01 Aug Digestive Health and Chronic Disease
Digestive health and chronic disease have been linked together for decades, but still, only the systemic symptoms of gut dysfunction including autoimmune conditions, dermatitis, neurological complaints and even cancer are managed with pharmaceuticals.
Digestive Health is Key to Preventing Chronic Disease
Today an estimated 15-20% of the population suffers from symptoms of abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation; collectively referred to as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I like to think of “IBS” as an acronym for “I’m Basically Stumped” as today’s medical community tends to use this blanket diagnosis to cover a broad array of underlying problems. Considering that few practitioners examine past and current dietary habits, medications, family history, triggering events, behaviors, or stress levels; it is no surprise that so many patients are being diagnosed with this syndrome. Then again, it is much easier to suggest some form of anti-diarrheal, fiber supplement, or antacid than take the time to actually understand the cause of the malfunctioning gut. With this method of “treatment” it’s no surprise that the American Gastroenterological Association estimates that even eight years after diagnosis, 90-98% of patients still have symptoms of IBS. It’s time to stop treating the symptoms and begin searching for the cause!
Gastrointestinal Tract- Your First Line of Defense
As our first line of defense against the outside world, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract has a dynamic interface with direct and constant contact with our environment that protects against pathogens and toxins while allowing absorption of vital nutrients. Considering the GI tract represents 80% of our entire immune system, it makes perfect sense that many autoimmune diseases, neurological issues, chronic joint and muscle aches, mood disorders and even obesity can be linked to some degree of GI dysfunction. In a world where environmental stress, poor diet, and reliance on pharmaceuticals have become the norm, is it really a surprise that visits for intestinal disorders are among the most common to primary care physicians?
In my own Natural Healthcare clinic, I regularly see patients with some level of digestive health issues associated with candida, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), inadequate HCL or digestive enzyme production, intestinal permeability, etc. In reviewing such patient histories, I can almost always trace these digestive issues back to antibiotic use, lack of breastfeeding in infancy, and/or a traumatic event or illness.
Heal the Gut
In seeing such an astounding number of patients with “IBS”, Celiac Disease, and poor G.I. health, my practice has transformed tremendously over the years to allow me to better treat those with compromised G.I. systems. When treating patients with G.I. dysfunction, I practice a five step clinical approach as recommended by the Institute for Functional Medicine, referred to as the “5 Rs”. To heal the body, treat chronic diseases, and improve health; it is imperative to understand the status of the G.I. system and implement therapies to help the gut return to an optimal level of functioning.
The 5R’s include:
The most important of the 4 R’s and the key to any effective diet, detoxification, or disease prevention or treatment program; this phase involves the removal of harmful chemicals, pesticides, food additives and many common allergy/sensitivity producing foods, (such as dairy, gluten, and soy) that may lead to poor health. Sound familiar? If you’re Paleo, you’ve already accomplished this step! In some cases, “remove” may also refer to parasitic infection, candida, viruses, etc.
Digestive enzymes or insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) are key when it comes to proper digestion of food. The best indication of this is when a person experiences bloating, gas or reflux upon eating. If these symptoms are present, including HCL and/or digestive enzymes with meals may help immensely in promoting proper digestion.
This refers to bringing back good or “friendly” bacteria. This can be done through the use of well researched and medically documented probiotics and properly fermented foods. These friendly bacteria improve intestinal immunity, restore healthy gut flora, intestinal barrier function, and essentially improve the function of the entire body!
The repair phase focuses on promoting the proper repair of the intestinal lining. G.I. mucosal cell regeneration is a natural process that can be supported by an anti-inflammatory diet (such as the Paleo Diet!) in addition to targeted anti-inflammatory nutraceutical support.
The final step involves making healthy lifestyle choices, such as continuing to eat right, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Managing or “Balancing” stress levels can significantly impact one’s ability to heal and optimize ALL of the body’s systems, especially the gut. There are also some basic foundational supplements for creating balance throughout the entire body which our COR Complete offers for minimizing inflammation, and restoring the integrity and function of the gastrointesinal lining. These include EPA/DHA (fish oil), vitamin D3, additional glutamine and other key nutrients for an optimal level of health.
Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Restore, Rebalance
The concept of the “Five R’s” process describes a basic approach which can be catered to the needs of each individual’s clinical condition and nutritional needs. If you’ve suffered from ailments such as poor digestive health, chronic fatigue, headaches, skin conditions, mood swings, weight gain, etc. and notice an improvement through a whole food or Paleo lifestyle, chances are you likely have some level of gut dysfunction. If you’ve been on a strict Paleo Diet for at least one month, you’ve already accomplished much of the first step by “Removing” many of the irritating substances found in much of our modern day diet. For those who continue to experience digestive issues, even as “minor” as frequent gas and bloating, I highly recommend pursing the other three steps of the above described process. For more information and guidance on this approach, please check out our 30 Day G.I. FIX program here.
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS