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Gut health

There is no health without healthy gut. It has three functions crucial to your health: (1) it breaks food down to nutrients, (2) facilitates their absorption into the blood through intestinal walls, and (3) prevents foreign and toxic molecules from entering the bloodstream.

Add to it that healthy intestine has a major role in detoxification by neutralizing or breaking down toxins ingested with food (by good intestinal bugs, so called probiotics, as well as in the intestinal cell's cytochrome P-450), and it becomes clear that any gut malfunction will adversely affect health.

You can have best foods, low exposure to toxins and brightest attitude - if your digestion, nutrient absorption and gut-detoxification are not functioning properly, your health will deteriorate.

How wide-spread are various forms of malfunctioning, unhealthy gut? While no exact numbers are known, the estimate is that well

over 100 million Americans live with impaired digestion.

It is no wander, with low-fiber diets based on meat and processed foods, causing much longer transition time through the intestine, hence also an overall increase in bowel toxicity, as well as toxicity of the body as a whole (since the bowel function is a vital part of body detoxification). This can, and routinely does cause or contribute to symptoms of indigestion, as well as many other symptoms directly or indirectly associated with it.

Many are not aware of having food sensitivities and allergies, or inflamed intestines. Often times, not because of the absence of symptoms, but because:

  food sensitivities most often don't show at the time of food consumption, and

     common symptoms of not feeling well are seldom seen as related to gut condition.

But living with inflamed, dysfunctional intestines leads to a further health erosion and, ultimately, a full-blown disease. If you are serious about your health, don't take that chance. It is quite simple to obtain an indication of your gut condition. All it may take is a simple blood lab test (D-Xylose sugar test). If it shows malabsorption, your gut needs attention. If it looks all right, chances are its function is satisfactory. 

An alternative, urine test indicating either malabsorption or leaky gut is the lactulose-mannitol test (less commonly, also lactulose/rhamnose test). These two sugars that cannot be metabolized differ significantly in their molecular size, mannitol having small, easily absorbable molecules, as opposed to large, poorly absorbed lactulose molecules. Thus well functioning intestine will be indicated by low lactulose relative to mannitol urine level. Both sugars low indicate malabsorption, both high - leaky gut.

About one in every four Americans has so called "irritable bowel". Not a diagnosis, mind you, but merely descriptive label covering variety of digestive disturbances with their own sub-labels, from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and colitis, to Crohn's disease. For the official, allopathic medicine, the cause of these disorders is generally "not known" and there is "no cure". Luckily, they can be treated; in other words, your symptoms can be medicated till death do you part.

Of course, "luckily" is from the point of view of prescription drug industry, and all those riding along on their bandwagon, not yours. There is a better way, as you are just about to find out. 

Food sensitivities

What would cause unhealthy gut? One possible reason are food sensitivities and allergies. They can be result of genetic deficiency, preventing synthesis of enzymes needed for proper digestion of certain food components, immune system malfunction, reaction to chemical additives, and other factors.

Poorly digested food molecules feed harmful bacteria, irritating intestines and causing immune response. It leads into chronic inflammation of the intestinal lining and compromised digestion, usually accompanied with over-growth of harmful, toxic bacteria and/or fungi.

This may and may not cause significant abdominal discomfort, or pain (keep in mind that the body often quickly adapts to unfavorable conditions, but there is usually a price to pay down the road). However, it always hampers digestion and absorption of nutrients, as inflammation and toxicity of the intestines worsen. Carrier proteins transporting nutrients across the membrane into the blood are damaged, and so is the nutrient-absorbing intestinal lining, whose functional area can be reduced to a small fraction of its normal size.

Your nutritional status deteriorates, and it is only question of time when the

integrity of intestinal membrane is compromised.

What happens next is the condition called leaky gut syndrome, where undigested food proteins begin to penetrate the inflamed intestinal membrane, get into the bloodstream, and provoke formation of new antibodies by the immune system. These new, abnormal (since formed against large food molecules that shouldn't be present in the blood, and may have immune markers similar to our tissue molecules) antibodies sometimes mistakenly attack body organs and tissues, causing mysterious symptoms, multiple food sensitivities and food allergies, arthritic symptoms, asthma symptoms, or serious auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, myocarditis, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.

In general, these antigen-antibody complexes last for months after a single exposure. The reaction, on the other hand, is not seldom delayed 24-48 hours after ingesting offending food - sometimes longer - which makes it even more unlikely for the two to be associated.

