Most of us have experienced digestive problems at some time in our life. For the healthy person, this can simply be diarrhea with the flu, or eating too much at Christmas. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 74% of the population is struggling with some form of a chronic digestive condition1. This seems to be quite a high amount when we realize how important our digestive system is to our overall health.
The digestive system is made up of a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. These organs are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. After food is chewed and swallowed, it passes to the anus through the hollow organs of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system. This is a complex system that needs to work properly for a person to break down food into substances that can be used by the body.
One of the most important parts of digestion is the bacteria that is in the GI tract. This microbiome is made up of communities of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Interestingly, each individual's community of gut microbes is unique like a fingerprint. This community regulates immune responses, actually comprising 70% of the immune system2, inflammation, removal of toxins & heavy metals, aids in the synthesis of B-vitamins, fats and fat-soluble vitamins, among other roles. It maintains harmony, balance, and order amongst its own communities, ensuring that opportunistic pathogens are kept to a minimum, while also keeping the host system from attacking itself. Our symbiotic cohorts not only provide this service, but also secrete beneficial chemicals as a natural part of their metabolic cycle.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to live in our world without something causing an imbalance in the microbiome. The bacteria are incredibly sensitive to certain environmental factors, and if an imbalance occurs this can lead to an overgrowth of fungi, specifically candida. Factors that can damage the bacteria are antibiotics, heavy metal toxicity, chronic illness and stress, poor diet and nutrition, certain medications (including Birth Control Pill, Proton pump inhibitors -PPIs- and Cortisone/steroids), smoking, chemical exposure, chlorinated water, parasites, insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid or pancreatic enzymes, and a body pH level that is too acidic. It is difficult to find someone that hasn’t had exposure to at least one thing on this list.
When an imbalance occurs, it can create an overgrowth of fungi, typically a yeast called candida albicans. If the infection persists, it can burrow holes in the intestinal tract, enter the blood stream and then make its way into any organ of the body (this is called “leaky gut”). To make matters worse it emits over 70 different toxins into the body. Some people may even become allergic to the yeast itself. Once this hardy organism proliferates in the body, it wreaks havoc in many ways and is the initiator of many common maladies, conditions, syndromes and illnesses in our population. Common symptoms of Candida overgrowth include: Abdominal gas and bloating, headaches, migraines, fatigue, cravings for alcohol and sugar, anxiety, vaginitis, vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching, “brain fog” (inability to think clearly or concentrate), hyperactivity, mood swings, diarrhea, constipation, itching, acne, eczema, depression, sinus inflammation, pre-menstrual syndrome and other hormone imbalances, dizziness, poor memory, persistent cough, earaches, low sex drive, muscle weakness, irritability, learning difficulties, sensitivity to fragrances and/or other chemicals, cognitive impairment, thrush, athlete's foot, sore throat, indigestion, acid reflux, chronic pain, and joint pain.
Another common imbalance in the microbiome is caused by parasites. A parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. There are over 1,000 known parasite species that can infect humans, some examples of parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Parasites can come from contaminated food and water, undercooked meat, food handling, unclean drinking and recreational water, pets and partners. A recent study showed that one of every 10 bags of pre-washed lettuce can contain infections such as cyclospora, cryptosporidium or giardia3, leaving most Canadians extremely vulnerable. Although in other countries parasites are recognized as a common condition and treated bi-annually, in Canada they are rarely recognized and testing is insufficient. At Ananta Health it is not uncommon to treat a new patient for a combination of parasites and candida at the beginning of their health journey.
Common parasite symptoms include: Angioedema-swelling (face), hives, fatigue, abdominal gas and bloating, headaches, migraines, cravings for alcohol and sugar, anxiety, rectal itching, “brain fog” (inability to think clearly or concentrate), hyperactivity, mood swings, diarrhea, constipation, itching, acne, eczema, depression, sinus inflammation, pre-menstrual syndrome and other hormone imbalances, dizziness, poor memory, persistent cough, earaches, low sex drive, muscle weakness, irritability, learning difficulties, sensitivity to fragrances and/or other chemicals, cognitive impairment, sore throat, indigestion, acid reflux, chronic pain, joint pain.
Common digestive complaints and illnesses include: IBS/IBD, Crohns/colitis, Food allergies, Gluten sensitivities, Lactose intolerance, Diarrhea, Constipation, Bloating, cramping and abdominal discomfort, Peptic Ulcers, and GERDS.
When addressing digestive complaints, first the patient is assessed for parasites and candida overgrowth with BioMeridian testing. The testing also includes food sensitivity testing, which are usually dominant in the beginning of treatment until the inflammation is reduced. In these cases, the diet is always assessed and changed to be more anti-inflammatory. Although this is different for each person, during treatment a core diet should include the reduction or elimination of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut), dairy products (including cheese and yogurt), refined sugars, and processed foods. A healthy diet will include vegetables, whole grains, organic foods, and healthy fats as well as drinking a sufficient amount of water.
Probiotics, which replace the good bacteria in the gut, are always prescribed, as well as supplements and Chinese herbs to treat the candida and/or parasites. The treatment is individualized, and it is not uncommon for two people being treated for the same thing to be taking different supplements. After these cleanses are complete, the patient is assessed and treated for any remaining symptoms.
Listen to Dr. Risk's shows on diet. There is no "one-size-fits-all" diet:
(1)Chicago, PR Newswire. (2013, November). New Survey Reveals More than Half of Americans are Living with Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Not Seeking Care from a Doctor Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-reveals-more-than-half-of-americans-are-living-with-gastrointestinal-symptoms-and-not-seeking-care-from-a-doctor-230804341.html
(2)Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Di Cara, G., Frati, F.(2008, September 15). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/
(3)Johnson, A. (2013, March 5). Parasites Found in Pre-washed Packages of Lettuce: Health Canada. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-headlines/parasites-found-in-pre-washed-packages-of-lettuce-health-canada-1.1182977