Getting to the guts of your problem...
I often advise my patients that the best diet in the world with the most outstanding, highest quality, organic, bio-dynamic, triple-quadruple cold pressed superfoods picked by God Himself isn’t worth a pinch of salt if you cannot break it down, digest, absorb and assimilate it within the body. Optimal gastro-intestinal health I believe is one of the ‘pillars of optimal health’ and if you have any sort of digestive symptoms, your gastrointestinal tract is in need of a tune up. I wanted to cover digestion early in the history of this blog as it is how we nourish our body and is one of, if not the most important, factor in physical health. The fact is your digestion weakens with age. Believe it or not by the time you reach your 50th year you will only have around 15% of the stomach acid you had when you were 25. I often advise patients that if you were to support but one thing for the rest of your life, or, you had to choose one area of health to support from now on, I advise strongly that it be your digestive function – you are not what you eat, you are what you absorb. Strong digestion will ensure you remain vital long into your golden years and give you the quality of life you desire and deserve when people are failing around you.
By the time you reach your 50th year you will only have around 15% of the stomach acid you had when you were 25 – you are not what you eat, you are what you absorb
Do you have any idea how amazing the body you inhabit is? Really… do you? Your body is made up of around 100 trillion cells and each individual cell in itself is an ultra-complex factory comprised of hundreds to thousands of other components making your body absolutely, undoubtedly the most complex machine you will ever own. Every minute your body breaks down 300 million cells and replaces them with 300 million more – it’s in a constant state of breaking down and building up. In 6-7 months your liver will have completely regenerated itself. In 1 year your spleen will be brand new. In 3 years your coronary arteries will have remodeled themselves. In fact, in 7 years time your whole body has completely regenerated itself! You will be brand new… Hooley Dooley I hear you say. So why if my body has regenerated itself totally, am I still sick? Well my friend… you didn’t change the conditions you regenerated yourself in.
If you keep doing what you always did you keep getting what you always got.
The great thing about your digestive system is that is regenerates itself very fast. The lining of the digestive tract (the mucosa) regenerates itself roughly within a 2 week period and when you understand the physiology of your gastro-intestinal system and instead of fighting against it, work with it, resolving digestive disorders is relatively simple. The aim of this post is not to cover the whole of the digestive system and everything that affects it – There would be dozens of posts to fill. This post covers what i believe is the main two factors that disrupt digestive health – Local pHs and chronic stress.
Your digestive system is an absolutely amazing piece of work. Did you know that within your stomach you have an acid with a pH of 1.5-2.5? Battery acid has a pH of 1!! This acid is called hydrochloric acid – the same stuff you can by at your hardware store to clean oil spills off your driveway. This acid is so strong that if you were to swallow a razor blade your body could literally break it down (don’t try this at home… please!). It has evolved this way over hundreds of thousands of years specifically to break down hard foods like nuts and seeds, meats and hard plants that were a major part of the diet to access the vital nutrition contained within. Anything that raises this pH (makes the stomach less acidic) will interfere with your digestive power and the ability to obtain nutrition from your food. When you decrease the amount of acid in your stomach your stomach doesn’t break your food down into a super fine liquid (called chyme) the way it should, and this semi-digested food enters your small intestine where the bacteria present ferment this poorly digested food, producing as by-products – gas, lactic acid and alcohol. The small intestines of the human body evolved over a very long period to form a 22 foot long tube inhabited by bacteria whose job it is to ferment our food to extract vital nutrition and to produce beneficial compounds essential for life. Much like the intestinal tract of a herbivore/omnivore the small intestine plays a crucial role in the health of the organism.
Did you know that your digestive tract contains around 100 trillion bacteria. Your whole body is only made up of 100 trillion cells! In fact the amount of bacteria in and on the human body out numbers the number of human cells by a factor of 10 – this make you only 10% human!! Think about it.