It is not only undigested protein molecules that leak through the inflamed intestinal lining. Intestinal toxins also penetrate into the blood. They can affect any organ or tissue in the body, causing random body aches (fibromyalgia), brain fog, chronic fatigue, depression, chemical sensitivities due to the overwhelmed detox system, and so on.

Leaky gut also allows potentially harmful microorganisms to migrate from the intestine to any part of the body, further compromising its integrity.

Specific ailments caused by leaky (hyperpermeable) gut vary widely from one individual to another, depending on the complex interaction of individual strengths and weaknesses. Often times, place of an old injury, or tissue compromised in some other way, is the first to be affected. So, if your shoulder, for instance, start bothering you "without reason", it may be

signaling a problem in your gut.

The problem with food allergies and sensitivities is that they can not be positively diagnosed with blood tests (the reason being that food allergies often are not a result of immunoglobulin E - or IgE - action). Where sufficiently clear symptoms exist, offending foods causing or contributing to the condition can be identified through so called "diagnostic" or "elimination diet".

Diagnostic diet consists from two weeks on "rare foods": the foods that in the past you have eaten rarely (less than once a week), or not at all. This reduces the chances of food sensitivity to a minimum. These foods also need to be nutritious, low in sugars, and as whole and pure as possible. Diagnostic diet excludes caffeine, alcohol, processed food containing chemical additives, and foods containing most common food allergens, which are:

gluten (grain protein highest in wheat, oats, barley and rye), causing celiac disease,    
lactose (milk sugar),
    fermented foods, and
    sugar (disaccharides, like sucrose).

For most people, foods appropriate for diagnostic diet are brown rice, rarely eaten vegetables, exotic grains like millet, quinoa or amaranth, sprouted seeds, beans, nuts, etc. After two weeks, if the symptoms are cleared, more common foods are re-introduced, one at the time, so that particular food, or foods, you are sensitive to can be identified.

Of course, this is a simplified scenario which assumes no other significant factors affecting proper digestion. Food sensitivities often disturb intestinal functions, which in turn produces symptoms not directly related to the sensitivity itself. This is when appropriate diagnostic test, the stool analysis test, is needed to determine the correct course of action. It tells you what types of intestinal bugs are dominant in there, as well as what is the level of important digestive enzymes (enzymatic efficiency) in it.

Intestinal inflammation can be also caused, or worsened, by poor food choices (too much sugars and nutritionally inferior, heavily processed foods), poor eating habits (overeating, insufficient chewing), frequent use of medications (especially antibiotics), birth control pills or steroids (including prescription steroids, like prednisone), acquired enzymatic deficiencies, intestinal parasites, or prolonged stress.

These factors create intestinal environment less favorable for our friendly bacteria and more favorable for bad and potentially harmful varieties.

Antibiotics and intestinal dysbiosis

Negative effect of antibiotics on the intestinal flora is probably the main single contributor to the epidemics of inflamed, leaky guts, and host of health problems they are causing. Even a single antibiotic treatment can disturb proper function of the intestinal flora. Since antibiotics

usually kill friendly bacteria more efficiently than intestinal yeast,

the common scenario is overgrowth (intestinal dysbiosis) of Candida albicans or some other yeast. Toxins produced by these microorganisms cause gut inflammation, indigestion and malabsorption. This in turn lowers your nutritional status, which was likely less than good to begin with. Low energy and fatigue are only the beginning of a downward spiral of your health.

The next comes, again, the leaky gut, and your toxic body starved for nutrients and energy (which makes sugars twice as sweet!) now has to fight the losing battle against blood contamination and any of the host of complications it may cause.

The list of symptoms that can be caused by yeast overgrowth and ensuing gut inflammation is, expectedly, very similar to that from inflammation caused by food or chemical sensitivity. It includes (but not limits to) heartburn, fatigue, vaginitis, constipation, random pains (fibromyalgia), sinusitis, multiple food and chemical sensitivities, allergies, brain fog, depression, auto-immune disorders, and so on.

And when you turn to the medical profession for help, the die-hard medicate-the-symptom trained doctors are likely to prescribe you - guess what? - more antibiotics. Well, you get the picture...

Yet indications of yeast overgrowth can be quite obvious. Whitish, brown or dark coating over your tong is a telltale sign that you have it. It only makes it more likely when accompanied with groin rush, ridged nails and/or rectal itching. Also, Candida can produce thiaminase enzyme, which destroys vitamin B1, needed for carbohydrate metabolism; the enzyme deficiency may switch you to the carnivore (meat/fat) metabolic type. Among toxic chemicals produced by Candida yeast is acetaldehyde, which can have effect on brain similar to that of alcohol, and can also produce over-sensitivity to it.

