Digestion and Indigestion
Believe it or not, it takes about a third of our daily energy output to drive our digestive system. That’s an enormous amount when you consider that the other two-thirds must be shared by all of the body’s other activities: maintaining body temperature, keeping our brains busy and regulating the action of our muscles. When things go wrong with our digestion, diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer can arise. Less obviously, disorders of the skin, allergies, asthma and autoimmune dysfunctions can originate in gastrointestinal disturbances. The connection is becoming apparent with new research focused on things like the balancing act between Th1 and Th2 and particularly Th17. Before we look at how we can assess the health of our digestive organs, let’s stop by a few of the problems that can afflict this critical system.
Plain Old Indigestion
Whether its constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, acid indigestion, gas or bloating, every one of us occasionally experiences some form of indigestion. You’ve probably had some sort of mild encounter in the last few weeks.
In some cases, such as the lactose intolerance and celiac disease we looked at in the last section, symptoms of indigestion are due to a specific cause that requires specific treatment. Sometimes symptoms associated with indigestion are caused by diseases unrelated to the gastrointestinal tract. Ovarian cancer, for example, may cause a sensation of bloating and the a symptoms of heartburn may sometimes be a precursor to a heart attack. So before anything else, let’s say that anyone with persistent symptoms of indigestion should be properly diagnosed by a healthcare professional before assuming that what they are experiencing is a simple case of “indigestion.”
One of the most common sorts of indigestion is heartburn, that burning sensation in the chest that may occur when the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach is not functioning properly. A related cause of heartburn is diaphragmatic or hiatus hernia, in which a small portion of the stomach protrudes through the gastroesophageal sphincter Even babies may not be immune, as many believe that colic is the infant’s version of indigestion.
Colon health and regularity in bowel movements is a cornerstone of overall health. Many health experts believe that constipation or diarrhea are signs that the body is dealing with toxins that it has been unable to rid itself of fast enough. It has been reported that 12 percent of people worldwide suffer from constipation. Generally speaking, having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week is not healthy. Common causes of constipation include prescription medications, hormonal changes, poor bowel habits, diet, dehydration, lack of exercise, laxatives, diseases such as colon cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stress.
Constipation that comes on suddenly should be evaluated by a doctor to make sure no serious disease is involved. Otherwise, natural health products should be your first response to change in normal bowel habits that is characterized by a decrease in frequency and the passage of hard, dry stools.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms and are often difficult to distinguish. They are both chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that most commonly affect the small intestine and/or colon. An estimated half million North Americans have Crohn’s disease. It causes painful swelling that often results in diarrheal, or frequent loose watery stools. The cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown but current research suggests that the inflammation in Crohn’s disease involves a complex interaction of factors including heredity, the immune system and antigens in the environment.
Many alternative, integrative and natural health practitioners now believe that “leaky gut syndrome” or more palatably “permeable bowel syndrome” is a condition in which the intestinal walls allow food particles to pass into the bloodstream that should not be able to do so. Our digestive tract—primarily the upper segment of the small intestine—is meant to be permeable but only selectively so. Once selective permeability is compromised so that larger than acceptable food particles get through, the immune system considers them to as foreign invaders and the attack begins.
Our digestive system is a tube about thirty feet long running through our bodies from mouth to anus. But it is much more than that. Consider the atmosphere surrounding the earth and its protective role for our environment. Earth’s atmosphere provides a protective barrier to support and sustain an abundant variety of life, and key to this is the critical balance of the different gases that provide the earth with important filter-like protection, enabling it to support the life of its 30 million different species of inhabitants. The intestine provides a similar protective barrier. The intestinal wall is coated with thousands of different species of microorganisms, both “good” and “bad” (from our perspective) bacteria, numbering in the billions. That bacterial lining is like Earth’s protective atmosphere. Scientists have discovered that more bacteria reside in our gut than there are cells in the body. This rich, protective coating of microorganisms acts in concert with the physical barrier provided by the cells lining the intestinal tract and other factors to provide the body with important filter-like protection. Damaging substances— disease-causing bacteria, toxins, chemicals and wastes—are filtered out and eliminated. Simultaneously, the critical nutrients needed for the myriad of essential reactions that support life —small sugars, fats, proteins and water—are absorbed into circulation and made available to the billions of cells. At the same time, damaging substances from unhealthy bacteria, incompletely digested food, toxins or chemicals are largely prevented from being absorbed and transported throughout the body.
