Gastrointestinal complaints are one of the most common reasons for visits to a primary care physician. As a physician who previously practiced primary care, I saw people everyday with complaints of diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, foul smelling stools, eructation (belching), pain and discomfort. There are hundreds of remedies, both over the counter and prescription, from Maalox to the “purple pill”, all of which do nothing to address the underlying problem. People get on these medications and stay on them for years, which can lead to another set of problems. These anti acid medicines were never meant to be given long term. They were initially used to treat peptic ulcer disease but subsequently began to be given for longer and longer periods to control symptoms of GERD (see my blog post). As you might expect, the drug industry takes home billions of dollars due to the ubiquitous prescribing of these medicines.
When you go to the doctor with these complaints, chances are he or she will not ask you anything about your diet but will “rule out” significant diseases that might be dangerous (such as peptic ulcer disease and cancer) through various tests. If the tests are negative then likely you will be given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, a disease that most physicians consider to be a “functional” disorder – meaning there is no clear etiology and it may be “psychological” (it’s all in your head). It now seems ludicrous to me to think that what we eat has nothing to do with the health of our GI tract.
Your intestinal lining consists of a single layer of cells that protect you from all the things that travel through your gut – from food to organisms to chemicals and toxins. This single layer also protects what lies in the walls of the gut that is composed of a significant part of your immune system and is instrumental in signaling your immune system to gear up when invaders or toxins threaten. The gut also contains a major part of your nervous system called the “enteric nervous system” (ENS), which is a major source of information and signaling for the rest of your nervous system including your brain. There are over 500 species and three pounds of bacteria in your gut that are essential to digestion, hormone regulation, and toxin excretion. These bacteria also produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and your body healthy.
So what upsets the delicate balance that occurs in the gut?
- A poor diet that consists of low fiber, high sugar, highly processed chemically laden “food”
- Medications like Nexium, Prilosec, Zantac, steroids, antibiotics
- Food allergies like gluten intolerance
- Toxins from chemically processed foods and heavy metals
- Poor digestive enzyme function or low acid
- Bacterial or yeast overgrowth that interferes with absorption
Since poor gut function can lead to many different symptoms, such as arthritis, depression, fatigue, skin rashes, chronic sinusitis, and on and on, it is essential that gut issues be addressed in most, if not all, patients.
The basic steps to healing the gut include:
- Eat a diet that consists of whole foods. Eat organic foods as much as possible consisting of meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Many people tolerate grains poorly so eat only unprocessed grains and don’t over do it. Much dairy is adulterated with drugs and chemicals so make dairy a special treat if at all.
- Add digestive enzymes and acid for improved digestion.
- Add healing nutrients like glutamine, aloe vera, immunoglobulin, and omega 3 healthy fats.
- Get rid of any pathogens that are interfering with digestion.
- Get rid of heavy metals and adjust your diet and lifestyle to prevent excessive exposure to chemicals and toxins
- Replace healthy intestinal flora with quality probiotics
Committing to restoring and maintaining a healthy gut can change your life for the better. It is the first essential step on your road to optimal health.