The Digestive System
The foundation of good health lies in proper digestive function and strong digestion is the cornerstone of overall vitality. Any therapeutic program you may use will be of limited value without good digestive function. If you are not able to digest and absorb nutrients, your overall health will suffer.
The digestive tract is responsible for our vitality via the breakdown and absorption of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and essential fatty acids from the foods you eat. Assimilation of these nutrients is required to keep you healthy.
Malabsorption of nutrients, and subsequent conditions such as Leaky Gut Syndrome are commonly caused by:
- Improper diet
- Food Sensitivities
- Eating too fast and not chewing thoroughly
- Physical and emotional Stress
- Low stomach acid and low digestive enzymes
When the digestive lining function is compromised from years of Physical, Dietary and Emotional stress, both an inflammation and an immune response occur in the digestive tract.
Secretory Immunoglobulin A
Did you know that the majority of your immune system lies within your intestinal lining?
The walls of your digestive tract are lined with immune cells that form a protective barrier called Sectretory IgA. This lining of your gastrointestinal tract is your first line of defense from invading pathogens including, bacteria, parasites and fungus. Any depletion of these immune cells can make a person very susceptible to pathogens they would otherwise be able to fight off.
Continuous consumption of processed foods full of refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, and pasteurized dairy feeds this digestive stress and further weakens digestion. The immune system then begins to struggle to keep up. This is called Dietary Stress and it is a vicious cycle that many people do not even know is happening inside their gut.
With this scenario present, you may find that any increase in stress levels, or even just a round of refined sugar consumption can be enough to put you over the edge and completely depress immune function. As mentioned, in this weakened state there is a huge increase in the infection rate of parasites, and bacterial infections and invasive yeast, often referred to as candida.
Symptoms of Digestive Stress include:
- Weight Gain
- Abdominal cramping
- Heartburn/Acid reflux
- Brain fog
- Low energy
- Undigested food in the stool
- Blood in the stool
Many people have experienced gastrointestinal discomfort for so long that they have adjusted to it and think that their system’s poor function is normal. With healthy digestive function a person will be symptom free, feel energized and revitalized after a meal for several hours, and will not experience any cravings for sweets.
The Gluten Factor
More and more health professionals are recognizing that Gluten intolerance is a common causative factor of digestive dysfunction. Food sensitivities are a common cause of hidden, or subclinical inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Research shows that over 50% of certain ethnic populations are sensitive to grains containing gluten, such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten intolerance is most common in people of Irish, Scottish, Scandinavian, and Eastern European descent. (Be aware that anyone can develop an intolerance to any foods if they have been over consumed and the function of the digestive tract lining is compromised.)
Gluten sensitivity and intolerance are not food allergies, as explained, they trigger an autoimmune response. The problem forms because along with an increased level of digestive dysfunction, there is an inability to digest giladin, the protein portion of these grains. The body recognizes these undigested proteins as foreign invaders and mount an immune response to kill the invaders. The byproduct of this immune response is that more toxins are created in the fight which adds to the breakdown and damage to the intestinal lining.
This process can take place in varied degrees, depending on an individual’s original constitution, and how long they have been living in digestive stress. There is also a direct correlation to the progression of adrenal fatigue in the individual. Many people can consume these grains for many years with no problems. It is with age and and stress that hormone, enzyme, and immune productions drop making us more vulnerable as we age.
Other examples of commonly undiagnosed gastrointestinal problems are parasitic infections.
Many people think of parasites as a problem that only occurs when traveling abroad. However, through recent improvements in diagnostic testing methods, doctors are now discovering high levels of parasite infections in the United States.
Parasites are usually acquired by self-inoculation. This can occur when you eat at restaurants where the staff has poor hygiene, or when you eat from salad bars and buffets where food is left sitting out. Handling money, shaking hands with people and using public restrooms are all ways we are exposed to potential parasitic infections.