Unfortunately, just as in the case of our planetary atomosphere, humans’ bad habits have promoted imbalance in the intestinal tract. Just as pollutants such as CFCs have punched holes in our ozone shield, dietary behaviours have contributed to an imbalance of intestinal protective factors in an alarming percentage of the population. These bad habits include widespread consumption of a diet high in refined simple sugars and deficient foods, excess alcohol, antacids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and excessive antibiotics. This tips the intestinal balance toward the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and a proliferation of yeast and fungal organisms, an imbalance of that is also associated with chronic intestinal dysfunction.
I’m grouping the liver here with the digestive organs because that’s most often how we think of it. But the liver is the second largest organ in the body (after the skin) and plays a comparably large and complex role—many roles in fact. It processes nutrients, manufactures bile to help digest fats, synthesizes important proteins, regulates blood clotting, and breaks down potentially toxic substances into harmless ones that the body can use or excrete. Among its special features, the liver is better able to regenerate itself than any other organ, with healthy cells taking over the function of damaged cells, either indefinitely or until the damage is repaired.
Due to the complexity of the liver, there are many types of liver disease, but regardless of the type, damage to the liver is likely to progress in a similar way. Liver cells die and fat cells and dysfunctional cells take their place until new and functional liver cells replace them. If demand for new cells exceeds the available supply, liver disease ensues. Viruses such as hepatitis A, B, and C cause much of the known liver disease. In fact more than a million North Americans have chronic hepatitis. Other types of liver damage can be the result of drugs (such as the overuse of the popular over-the-counter pain medication, acetaminophen), poisons, or drinking too much alcohol over an extended period of time.
The Peptic Ulcer
There are many types of ulcers, some more serious than others. Most of us, when we speak of ulcers, are referring to the most common sort, peptic ulcers, erosions of the mucosal lining of the digestive tract that are bigger than about half a centimetre . Peptic ulcers are classified as either duodenal ulcers in the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine, just below the stomach) or gastric ulcers in the stomach itself.
Peptic ulcers can cause serious discomfort and damage to the digestive system if left untreated. Common symptoms include weight loss, bloating, belching and nausea, though occasionally they are painless. Untreated, peptic ulcers often bleed and may cause a sharp burning pain in the area of the stomach or just below it. If your doctor suspects an ulcer, he or she will want to investigate whether it is associated with Helicobacter pylori, a stubborn bacterial infection that requires specific treatment. H. pylori is now believed to be the main causative factor in peptic ulcers and, with this factor identified, the prevalence of this sort of ulcer is declining. However, longer-term use of NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen have also been shown to contribute to the development of ulcers. Stress too appears to be real factor.
The Gall and Its Stones
The gall bladder is a small sac-like organ that concentrates bile produced by the liver for the digestion of fat. Unfortunately, the gall bladder is most famous for its production of gallstones, concretions of bile that develop inside the gall bladder. Although small in size, gallstones can cause big discomfort. Gallstone attacks can cause extreme pain in the upper-right quarter of the abdomen, often extending to the back and accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Gallstones are commonly associated with bile that contains excessive cholesterol, a deficiency of other substances in bile (bile acids and lecithin), or a combination of these factors.
The Kidneys and Their Stones
And while we’re on the subject of stones, and even though the kidneys are not strictly speaking part of the digestive system, let me mention kidney stones. If you’ve ever suffered from this condition, you’ll know that it can cause severe back or flank pain that may radiate down to the groin region, sometimes accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms, chills, fever, and blood in the urine. Nothing you’ll forget too soon.
Kidney stones are hard masses that grow from crystals formed within the kidneys. Most are composed of calcium oxalate but approximately one stone in three is made of something other than calcium oxalate and one in five contains little calcium in any form. If you have a history of kidney stone formation, you should talk with your doctor to learn what type of stones you have. That information may have a real bearing on your health, as we’ll see in the next chapter.
