The Gut Connection August 14, 2013Posted by Dreamhealer in Allergies, Alternative medicine, Colon Cancer, Diet, Gluten, Healing, Health, Naturopathic Medicine.
Tags: Food allergy, food sensitivity, leaky gut, leaky gut syndrome
Written by Adam McLeod.
Research is just beginning to show a strong connection between the digestive tract and overall well-being. It is surprising how many conditions that patients have which are directly linked to the functioning of the digestive tract. Usually the patient is completely unaware of the connection between their health concern and their gut (and unfortunately, usually their medical doctor is completely unaware of this connection). Common health concerns such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, inability to lose weight, depression, fatigue (just to name a few) are directly related to the health of the digestive tract.
First it is important to distinguish between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts to a molecule in the food by initiating a powerful IgE mediated response. This can cause anaphylaxis, hives and acute digestive disturbances. Generally people are very aware of foods that they are allergic to because the response from the body is so dramatic. A food sensitivity is less dramatic in nature and it is the body responding with inflammation. This inflammation can be widespread and affect any tissue in the body. This causes significant concern when the inflammation response is excessive for long periods of time because this can lead to the development of chronic disease. It is extremely common for a patient to have a significant food sensitivity that they are completely unaware of. It is difficult to know that you are reacting to something if you have been exposed to it for your entire life, as far as your body is concerned this reactive state is the “norm”.
In the past it was thought that there was either a full blown allergic response to foods or that there is no response at all. Recent studies have shown that this logic is simply not correct and that there is a spectrum of responses that the body will have to the molecules present in food. Inflammation is a critical phase of the healing process as it is how the immune system focuses its resources on the problem area. Where inflammation becomes a problem is when it does not resolve and it remains excessive for a long period of time. During the inflammation process there are significant amount of free radicals released which initially have a very positive role in healing the tissue. These chemicals can cause damage if inflammation is uncontrolled. If the body is reacting to a food that it is being constantly exposed to for many years, this chronic inflammation will damage tissues and plant the seed for the formation of chronic disease.
Many times I will ask patients if they have been tested for food sensitivities and often the patient will reply, “Yes, I did the skin prick test with my doctor.” The problem is that this test does not look for food sensitivities at all, it looks for food allergies. When the skin is pricked and the body is exposed to a small amount of a substance then the skin will react if it is a substance that you are allergic to. Food sensitivities work by a completely different branch of the immune system so they would simply not show up by this test. There are ways to test for food sensitivities but these tests are usually not covered by medical plans and medical doctors are rarely aware of how to perform these tests. These tests are effective and it can be very helpful for a patient to see a digital graph displaying which foods they are sensitive to.
The gold standard for determining which foods you are sensitive to is through a food elimination and challenge diet. This process can be complicated so it is very important to have guidance from a professional with experience in this area. If the process is not done properly then you will never know if you are actually sensitive to the foods or not. After eliminating all of the foods which you are sensitive to for several weeks, the digestive tract has the opportunity to resolve any inflammation that has been chronically aggravating the cells in the digestive tract. If these aggravating foods have been in your diet for a long time then you will likely not be aware of this sensitivity until you eliminate the aggravators from your diet for several weeks. If the aggravating food is introduced after this elimination period then the patient will often experience discomfort such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue or anxiety. The list of potential effects is very long but generally speaking the patient will just not feel great when the food is reintroduced.
One of the first things that people notice when they eliminate these aggravating foods is weight loss. Very often patients are sensitive to gluten and dairy and when these foods are eliminated from the diet it is not uncommon for a patient to lose at least 15 pounds shortly after elimination. This makes perfect sense from a metabolic perspective because one of the hallmarks of inflammation is fluid retention in the affected area. If the entire digestive tract is in an inflamed state from an aggravating food then there is significant water retention along the entire tract. When this aggravation is removed then the water retention via this mechanism is reduced and the patient loses weight.
There are many chemicals that are released during the inflammation process which put the body into a more stressful state by activating the sympathetic nervous system. When there are high levels of these inflammatory markers in the body you will have less energy because these markers tell the cells that they need to focus on resolving the inflammation. To the body, inflammation is a sign that you cannot relax because resources need to be focused on resolving the inflammation. As a consequence your body puts less energy into other bodily functions that are important for quality of life.
I always find it remarkable how many people do not even realize how stressed out their body was until they remove these inflammatory foods. Many times the patient does not feel that anything is wrong and they just do the food sensitivity tests out of curiosity. The results then indicate a strong sensitivity and when this is eliminated the patient feels like the lights were suddenly turned on. They did not realize that they had a problem until their body exited this chronic inflammatory state. After eliminating the aggravating foods they have more energy, their mood improves and they lose weight that they had so much trouble losing in the past.
Chronic inflammation in the gut directly harms the intestinal cells. Normally the cells in the gut are very tightly bound together by structures called “tight junctions”. This essentially makes it impossible for any molecules to leak from the gut into the blood stream. If the integrity of the junctions is strong then the only molecules which can enter the blood stream are molecules that have been adequately digested by the cells. When these cells get damaged the gut becomes “leaky” and molecules begin to leak into the blood stream which should not be there. This is commonly known as “leaky gut syndrome”. There are a number of different down stream effects that seriously impact your health. If you are constantly eating foods which are aggravating your cells then your gut will be more permeable to these molecules. When these molecules start to leak into your blood stream the entire body is put into a stressed and inflamed state which is not conducive to healing. More research is beginning to come out that shows a very strong link between inflammation in the gut and chronic disease.
The good news is that the gut can heal very rapidly if given the right nutrients. The intestinal cells divide very rapidly so they can quickly replace damaged cells under the right conditions. It is very important to have guidance through the gut healing protocol because there can be other confounding factors in your individual case which must also be addressed. The most common Naturopathic approach to healing leaky gut is removing the aggravating foods and using a combination of glutamine, probiotics and omega-3’s. When high quality versions of these supplements are taken together in necessary doses then the gut can heal very quickly. It is amazing to see how effective these simple therapies are and many of these patients have been struggling to get any relief from the traditional medical system for many years without any success. After a few months of following these protocols they notice a major shift in the health and well-being.
Article retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/the-gut-connection
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