simple carbohydrates and adhering to a Paleo-ish diet for many years, my reactive hypoglycemia has only gotten worse. That is, until I started a ketogenic diet in October of 2020. I've made a remarkable improvement in my blood sugar control and I'd like to report my success in detail here.
Bloating, gas, stomachs aches, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, reflux... there is a special kind of miserable when we experience these symptoms! In cystic fibrosis and other digestive diseases, these symptoms may be a common nuisance. Fortunately, herbal medicine has several thousand years of clinical experience assisting people with these issues! Using specific medicinal herbs is one of the most effective ways to improve human digestion, which all of our ancestors have been doing for eons. Interestingly, digestion is one of the things that I feel conventional medicine has the hardest time understanding and helping with, especially with regards to chronic digestive issues. In this article I briefly mention a few herbs and techniques to use to address bloating and indigestion. There are so many herbs that help with digestive issues of all sorts that I couldn't possibly discuss them all in one article, but I'll touch on a few that I use most frequently for myself and my clients.
Inflammation is a huge factor in the disease processes of cystic fibrosis. Some studies have shown that faulty CFTR mutations may directly result in inadequate quenching of radical oxygen species (ROS) or excessive release of other inflammatory compounds like cytokines [1,2]. In addition, our burden of chronic infection and gastrointestinal complications contribute secondary sources of inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to both localized and systemic issues. Localized inflammation in the lungs can lead to deficient and/or over-reactive immune responses, bronchitis, scarification and airway remodeling, allergies/asthma/hyper-reactive airway diseases, hemoptysis, pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura), and worsened infection. Localized inflammation in the gut can lead to reflux/GERD, esophagitis, gastritis, pancreatitis, gallbladder issues, liver issues, food sensitivities, malabsorption, autoimmune issues of the intestines, gut infections, general indigestion, and excessive mucus production in both the guts and the lungs (by vagal reflex). Systemic inflammation can cause insulin resistance, body pain, arthritis, achey joints and muscles, fever, fatigue, increased risk for autoimmunity, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In this article, originally published in AromaCulture Magazine in July, I discuss herbal and dietary support for CF children and adults. I discuss digestion, respiratory disease, liver support, and modulation of CFTR sodium chloride channels by natural means.
Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive genetic disease that leads to the malfunctioning of several organ systems but most especially impacts the lungs, sinuses, and digestion. It is the most common autosomal recessive genetic disorder (meaning that each parent must be a carrier of the genetic mutation) in people of Western European decent. There are approximately 30,000 people living with cystic fibrosis (CF) in the United States, and more than 70,000 people worldwide.
Mica McDonald (they/he) is a clinical herbalist, nutritionist, ecologist, and writer living in Abenaki territory (Vermont).