“All disease begins in the GUT” –Hippocrates
While this is a bold statement, Hippocrates, the wise Greek Physician, understood the benefit of gut health over 2,000 years ago and I could not agree more. With a growing passion for digestive health, I devoted my doctorate studies on improving the negative symptoms associated with Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL GASTROINTESTINAL DISORDERS?
Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders is a vague term used for a number of conditions/symptoms including irritable bowel syndrome with constipation or diarrhea, reflux, abdominal pain, and/or bloating without any structural or physiological cause. In the United States, Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are the most common digestive condition affecting about 1 in 4 people.
POTENTIAL ROOT CAUSES
In Functional Medicine there are several theories for the “root cause” of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders including:
- Candida overgrowth
- Food intolerances
- “Leaky gut” or increased intestinal permeability
LETS BREAK IT DOWN
Dysbiosis is basically the opposite of “symbiosis” meaning “living together” or harmony. The term dysbiosis is used when there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
A condition where yeast (a fungal infection) overgrows in the digestive tract. Candida overgrowth is an issue in America because candida is fed by sugar, and as we all know sugar is added to almost all of our food, especially processed foods.
How to diagnosis? Candida antibodies can be checked through conventional labs, such as LabCorp or Quest. A comprehensive stool analysis may also be ordered (as previously discussed). Although not scientifically based, some sources believe you can assess candida overgrowth through saliva. When you first wake up in the morning (before you eat or drink anything), you spit in a clear glass of water. After about 2-3 minutes, you look at the cup closely for 1) strings coming down from your saliva, 2) the water to turn cloudy or 3) the saliva to sink to the bottom. If any of these 3 things happen, it may be candida. Healthy saliva is supposed to float on top.
Some of the most common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and sugar. It is important to understand there is a huge difference between food intolerances and food allergies. Typically, if you have a food allergy (IgE mediated immune response) you know immediately. Your throat starts to close up or you break out in hives depending on the severity; this is not the case with food intolerances. Food intolerances (IGG or IGA mediated immune responses) can cause a delayed response making it incredibly difficult to correlate with a specific food. Food intolerances can also cause vague symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, abdominal pain/discomfort, bloating, or changes in your bowel movements.
The term “leaky gut” is not actually a medical term at all. The correct terminology is increased intestinal permeability. More simply the concept of leaky gut is when the tight junction in your digestive tract becomes less “tight” and foods, toxins, and bacteria/yeast start to “leak” through the gut lining triggering an immune response and systemic inflammation. This is thought to be a common cause for autoimmune disease.
How to diagnosis? You can now check for signs of leaky gut through the blood with a marker called zonulin or you can have a lactulose/mannitol test through companies such as Genova or Doctor’s Data.
HOW DO WE “TREAT” IT?
The Institute of Functional Medicine has an acronym called the 5R Program to help healthcare professionals heal digestive dysfunction. The 5R’s stand for
- Remove (food intolerances, food allergies, candida, bad bacteria)
- Replace (digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid)
- Reinoculate (optimize beneficial bacteria in the gut with probiotics/prebiotics)
- Repair (strengthen the gut lining- glutamine, zinc, antioxidants, and omega 3)
- Rebalance (improve lifestyle – sleep, exercise, and stress)
RESTORING DIGESTIVE HEALTH STUDY
As previously stated, my doctorate study was targeted at naturally healing and restoring a normal functioning digestive system with minimal to no adverse effects. While each and every one of the 5Rs is crucial to healing, I focused on replace, reinoculate, and repair. The purpose of my study was to determine if adult patients with Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders report improved abdominal symptoms based on the Gastrointestinal Quality of Life Index after eight weeks of probiotics, digestive enzymes, and glutamine.
And guess what? They did!
WHY THESE THREE SUPPLEMENTS?
The digestive tract is full of bacteria, which is collectively referred to as the intestinal microflora or microbiome. It is estimated that the intestinal microflora contains 1014 cells, which is more than 10 times the number of cells in the entire body. The term probiotics is derived from the Latin words “pro” and “bios” meaning “for life”.
Although probiotics can be consumed naturally through foods, such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, and teas like kombucha it is often not enough. Our guts have become much more “sterile” due to antibiotic use and improvements in overall hygiene. We need more good bacteria and supplementing a strong, broad-spectrum probiotic can be incredibly helpful. The beneficial properties of probiotics include, but are not limited to improving the protective barriers, enhancing immune responses, and clearing pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotics can be both bacteria or yeast. The most common bacterial probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups. These include a number of different strains including L. rhamonusus, L. bulgaricus, L. salivarius, L. plantarum, L. casei, B. infantis, and B. longum. The most common beneficial yeast is Saccharomyces boulardii.
Examples of good probiotics: prescript assist (which has both a prebiotic and probiotic in it and its derived from soil so its completely dairy-free), VSL3 (highly studied probiotic!), and Pro-50 (wide variety of probiotic strains (13 different strains and 50 billion CFUs).
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. After injuries, surgeries, or infection, glutamine concentration significantly decreases. Supplementing with L-glutamine has been shown to help maintain the intestinal barrier function (“leaky gut”) and help fight off foreign microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, and funguses. Glutamine is also required for the production of immunoglobulin A in the intestines, which is essential to a healthy immune system. Glutamine is naturally found in several foods including grass-fed beef, bison, chicken, eggs, whey protein, and certain cheeses. However, when treating Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders much higher doses are required.
Here is a good quality and affordable glutamine.
As individuals age, the amount of digestive enzymes produced by the body declines. Supplementing digestive enzymes can improve digestion, reduce abdominal distress, and result in a greater assimilation of vital nutrients like vitamins K, D, and omega-3 and omega-6. Digestive enzymes can give the digestive tract time to rest and recover. Adequate digestion is required for gastrointestinal health; inadequate digestive enzymes are correlated with malabsorption, food intolerances, food allergies, autoimmune disease, bacterial overgrowth, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Digestive enzymes can be supplemented or found naturally in foods. Natural sources of digestive enzymes include bananas, papaya, kiwi, bee pollen, raw honey, avocado, grapes, pineapple, extra virgin olive oil, dates, and certain raw oils and sprouts.
Here is a high potency digestive enzyme to take with meals.
After eight weeks of probiotics, digestive enzymes, and glutamine, there were two statistically significant findings including 1) participants lost a significant amount of weight and 2) their gastrointestinal quality of life significantly improved. And to think this study was conducted without dietary interventions; Imagine if all 5R’s were addressed. If you are one of the four Americans that suffer from digestive symptoms without any known cause, remember you don’t have to suffer anymore! Consider one of these potential causes and supplement as needed.
Still not feeling well? Come see me at 2UMedical!