Digestive Disorders: Part 2
Digestive Disorders: Part 2
As mentioned in Part 1, doctors commonly prescribe antacids and acid-blocking drugs to anyone and everyone, without first checking to determine if their stomach acid is high or low. Solutions like these can be dangerous for everyone if used for too long, but are especially problematic for those who already have low stomach acid.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Aside from aiding the digestion of food, stomach acid also serves to help protect us from germs and bad bacteria. Thus, the danger involved in taking pharmaceutical antacids and proton pump inhibitors, when stomach acid is already low, manifests mostly when one needs to go to the hospital. Those on acid suppressing drugs are 50% more likely to pick up intestinal “superbugs”, which can be life threatening. (Source)
As well, low stomach acid reduces nutrient absorption, especially of minerals. (This will often show up initially as ridges on the thumbnails.) “PPIs have been associated with an increased risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies impacting vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium metabolism.” (Source)
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are prescribed to treat certain gastrointestinal disorders by severely reducing the amount of acid in the stomach, and are among the most commonly used drugs in the world. However, “studies suggest as many as 70 percent of people taking PPIs get no benefit from them”. (Quite possibly because the majority of people they are given to actually have low stomach acid.)
Side effects associated with PPIs include: constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Even worse, “prolonged use of these medicines can cause kidney disease, injury and failure. It can also lead to heart attacks, cancers and bone fractures. Other side effects range from vitamin B12 deficiency and low magnesium levels to pneumonia and Lupus erythematosus events. Recent studies have also associated long-term use with chronic kidney disease. (Source)
The third phase of our journey through digestion concerns the intestinal tract, where the symptoms of malfunction are those of bloating, flatulence, and constipation or diarrhea. Here the solution is generally twofold: fiber and friendly bacteria (probiotics).
Fiber both helps to keep us regular and feeds friendly bacteria. However, increasing fiber intake too fast will often cause symptoms of increased intestinal gas, because of this tendency to provide food for friendly flora. In fact, soluble fiber feeds good bacteria so well that it is often sold as a “prebiotic”, such as in the case of inulin (usually derived from chicory), hydrolyzed guar gum, acacia gum, or resistant starch.
Since fecal matter contains up to 50% bacteria, we can see that friendly bacteria is as important to regularity as is fiber. And don’t forget that antibiotics destroy huge amounts of friendly bacteria in your gut, leaving the bad guys to return and overrun the territory. Friendly bacteria is also destroyed by birth control pills, too much alcohol, smoking, and chlorinated water.
Supporting our microbiome is so important that virtually every traditional culture has a fermented food that is part of their regular diet. These vary from country to country, and include such foods as miso, kefir, kim-chee, yogurt, sauerkraut, etc.
Up until recently, the West was devoid of cultures since we pasteurized everything, effectively killing the very bacteria that we depend on, along with all the enzymes. Eventually the West heard about yogurt and things have been improving on the fermented food front since then. We now have a plethora of options available in health food stores, and even in commercial grocery stores.
As I have written elsewhere, most probiotic products are of dubious value, therefore I usually recommend supporting the microbiome through prebiotic fibers, fermented foods, and, if necessary, the use of Lactospore.
Lactospore works primarily by increasing lactic acid levels in the intestines, thereby supporting those important friendly flora which depend upon lactic acid to flourish. The bonus of course being that, as discussed earlier, lactic acid also helps to rebuild the pancreas allowing it to continue producing optimal amounts of enzymes.
Certain probiotics can be of value, but the best one usually consists of only one or two strains (e.g.Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus plantarum), or if they have more strains, a low bacteria count. Those products with multiple strains and a high count of bacteria (50 billion, etc), are the type proven to be least effective. Usually. We are all unique so if you find a product that works for you, use it, but not forever. We can also create a dependency on probiotics if we overuse these types of products. So don’t consider your probiotic to be a substitute for a good diet high in fiber and fermented foods.
When seeking to purchase a probiotic, I suggest that you do your research, then find a store with knowledgeable staff that can help guide you through your options. Also feel free to try new products each time, untill you get a sense of which one serves you best.
