Digestive Issues/Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What is IBS?
Digestive issues are on the rise. It’s estimated that one in five people have digestive complaints
that doctors diagnose as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Typical symptoms of IBS include gas,
bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea or alternating between the two. Additional
symptoms may include food allergies, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, depression, joint pain, and
heart burn/acid reflux.
How do you know if you have IBS?
IBS is a not a disease, it’s a diagnosis of exclusion. It means that all the medical tests came back
normal and there’s no obvious cause for digestive distress. Because doctors can’t determine the
underlying cause, they label it IBS and tell patients that it’s a lifelong condition with no cure.
The truth is that digestive issues are a complex puzzle to be solved. The underlying cause of IBS
can be different for each person. But with persistence and good help, the puzzle can be solved,
symptoms can be alleviated, and digestion can be restored to balance.
What are the underlying causes of IBS?
There are many different factors that can throw the digestive system out of balance. The four most common issues are low stomach acid, bacterial imbalance, a permeable gut lining (which can cause food allergies), and toxicity.
Having strong stomach acid is the first line of defense against pathogens coming into the body. Strong stomach acid will kill bugs before they become potential infections. Stomach acid decreases as we age and low acid can be a common cause for heartburn or reflux.
Having a healthy population of beneficial bacteria is essential to digestive health. Medications like antibiotics, steroids, and the birth control pill can kill off important strains of beneficial bacteria. A processed, high sugar diet can feed the pathogenic bacterial strains or yeast colonies that take their place. Also, an over population of bacteria growing in the small intestine (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is a common cause of excessive bloating, burping, and abdominal distention.
A healthy gut lining keeps food particles and pathogens from entering the blood stream. Stress, infections, sugar, alcohol, and some medications can thin out the gut lining and poke tiny holes in it. This is called intestinal permeability. When undigested food particles from the gut enter the blood stream it can cause an inflammatory immune response. This response can cause food sensitivities, which set off a vicious cycle of inflammation in the gut and further thin out the gut lining.
Lastly, toxicity can cause the liver to be sluggish and reduce bile flow which is needed to digest proteins, fats and carbs.
How do you address digestive problems?
There’s no one-size-fits-all cure for IBS. To start, it’s important to assess personal factors like diet, lifestyle, relationships, stress, psychology, and environmental toxins. When your life is out of balance it often reflects in the body. So taking a holistic approach that includes supplements, diet tweaks, stress relief, and lifestyle change is very important.
The best practice for getting to the root cause of the issue is to use functional medical testing. These tests assess the health of digestive organs, hormones, metabolism, detox pathways, and bacterial balance. They also screen for hidden causes like pathogens and infections.
Don’t let mysterious digestive issues, or an IBS prognosis, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you dig deep and get good help, digestive healing is very possible.
What is autoimmune disease?
There are 80-plus known autoimmune diseases in existence. While they produce varied symptoms, they all have one thing in common. The immune system, which defends the body against foreign invaders, gets confused and begins to attack its own body tissue. There’s a possibility of having more than one autoimmune condition at a time. And if autoimmunity is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to organ or tissue damage from constant immune system attack. The most common tissues attacked are joints, skin, muscles, red blood cells, blood vessels, connective tissue, and endocrine glands.
Examples of common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Type 1 diabetes. Hashimoto’s, where the immune system attacks the thyroid, is currently one of the most common autoimmune diseases among women.
How do you know you have it?
While symptoms of autoimmunity vary greatly, general symptoms include a feeling of fatigue, fever, and malaise (feeling ill).
There are several tests for autoimmune conditions. One test looks for antibodies to your own tissue. Or you can test for antinuclear antibodies, which attack the nuclei of cells in your body. You can also measure the number of red and white cells in your blood. When your immune system is actively fighting something, these numbers will vary from normal. Lastly, you can test your body for C-reactive protein, which is an indication of elevated inflammation.
