Digestive issues are a common problem these days. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is thought to be one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) disorders with worldwide prevalence rates ranging from 10–15%. There are several other major types of digestive disorders and it is estimated that more than 20% of the population suffers from some sort of digestive issue.
Common complaints from people with digestive issues include bloating after meals, heartburn, excessive lower abdominal gas, constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of all the above. Most of the time people see their family doctor or a gastroenterologist who can rule out more serious health issues like infection or malignancy. However, most of the time people are diagnosed with a general condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a syndrome or collection of symptoms not attributed to a specific pathogen or structural issue. It’s non-specific and the treatment often involves symptomatic care. Rarely does the doctor or patient look further to find the root cause of the issue.
Another common digestive disorder is Leaky Gut, otherwise known as increased intestinal permeability. This is a condition affecting the lining of the small intestine, creating a dysfunctional environment for proper digestion. The small intestine has a critical role in digestion. It absorbs the majority of the vitamins and mineral in the food you eat through microscopic pores known as Tight Junctions. These junctions are sized just right to pass through the nutrients while blocking out the toxins and undigested food particles. When they don’t work correctly, they get larger and allow food, bacteria, and toxins to “leak” through to the bloodstream. The antibodies in the bloodstream then jump into action and go into attack mode in response to the antigens (food particles, bacteria, etc.) that are not supposed to be there.
What causes Leaky Gut?
1. Chronic stress & hormone imbalances
Our bodies are built with a natural and very useful alarm system. For example, if we encounter a large dog that starts to bark and run at us, the hypothalamus at the base of the brain signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplier so that you can run away. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the blood stream, enhances the brains use of glucose and increase the ability to repair tissue. This is the fight or flight response. This response also stops non-essential function like digestion, reproduction and growth. This is all good – if presented with a threat, but when we live in a constant state of stress, this response becomes very detrimental to our health and the cortisol and adrenaline start breaking down our bodies. Including the lining of our small intestine.
2. Inflammatory Foods
The standard American diet (SAD) is overloaded with pro-inflammatory foods. The SAD is high in meat, dairy, process and artificially sweetened foods, and starchy foods like bread, corn, wheat, gluten. Inflammation damages epithelial tissue and promotes intestinal permeability
3. Lack of friendly gut bacteria
Low fiber diets and frequent antibiotic use contribute to the depletion of beneficial bacteria that should live in your intestines. An adequate supply of probiotics is key to preventing leaky gut. They have been shown to strengthen the gut barrier to prevent increased permeability. An imbalance of gut bacteria can also promote conditions like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) and Candida (yeast overgrowth). Candida is virtually everywhere and is a yeast that changes to fungus when the conditions are right. Under certain circumstances, Candida can exist in the intestines and can proliferate due to antibiotic overuse, hormonal imbalances, stress, diets high in sugar or high alcohol intake. There are many forms of infection that can live undetected and have a major impact on health. Functional stool testing can identify these infections and should be a priority every year as we encounter pathogens and infections daily.
4. Toxic exposure
Chronic exposure to toxins happens from multiple sources. Pesticides, overuse of medications, heavy metals, electro-magnetic fields (EMF’s), pollution, smog, GMO’s, poor water quality, molds, the list goes on. According to the CDC, 48.5 percent of Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, and 21.7 use three or more prescription drugs.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
Digestive issues are often thought to be chronic, lifelong conditions. Standard treatments usually involve attempts to decrease the symptoms, especially during flare-ups. Functional medicine uses a model of personalized care that focused on the root cause of dysfunction to offer sustainable health transformation. Functional medicine’s primary goal is to heal the gut, improve digestion, and address imbalances within the body to restore function. When a person is equipped with knowledge and is empowered to take action, the body can be supported to heal itself.