Since the end of my benzo withdrawal in January of 2016, the mysteries of the famous benzo belly phenomenon have continued to plague many of us in PAWS. I knew there had to be some connection to what the drug did to our guts, but I could never quite figure out what it was. Aside from the usual dietary advice that everyone would give to resolve it, it still remained a mystery as for most people it would just disappear with time.
However, when mine didn't, and I wanted more answers than the usual "just give it time." That led me on a journey of trial and error with foods that literally changed my life forever. I tried Paleo, Low Carb, Fruit Fasts, Vegan and Keto, but with each one I would see promise in the beginning, only to have many more set backs that were discouraging and heartbreaking as I wanted to get my life back so desperately.
Then last spring while trying a ketogenic diet which did seem to hold a lot of promise in the beginning, I developed a severe rash that I just couldn't get rid of. This was very frustrating as my brain was clearer than it had been in years with the keto diet, and many of my symptoms were amazingly better. For those of you that aren't familiar with what the ketogenic diet is, it is a very low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. I searched everywhere for an answer, and came across a bunch of videos on You Tube about something they were calling a keto rash.
After watching dozens of videos, the only explanation that I could find for the rash, was that it was because the keto diet causes you to release toxins from your fat cells. When you go into ketosis, your body begins to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose. When the stored fat begins to release those toxins, a lot of people seem to have a hard time removing them through the bowl or urine, so the body begins to release them through the skin instead. Okay, so I could buy that as a plausible explanation, but after a long laundry list of trying ways to get rid of it, many people just gave up and went up on their carbohydrates. For everyone I watched on You Tube that went up on their carbohydrate intake, it appeared that seemed to resolve their rashes. However, it didn't help at all in my case.
I have never in my life had any skin problems or acne. This was one of the most brutal things I have ever been through. I was up all night scratching and sometimes I would scratch until I was bleeding. I had hives and bumps all over body, and even after it all cleared up with a steroid cream, the rash came back even worse when I stopped the cream. I was getting desperate and felt horrible because I had gone up on my carbs as I thought the diet was the problem. It turns out it wasn't the keto diet.
After the entire summer of feeling like a dog in a flea yard, I came across a doctor by the name of Steven Gundry. You may know him as the New York Times best seller of The Plant Paradox. He was also the President of the American Heart Association two times. He is a human evolutionist and did his thesis at Yale on the evolution of man's diet, and the information was fascinating.
Dr. Gundry is an expert on plant lectins and how they impact the human biome. Throughout history, plants have had innate intelligence that allows them to produce a protein called lectins. Lectins are designed to keep the plant from being eaten. If an insect tries to eat the plant, the lectins can paralyze the insect. Throughout early human history, our gut biomes were not compromised enough from all the pesticides and antibiotics, and they could withstand many of the lectins the plants would give off. In addition, humans ate primarily leaves, nuts, seeds and fish, which naturally give off a much lower amount of lectins than industrialized and manufactured foods.
So, Dr. Gundry's position is that one dose of broad spectrum antibiotics is like dropping Napalm on your gut biome, and it can take up to two years to completely reinoculate your biome. That might only be with a few strains of bacteria too if you're lucky. So, this assault on our guts has left us wide open for further damage from these plant lectins.
So, you might be asking about now, "What has this got to do with benzos?" Alot, actually. When we ingest these lectins, it binds to a nine chain carbohydrate called sialic acid. When lectins bind to the Sialic Acid, it causes the tight junctions that hold the gut wall together to break open and for lipopolysacarides (LPS) to break through the gut wall. These literally are little pieces of shit, and they can cause all kinds of havoc in the gut including bloating and gas, a.k.a. benzo belly. Sialic Acid is involved in hundreds of processes in the human body, including the GABA transport system. I'm sure you all remember the good old GABA neurotransmitter system that benzos disrupt? Sialic Acid is also involved with nerve tissue that lines the wall of the gut. It makes sense that we have so much gut disruption with benzos.
Okay, so bare with me here. When I heard all of this, I knew there had to be a link to all of us suffering from PAWS and severe withdrawal symptoms when others were not. I suspect that we have had more gut disruption from certain antibiotics such as Cipro and the other known fluoroquinolones. I was given Cipro shortly after I went on the benzos in 1999 for an infection, and I shortly after ended up with a deadly parasite infection that almost killed me. I believe both the Cipro and benzos down regulated my immune system as none of the other friends I traveled with ever got even remotely ill.