The gas produced from this excessive fermentation is the bloating or wind you may be experiencing. A large proportion of the bacteria in the gut are lactobacillus bacteria (like what’s in probiotics). These are lactic acid producing bacteria, hence their name. When your digestive system is “out of whack” the numbers and location of the different species in the intestine can change leading to excessive lactic acid production, combine this with poor bicarbonate production from the pancreas (more on this later) and this leads to acid build up in the intestines leading to more fermentation (a vicious cycle), gas formation, inflammation and irritability (could this be a cause of irritable bowel syndrome??). Your small intestine, which totals approximately 22 foot in length, likes to be alkaline in nature. It has a pH somewhere around 8.4 – very alkaline in comparison to the hydrochloric acid of the stomach. The alkaline pH provides a nice and calm environment with little inflammation leading to optimal functioning and absorptive capacity. One of the roles of your pancreas is to produce bicarbonates which are alkaline fluids whose role it is is to alkalise the very acidic stomach contents as it makes its way down the intestines. If left unchecked the acidic fluid would irritate, inflame and lead to the permeability of the intestines – the so-called “leaky gut syndrome” you hear so much about.
The third by-product of fermentation is alcohol. Like the alcohol we enjoy (in moderation) on our Friday night out with the girls/boys which is produced from the fermentation of grains, our gut too produces alcohol. This alcohol re-enters the body though the intestines and bowels entering the blood stream headed straight for our poor unsuspecting livers. Now most peoples liver are in pretty average shape, so the extra burden can end up causing symptoms such as headaches, general malaise, poor sleep and itchy skin or waking up with a headache, nausea or a hungover feeling.
I believe the most important tool in your toolbox for optimal digestion is good strong stomach acid – plain and simple! The acidity of the fluid exiting your stomach on its way down your intestines triggers a whole sequale of hormonal events that is vital to proper digestion. Your liver is stimulated to produce bile, your gallbladder to squeeze the bile within out into your small intestine to absorb the fats you have eaten, your pancreas to produce bicarbonates to alkalise the intestines, picolinic acid to absorb minerals from your intestines and pancreatic enzymes to extract nutrition from your food. When the pH of your stomach acid is correct, the pH of your intestines is correct leading to balance in the digestive tract. There’s little value in supplementing with probiotics to fix your digestion as well – I know this is a bold statement considering these are very commonly used by Naturopaths and other health professionals to help digestive issues, but upon removal of the supplement the symptoms typically come back – they do not get to the root cause of the problem – they too are band-aid fixes. In fact I rarely even use probiotics on my patients for digestive issues – why would I want to throw in another 20 billion bugs when i can just make your own 100 trillion happier? The same goes for digestive enzymes which many people rely on – why supply something the body already produces? I would rather stimulate your body to produce the enzymes (through boosting the acidity of the stomach acid) to avoid your body getting lazy and relying on enzymes. I’ve seen some horror story’s with people being almost addicted to digestive enzymes. Instead I use a form of therapy i have coined LPMT –Localized pH Modulation Therapy. Sounds fancy doesn’t it? Its basically a flashy term for getting the pHs in the digestive tract correct, easing the digestive burden on the digestive tract with a specific diet and letting your own body find its balance.
On a daily basis in my practice my patients present with low stomach acidity. Why? There are a few reasons with the three most important being aging, antacid use and chronic stress. We have already covered what happens to our digestive fire as we age. So why am I saying that almost everyone I see is under-acid when orthodox medicine prescribes billions of antacid meds each year? I just don’t see it in clinical practice. The patients I see are under acid, pretty much every single one of them – I could count on one hand the amount of patients I have seen over my career with a legitimate over acid stomach. OK so here’s my justification of that statement – I’ve mentioned the fact that with age comes decreased stomach acidity, you combine this with chronically high stress levels most people are under and an underactive thyroid which 90% of the population has and that my friend is a recipe for poor stomach acidity. Its funny that the symptoms of hyper-acid gut and hypo-acid gut are pretty much identical. When you go to your GP for an assessment of your digestive complaints do they ever test for the pH in the stomach? No they don’t. To do this they would have to have you fast then shove a collecting tube down your throat into your stomach to collect a sample. They don’t have the time or the patience to do this, so your diagnosis is based on your symptoms… here, have a prescription ant acid… next…. These ant-acid medications are symptomatic fixes – in other words Band-Aid fixes. They are not supposed to be used for longer than a few weeks because of their side effects of negatively affecting your mineral absorption leading to chronic health complaints such as Osteoporosis. I commonly treat people that have been taking pharmaceutical antacids for 10, 15 and 20 years. Their health is always very poor with a plethora of signs of mineral and certain vitamin deficiencies. Don’t Band-Aid fix your digestive system with antacids, probiotics or digestive enzymes – you will pay the price eventually. Search out and find the root cause. If you cant, employ someone who can. It’s funny how society has this ‘magic pill’ mentality. Health is a complicated affair and you cannot fix it with an over the counter medication when the condition has been created by years of lack of attention to diet and lifestyle.
