The gastrointestinal system is one of our priorities in health and it is often one of the most neglected and misunderstood systems of our body. Yet its influence can impact sugar metabolism, heart health, emotional wellness and brain stability. It would be beyond the scope of this article to delve into the massive amount of information that is required to understand the mechanisms of gastrointestinal health. However a brief overview of a few of the most common problems will be discussed in hopes it will lend the reader a better understanding of the importance of addressing this most influential of areas. Let’s start with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux. If you have experienced heartburn then you are aware of the discomfort this can produce. What do most people do if they have too much stomach acid? If you have a fire and you need to put it out what do you use, water or gasoline? Water of course! However, in the case of the stomach, we must identify underlying mechanisms at play. So let’s consider what conventional health care teaches. They use antacids to neutralize the acidity and “calm the storm”. Does that sound reasonable? It does if you are merely chasing symptoms such as you would find in our standard health care system but that is nothing more than a temporary patch.
What is interesting to note is that most people with heartburn have a condition called hypo-chlorhydria. This means too little stomach acid is being produced by your stomach. This is often a precursor to hyper-acidity. How could that be you may be asking? Let’s consider someone who is producing too little hydrochloric acid by the parietal cells of their stomach. If food is not properly digested by the stomach, the small intestine is reluctant to let it pass into the duodenum. So foods, especially foods that are hard to break down like proteins and raw vegetables can linger too long in the stomach. Proteins will begin to putrefy causing an increase in the acidity of the stomach and often leading to a hyper-acidic mass of food in the stomach that washes up the esophagus causing heartburn. If it persists then it can potentially lead to damage of the gastric lining in the form of ulcers. So was the antacid the right choice? It was if you are looking for short term, symptom-based relief but the sad reality is that the underlying mechanism was never addressed. That could be anything from challenges with thyroid metabolism to bacterial infections which is beyond the scope of this article but I hope you are beginning to realize that our bodies are an orchestra of events that are tied together and that they should be considered as such.
Let’s lump the next three conditions together. They are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and Crohns disease. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a “syndrome,” meaning a group of symptoms. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort often reported as cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS affects the colon, or large bowel, which is the part of the digestive tract that stores stool. Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the rectum and colon. Ulcers form where inflammation has killed the cells that usually line the colon, then bleed and produce pus. Inflammation in the colon also causes the colon to empty frequently, causing diarrhea. Crohns disease is an ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, also referred to as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohns disease can affect any area of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum. The swelling extends deep into the lining of the affected organ. The swelling can cause pain and can make the intestines empty frequently, resulting in diarrhea. So what causes these conditions? Let’s quote the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
They state “Several theories exist about what causes Crohns disease, but none have been proven. The human immune system is made from cells and different proteins that protect people from infection. The most popular theory is that the body’s immune system reacts abnormally in people with Crohns disease, mistaking bacteria, foods, and other substances for being foreign. The immune system’s response is to attack these “invaders.” During this process, white blood cells accumulate in the lining of the intestines, producing chronic inflammation, which leads to ulcerations and bowel injury. Scientists do not know if the abnormality in the functioning of the immune system in people with Crohns disease is a cause, or a result, of the disease. Research shows that the inflammation seen in the GI tract of people with Crohns disease involves several factors: the genes the patient has inherited, the immune system itself, and the environment. Foreign substances, also referred to as antigens, are found in the environment. One possible cause for inflammation may be the body’s reaction to these antigens, or that the antigens themselves are the cause for the inflammation. Scientists have found that high levels of a protein produced by the immune system, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), are present in people with Crohns disease.”
The literature states similar things about the etiology of ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel. I agree with their assessment. However, what are the mechanisms that drive the immune system, what are the foreign substances, what can be done to resolve the situation? The two most popular interventions are medications are used to down regulate immune function and surgical intervention (removal of parts of the colon) is required in two thirds of the cases with Crohn’s. Given those two options I believe there is a better, a much more natural and safer approach.
Lastly we will briefly touch on something called impaired intestinal permeability or what is commonly called “Leaky Gut”. Normally, your colon acts as a strainer, allowing micro-molecules to pass through to the blood while larger molecules are excreted through the feces. It is like a screen window, but if there are holes in that screen, larger objects can pass through called macro-molecules. These were never intended to pass and ignite an immune response which results in an inflammatory cascade of events to what otherwise would have been considered a normal resident of our body. Clearly understanding what is going on with your immune system is critical to helping many people recover. Sadly, most practitioners and health insurance companies do not support a detailed understanding so patients continue to suffer. Ours is a very different approach. We are dedicated to helping people express their God-given potential and are fortunate enough to see what I consider “miracles” occur in our office almost every day.
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