Protecting Against Parasites
When several people are exposed to the same pathogen, or infectious organism, one person may be able to fight it off while another may become infected. This has been widely seen in the press with various bacterial organisms, most notably the toxic E. Coli outbreaks. The E. Coli bacteria is found most often in beef products and has caused severe digestive illness and, in rare cases, death. While many people are exposed to the same tainted meat, some people react more severely than others. This difference in susceptibility to intestinal pathogens such as E. Coil is a reflection of the status of SIgA, or first line mucosal immune defense.
When you have strong mucosal immunity (normal SIgA production), the lining of your gastrointestinal tract is able to defend you from invading pathogens. Research studies have shown that if you have lowered mucosal immunity you will have a decreased ability to fight pathogens successfully.
To combat this growing problem with weakened immunity and parasitic infections, new technologies have been created to detect these infectious organisms. One such test, called a stool antigen test, is highly effective in determining acute and chronic parasitic infections that were previously undetected with older testing methods. Bacterial overgrowth and invasive yeast and fungal infections of the intestines are also frequent causes of digestive stress. These too require additional testing to assess.
Depression and Digestion
“I have observed hundreds of cases in my clinic in which gluten intolerance triggers fatigue and depression. This occurs because the body’s reactions to gluten includes an inflammatory response in the lining of the small intestine causing abnormal cortisol production, which eventually results in depression.” Dr. Dan Kalish
The inability to digest protein may reflect a deficiency of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Without sufficient enzymes your body cannot break down the food you eat for assimilation. Low stomach acid and low digestive enzymes are common problems due to our poor diets and high stress levels.
The enzymes present in raw fruits and vegetables help us digest foods more easily. However, these enzymes are destroyed in the cooking process. Your body’s own production of digestive enzymes will become depleted if you eat too many cooked foods.
When your digestive enzymes decrease, your body’s other enzymes which are critical for proper immune regulation and systemic cellular processes get pulled from the blood stream back into the digestive system. This pattern leads to depletion of your enzyme reserve in other body systems not directly related to digestion. Enzymes are involved in every process in your body and depletion of enzymes is a depletion of health.
Effects of Low Enzymes
If you have low levels of digestive enzymes, the food you eat is not completely utilized. Any foods you don’t digest because of insufficient enzymes become toxic to your body.
These partially digested foods provide a substrate or fuel supply for harmful microorganisms like yeast, bacteria, and parasites. Health sustaining enzymes are abundant in raw and lightly cooked vegetables and fruits, and these should be part of your daily food intake. A good goal to strive towards is 80/20 raw to cooked for fruits and vegetables.
If you have depleted your reserve of digestive enzymes through poor eating habits you can support your digestion with digestive enzymes until your reserve is built back up. The right dietary supplements will help keep you in a rebuilding state.
Supplemental enzymes will help you to properly digest protein, fats, and carbohydrates, which are essential to maintaining stable blood sugar and overall health.
Dysbiosis and Hidden Digestive Problems
Poor digestion is also a result of dysbiosis, an imbalance in the healthy organisms that inhabit the intestinal tract. In Bernard Jensen’s research, he showed that the majority of people have and inverted ratio of good vs. bad bacteria in the gut. 20/80 instead of 80/20. Dysbiosis can be caused by poor diet, stress, parasitic infections, bacterial overgrowth, and/or invasive yeast often referred to as candida.
Hidden or subclinical inflammatory conditions can also interfere with digestion and cause dysbiosis. ‘Subclinical’ refers to problems that are frequently not detected because they do not cause obvious symptoms. The digestive test kit will assess pathogenic and parasitic infection.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Another common manifestation of digestive stress is “Leaky Gut Syndrome,” where the integrity of the intestinal lining is compromised and is no longer as discerning, as it should be, between what is absorbed into the blood stream and what is kept out of the blood stream.
Therefore, molecules “leak” into the blood that should not be present and are attacked by our immune system causing inflammation and tissue damage. When food antigens “leak” into our blood stream the immune system thinks they are a foreign invader and mounts an immune response that we experience as an allergic reaction. Yeast and bacteria can also “leak” into the blood stream and cause significant immune system activity.