The typical pattern of autoimmune disease usually switches between symptomatic flare-ups and remission of symptoms. Stress and diet are thought to be contributing factors to flare-ups. There’s currently no known cure for autoimmune disease, but it can be greatly relieved by healing the gut with diet, supplements, and stress management. With proper management, it’s very possible to live a happy, healthy life with an autoimmune condition.
What is the underlying cause?
Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families and affect more women than men. There’s no medical consensus about what causes the immune system to malfunction, but several strong theories exist. Many believe autoimmune disease starts in the gut, as the majority of the immune system is located in the gut. Damage to and thinning of the gut lining, called intestinal permeability, is thought to be at the heart of autoimmune disease. Toxicity, chemical/environmental irritants, food allergies, drugs and alcohol, stress and pharmaceuticals can all contribute to the gut issues that cause autoimmunity.
How do you address it?
Conventional treatments for autoimmune conditions include immune-suppressing medications like steroids. These medications may be needed to manage intense flair ups, but immune suppressants are a poor strategy for managing autoimmunity long term due to negative side effects on beneficial bacteria and the gut lining. Anti-inflammatory medications are also commonly prescribed if there’s joint pain. A natural approach, using food as medicine and targeted supplements, herbs, and homeopathy, can work just as well at not only managing symptoms but actually healing the underlying causes of disease.
Weight Loss Resistance
If you’re unable to lose weight no matter what you eat or how much you exercise, you may be suffering from weight loss resistance. Healing the root cause of weight loss resistance will allow the body to release weight more easily. There are a few reasons why you may be suffering from weight loss resistance, these include such things as gut health, toxicity levels, nutrient deficiencies, or hormone imbalances. Listed below are a few ways to identify and address the problem.
Intestinal permeability (also called leaky gut)
Leaky gut can cause weight loss resistance and increase visceral fat in the abdomen. There are three primary causes of leaky gut:
- Chronic stress
- Bacterial or yeast imbalance -when pathogenic organisms outnumber the good organisms
- Consuming foods to which you may be sensitive. This can trigger an immune response. Common trigger foods can be dairy, gluten, eggs, corn, and soy; however, you can develop an allergy or sensitivity to any food.
While initially caused by inflammation, leaky gut invites more inflammation, which signals the body to hold onto fat in case of an impending emergency or famine.
Toxicity can be the cause of weight loss resistance. When the body is overwhelmed with more toxins than it can excrete, it multiplies fat cells so it can store extra toxins safely in fat. Toxicity can also interfere with the thyroid which governs metabolism.
Deficiency in certain nutrients can also cause weight gain. Studies have shown a relationship between a deficiency in vitamin B12 and obesity. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that plays a role in metabolism and has been found in studies to help people burn fat. Less CoQ10 means less efficient metabolism. Obese people have a significantly lower level of CoQ10.
The main hormones involved in weight gain are cortisol, insulin, leptin, estrogen, and progesterone.
- Cortisol is made by the adrenals (the tiny glands that sit above the kidneys) in response to stress. Cortisol also helps balance blood sugar and signals the body to store fat. When cortisol levels are too low or too high, cortisol tells the body to store fat, particularly in the belly. If you suffer from stubborn belly fat, balancing cortisol levels, by supporting the adrenals, will help. Supporting the adrenals entails giving up caffeine, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, removing food sensitivities and eating a balanced diet. Over-exercising can also raise cortisol, so less strenuous activities, like walking and yoga, are recommended. Bringing cortisol into balance will also help quiet those sugar cravings.
- Insulin is produced by the pancreas to absorb glucose for energy or stored as fat for future use. It also helps the body breakdown fat and protein and keeps blood sugar from getting too high or too low. When you’re overweight, insulin levels become imbalanced and cells become numb to the hormone. This is called insulin resistance. One of the best ways to reset insulin is by giving up sugar, eating a balanced diet, and exercising.