Testing Our Digestive System
So those are some of the ways our digestion can go wrong. But what should we actually be testing?
The functional status of the organs that digest and assimilate may not be on every doctor’s radar but there are real consequences if your digestive system fails to carry out its tasks. There may be any number of potential causes of such failures but it’s always wise to consider this: many problems originating in the gut may be related to nutritional deficiency.
I’ve already mentioned the hundreds of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi that occupy every nook and cranny of the digestive tract. These microbes—both the pathogenic and non-pathogenic—have one thing in common: they’re supposed to be there. It’s when they become disproportionate, with too many of the pathogenic or unfriendly kind, that we have a problem.
Digestive secretions from the stomach, liver and pancreas are largely produced in response to food in the tract, and vary according to the amount and type of food present. The enteric nervous system, which is largely independent of the brain, regulates the digestion and absorption activities in concert with the immune system and independent signals from our senses. Our health is at risk if the supply of any of these secretions becomes deficient, or if the organs produce too much.
Invasive procedures for observation or specimen retrieval can be highly informative and are generally considered the gold standard of digestive testing. However, they can only be performed by specialists and are often expensive, uncomfortable, and frankly carry significant risk. If you’re experiencing digestive symptoms have not been referred to a specialist, there are many helpful and revealing tests available that are typically ignored by conventional practice.
Assessing Your Stomach Acid Balance
Problems of intestinal absorption—a major cause of indigestion—are often due to inadequate secretion of the stomach enzyme hydrochloric acid (HCl), especially in people over fifty years of age. In fact, symptoms of inadequate stomach acid—a burning sensation in the upper abdomen at mealtime—are similar to those of excess acid and one is frequently confused for the other. If you have indigestion and would like to determine whether it’s due to over- or under-production of the stomach enzyme HCl, you might consider having the accurate Heidelberg capsule test. This decidedly high-tech procedure requires you to swallow a tiny plastic-encapsulated pH probe small enough to safely pass through the GI tract. It contains a miniature radio transmitter that continuously measures gastrointestinal pH and transmits the data to a waistband antenna connected to a bedside receiver. It can be difficult to locate a practitioner who performs this test, so you yourself can perform a self-test that, while less accurate, is more accessible to the average person. It is performed over a period of three days under the supervision of a GI specialist. Do not proceed with this test if you have a known ulcer or inflammatory bowel disease.
On the first day of the test, upon arising and thirty minutes before breakfast, your practitioner may advise you to take 10 grains (650 mg) of betaine HCl in a capsule form. If any discomfort, nausea or burning occurs, you will immediately discontinue the betaine HCl and inform your practitioner. People experience the discomfort differently. It is often described as an intense warmth and heaviness, like taking an ounce or two of hard liquor on an empty stomach. If no discomfort occurs, on the second day your practitioner may advise you to take two capsules instead of one. If there is any discomfort with two capsules, then a longer term dose of one capsule with each meal will be recommended. If there is no discomfort, on the third day, you will be advised to take three capsules. If there is any discomfort with three capsules, then the long term dose recommended is often two capsules with each meal. If there is no discomfort, then the dose will be three capsules with each meal.
Once the dose is determined, that amount is usually taken at the beginning of each meal until eventually the prescribed dose may cause discomfort. In consulting the prescribing practitioner, the typical advice is to reduce the dose by one and continue—until the point where discomfort may occur again. At that point, the treatment is typically discontinued indefinitely.
People should not take betaine hydrochloric acid capsules or tablets if they have an ulcer anywhere in the GI tract or are taking anything that might irritate the stomach lining such as aspirin, indomethacin, Bufferin, Anacin, butazolidine, cortisone or Midol. Hydrochloric acid capsules or tablets should not be chewed or opened and mixed into liquid as the acid will damage teeth and can burn the throat.
Assessing Other Digestive Functions
Digestion consists of chewing, enzyme and stomach acid production, pancreatic activity, liver bile flow, the activation of microscopic absorption areas of your pipes (called the brush border) to absorb efficiently and not “leak,” and, finally, effective elimination. All of these happen in the digestive system and all can be assessed to determine your digestive health using available testing—but testing that your doctor is likely unfamiliar with.
