Posted on August 5, 2010 - No Comments
The prevalence of digestive disorders these days is indicative of both a lack of necessary nutrients and of dietary patterns that are not supportive of digestive well-being. But the worst of it is the constant misdiagnosis of one of the most common digestive complaints, excess acid, often manifesting as reflux (stomach acid rising up the back of the throat) and a burning sensation in the stomach. Doctors commonly only look at the obvious symptoms and, asking no further questions, prescribe antacids. This is not only a short-term solution but is actually dangerous for many people.
A simple way to look at treating digestive problems is to first locate the position of the discomfort. Digestion begins in the upper stomach where enzymes are secreted. Then the stomach acids kick in, mostly if animal proteins are involved (meat, fish, cheese, poultry, eggs, etc). Finally the intestinal tract depends on friendly bacteria to properly finish the digestive process and help transport the nutrients into the bloodstream for use by the body.
So, if one has upper distress, such as burping and belching, I will recommend they use a full-spectrum enzyme product. This is taken with the first bite of food, but is only needed with cooked foods. Raw and fermented foods have their own enzymes. For many years your pancreas will keep up with producing enzymes, but eventually, if your dietary emphasis is on cooked and processed foods over raw, fresh foods, the pancreas will no longer be able to keep up. Thus enzyme supplementation is usually a need for older individuals, but if I am consulting with someone younger I will try to get them to rebuild their pancreas, rather than becoming dependent on enzyme pills.
Remember from the Longevity newsletter, that enzymes are cleaning your blood when they are not digesting food, so a dramatic depletion of enzymes leads to allergies and a weakened immune system, as well as premature aging. In fact you can take enzymes on an empty stomach to help treat these conditions.
In order to rebuild our pancreas there are a couple supplements that can be used, as well as modifying the diet to include a better balance of raw to cooked foods. At this point I will mention the Chinese medical approach, which is to keep the raw foods emphasized in the warmer seasons and cooked food in the colder seasons. The primary supplements to help rebuild the pancreas’s ability to produce enzymes are Pancreatin (derived from pig pancreas) and lactic acid found in fermented foods, especially in Miso and Sauerkraut, and the supplement Molkosan (produced by Vogel), which is a liquid lactic acid product derived from fermented whey.
Our next level, stomach acid production, is where the misdiagnosis commonly occurs. Unfortunately the symptoms of excess stomach acid and insufficient stomach acid are virtually the same: a burning sensation in the stomach and acid reflux. But acid insufficiency is actually more common in older people than excess, since as we age our stomach acid levels tend to decline. A vegetarian diet will also cause a decline in stomach acid, and certain blood types have a genetic predisposition to low stomach acid (types A and AB).
The danger involved in taking antacids when the acid is already low is manifest mostly when one needs to go to the hospital. Those on acid suppressing drugs are 30% more likely to pick up intestinal “super bugs” which can be life threatening. As well, low stomach acid reduces nutrient absorption, especially of minerals. This will often show up initially as ridges on the thumbnails.
There is essentially a “governor” at the top of the stomach that prevents acid from rising up the throat. But, if there is insufficient acid, the governor does not kick in, and one gets reflux, not due to too much acid, but too little. Fortunately there is an easy experiment that one can do to test which extreme is causing the symptoms. There is also a medical test but it seems to be seldom used, and the assumption usually is that one has too much acid and it must be reduced.
The home test is to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in a little water before each meal, especially those containing the most offending foods. If this improves the digestion then indeed you have low stomach acid, if it aggravates the condition (i.e. it burns more) then you do have stomach acid levels that are too high.
At this point, if your stomach acid level appears to be too low, one can simply purchase Betaine Hcl capsules, which is essentially stomach acid in a pill. Take one or more of these at meals containing protein. It is usually suggested that one take more capsules until there is a distinct warming sensation in the stomach then roll it back by one, to get to the ideal dosage level. If your stomach acid level turns out to be too high the safest supplement is Flora Antacid, which puts up a protective pectin barrier instead of reducing stomach acid levels.