- Leptin is the hormone produced by the body’s fat cells and is the satiety hormone, signaling when you’ve had the right amount of food. When leptin is out of whack, it is easier to overeat.
- Estrogen (estrogen dominance) and low levels of progesterone can also cause weight gain, bloating, water retention and weight loss resistance. Female hormones, estrogen, and progesterone serve to balance each other. As progesterone declines with age, estrogen increases and weight begins to accumulate in the abdominal region. Fat cells also produce more estrogen, creating a vicious cycle. Estrogen dominance can also occur when the liver is overburdened and can’t filter extra estrogen from the blood. Estrogenic environmental factors like pesticides, plastics, xylenes, and foods (like soy) can raise estrogen levels in the body, as can birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
Of course, lifestyle factors play an important role in weight, such as getting enough sleep or eating a healthy diet. However, without fixing the gut, balancing hormones, and releasing toxins, weight loss will not be possible despite dieting or exercise. The body must be healthy and in a balanced state to lose weight and keep it off.
With the many stresses and demands of modern life, suffering from low energy is a common problem these days. However, if you find it challenging getting out of bed in the morning, can’t function without coffee, and have trouble sleeping, perhaps your fatigue has an underlying cause. If so, it doesn’t have to be a normal part of life. It could be that your low energy stems from a hormonal imbalance, detoxification issue, or nutritional deficiency. The good news is that these issues are fixable, allowing your natural energy rhythms to return.
Common causes of chronic exhaustion
The adrenals are small, bean-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. In response to stress, the adrenals produce hormones that mobilize the body in crisis situations allowing it to respond well to danger. While the body was designed to deal with acute and passing stressors, today’s stressors tends to be a chronic, if not a daily, part of life. This means the adrenals are often working overtime resulting in a condition called adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion. The adrenals can no longer keep up with their demands. The term “burned out” usually refers to overburdened adrenals.
Stresses that affect the adrenals don’t always come from outside. Chronic infections in the body, such as yeast, bacterial overgrowth, or h pylori can challenge the adrenals as much as a demanding job or difficult relationship. Lastly, eating a diet high in sugar, food sensitivities, alcohol, carbs, and over using caffeine can be added stressors that keep the adrenals from recovering.
Adrenal fatigue comes in 3 stages. Stage 1 can feel quite energizing, but when it progresses to stage 2 or 3, the burnout becomes more apparent. In these stages, people often experience the following: weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, depression, sugar, caffeine and salt cravings, and may experience a wired feeling at night and have trouble sleeping or staying asleep. It’s also common to feel dizzy or light-headed when getting up after lying down. The difference between adrenal fatigue and regular tiredness is that your energy doesn’t improve after sleeping or resting.
Adrenal fatigue also affects other hormone levels. When the body is struggling to produce cortisol, it borrows from the resources used to make other hormones such as melatonin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA (the youth hormone).
To know for sure if you have adrenal fatigue, and at what stage, testing is recommended. The most common test is a saliva test taken at 4 time periods in the day. Adrenal dysfunction can affect many bodily functions. These include carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism; fluid and electrolyte balance; the heart and cardiovascular system; and even sex drive. When your adrenals are compromised, the body needs extra salt and vitamin C, as well as a regular eating schedule of a protein rich diet that’s low in sugar and caffeine.
- Detoxification issues
Low energy may also be the result of impaired detoxification. When the body is struggling to detoxify, it means that the liver (the primary detox organ) is sluggish and overworked.
Your body cleans itself out on a daily basis; however, sometimes the liver gets overwhelmed by toxins, processed foods, and stress. A toxic liver can actually trigger adrenal fatigue and affect other energy regulating organs like the thyroid and the gut. Signs that the liver is compromised can be symptoms like dry or itchy skin, eye problems, headaches, weight gain, constipation, and nausea. Gently cleansing and supporting the liver with herbs, lemon and bitter greens, as well as reducing stress and activity, are ways to support the liver and naturally increase energy.
