Digestive Health

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What is Digestive Health?

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. 

What is the Digestive System?

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 through these organs, all of which make up the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. 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.

What Causes Poor Digestion?

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to live in our world without something causing an imbalance in the microbiome of the digestive system. 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 (birth control, Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), cortisone/steroids, etc)
  • Smoking
  • Chemical exposure
  • Chlorinated water
  • Parasites
  • Insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid or pancreatic enzymes
  • A body pH level that is too acidic

What Are Common Digestive Complaints And Illnesses?

Common digestive complaints and illnesses include:

  • IBS/IBD
  • Crohn's diseases/colitis
  • Food allergies & sensitivities, like celiac disease or lactose intolerance
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Cramping and abdominal discomfort
  • Peptic ulcers
  • GERDS

How Does Candida Affect Digestion?

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.

How do Parasites Affect Digestion?

Another common imbalance in the microbiome is caused by parasites. A parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off another organism. There are over 1,000 known parasite species that can infect humans; the most commonly known are roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, and hookworms.

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. 

What Are Symptoms Of Parasites?

Common parasite symptoms include: 

  • Digestive: abdominal gas, bloating and pain, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, GERDS, IBS and IBS-C or undiagnosed digestive complaints
  • Immune system: slow to heal wounds, frequent colds, or flus, recurring cold sores, infections, worsening symptoms for asthma, persistent cough, sore throat, sinusitis, post-nasal drip
  • Chronic infectionsurinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginitis, chronic or acute yeast infections, thrush, athlete's foot, slow healing/recovery from any infection
  • Pain: chronic pain, joint pain, muscle pain and stiffness, increase in overall inflammation, worsened pain in areas of previous injuries or arthritis
  • Neurological: fatigue, dizziness, loss of balance, brain fog, worsening of existing neurological conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, numbness, tingling and tremors
  • Mental health: anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, hyperactivity (especially in children)
  • Skin conditions: hives, itching, acne, cystic acne, eczema, rashes, boils, undiagnosed skin irritations
  • Allergies and sensitivitiesan increase or new occurrence in allergies and sensitivities whether environmental food or chemical
  • Hormone disturbances: menopause, PMS, low sex drive, thyroid disorders
  • Sleep: insomnia, waking at night (especially between 1-3am), sweating at night, waking at night feeling anxious, excessive need for sleep
  • Cravings: an increase in cravings for sugar, carbohydrates (carbs) alcohol and salt
  • Poor nutrient absorption: inflammation leading to poor absorption, especially of iron and B12

How Is Poor Digestion Treated?

When addressing digestive complaints, first the patient is assessed for parasites and candida overgrowth with BioScan SRT testing. The testing also includes food sensitivity testing, which is 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 herbs to treat the candida/parasites if they are present. 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.  

Can Acupuncture Help Digestion?

Acupuncture can calm down symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea, help regulate bowel movements and reduce inflammation in the gut.


 

(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