In clinic my special interest is digestive and gut health. This is because in my family we have a coeliac, chorines disease, food allergy and intolerance, colitis and I have a very colourful gut history myself! This has been quite helpful in my professional life as, when I say to a patient “I know how THAT feels” I literally do! Once I qualified it seemed I could never learn enough about gut dysfunction. I am fascinated by the whole subject!
There are so many variables which affect our digestive system. Ideally we are unaware of the functioning of the gut - we are not aware that neurotransmitters in the brain allow the brain and gut to communicate via nerve cells. All this happens without even thinking about it through our enteric nervous system.
I am sure most of you will be aware that there seems to have been a huge increase in the last decade in gut related disorders.
One of the most commonly diagnosed digestive disorders is Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In my experience this is a term used to describe a range of gut symptoms caused by a range of variables. Too many times patients arrive in clinic having been diagnosed with IBS when further testing and investigation reveals they have food intolerances, a leaky gut, motility problems, are gluten or lactose intolerant, coeliac or, in fact, have a more serious inflammatory bowel disease.
For the purposes of this post I want to talk about IBS as we know it – an umbrella term for a range of gut symptoms.
If you have an Irritable Bowel you can expect to be familiar with gas, bloating, abdominal pain, urgency (especially after eating food which doesn’t “agree” with you), alternating diarrhoea and constipation, gastric reflux, and when you see mucus in your stools, you might feel nauseous and not feel like eating. There is a lot of research around these days to back up the fact that gut disorder contributes to fatigue, low mood, anxiety, and sleep problems as well.
In my opinion, the cause of the digestive dysfunction needs to be evaluated - this is where we need to take the time to do thorough and extensive case histories, dietary analysis, and various testing procedures.
We may find that there are food intolerances or allergy, perhaps there is severe life stress going on, and the number of people who avoid drinking water and eat little or no fibre, or the wrong type of fibre is frightening, quite frankly. Other causes include: SIBO, gut flora dysbiosis (too much “bad “bacteria and not enough “good” bacteria, lactose or gluten intolerance, fructose malabsorption, leaky gut, parasitic infection, bacterial infections or motility disorder.
From a naturopathic point of view we look at dietary and lifestyle changes, and use herbs, vitamins, minerals and probiotics to promote thorough gut healing. In my experience there is always a trigger in IBS. There is always Inflammation – and that is a priority – to get that inflammation down. And there is always a food culprit or two in the mix too. I would be looking for dark circles under the eyes and ridges on the nails, do you have brain fog and feel fatigued as well as the gut symptoms you present with? I would want to know how stressed you are –have you been living under stress for so long that you can’t remember what normal feels like? - could your adrenals do with some support? In clinic we use Hemaview Live Blood analysis testing as well as conventional tests to give us a clearer picture of what is going on. A colonoscopy and Gastroscopy can be invaluable for getting a further picture – literally.
Soothing healing herbs, probiotics and good nutrition is a great place to start – I mean, what you put in your mouth has to work its way through your system and come out the other end. If you are making poor food choices, or eating foods that your body just can’t cope with then of course you are going to start getting symptoms after a while. Our digestive system is remarkably resilient. It will take pretty much anything we ingest and try to deal with it. If it identifies a food as a poison it will do its best to expel it – one way or the other.
Fatty and spicy food, coffee, tea and alcohol, fizzy drinks, sulphites and artificial sweeteners play havoc with the digestive system, but one in poor health really feels the effects – or rather YOU do - it’s a bit like pouring salt on an open wound, you wouldn’t do that, so why do what is in effect the same thing to a disordered gut? Even something as simple as slowing down and chewing food properly can make a difference.
My favourite go-to’s in gut healing are glutamine, slippery elm, probiotics, digestive enzymes and fermented foods like Kombucha and Kimchi, and soothing herbs such as peppermint, ginger, chamomile and lemon balm. Perhaps we might add some supportive liver herbs, as a leaky gut can certainly put the liver under pressure as toxins are released from the gut into the bloodstream instead of passing out in the faeces or urine as they are supposed to. We might look at a low FODMAP diet, which can be helpful here. Developed by Monash University this diet removes fructo-oligosaccharides from your diet – hence reducing gut inflammation.
If all of the above resonates with you do seek help – you don’t have to take Losec for the rest of your life and put up with debilitating gut problems which play havoc with your daily life.
By Joanna Loveys BNatMed HbT MNZAMH