If you are experiencing any of these common digestive tract symptoms like gas, bloating, reflux, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea the chances are if you went to the doctor you would be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If the symptoms are bad enough you maybe given a medication to reduce the acid, or something to help with the constipation or diarrhea …. but this is just addressing the symptoms and not treating the cause.
Your digestion is important for absorption of nutrients, elimination of wastes and a vital component of our immune system, when things go wrong with our digestive tract it can cause widespread symptoms throughout our body like fatigue, aches and pains, skin problems, mood problems and increase your risk of autoimmune conditions and cancer ….. so what can be done to improve our digestion!
1/ R = Remove the foods that are causing inflammation and creating an environment for bacteria, parasites and candida to thrive. This may differ for everybody, but the first step requires the removal of the most common digestion irritants, and they are gluten, dairy, soy and processed foods, this is to work out if food is the primary trigger, or a contributing factor to your digestion problems.
If bloating and gas is your primary symptom then following a low FODMAP diet maybe the best approach for you, this is a diet that temporarily removes certain carbohydrates that ferment easy in the small intestine allowing bacteria to thrive (and create the gas/ bloating). One of the most common causes of IBS symptoms is small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) and a low FODMAP diet combined with a specific treatment plan is required to remove the bacteria and eliminate your bloating.
2/ R = Replace the nutrients that are required for digestion to take place. This includes improving stomach acid with Betaine HCL and Pepsin, because without sufficient stomach acid your food (especially protein) is not going to digest efficiently which can cause bloating, gas and reflux (plus absorption of important vitamins like B12). The stomach acid is also important to kill pathogens that come into our body through the food we eat, and insufficient stomach acid will create an environment for bacteria and candida infections to thrive. It may also be necessary to replace pancreatic enzymes which are important for fat, carbohydrate and protein digestion, they also help gall bladder function.
The common medical approach is to give antacids or proton pump inhibitors like Somac or Nexium, these medications do help the symptoms like indigestion in the short term but they don’t address the cause and can lead to more chronic IBS symptoms.
3/ R = Repair the damage that has been done! Just by removing certain foods and replacing the nutrients for many people this means their symptoms have greatly improved but it is still important to address the inflammation and repair the damage which has been done.
The small intestines job is to absorb nutrients, and due to food intolerances, stress, medications, bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid the tiny micro villi can get damaged. If the micro villi get damaged you will not be able to effectively absorb your nutrients, this can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, even if you are eating a good diet.
You may also need to address inflammation and leaky gut in the large intestine, otherwise toxins will start to get reabsorbed into your body, rather than being eliminated (think leaking sewer you would call a plumber straight away!). This creates an environment for parasites, unhealthy bacteria and yeast to take over leading to inflammation, the high inflammation leads to high cortisol levels which can affect other hormonal systems like thyroid function and lead to an increase in belly fat
The high cortisol can lead to adrenal dysfunction and low Secretory immunoglobulin A which is a prime component of our immune system, 75% of our immune system is based in the large intestine so dysfunction here can lead to many immune problems.
4/ R = Reinoculate the good bacteria! Once you have identified the triggers, eliminated any infections and addressed the inflammation then it’s time to improve the health of the gut bacteria. There is so much research going into how important the health of our gut bacteria, determines our health. From allergies and fatigue to depression and anxiety the research shows how having the right bacteria can influence our health.
It’s not just a matter of eating fermented foods or taking some probiotics, it’s important to have prebiotic foods and quality fiber for the bacteria to thrive on. It’s also important to get out into nature and not be so obsessed with anti-bacterial soaps and wipes which can also affect our healthy levels of bacteria.
Small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) is the leading cause of IBS symptoms. It is a condition in which bacteria that are normally found in the large intestine, have overgrown into the small intestine. SIBO can be diagnosed with a simple non invasive breath test.
Bacterial overgrowth can cause a rise in intestinal gas which are not produced by humans. The two types of gas are hydrogen and methane, the hydrogen gas is often associated with diarrhea and the methane gas with constipation. You can predominantly have one type of gas which causes constipation or diarrhea or you can have fluctuating levels so that you sometimes have constipation and then diarrhea.
Comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) is the best measurement of the health of your large intestine, while the SIBO breath test is a measurement of the health of your small intestine. This test is very comprehensive compared to the standard stool test done by your G.P which is just investigating the presence of bacteria.
The CDSA test investigates digestion of food, metabolism, pancreatic function, balance of good and bad bacteria, the presence of pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites, gluten sensitivity and inflammation levels which can be indicators colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
A more advanced version of the CDSA test is the G.I Map, this is done by a U.S based company but the test kits can be shipped all over the world, it gives a detailed analysis of Helicobacter pylori, parasites, bacteria and yeast infections, as well as leaky gut and inflammatory markers.
Knowing the health of the adrenal glands is important in the gut healing process, doing the 4 R’s program is not going to be as effective if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue.
A good place to start is with the 4 R’s and if you are not getting improvement in your symptoms then the SIBO test or the CDSA test maybe indicated to get to the cause of your problems which will help to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Consultations are available via video or phone consultations throughout the world, and our test kits can be shipped directly to you to do in the privacy of your own home, they are then sent back to the lab for analysis.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.
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