According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) there are currently more then 70 million people in the U.S. suffering with some form of Gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 117 million (half of all adults) have one or more chronic health conditions. In addition, GI complaints are among the top reasons patients seek health care. So, if you are an adult reading this, most likely you or one of your close family members falls into one of these categories.
The important thing to understand about the body, especially chronic health conditions, is that not all symptoms are related to the location they are associated with. For instance, problems such as migraine headaches, allergies, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, acne, or auto immune diseases can stem from a systemic imbalance which often originates in your digestive system a.k.a. “the Gut.” However, you may or may not have any noticeable GI symptoms.
Now, along with some of those chronic or auto immune conditions, you can also be experiencing GI issues such as diarrhea, constipation, gas bloating, heartburn on a regular basis and may even have been diagnosed with something such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Chrons or Colitis. If you have been diagnosed, there is a good chance you have been on a variety of medications that did not produce much effect. You have probably also been told that what you eat makes no difference in fixing the problem. Often this leaves patients feeling frustrated and not sure which direction to go next, or that it’s something you just have to live with. Not true!
The Gut is responsible for much more then just processing the food that we eat. It functions as the body’s hub. It is involved in many aspects of health from immunity (60-80% of our immunity is located in the gut), to mood (90% of our neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are made here) to energy metabolism, just to name a few. So, it is a key player in maintaining and restoring health.
A variety of factors can all cause the gut to get out of balance and lead to illness. These include, food allergies/sensitivities, stress, antibiotics, lack of enzymes, not enough fiber, too much sugar, over growth of yeast or bacteria.
So what can we do to remedy this situation and heal the body?
Naturopathic Doctors focus on getting to the root cause of the problem instead of just eliminating the symptoms. We take a very simple yet highly effect approach to gut healing.
The 5R approach: Remove, Replace, Repopulate, Repair and Rebalance.
Remove: Get rid of the bad. Eliminate or remove whatever is negatively impacting the gut: Foods, drugs, chemicals, or problematic bacteria, too much yeast or unwanted parasites.
Replace: Add back the good. Just as important as bringing down the irritating factors, we need to reintroduce the GI tract to the essentials it needs to work properly, such as enzymes, HCL, bile acids — all essential for proper digestion.
Repopulate: Restoring the balance of good bacteria is critical. This is done by eating and drinking fermented foods and using the correct live supplements, such as pre-biotics and pro-biotics.
Repair: This step restores the healthy lining of the digestive tract that may have been compromised. This can be done by supplying the body with nutrients like zinc, vitamins A, C and D, anti oxidants, Omega 3-fatty acids, amino acids like L-Glutamine, and/or natural anti-inflammatories and mucilaginous agents, all in food or supplements form.
Rebalance: This is where we take a step back and look at the even bigger picture: Lifestyle. It is important to address the external stressors in life that increase your sympathetic nervous system and reduce your parasympathetic drive. Working on ways to decrease these concerns through improving sleep, increasing exercise, counseling, yoga, mediation or other mindfulness-based practices, can go a long way to restoring and maintaining balance in your gut and subsequently benefiting your entire body.
Over the next few weeks, I will continue my series on “Healing the Body by Healing the Gut,” and discuss more in-depth the components of the 5R approach. This program addresses the underlying cause, restores balance and thus reduces and eliminates the symptoms. This plan, although simple, takes some work on your part. It can take up to six months to a year, depending on the condition, to fully repair the gut, so it is important to work with your Naturopathic Doctor and any other health care professionals on your team to figure out the best approach for your individual needs.
Dr. Stacey Kargman is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist. She has been treating patients with a focus on wholistic gastroenterology for the past 20 years. Go to www.MarylandNaturalHealthCenter.com for more information about the work she does.