A good preliminary assessment tool to use that determines whether the digestive system is in good order or compromised is called the urine indican test. Indican is a by-product of putrefaction, the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of proteins in the intestine. Putrefaction is not a healthy way for your body to deal with proteins. An elevated urinary indican is associated with such pathologic conditions as low stomach acid production, poor peristaltic movement (the “waves” that move food through the bowel), and poor production of digestive bile secretions from the gall bladder and liver. The urine indican test is generally a good indicator for the poor breakdown of proteins accompanied by the gastrointestinal permeability we call the “leaky gut syndrome.”
Digestive functions can also be assessed by submitting a stool test to a qualified laboratory to check for chemical markers that can indicate imbalances. Decreased pancreatic function is linked to gallstones, diabetes, osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases. Abnormal levels of short chain fatty acids may indicate alterations in gut flora, insufficient dietary fiber, altered transit time and small bowel bacteria overgrowth. Bile acids on the other hand play an important role in fat breakdown and absorption and high levels of some bile acids are associated with increased toxin buildup, increased risk of gallstones, and gastro-intestinal cancers. Elevations of calprotectin and/or eosinophil protein X can signify mild, moderate or severe inflammation within the GI tract which is associated with infection (bacterial, viral or parasitic), food allergies, NSAID enteropathy (inflammation from overuse of aspirin or ibuprofen), IBD and even cancer.
Upwards of 80 percent of your immune system, known as gut-associated lymphatic tissue or GALT, is found in your gut. Much of GALT’s effectiveness relies on the amount and activity of the beneficial flora (bacteria) that flourish there. Keeping these levels healthy is imperative for your overall health. If you think you have digestive problems, it’s important to have tests performed to measure the beneficial flora such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and of course any bacteria that are strictly pathogenic as well as other, potentially pathogenic bacteria and yeast.
SNPs: Decoding the Warnings
We’ve already discussed the fact that we can’t change our genes but we now know we can modify their expression. That’s why it makes sense to evaluate our genetic variations, the single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, that are the result of natural mutations. For example, some of these SNPs are associated with increased risk of impaired detoxification capacity, especially if we’re exposed to environmental toxins. Testing SNPs of certain genes can also identify a potential susceptibility to adverse drug reactions. With this unprecedented access to information about our genetic selves, we can give greater attention to prevention of conditions that would formerly have been seen as inevitable. We might alter our diet, get better control of our stress, exercise more, or supplement appropriately and thus add years on our lives. Let’s look at three gene-encoded enzymes that affect the proper functioning of our liver and critically affect our capacity for digestion, nutrient dispensing, and detoxification.
N-acetyl transferase (NAT) is expressed by a well-studied gene and detoxifies many environmental contaminants, including tobacco smoke and exhaust fumes. Problems with this gene may result in the slowing or acceleration of a chemical reaction called “acetylation,” and either of these may be associated with increased risk of lung, colon, bladder, or head and neck cancer.
Glutathione s-transferase detoxifies many water-soluble environmental toxins, including those volatile solvents we spoke about earlier, herbicides, fungicides, and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead. Defects in this detoxification activity can contribute to fatigue syndromes and many cancers.
Superoxide dismutase is a strong free radical detoxifier. Mutations on these extensively studied genes can affect this and other antioxidant enzymes. This can lead to increased free radical activity and cell damage, and may increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders, heart disease, and cancer.
There’s a group of people whose ability to detoxify appears to be significantly affected by genetic glitches: those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Genetic detoxification impairment of course depends on the genes that govern detoxification, but some studies suggest some or all of these genes may be affected in the ASD population. Impaired detoxification in the liver results in a high level of accumulated toxins (xenobiotics) such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and aluminium. The so-called MMR vaccine controversy centers around the belief by some that mercury in the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine given in the United States (not Canada) led to an increased incidence of diagnosed autism cases. In my own view, there is a combination effect whereby an environmental trigger such as mercury, a genetic predisposition to impaired detoxification pathways, and an overwhelmed immune system all contribute to the end result. When you give children with ASD supplements that aid in detoxification, they improve, some more than others. In fact in a recent pilot trial from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, involving 31 children with ASD, found that N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may be an effective therapy for some features of autism. NAC is an antioxidant that improves our natural detoxification abilities. It seems that mainstream medicine is finally paying attention to scientifically sound interventions from the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) movement and the alternative doctors who treat autism.
