Digestive Health

Your doctor refers you to a gastroenterologist who performs a colonoscopy and finds no problems. Good news, right? But you’re still having digestive problems. Next you have an endoscopy and still no problems are found. Even better news! From “end to end” you have passed the scope tests with flying colors. So why are you still having problems with digestion? Some say beauty is only skin deep. By the same token, digestive health goes much deeper than the camera of a scope.  You may have a problem mainstream physicians know little about called dysbiosis or “leaky gut.”

Villi are the finger-like projections inside our gut that absorb nutrients from the food we eat.

Villi are the finger-like projections inside our gut that absorb nutrients from the food we eat.

Our Environment

We don’t live in a sterile environment….in fact far from it.   Good bacteria actually promote digestive health and a healthy immune system.  Although the very first stool a newborn baby passes  is sterile (and has no odor), the baby’s intestinal tract starts being colonized with the abundance of bacteria (aka. “germs”) from the baby’s environment.  As the baby grows and develops, it puts everything it can get in its tiny little hands into its mouth.   A baby crawls on the floor where people walk, bringing even more bacteria from the world into its environment.   Those same tiny hands that have picked up bacteria tracked indoors also go into the baby’s mouth.   It literally makes us want to cringe when we actually give it some thought.

Good Bacteria, Bad Bacteria

The human body is home to trillions of microorganisms and outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Researchers are discovering the links between an individual’s intestinal bacteria and the body’s immune system health.  This environment of bacteria hosted by our bodies is known as the microbiome.  Over the span of decades, you’ve probably taken antibiotics a multitude of times, beginning in childhood. Unfortunately the same antibiotics that kill bad bacteria, also kill essential good bacteria that makes its home in your intestinal tract.

So the key question becomes: Do you have the “guts” to be healthy? An estimated 80% of your body’s total immune system is located in your gut, making digestive health critical in fighting off illness. Most of the mainstream physicians I know say they are unfamiliar with the diagnosis of “dysbiosis” or “leaky gut” yet digestive health is critical in maintaining a healthy immune system.

For those of you who desire to lose weight, but continue to struggle, you should know that digestive health also impacts your ability to lose weight. Your digestive tract helps break down foods and absorb vital nutrients.  No matter how much good food you eat, if your body can’t break it down and use it for energy, the body will continue to be fatigued and sluggish, thinking it is  starving (because it is!)   The body perceives that the energy stores are deleted and so it craves even more food for fuel. Unfortunately, it usually craves the simple sugars for quick energy and your weight loss efforts are sabotaged.

A Personal Journey with Digestive Health

Over 2 years ago, I eliminated gluten from my diet and actually had to relearn to cook. Out of necessity, I learned (often through trial and error) to adapt many of our family’s favorite recipes to the gluten free version by using blends of flours including coconut and almond flours.   I felt much better and the bloating was eliminated. I also found I wasn’t craving many of the foods I once thought I couldn’t live without. Still, going gluten free didn’t restore my digestive health and I found myself experiencing heartburn on a daily basis.  I developed an ice cream habit. Almost every day after work, I wanted a cold, frosty confection to soothe my burning stomach.   It only made the problem worse.   The next “fix” was antacids, but that solved nothing in terms of digestive health.

After a lengthy search and many disappointments, I found an internal medicine doctor who focuses on anti-aging/functional medicine.  Knowing the battle I have with my weight, she said “I don’t want you to even step on the scales until you come to my office.  You’re not going to lose weight until we fix your gut.”   I had experienced decades of being brow beaten by all those doctors who wanted to prescribe diet pills or (more) weight loss surgery.  Finally, I found a doctor who would listen and work with me.  Most had simply hounded me over counting calories and getting more exercise, implying that I was lying about my dietary intake and was spending my life lying on a sofa in front of a TV eating bon-bons!

A Success Story Begins

Since going dairy free and beginning intense probiotics my heartburn is completely gone.   I have learned to substitute goat’s milk, butter, yogurt and cheeses. Not bad. However, healing is a process and I intend to pay the price to restore digestive health and improve my body’s immune function.  My next huge challenge has been to eliminate sugar to help rid my body of an overgrowth of yeast. (If your tongue looks gray/white or coated, you may have yeast overgrowth throughout your digestive tract.)   Sugar (and high fructose corn syrup) is in most everything we consume.   This was certainly not the diets of our ancestors! As a result of these changes, I have more energy and I am optimistic that good things are happening as I commit to give my body what it needs and protect it from what is harmful.  The good news?  I am down 10 pound within the first month and have much more energy.

What about you? Do you have similar struggles? What are you doing to heal and restore your digestive health?  I’d love to hear your comments.   If you’d like to learn more about current research on the topic of microbiomes, follow this link:  Microbiome Program at Mayo Clinic.

Pam Baker, RN



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