It seems like a lot of people today are dealing with lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity and other food allergies. In fact, I can't recall a time in history when food sensitivities were so prevalent.
We are fortunate to live in a big city like Grand Rapids where alternative food products are so readily available in grocery stores and restaurants. I've often heard my dad, Bruce, talk about how difficult it was to find gluten-free products up north where they lived. But, it seems unfair that we should have to resort to imitation foods for the rest of our lives. What is going on with food sensitivities and can they be reversed?
With 21 feet of tubing and the surface area of a tennis court, your small intestine does more than just pass food from your mouth to the toilet. It also harbors literally billions of micro-organisms. These yeasts and bacteria perform an important function of pre-digesting foods to make it easier for your body to absorb, creating nutrients like B-vitamins and vitamin K, and supporting the body's immune system by crowding out pathogenic forms of bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella. A micro-organism population out-of-balance however can wreak havoc with your intestinal system.
The cells lining your intestinal tract are called enterocytes. They produce digestive enzymes to break down food particles into amino acids, monosaccharides, and fatty acids before allowing them to go through the brush border and into the bloodstream. Enterocytes also secrete mucus to keep bacteria from entering the bloodstream. When the gut flora is out of balance excess waste material is produced and the enterocytes increase mucus production to protect the intestinal wall. This thick layer of mucus inhibits food particles from reaching the digestive enzymes and so digestion slows down. Any food that is not absorbed by the body becomes food for the bacteria, which increases their numbers even more. So a vicious cycle is created with decreasing digestive capabilities and increasing bacterial populations. One of the first enzymes to be lost is lactase, which digests lactose or milk sugar. The individual would experience this as gas, bloating, and possibly even diarrhea as the body tries to get rid of the excess bacteria.
As the waste material from the bacteria accumulates the enterocytes are damaged by the toxicity and mucus production slows down exposing the intestinal lining. Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains can cause further damage when in direct contact with intestinal cells. This is why many people start with one food sensitivity and then begin to develop others. Holes may appear in the wall of the intestine allowing larger, undigested food particles into the bloodstream where they will trigger an auto-immune response.
Microbial populations out of balance or "gut dysbiosis"may be the underlying factor for most intestinal disorders including Celiac's, IBS, Crohn's, acid reflux and even certain types of Cancer. It also plays a large role in seasonal and food allergies, acne, poor circulation, migraines, and more.
So how does the microbial population get out-of-balance to begin with? Antibiotic therapy greatly reduces beneficial bacteria and allows more virulent forms to take hold. It also allows Candida Albicans, a competing form of yeast, to overgrow and set roots deep into the intestinal wall. Bacterial populations can also be affected by stress, illness, bouts of diarrhea or vomiting and by high amounts of sugary or refined carbohydrate products - the preferred food of bacteria and yeast!
Is there any hope? Can gut dysbiosis be corrected? Absolutely! By following a carefully planned dietary regimen that goes beyond gluten or lactose free, using specific herbs and other natural remedies to repair the damage to the intestinal lining, and using probiotics to re-introduce beneficial bacteria - you can reverse the damage and go back to eating normally without discomfort.
For more information on how to get on your gut healing plan call us at 616-242-1355 to set up an appointment.
Here's to YOUR HEALTH!
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.