- Nutrient Deficiencies
A mineral or nutrient deficiency can also be the cause of fatigue. Minerals are the spark plugs to energize the body. Stress depletes minerals, therefore, creating a vicious cycle. Other nutrient deficiencies that can cause low energy are lack of magnesium, potassium, B12, CoQ10, and folic acid.
Your DNA performs over 60,000 repairs a day in the body. Without certain nutrients and interference with chemicals, toxins, and radiation, it cannot repair itself resulting in permanent mutations increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, anxiety, severe food intolerances, Alzheimer’s, ADHD and strokes, just to name a few. A genetic mutation is known as an SNP. Many people have SNP’s and are not aware of them and they could be affecting their health. There are hundreds of SNP’s, however the most common are MTHFR, MTRR COMT, CBS, CYP1B1, and MAO.
Why is detecting your SNP’s important?
Preventative medicine is the best medicine and breakthroughs in genetic testing have taken preventative medicine to a new level. The information gathered from genetic testing allows practitioners to design a healing plan tailored to your unique body and monitor personal disease risk. One of the most researched and talked about SNP is the MTHFR mutation. It plays a role in methylation, an important pathway for many nutrients in the body for proper metabolism.
MTHFR testing evaluates folate metabolism. Folate is needed by almost all tissues in the body playing an important role in methylation reactions. People with MTHFR mutations are at risk for anxiety, ADD/ADHD, cardiovascular disease and depression. Certain medications deplete folates such as methotrexate, estrogens, birth control, antibiotics, barbiturates, and anticonvulsants. Add these medications in with a mutation and it is a recipe for disaster. People with MTHFR SNP’s should consume dietary sources of folate such as leafy greens, legumes, avocados, and broccoli. It is important to avoid synthetic folic acid including the added folic acid to the food supply.
While MTHFR testing is the primary and most popular form of genetic testing, practitioners agree that it is no longer enough. Testing other polymorphisms such as COMT and CBS are needed to give a more comprehensive picture of what is going on with the body.
There are two types of COMT enzymes.
The long chain COMT enzyme causes the degradation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. COMT plays an especially important role in maintaining neurotransmitter balance in the prefrontal cortex where personality, behavior, emotion, abstract thinking, and short-term memory are managed.
The shorter form of the COMT enzyme helps control hormone levels of the blood, liver, kidneys, and other tissues. Two SNPs are known to alter COMT methylation capacity. These two SNPs of the COMT gene are associated with impaired neurotransmitter metabolism, decreased drug metabolism, chronic widespread pain (fibromyalgia) and conditions like estrogen-induced cancers, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and hypertension.
The CBS gene provides instructions for making an enzyme and is responsible for using B6 to break down proteins to excrete in the urine. Additionally, other amino acids, including methionine, are produced in this pathway. The CBS upregulation has been clinically observed to result in sulfur intolerance in some patients. Sulfur is found in some medications, onions and garlic, cruciferous veggies and some poultry, beef, and pork. This gene results in homocysteine levels that are too low. Most SNPs have a direct effect on the body’s homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid and breakdown product of protein metabolism. Monitoring homocysteine levels are very important markers for what is going on with methylation. Methylation is a primary metabolic process that happens in every cell and every organ of our body. High homocysteine levels in the blood have been linked to the increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Testing these SNPs can help assess how well homocysteine can be cleared from the blood.
Conditions associated with CBS are low dopamine, low serotonin, cardiovascular risks, and multiple chemical sensitivities.
With genetic testing, you can get a better handle on managing your health and understanding your genetic destiny. Almost every person has a genetic SNP that could be influencing their health. Knowing your genetic status is valuable for mitigating the risks of developing a health
issue with targeted treatment and lifestyle adjustments. Or if you already have a health condition, genetic testing takes the guesswork out of creating the best nutritional plan to help you gain your optimal health.