'After Years Of Pain, I Healed My Gut Issues By Changing My Diet'

It was a gut-wrenching moment. I felt like my insides were being squeezed and twisted, but I was doing my best to keep my composure. I was about to go on stage for a second time, and it felt like a thousand butterflies were fluttering inside my stomach. "Breathe," I told myself. "Stay calm."

It was the Dade-County Youth Fair piano competition, and the judges couldn't decide who the winner was. My music teacher had let me play the same piece as another one of her students, who was older, more experienced, and noticeably irritated by the turn of events.

The judges, after much stress-inducing deliberation, decided they would ask both of us to come back on stage to play it a second time. Oh my gosh. I had made zero mistakes the first time, how could I play it again without a single error? The bundle of nerves were making me shake, and I felt all of them inside my gut.

Dr. Vincent Pedre
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre is an internist, functional medicine-certified practitioner, and author. He told Newsweek about healing his own gut health with his diet after years of suffering with digestive issues. Dr. Vincent Pedre

As a child I struggled with constipation that at times was so severe I was left in tears while hunched over in pain. There were many frustrating late evenings on the toilet. The remedy? A horrible-tasting liquid laxative my mom would force me to take that almost made me want to vomit. Or a glycerin suppository—yikes.

At 10 years old I was not only plagued by unexpected gut issues—including constipation, severe gas pains, and loose stools—I had also started getting sick quite often, sometimes more than two or three times per year. I caught so many upper respiratory infections and doctors prescribed antibiotic after antibiotic.

By the time I turned 19, I had been on over 20 rounds of antibiotics. Antibiotics can have a negative impact on our gut, but this was back in the '80s and early '90s, before we understood that as much as 80 percent of our immune system can be found all along the gut lining.

I wanted to change that. Intuitively, I knew there was an answer out there, and my goal was to biohack how to reduce getting sick so often. I wish I could say that healing my gut and boosting my immunity was a quick and easy task—that it took meeting that one doctor who said the right things to turn my gut and immune health around. But instead, the doctors often made things worse by prescribing me antacids, antispasmodics, and anti-diarrheals.

I wanted to be a different type of doctor—one that listened to his patients, validated their concerns, and found solutions where I believed Western medicine, at times, seemed to lack them.

My first moment of clarity came during medical school in my early twenties, when the rush to early morning classes made me cut out cereal for breakfast. After one month of cutting out dairy, I stopped getting sick all the time. I quickly made the connection between avoiding milk and getting fewer colds or sinus infections.

Dr. Vincent Pedre
Dr. Pedre, pictured competing in the Dade-County Youth Fair piano competition as a child, struggled with digestive issues that at times was so severe he would be left hunched over in pain. Dr. Vincent Pedre

For all those years I had believed that milk was doing my body good. That was my first "eureka" moment. Diet clearly played a role in how my body felt and how my immune system functioned. Little did I know, that was the beginning of a major shift in my perspective on what creates holistic wellness and would eventually shape the type of doctor I'd become.

But it took me almost another decade of trial and error to fully grasp the best way to eat for my own gut and body, while simultaneously learning what could work for other people. By making a few additional changes in my diet, including adding more healthy fats, I felt better than I ever had before. However, I still wasn't in the clear.

By my mid-to-late 20s, what had begun as a nervous stomach in my childhood turned into irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). By that stage of my life I had discovered meditation and had learned to calm my nerves through breathing techniques, but stress was still doing a number on my gut. And while I wasn't getting as many upper respiratory infections, I was still eating foods that were harming my digestion, like wheat in the form of bread and crackers, cheese, butter, pizza, and the occasional ice cream.

It wasn't until I discovered functional medicine in 2006, that I was able to rewrite the story of my gut health issues in a way that made more sense. Through my functional medicine training, I realized the 20-plus rounds of antibiotics I had been on as a child had destroyed my gut microbiome by wiping out good gut bacteria as well as bad, thereby decimating its health-promoting diversity.

Dr. Vincent Pedre
When Dr. Pedre was at medical school, he made the connection between avoiding milk and getting fewer colds or sinus infections. This shifted his perspective on what creates holistic wellness. Pictured, Dr. Pedre at his medical school graduation. Dr. Vincent Pedre

As a result I'd ended up with what's known as a "leaky gut", which in my case was a breakdown of the gut barrier that protected me from inflammatory substances inside the digestive system. This then led me to develop sensitivities to the top foods in the diet of many teenagers, including wheat and dairy. I had been poisoning my gut and through it, my immune system, for decades.

So, having completed my residency in internal medicine as a medical doctor, in my mid-30s I committed to training in functional medicine and embarked on a major project—healing my gut. I had no idea if it was going to work. The concept of the gut microbiome seemed so far-fetched. It was incredible that the little bacteria in our guts could seriously exert that much power over our health.

And yet, I started my regimen with absolute faith, trusting that results would take patience, dedication and time. I made changes in my diet by eating organic vegetables, humanely-sourced meats, adding in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and dairy-free yogurts, and avoiding gluten and dairy.

The rewards came faster than expected. Within the first two weeks, I already noticed my digestion was quieter and less painful—no more running to the bathroom with emergencies. I experienced an increase in my energy levels, mental clarity, and ability to stay sharp all the way to the end of a 12-hour workday. I was feeling the best I had felt in over two decades.

Dr. Vincent Pedre
In 2006, Dr. Pedre began training in functional medicine and realized he had what is known as a "leaky gut". He embarked on a journey to heal his gut health by eating organic vegetables, humanely-sourced meats and fermented foods. Dr. Vincent Pedre

Simultaneously with my patients, I became very curious about the gut and gut-related health issues. They would come in with migraines, allergies, asthma, skin rashes, acne, autoimmune diseases, and a variety of gut issues, ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to chronic constipation or diarrhea. I would work on their gut health, and usually their other health issues would improve as well.

After years of medical training and now in private practice, I didn't plan on becoming a gut health expert, but it happened slowly. The more patients I helped, the more referrals they sent my way, trusting me with their family, friends, and work colleagues. I became a medical sleuth, solving difficult cases with symptoms that other doctors failed to find the true, underlying cause for.

That inspired me to write my books, because I wanted to reach the people out there who don't realize the solution to their health problems could be right under their noses, inside their guts. I became certified in functional medicine, and without planning on it, I also became an accidental gut health expert.

My "new normal" is digestive harmony no matter what. I can enjoy eating out as much as eating at home, because I know the right food choices to make. It's become a lifestyle choice, not just a diet, and I hope to inspire others to do the same.

Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, is an internist, functional medicine-certified practitioner, and author of the 2015 book, Happy Gut, and will be releasing his latest book The GutSMART Protocol, later this year. You can visit his website at: www.gutsmartprotocol.com or follow him on Instagram at @drpedre

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.