Whether you have a formal diagnosis of a gastrointestinal complaint such as Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s, microscopic/collagenous/lymphocytic colitis, ulcerative colitis (UC), gastritis, ulcer, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis/diverticulitis, gastric or peptic ulcer; or if you suffer from more functional digestive complaints, such as gas and bloating, indigestion, stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, this blog is for you.
Gastrointestinal disease does not spring from nothing, nor do symptoms develop for no reason. While prescription drugs are great at managing symptoms, they fail to get to the root of the problem and come with a variety of side effects.
The approach for managing gastrointestinal symptoms and striking at the underlying reasons why disease developed in the first place requires us to take a close look at each unique individual and their circumstance and lifestyle, yet there are several general core principles that we can use to help all people across the board.
Rather than relying on a single drug, or a variety of drugs, or one thing to be added or taken away from the daily regimen, it is best and most effective to employ a multi-pronged approach to the restoration of GI function. This approach covers many facets of good GI health that may not be obviously connected.
It is well known that many GI diseases and symptoms create other changes in the gastrointestinal tract. Largely through inflammatory pathways, increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), disruptions in gut flora, overgrowth of harmful bacteria or yeasts, lowered enzymatic output and decreased stomach acid production are all probable and commonly seen concurrently with these conditions. This initiates a body-wide ripple of other effects that can include even more GI symptoms, nutrient insufficiencies, malabsorption, headaches, skin rash, mood changes, hormonal changes, and a slew of other seemingly unrelated symptoms that make one feel horrible.
In order to feel better and correct the underpinnings that allowed disease to manifest in the first place, let’s discuss the steps to take. This is my approach to digestive restoration:
- Remove: In this step, foods are removed from the diet that are inherently allergenic and inflammatory, plus any foods that you as an individual know yourself to be sensitive to. Gluten, dairy products, soy, nightshade veggies (white potato, eggplant, bell pepper, tomato), legumes (peanuts and beans), processed foods, dyes, guar gum, and white sugar can all be inherently allergenic and inflammatory and exacerbate digestive issues. It is also important to remove any infections that may be present. This refers to an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast/candida overgrowth, and infection with parasites.
- Reinoculate: We may not like to think about it much, but we have a whopping four pounds of bacteria that live in our large intestine! The gut flora are crucial for digestive health and well being. They provide a variety of functions including nutrient absorption and assimilation, vitamin production, digestion of sugars and proteins, hormonal signaling, prevent colds, flus, and yeast infections, decrease inflammation, help protect against food poisoning, help protect against and modulate autoimmune conditions, break down and rebuild hormones and bile acids, help with optimal body composition – even improve heart health. These guys are the unsung heroes of our GI tract and they can be used to help with virtually every GI complaint under the sun. The arch nemesis of healthy gut bacteria is antibiotic use. Whenever you take antibiotics, make sure you take probiotics alongside to replenish your good guys. In the supplemental form, probiotics help allay a variety of GI distress and are a cornerstone of an excellent gut restoration program.
- Replete: Next we want to rekindle digestive fire and replace nutrients or compounds that may be missing. Supplementation with a broad-spectrum enzyme for the duration of your restoration program will help increase digestive strength. Nutrients like the B vitamins, fish oil and selenium may be indicated. In those with inflammatory bowel disease, supplementation with IgA in the form of RAW cow milk or encapsulated colostrum is crucial.
- Repair: This aspect of gut restoration is one of the most important and unfortunately the one most overlooked by all but the most savvy practitioners. The lining of the GI tract takes a beating in all GI disorders and associated symptoms. Even though the lining regenerates itself every 3 days, if there is chronic, low-grade inflammation in the gut (present in virtually all bowel disease) will keep the lining compromised until the cycle of inflammation is broken. We begin to break the cycle of inflammation with the above-mentioned steps, and by healing the lining of the gut we close the deal. Using nutrients like glutamine, mucin, pectin and anti-inflammatory and slippery herbs like boswellia, okra, cat’s claw, slippery elm and licorice we begin to build up the lining of the intestine and break the cycle of inflammation – for good.
- Retrain: There are more nerve cells in between the lower esophagus and the anus than there are in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves combined. There are more receptors for serotonin in the gastrointestinal system than there are in the brain. The term “neurotransmitter” is a misnomer because more of these compounds act on the gut than the nervous system! This nervous tissue in the gastrointestinal tract is called the enteric nervous system, and is often referred to as the “second brain” of the body. It even functions independently of the brain! As such, in issues of nervous stomach, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, it is imperative to begin to retrain the nervous system of the gut to be calm and to move correctly. Utilizing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation can be very beneficial here. Using self-realization techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy can also help. Exercise on a regular basis is one of the best tricks for regulating the bowel. Lastly, precursors to serotonin and dopamine – 5-HTP and tyrosine – along with serotonin and dopamine sensitizing agents like St. John’s wort and fish oil, can also be beneficial.
This type of approach requires that all of these steps to be initiated simultaneously. I recommend at least 30 days of intensive gut restoration as outlined above. Any program can be tailored specifically to your needs as you discover more about yourself, your body and your own unique sensitivities and preferences.
The gastrointestinal system is a highly textured and multilayered web, with connections and interactions in all body systems. Due to the vary nature of the GI system, a more comprehensive approach is warranted. I wish you the best in health.