If you combine genetic susceptibility with impaired liver detoxification, along with a genetic susceptibility to malformed brain cell connections, you may have the perfect storm for autism. A large international study looked at DNA mutations in genes affecting brain function and found that they appear to be a major cause of autism. The study looked for unusual DNA deletions or duplications known as “copy number variants” (CNVs) in 996 people with autism and 1,287 matched people without autism. Many of the genes in which these rare CNVs occur are linked to brain function, especially the growth and maintenance of the synapses through which brain cells communicate with each other.
Scientists have now studied many genes whose mutations (SNPs) are testable to help determine detoxification performance. We looked at a few above but there are many more—and the list is growing.
WHAT Goes In:Natural Support for Diet and Digestion
Digestion is a huge subject and there’s a huge volume of traditional and modern remedies, natural and otherwise. Here are my suggestions for some of the best—and the rest. But if I had to give one piece of advice to cover all, it would be: “Bodies, not factories, should process food.”
Relief from Indigestion
It may surprise you to learn that heartburn and indigestion may be caused by too little stomach acid. This may seem to be a paradox, but based on my clinical experience, supplementing with a natural health product like betaine HCl (a compound that contains hydrochloric acid) often relieves the symptoms of heartburn and improves digestion.
It is important to realize that when you experience indigestion, your vitamin absorption may be compromised. Many minerals and vitamins—iron, zinc and B-complex vitamins including folic acid—appear to require adequate concentrations of stomach acid to be absorbed optimally.
There are many natural health products that may improve general digestion. Some very effective ones derive from caraway, the popular culinary spice. Aside from its cooking uses, the volatile oil from the seeds is effective in managing heartburn, bloating, cramping and abdominal pain. I also recommend it to patients with chronic problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux.
Other natural health products proven to optimize digestion are probiotics—the “good bacteria”—enteric-coated peppermint oil, artichoke, ginger and of course digestive enzymes, such as a broad-spectrum combination protease, lipase and amylase.
Relief for the Gut
Constipation and indigestion. You’ve seen your healthcare practitioners but nothing sinister is suspected. What can you do apart from relying on commercial pharmaceuticals?
To begin, try a bulk laxative. For results within 12 to 24 hours, take 5 to 10 grams per day of psyllium husk or 3 to 4 grams per day of glucomannan mixed in water, followed by a second glass of water. Psyllium is derived from the husks of the seeds of Plantago ovata and contains a high level of soluble dietary fibre. It’s the chief ingredient in many commonly used bulk laxatives. Most studies of psyllium report an increase in stool weight, an increase in bowel movements per day, and a decrease in total gut transit time.
Next, increase your fruits and veggies and get more fibre and water in your diet. Include more beans, bran, flaxseed and whole grains in your diet. Phosphates are the naturally occurring form of the element phosphorus and as a laxative, phosphates appear to increase peristalsis (movement of the gastrointestinal tract) and cause an entry of fluids into the intestine.
The inner lining of aloe leaves, taken by mouth, has been used traditionally as a laxative and the laxative properties of aloe components such as aloin are well supported by scientific evidence.
Flaxseed is a mild, bulk-forming laxative that’s best suited for long-term use in people with constipation. Lastly, let’s not forget our old friends the probiotics. Taking them as a supplement will help maintain a population of healthy intestinal flora. An insufficiency of these digestive allies can cause either constipation or diarrhea.
Relief from Infantile Colic
Some research has suggested that certain natural health products containing fennel, chamomile and lemon balm are potential treatments for breastfed colic in infants. More recent research done at Regina Margherita Children’s Hospital in Italy suggests that daily probiotics may improve symptoms associated with infantile colic. The Italian researchers concluded that the probiotic L. reuteri may improve colicky symptoms in breastfed infants within one week of treatment. This compared favourably with simethicone, an oral anti-foaming agent commonly used to reduce bloating, discomfort and pain caused by excess gas in the stomach or intestinal tract.