When purchasing such products, you will find that one of your main choices will be between enteric-coated probiotics and those not coated. This brings us back to stomach acid levels, as what enteric coating does is protect the probiotics from being destroyed by acid during its transit through the stomach. If you have high stomach acid, enteric coating is a good idea, if however you have low stomach acid I suggest you avoid enteric coating, since the coating may still be intact by the time it reaches the intestinal tract, and the whole pill can pass through you unassimilated.
Be aware that the higher the number of bacteria, the weaker their viability, and so it is mostly these types of products that need to be enteric coated. We do not enteric coat yogurt, yet the bacteria survives transit through the stomach acid just fine. Why is that?
Well, naturally occurring probiotic bacteria, found in fermented foods, exist in chains of bacteria. (Much like amino acids in protein exist in chains, but can be separated into single amino acids for therapeutic purposes.) When the big numbers became part of the marketing of probiotics, companies started centrifuging the chains apart, isolating the bacteria, and allowing for claims of billions of bacteria. But this approach weakens the bacteria, and they then require enteric-coating to protect them from stomach acid. Therefore, one can sometimes consider the presence of enteric-coating to represent a less viable product.
One of the main problems in the intestinal tract is manifest as symptoms of diarrhea, or frequent loose stools. Again fiber and friendly bacteria are important to correcting this problem in the long run. However, in the short run, if the condition follows a bout of stomach flu or food poisoning, I suggest taking 3 charcoal capsules three times daily (between meals) for three to seven days. This will suck up any residual bad bacteria that may be causing the problem. (Generally the most useful probiotic for diarrhea is Saccharomyces boulardii.)
The problem of loose stools, if not resolved by charcoal and probiotics, may be due to more complicated issues, though I have seen it simply related to eating too many raw foods (especially among the elderly), or drinking too much coffee on an empty stomach (black tea is a good alternative since the tannins can help counteract diarrhea).
More complicated diarrhea issues, such as IBS (which can cause diarrhea or constipation), are beyond the scope of this newsletter. However, I will point out that the medical profession believes that 50 – 90% of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a “chronic psycho-physiological disorder”. (Source)
While this viewpoint may be offensive to some (implying that it is “all in your head”), if we look at it to mean that IBS is stress-related, then the idea ties into something the Chinese pointed out long ago when they observed that “stress goes to the stomach”. In this case, “stomach” includes the whole digestive system.
That being said, we know that a number of prebiotic (Lactospore Supreme, hydrolyzed guar gum ) and probiotic products (L-plantarum, Saccharomyces boulardii) have been clinically proven to be of benefit in treating IBS. And, since it is now well established that the state of our microbiome affects our moods dramatically, the link between IBS and the psychology of stress begins to make sense.
Only recently, Western medicine discovered that there are more serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter) receptors in the stomach than in the brain, making the stomach in effect a “second brain”. Therefore if you are thin, high-strung, of a nervous disposition, or simply easily stressed out, and you have bowel difficulties, start playing with calming agents as well as friendly bacteria and fiber.
Good choices include: “Calms Forte” homeopathic medicine; L-Theanine, derived from green tea, that calms the nerves in 10-15 minutes and is safe enough that it is used as a treatment for ADD and ADHD in children; and organic chamomile tea, which both aids digestion and calms the nerves. Also effective is timed-release 5-HTP, which has proven valuable for treating constipation accompanied by depression.
More suggestions can be found in my newsletter series, “Mood Enhancers”.
Remember also that treating food, and the act of eating, with respect and proper attention literally changes the quality of the meal. Eating when angry actually “poisons” the food according to Macrobiotic principles. As Dr. Emoto pointed out (he is now deceased) in his water crystal studies, human attention and intention can alter the form of water molecules, and the food we eat is full of water. Thus, praying and saying grace over our foods can impart a higher vibrational frequency to your food. This can be a non-religious focus since the benefits appear to accrue from simply an attitude of gratitude.
Finally, we must chew well. Digestion begins in the mouth and one should chew until the food is practically liquid. Macrobiotics suggest that ill people chew 100 times, which is difficult for Westerners to conceive, but even 20 times at least, can make a big difference to digestive health. This is covered in excruciating detail in my three part newsletter, Chew, Chew, Chew.