  Those are all useful indications, but for the final confirmation of Candida overgrowth, you need stool analysis test result or, better yet, organic acids test, which identifies organic acids specific to intestinal yeast.

Once the overgrowth is established, the treatment follows these 4 phases:

correct Candida overgrowth with antifungal agent (Nystatin or Nizoral), accompanied by yeast-free (includes all food containing any yeast, like yeast-raised breads, mushrooms, fermented foods and beverages, alcohol, coffee and teas - except green tea - cheese, fruits and, of course, antibiotics) and sugar-free diet

replenish friendly (probiotic) bacteria through supplementation

heal the intestine with L-glutamine or specially formulated preparations, and

help restore digestion by taking supplemental digestive enzymes

If you are lucky, garlic extract may be all you need to take care of bad intestinal bugs, and gut healing you can speed up by supplementing you diet with highly bio-available peptides (smaller chains of amino acids; in effect, partly pre-digested proteins). Amino acid especially beneficial for healing the gut is glutamine9-14 (note that supplemental glutamine - very seldom - may act as depressant).

In most cases of fungal overgrowth, treatment with anti-fungal agent will be required. Nystatin kills the most frequent strain, Candida albicans, but not the second most frequent, Candida tropicalis. For the latter, Nizoral is usually the treatment choice. Since Nizoral, unlike Nystatin, enters the bloodstream, and is hormonally active agent which can also affect liver function, more of precaution is necessary.

Other viable alternatives for correcting yeast overgrowth are are caprylic acid and volatile plant oils from oregano, thyme, peppermint and rosemary7. Note that any effective anti-fungal agent can cause possibly significant adverse reaction due to the large amount of toxic materials produced by yeast destruction; thus, proper dosage and application is necessary.

Of course, in order for gut-health restoration to succeed and last, any serious underlying nutritional deficiency or imbalance has to be corrected. The diet must be corrected for worst excesses, preferably optimized and, very often, food allergies and sensitivities need to be identified and addressed.

Concluding thoughts

Food and chemical sensitivities, antibiotics and intestinal dysbiosis due to yeast overgrowth, along with poor food choices (low-fiber diet, causing food to stay much longer in the intestine, high-sugar diet, feeding bad intestinal bacteria, highly processed foods depriving the whole body - including intestines - from nutrients needed to function properly, and so on), steroid and other medications, prolonged stress and enzymatic deficiencies, are the major factors compromising gut health. However, due to enormous complexity of body function in general, and digestion in particular, other causes of poor digestion are always possible.

For instance, in some people, carbohydrates are fermented to ethanol, which is toxic and also capable of causing intestinal inflammation, if not efficiently detoxified. If you don't feel much better after you have corrected for the above factors that were relevant in your case, it indicates that such uncommon, individual factor is still present and needs to be addressed.

There is no alternative to healthy gut. Even if you do not suffer significant symptoms, nutritional deficiencies worsened by unhealthy gut and combined with the elevated toxicity level of the body, compromise the efficiency of body functions down to the cellular level

making you more vulnerable to all diseases, including cancer.

Symptoms of immunodeficiency are common to digestive problems. It is due to the fact that up to 2/3 of the immune-system is normally committed to the digestive tract. Digestive malfunction significantly increases demand for the immune-system assistance, a burden that makes it generally inefficient, and more likely to malfunction. Nutritional deficiencies resulting from digestive inefficiency (in addition to rather common dietary deficiencies) are only making the problem worse.

Low stomach acid level also results in incomplete digestion and assimilation, and can have similar consequences in regard to the gut health. The cause of low stomach acid can be genetic, or result of nutritional deficiencies and mineral imbalances, as well as the result of extended toxic exposure. It is important to note that both high and low stomach acid have similar symptoms. Some of those experiencing heartburn may actually have low stomach acid,

and further impair their digestion and health by taking antacids.

Body production of both, digestive enzymes and stomach acid, declines with age. After the edge of 50, most people have insufficient levels of these essential digestive factors. More so if their diets consist mostly of enzyme-dead cooked and processed foods, that overburden and exhaust body's main producer of digestive enzymes - the pancreas. Insufficient stomach acid and/or digestive enzyme levels - as mentioned - also can and do occur independent of age. In such cases, stomach acid (HCl) and digestive enzyme supplementation is necessary to maintain satisfactory function of the digestive tract.  



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