Because homeopathy is safe and effective for infants and children, it too is commonly a solution for colic. The remedy carbo vegetabilis releases intestinal gas often related to abdominal discomfort; colocynthis can relax cramping of the intestinal tract and cuprum metallicum relaxes spasms of the abdominal area. Any and all of these homeopathic remedies offer your baby relief and comfort and can afford you a good night’s sleep.
Coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a relatively common gastrointestinal disorder that causes significant discomfort. The cause of IBS remains unknown, but recent research suggests a brain-gut connection. IBS is not related to inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (see below). Common symptoms include abdominal bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation. Research shows that people with IBS are more likely than others to have backaches, fatigue and several other seemingly unrelated problems.
If you suffer from IBS, the first remedy is to consume the right fibre. Examples are fibre-rich flaxseed, rye, brown rice, oatmeal, barley and vegetables. Sometimes IBS sufferers improve as a result of taking a bulk-forming laxative such as psyllium husk. It is necessary to strike a balance between the amount of fibre to ensure regularity and not getting so much as to trigger episodes of diarrhea.
Exploring food sensitivities is one of the most effective approaches to resolving the underlying cause of IBS. Work with a specialist to identify foods that aggravate your condition. This often requires experimentally removing gluten, dairy products, corn, beans, foods containing caffeine, fructose and sorbitol from your diet.
Peppermint and caraway oils can effectively manage symptoms for some sufferers. Taking a coated herbal supplement providing 0.2 to 0.4 ml of peppermint oil, preferably combined with 50 mg of caraway oil, three times a day may reduce gas production, ease intestinal cramping, and soothe the intestinal tract.
Coping with Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an intestinal disorder that results from an abnormal immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and, to a lesser extent, oats. Surprisingly, about one in a hundred people has celiac and of those who do a staggering 97 percent don’t know it!
Celiac disease can affect other parts of the body, such as the pancreas (increasing the risk of diabetes), the thyroid gland (increasing the risk of thyroid disease), and the nervous system (increasing the risk of peripheral neuropathies and other neurological disorders). Occasionally, damage occurs in one or more of these parts of the body in the absence of damage to the intestines. In a certain few, celiac may not cause symptoms at all. However, others may have a history of frequent diarrhea; pale, foul-smelling, bulky stools; abdominal pain, gas and bloating; weight loss; fatigue; canker sores; muscle cramps; delayed growth or short stature; bone and joint pain; seizures; painful skin rash; or even infertility.
Obviously, once testing has confirmed celiac, the best treatment is avoidance of gluten, and the present-day marketplace is rich in gluten-free products: breads, flours and cereals. Since the malabsorption that occurs in celiac disease can lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies, supplementing with a broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral may help to correct a deficiency. The best solution, though, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, is a comprehensive blood, urine, and hair tissue analysis for micronutrient deficiencies.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s disease is a poorly understood inflammatory condition that usually affects the ileo-cecal area (the lower partof the small intestine) and the beginning and mid-section of the colon. The most common symptoms during flare-ups include bloody stools, malabsorption problems, chronic diarrhea with abdominal pain, occasional fever, loss of appetite, weight loss and a sense of fullness in the abdomen. About one-third of people with Crohn’s have a history of anal fissures or fistulas.
A variety of probiotic preparations have shown effectiveness in preventing relapse or maintaining remission in Crohn’s. There is also limited but promising research of the use of oral aloe vera in ulcerative colitis.
Fish oil helps relieve the inflammation of the gut that occurs in people suffering from Crohn’s disease, while bovine colostrum and chlorella may improve gastrointestinal health and may be an effective treatment in gut inflammation and general immune function.
It is important to note that malabsorption is common in Crohn’s and can lead to a deficiency in many vitamins including vitamin D. Supplementation with it can help prevent bone loss in cases of deficiency but also support the immune system.
Worth noting: in one small trial, six of seven people with Crohn’s disease went into remission after taking DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) for eight weeks.
Dealing with Lactose Intolerance
To remedy lactose intolerance, over-the-counter products containing lactase enzyme can be supplemented when consuming foods containing lactose.
