NATURALLY HEALTHY: The importance of a healthy gastrointestinal tract
Joan,45, came in convinced that she had leaky gut syndrome. She explained that she didn’t digest her food well, that it felt stuck in her stomach, she had gas and bloating, her bowels alternated between constipation and diarrhea and she had bad breath. She had been treated for H.pylori and wondered if it had recurred. Could I help her?
Leaky gut syndrome is when the intestinal lining becomes too permeable and large food particles that are not fully digested enter the blood stream. This can trigger food intolerances and allergies, intestinal inflammation and celiac sprue. Some causes include eating allergic foods, radiation and chemotherapy, poor nutrient intake or absorption, food additives, over the counter NSAID usage, foreign microbes and endogenous toxic byproducts produced by bacterial or fungal microbes residing in the gut.
Joan admitted that she has a craving for sweets and has been drinking too much alcohol of late. She has had many antibiotics over the years for acne, bladder infections and frequent throat infections. On my intake form she indicated that she was not breast fed for long and that she had numerous ear infections as a child treated with antibiotics.
I explained that bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one and that this is collectively called the “microbiome”.
Our human body is a complex ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. This microbiome or “community of commensal bacteria” is not pathogenic and is initiated at birth when we are delivered through the vaginal canal. Breast feeding and handling by parents, grandparents, siblings friends and even pets contribute to one of the most complex microbial ecosystems on the planet, by late infancy. No two people share the same microbial makeup, not even identical twins.
Beneficial bacteria are critical to the functioning of our immune system and more and more children are starting off their lives without these commensals. H.pylori is an example according to Dr. Martin Blaser, who has studied H. pylori for over 25 years. He showed in a 1998 study that H.pylori benefits the body by helping to regulate levels of stomach acids and in 2008 he published another study showing that H. pylori is involved in regulating gherlin, the hormone in the stomach that regulates appetite. Now less than six per cent of children test positive for the presence of H.pylori compared to 80 per cent of Americans two or three
I explained to Joan that there are four steps in re-establishing the health of this highly intelligent mucosal barrier that we call the intestinal mucosa.
- Remove potential antigens and toxic substances from the diet. I usually have the patient undergo Electrodermal testing to identify some of these offending agents.
- Replace digestive support using digestive enzymes if required
- Re-inoculate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract with probiotics such as Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacterium species
- Repair the GI mucosa with specific nutrients as necessary for mucosal healing.
I explained to Joan that once we had her digestive tract back to normal that I would want her to remain on the probiotic for life. They support the immune system, 60 per cent of which resides in the GI tract. Studies have shown that they can reduce the incidence of colds and flus, they reduce oxidative stress in the body, they lower inflammation and cellular damage in the body, they improve glucose tolerance, improve insulin sensitivity and they reduce the incidence of cancers such as colon, stomach, liver and bladder.
Probiotics containing billions of organisms of Lactobaccilus spp and Bifidobacterium spp create an intestinal pH that facilitates colonization by other commensals.
Within three months, Joan was back to normal and very happy to stick with her new foundation of health.
She was much more aware of how food affected her and she was well informed on how to prevent the use of antibiotics to keep her commensals happy!
Dr. Ingrid Pincott, naturopathic physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at www.DrPincott.com and 250-286-3655.