Now here’s the last piece of the puzzle – the most common cause of digestive issues that I see in my practice…. Stress.
In this monster post (congratulations if you got this far without nodding off ) I’ve talked pretty extensively about low stomach acid. But WHY is the stomach acid low? I used to lecture at one of the Natural Medicine colleges in Perth when the students answered a question on a topic I always asked my students Why? They would give me an answer and I would reply, but why? I’m sure they got pretty sick of it after a while. I did this on purpose – I wanted them to continually dig deeper. When you get to the deeper root causes of “dis-ease” you will find that there aren’t that many really. It is my belief that the root cause of most diseases lies within your “soil” – the conditions you have set for the body. When the conditions are poor the body has no choice but to malfunction. When the soil is polluted (heavy metals, organophosphates, volatile solvents, PCBs etc) the body is blocked, it cannot heal. This is why I created this blog – to explore these factors It’s important not to treat your health superficially – this happens so so often in the orthodox medicine world. The natural medicine industry is very guilty of it as well. Believe you me I know first hand how the students are taught to practice. We are ending up with a bunch of “green doctors” out they trading in the prescription meds for natural alternatives but still practicing superficially.
A very large roadblock to healing is chronic persistent stress. Modern humans are bombarded with stress and their stress levels are higher than they perceive. Most people classify stress as only emotional or mental stress such as work stress but there are many other forms of stress we are placed under:
Physical stress – long work hours, lack of quality sleep, too much exercise, fly in fly out work conditions etc.
Nutritional stress – lack of wholesome foods in the diet, processed foods, dieting
Mental stress – long work hours, demanding job, too many commitments, study, writing this post :), kids etc.
Emotional stress – relationship stress, family stress, workplace bullying etc.
Financial stress – does financial stress create mental and emotional stress?
Spiritual stress – not knowing where you fit in in this word – life purpose etc.
Environmental stress – EMF exposure, toxic exposure – pollution, pesticides, solvents etc.
Social stress – no support network, social skills or circle of friends
Under the stress response, or fight or flight, stress hormones are released in order to divert all available resources to your muscles and nervous system to be powerful, quick and on the ball – to fight or flee. The stress response is a primitive conditioning that we have evolved to have to protect us from danger. It wasn’t that long ago that we were on the plains hunting and gathering to feed our clan, but we were also being hunted. The stress response was essential for survival. Now there arent too many sabre tooth tigers roaming the streets these days – the tigers are shape-shifters you see, they take on the form of your grumpy boss, the bank manager, the chronic insomnia, the moody husband, the tax bill… you get the point. Chronic persistent stress has the ability to interfere with many vital bodily functions such as gastrointestinal function, thyroid health, sex hormone balance and the immune system to name a few. These functions of the body are just not that important when you have to fight or flee. This physical impact that stress has on the body, also called the ‘allostatic load’, is hugely responsible for decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach, slowing down digestion leading to the fermentation we have discussed in the intestines. We live in a stressful modern world and your body doesn’t know the difference between all the different stresses in your life – it reacts the exact same way by going into ’survival mode’ – fight or flight, the stress response. Stress management, work/life balance and a passion in life are the key here – this will be a topic of another post soon to come. Anyone serious about optimal health and healing of chronic health complaints will take gastrointestinal health and stress management very seriously. Allowing your body to be in a state of persistent chronic stress is the quickest path to the grave with a grumbly tummy along the way…. Is it any wonder that medical researchers have found a link between stress and IBS? For me it’s a no brainer
If this makes sense to you and you would like some help to get your health back on track from someone who has been through the process themself, consider making an appointment with Edward today. firstname.lastname@example.org - 0411501979