Okay, so if our Sialic Acid carbohydrates are damaged from antibiotics and they are involved in the GABA transport system, then wouldn't it make sense that we would have a harder time rebuilding our GABA neurotransmitters during and after withdrawal than people who may never have had as many antibiotics? I think some of us are just super sensitive to many medications that might disrupt our guts than other people. I mean why to some people react to peanuts and others don't? I have said this before, but I believe those of us going through all of this are here to change how "healthcare" is done in this world.
At this point anyway, I was convinced that Sialic Acid might have some benefits when it came to recovering from benzo withdrawal syndrome if I did Dr. Gundry's diet along with it. However, I couldn't find any sort of Sialic Acid available in the U.S. Other countries that had it were super expensive and hard to come by.
I started the low lectin diet, and began researching the best sources of Sialic Acid in the diet. Eggs and breast milk were the highest form that you could get from food. I found several websites where woman were selling their breast milk and decided to give it a try. After a week on the low lectin diet my rash began to clear up, but when I added the breast milk and some intermittent fasting it cleared up by about 90% within two weeks of starting the diet. The really great thing is that the diet is ketogenic with a few variations that I adapted after a lot more research. I got my brain back and my mental focus within about ten days of getting back into ketosis.
The key things that I linked to the rash and the differences in a low lectin diet versus the traditional ketogenic diet, were that Dr. Gundry says that the saturated fats in butter, coconut cream/milk, dairy and animal fats actually feed the lectins causing further damage to the gut lining. I was eating a lot of butter when I did the ketogenic diet, and about 75% of the population will be sensitive to A1 casein which is mostly in cow's dairy in this country. Most people that are intolerant to A1 casein, can handle A2 casein. A2 casein is available in most kinds of goat milk products and is widely available in Europe. On the low lectin diet, Dr. Gundry recommends mostly olive oil and avocado oil which are monounsaturated fats that actually coat the gut lining in order to get the healing you need from damage done to your gut.
I found the problem with what they call leaky gut syndrome is that most doctors just tell you to take a probiotic, but that alone won't fix the problem. You have to do the low lectin diet and the oils to seal the gut and then add in lots of pro and prebiotic foods like leeks, garlic, onions and chicory.
There are also a lot of foods that the paleo community claims are super healthy that are high in plant lectins such as chia seeds, fruits, squashes and nightshades. I had also added a lot of fruits back into my diet when I came up on my carbs and got worse again. In addition, I was eating a lot of high lectin foods. Once I removed all of these and added the high Sialic Acid foods into my diet, I was amazingly better in a very short period of time. I also added all kinds of probiotics, kimchi, Kalimati Olives, Balsamic Vinegar and fermented vegetables into my diet to rebuild my gut biome.
A little interesting history on fruits is that we weren't designed to eat fruit all year long. Only in the late summer and fall when they are more abundant and local. Our bodies even produce a higher level of amylase in the fall. Amylase is the enzyme that breaks down carbohydrate. Now we eat them all year long and we are signaling our brains that it is time to feast because recognizes the sweet taste that tells us to store fat for the winter when food used to be scarce.
Fruit is anything that has seeds and a skin other than avocados. Avocado which is considered a fruit is still a form of healthy fat. Zucchini, pumpkin and squashs are considered fruits even though we have come to know them as vegetables. Fruits have a higher content of lectins in the winter to prevent getting eaten and protect their seeds. When they ripen, the level of lectins drops way down in the summer because they want to be eaten then so we will spread their seeds. We have really messed with our food supply, and as you can see, mother nature has pretty infinite wisdom.
In summary, I have a clearer brain than I have had in years, and although all my benzo symptoms aren't completely gone, I know I have to give the diet a little more time. It takes about three months to really get the inflammation down, but Dr. Gundry says that his neuropathy patients seem to have the best luck with this diet. I believe the muscle tension, numbness and tingling are just a form of neuropathy because most all of it comes from inflammation, and our guts are very inflamed from all of these drugs. I for one intend to eat this diet for the rest of my life if that's what it takes to recover my health fully, and so far I'm very encouraged by the progress in such a short amount of time.
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