In our fast-forward culture, we have lost the art of eating well. Food is often little more than fuel to pour down the hatch while doing other stuff – surfing the Web, driving, walking along the street.
Prilosec, Nexium, Protonix, Zantac… sound familiar? It seems too common for folks to suffer chronically from acid reflux, or irritable bowel. While these pharmacological wonders seem to do their job, often folks Call Me because they are not quite satisfied being on their medications for the rest of their life, or else the meds don’t really work 100% of the time. From an Optimal Healing perspective, it’s useful and necessary to look more deeply into what the symptoms might be telling us. I’d like to explain a bit about how our gastrointestinal (GI) system works and what might be out of order. From there, it’s not a big leap to healthy digestion.
First, what does the GI system really do? Simply put, assimilation and elimination. We nourish ourselves by eating, and the first job of the GI systems is to assimilate the micronutrients and macronutrients in the food that we eat. This begins in the mouth with chewing and initial secretion of the enzyme amylase all the way through the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. (Actually, the pancreas, the gallbladder, and the liver are also involved, but we are going to focus today on the GI tube from top to bottom).
Throughout this initial trip through the upper GI tract, the food that we eat is being prepared for assimilation, which mostly occurs in the microvillae of the small intestine. Often, when we have symptoms in these area’s – there is either something gone wrong with the preparation of the food in the stomach or something making it unable to be assimilated in the small intestine. When this happens, the food putrefies, which creates the acid that is making the symptoms.
As the leftover food continues through the GI tube, it gets prepared for elimination. The large intestine does a small bit of completion of assimilation but mostly it collects water, prepares stools and passes it along for elimination through the rectum. Troubles here are mostly inability to eliminate (literally).
Before we go too far, if you are a reader with symptoms in any of these areas consider this….Is there anything in your life experience now that you are unable to assimilate? Is there any experience in your life today that you are unable to eliminate? If so, it just might be that your physical symptoms are partially connected with these experiences. It just might be…..maybe not.
Remove: Any and all foods that might be causing a problem in your gut. These days this is likely gluten, dairy, peanuts, eggs or shellfish. But the easiest way to do this (costs no money) is to go on an elimination diet, in which you slowly limit your food groups to juice then introduce food one at a time. My wife Dr. Buffett, recommends this to her patients regularly, and it does allow you to figure out what foods are irritating your GI system. Knowledge can be power, yes?
Replace: As I mentioned, food is often unprepared for digestion, this occurs due to two potential issues. First, the food in our stomach is not reaching the optimal pH for digestion in the small intestine. This is often due to the lack of HCL (Hydrochloric Acid) in our stomach. One of the consequences of the modern diet is a slow reduction of HCL in our body. Unless you eat perfectly, it’s likely true for you. Adding HCL after you eat, makes a huge difference in how your small intestine assimilates food.
The other reason for our inability to digest food is that our enzymes for digestion, mostly found in the small intestines have become weak and ill-suited for healthy assimilation. Adding a full spectrum digestive enzyme can be key to healthy assimilation. Being able to tell which is better for you (the enzymes or the HCL- does often require a healer trained in nutrition. What I most commonly see is that folks try enzymes on their own, often needing HCL.-taking acid to help with too much acid seems counter-intuitive.
Reinoculate: The entire digestive tube is teaming with bacteria. Our microbiome is essential to healthy digestion, assimilation, and elimination. Taking probiotics made of lactobacillus can and will help improve the balance of our gut bacteria. Eating fermented foods helps keep the balance as well.
Repair: There are some nutrients that can be taken that do help heal the inflamed tissues of our gut, the most common of these are omega-3 fish oils, Vitamin B5, Green tea extract and Licorice root. Again, this is best done with a recommendation by a professional.
While I appreciate Dr. Bland’s approach, there is often an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed by all five blind men in your life. That elephant: the food you eat. No matter whether you are taking omeprazole or acidophilus, the foods that you choose to go into your body day in and day out make the biggest difference in how well your body assimilates and eliminates. For simplicity sake, let’s just say that we all need to eat more vegetables and less flour and sugar.
The most common experience I see with my clients and friends is that they assume that taking something- a medication or a supplement, will likely “fix” their reflux, without acknowledging that it will take time for the inflamed tissue to repair. And, they do not acknowledge that the symptoms are messages from the elephant saying “EAT FOOD THAT WILL NOURISH ME!” Eating nourishing food is, unfortunately, harder to do in this modern world because of the overabundance of processed food and how much eating is social. It is work to eat well in 2015. You have to prepare food yourself, make healthy choices when you purchase food and take the time to sit and eat.
Optimal Healing begins with the gut! This begins with choosing our food mindfully; finding foods that are healthy and nutritious for each of us; eliminating foods that cause inflammation; supporting proper digestion and assimilation with HCL and/or digestive enzymes; making sure our microbiome is healthy with probiotics and fermented foods; and healing our guts with herbs and supplements that help reduce inflammation and support proper functioning. It’s not hard, but it does require making choices.