Digestive issues are a huge part of my practice. They can be divided a couple of different ways – by diagnosis or by cause.
By DIAGNOSIS, I often see people with:
- GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or “heartburn”
- Dyspepsia or “indigestion” – including chronic nausea
- Gastritis and ulcers
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome – a catch-all category that covers gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and/or constipation.
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases – Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis – autoimmune diseases
By CAUSE, most digestive concerns are created by a few major factors:
1) Food sensitivities – a food sensitivity is an abnormal, problematic reaction to food. Typical reactions to a problem food include gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea. I typically guide people through an elimination diet for 3 weeks to help identify their food sensitivities. I may also use a blood test to identify IgG food sensitivities, which is one type of food sensitivity.
2) Microbiome – Your microbiome is a unique population of bacteria and yeast (and possibly viruses according to new research!) that live on and in you. The microbes in your digestive tract influence how well you digest food, how well your digestive tract functions and influence your immune system. In fact it appears your gut bacteria can affect blood sugar control and weight gain as well.
When looking at the digestive tract, I consider quantity and type of and if they are in the right location.
We can test for:
- small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) with breath test
- comprehensive parasitology – to assess populations of good and bad bacteria, yeast and parasites in the large intestine
I often prescribe high quality probiotic (good bug) supplements, counsel people to eat more fermented foods (and share recipes!) and use antimicrobial agents (herbs or drugs) when necessary. I have also found clinically that decreasing inflammation in the digestive tract with herbs and nutrients will allow the body to clear some infections without ever using an actual antibiotic.
Note: The Gut Microbiota for Health website collects information about the bugs inside of us affect our wellbeing – great resource.
3) Organ function – Your stomach, liver/gall bladder, pancreas and small intestine have huge jobs to play in normal digestion. If one of these organs is not working right, you can have a very uncomfortable reaction to the things you eat. Fortunately, there are some amazing herbal and homeopathic tonics that can help these organs improve their function. Stress management can play a big role here too.
I have found addressing these three areas – food, bugs and organ function – a very rewarding way to address most common digestive complaints. Inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, require some extra steps, because we must also address the autoimmune component – calm down the over-reactive immune system.