An interesting new study suggests that supplementation of infant formulas with probiotics is one approach for the management of cow’s milk allergy. Probiotics have been found to enhance the digestion and absorption of proteins, fats, calcium and phosphorus. It may also turn out that they can help to overcome lactose intolerance.
If you are among those people who need to avoid dairy, you should consider a calcium supplement providing 500 to 1,000 mg per day.
Healing the Leaky Gut
If, as I believe, leaky gut syndrome contributes to intestinal dysfunction, I have several recommendations to help you achieve optimal intestinal health. Aside from a healthy diet—one that also avoids foods you are allergic to or sensitive to—and the avoidance of the bad habits I just mentioned, I recommend natural health products that can help reverse this syndrome. Examples are the bioactive proteins such as lactoperoxidase lactoferrin, globulin proteins, arabinogalactans, and fructooligosaccharides. All support the growth of health-supporting bacteria. Meanwhile, phosphatidylcholine, L-glutamine and licorice protect and nourish the intestinal lining. Finally, high doses of broad-spectrum supplemental probiotics appear to be strongly supportive of intestinal health.
Supporting the Liver
Because of the many roles it plays in maintaining our body’s function, the liver deserves special mention, whether you’re diagnosed as having a liver problem or not. In order to remain healthy, your body requires an optimally functioning liver to deal with the food you eat, the hormones and metabolites that your body naturally produces, and your inevitable exposure to toxins. To date, some of the best studied natural health products to support the liver are milk thistle extracts, betaine, and cordyceps.
Multiple studies suggest the benefits of oral milk thistle using the flavonoid complex called silymarin extracted from the seeds of milk thistle. Milk thistle is commonly grown throughout North America and Europe and has found application as a medicinal agent for more than two thousand years, principally for disorders of the liver and gall bladder.
In experiments lasting up to five years, milk thistle improved liver function and even decreased the number of deaths that occur in people with cirrhosis. Several studies of oral milk thistle for chronic hepatitis caused by viruses or alcohol have shown improvements in liver function tests.
Betaine is found in most microorganisms, plants, marine animals and many foods, especially beets, spinach, grain and shellfish. Its main physiological functions are to protect cells under stress.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used cordyceps to support and improve liver function. It’s known to stimulate the immune system and may improve serum gamma globulin levels in people with hepatitis B.
The Care and Feeding of the Peptic Ulcer
You probably won’t understand the importance of preventing a peptic ulcer until you have one. As we know, H. pylori is the prime suspect, yet there are other factors that may either directly cause ulcers or encourage the growth of a helicobacter infection. Whatever the cause, when an ulcer happens, your concern will be the healing process.
Start by avoiding irritants—in particular, smoking, aspirin and related drugs, alcohol, coffee (including decaf), tea and hot spices. All can aggravate an ulcer. Reduce the risk of new and recurrent duodenal ulcers by getting enough fibre.
One of the most effective natural health products for ulcers is zinc. This mineral and its bound counterpart, zinc-carnosine, are known to speed the repair of damaged tissue in the digestive lining.
Deglycerized licorice root (DGL) has a long history of use for soothing inflamed and injured mucous membranes in the digestive tract. Flavonoids in licorice may also inhibit growth of H. pylori.
Chewable DG Licorice
250 to 500 mg chewable DGL before meals and bedtime
Licorice root has a long history of use for soothing inflamed and injured mucous membranes in the digestive tract. Licorice may protect the stomach and duodenum by increasing production of mucin, a substance that protects the lining of these organs against stomach acid and other harmful substances.27 According to laboratory research, flavonoids in licorice may also inhibit growth of H. pylori.28
Chamomile has a soothing effect on inflamed and irritated mucous membranes. It is also high in the flavonoid apigenin—another flavonoid that has inhibited growth of H. pylori in test tubes.29 Many doctors recommend drinking two to three cups of strong chamomile tea each day. The tea can be made by combining 3 to 5 ml of chamomile tincture with hot water or by steeping 2 to 3 tsp of chamomile flowers in the water, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Chamomile is also available in capsules; two may be taken three times per day.
Mastic, the gummy extract of Pistachia lentiscus, also known as mastic gum, has been shown in studies to heal peptic ulcers.
Ayurvedic doctors in India have traditionally used dried banana powder to treat ulcers. Banana powder appears to protect the lining of the stomach from acid. Ayurvedic medicine also found an important role for the extracts of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) of India and Burma. Such extracts are traditionally credited with a reduction in stomach acid levels and near-complete healing of people with duodenal ulcers.
Researchers haven’t as yet established a clear relationship between diet and gallstone formation but the evidence points towards low-fibre, high-cholesterol diets and diets high in starchy foods as being causative factors. Obese women have seven times the risk of forming gallstones compared with women who are not overweight. Even slightly overweight women have significantly higher risks and this suggests a regular exercise program and generally keeping fit and trim will reduce your risk. Oddly though, rapid weight loss actually appears to increase the risk. Other risk factors are constipation, eating a small number of meals per day, low fish consumption, and low intakes of the nutrients folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamin C. This may explain why some studies suggest wine and whole-grain bread may decrease the risk of gallstones. (Actually, it doesn’t explain why a bit of wine helps—but who cares, if it’s something you enjoy?) Certainly wheat bran—two tablespoons a day of unprocessed wheat bran with plenty of liquid—can decrease cholesterol build-up.
If you’re a vegetarian, it seems to be good news for your gall bladder. A low-fat diet rich in vegetables, beans and other vegetarian foods has shown benefits against gallstone formation. Uncovering food allergies can also help.
Liver flushing is an alternative method purported to remove gallstones, which accumulate in the gallbladder and/or liver. Flushing involves drinking a concoction of olive oil, epsom salts, soda and lemon juice at night at intervals along with a coffee enema. The diarrhea so produced is said to force out many gallstones. Do not try this if you have what your doctor tells you are “large” gallstones—the kind that won’t fit through the common bile duct. If you do, this practice could send you to the hospital in a hurry by lodging one and forcing the emergency removal of your gall bladder.
Apart from exercise and good nutrition, there are some effective natural health products to help prevent or treat gallstones. It’s always heartening when extracts from vegetables and good scientific studies come together, as they have recently to demonstrate that globe artichoke extract works as a choleretic, increasing bile secretion from the gall bladder. Globe artichoke is one of the world’s oldest recognized medicinal plants.
In a study undertaken by the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, it was shown that magnesium consumption may have a role in the prevention of symptomatic gallstone disease among men. This is one more endorsement for magnesium, an abundant element in the human body and known to be involved in 300 enzymatic reactions therein.
Phosphatidycholine—a major component of lecithin—has received some support from research for treatment of hepatitis and the body’s defence system. According to some theories, it may also help dissolve gallstones and prevent them from recurring.
If your doctor confirms that you suffer from the common calcium oxalate kidney stone—or you have suffered from such stones, even though they’re now gone—you’ll want to prevent a recurrence.
Drinking plenty of fluids is the first step in prevention. Water, lemonade and most fruit juices can help dilute the substances in the urine that form kidney stones. Avoid soft drinks, especially colas, which contain phosphoric acid, a stone inducer. Avoiding grapefruit juice may also help. The research as to why grapefruit juice increases the risk of kidney stones is inconclusive. However, some research shows that people who consumed 8 ounces of grapefruit juice every day increased their chances of developing kidney stones by 44 percent during a period of eight years.
Diets high in animal protein are linked to increased calcium in the urine, which contributes to oxalate stones. This is also, of course, preventative for gall stones. Avoid foods rich in organic acids (oxalates) that help stones form. That means limiting spinach, rhubarb, beetroot greens, nuts, chocolate, tea, bran, almonds, peanuts and strawberries, which appear to increase urinary oxalate levels.
Supplementing with 50 mg a day of vitamin B6 and 200 to 400 mg a day of magnesium (preferably the citrate form) may inhibit oxalate stone formation. A combination of potassium citrate and magnesium citrate may also reduce the recurrence rate; IP-6 or inositol hexaphosphate, also called phytic acid, reduces urinary calcium levels and may reduce the risk of forming a kidney stone. Even if you can’t adhere totally to such a regimen, everything you do along these lines may help prevent a recurrence. If you’ve ever had kidney stones, you know it will be worth it.