Remember that I said add the cider vinegar to a “little” water. Those who have read “How to take NutriPods” (elsewhere on our website) will know that I am of the camp that believes drinking with meals impedes digestion. Swallowing your vitamin pills with a glass of liquid will dilute the stomach acid reducing the digestibility of both the food consumed and the vitamins as well. One should avoid beverages on average for 20 to 30 minutes before and after eating a major meal. Green tea is considered the only beverage supportive of digestion, and even here I would be careful if my digestion were not optimal.
Also according to the blood type diet, coffee can be of benefit for types A and AB, because it can increase stomach acid secretion, but it is best taken black, since sugar and milk modify its benefits. Chewing gum will also increase stomach acid secretion, which is why it is not good to chew on an empty stomach, but it can be of benefit following a meal. However, try to avoid chewing gum that is artificially sweetened, which seems to be most of those commercially available.
One final point on the stomach and burning sensations, based on my own observations. If I eat more than two servings of carbohydrates in a day I will get a sensation like heartburn. This includes the highest quality organic whole grain bread, pasta and/or rice. The more fruit (non-acidic), veggies and salad I eat the more I can neutralize this tendency that the carbohydrates cause. Now, I am a type AB blood and am mostly vegetarian, so I tend towards low stomach acid, but this sensation is feels very much like too much acid in the stomach. So, when observing your symptoms, be sure to factor in your carbohydrate intake.
Now we come to the intestinal tract, where the symptoms of malfunction are those of bloating, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea. Here the solution is generally twofold: fiber and friendly bacteria (“acidophilus”). Fiber both helps to keep us regular and feeds friendly bacteria. Increasing fiber intake too fast will often cause symptoms of increased intestinal gas because of this tendency to provide food for friendly bacteria. In fact soluble fiber feeds good bacteria so well, that it is often sold as a “pre-biotic”, such as in the case of Inulin, which is derived from chicory.
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.
Traditionally every culture has a fermented food that is part of their regular diet, such as miso, kefir, kim-chee, yogurt, sauerkraut, etc. Our culture is devoid of cultures since we pasteurize everything, effectively killing the very bacteria that we depend on, along with the enzymes. This is why I’m an advocate of everyone using some form of probiotic (friendly bacteria) on a semi-regular basis. It can get tricky here as there are so many products on the market and quality is all over the map.
All I can suggest is that you do your research and find a store with knowledgeable staff that can help guide you through your options. Also feel free to try new products each time, till you get a sense of which one serves you best. Don’t make your decision based on the numbers game, since the highest number of bacteria may also have the weakest viability: that is their ability to make it undamaged to the intestinal tract and there colonize. Here we find lactic acid again to be of great benefit, since it helps to create an environment in the intestines that encourages good bacteria to thrive, while discouraging bad bacteria.
You will find that one of your major choices will be between enteric-coated probiotics and those not coated. This brings us back to stomach acid levels, as this is what enteric coating does is protect the acidophilus 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.
The other main problem in the intestinal tract is manifest as symptoms of diarrhea and frequent loose stools. Again fiber and friendly bacteria are important to correcting this problem in the long run. In the short run, if the condition followed a bout of stomach flu or food poisoning, I suggest taking 3 charcoal capsules three times daily (between meals) for a week. This will suck up any residual bad bacteria that may be causing the problem.
As well, consider taking 30,000 i.u. of vitamin A daily (with food) for a week or more, in order to help rebuild the lining of the gut. (See Newsletter #1: Sunglasses, Vitamin A and Your Lungs.)
The problem of loose stools, if not resolved by the above suggestions, may be due to more complicated issues, though I have seen it simply related to drinking too much coffee (black tea is a good alternative since the tannins can help counteract diarrhea). More complicated is beyond the scope of this newsletter but I will point out that the medical profession believes that 80% of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is psychological. Which means that it is stress-related, 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.
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 the friendly bacteria and fiber. Good choices include: “Calms” homeopathic medicine; L-Theanine an amazing substance, 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 Japanese children; organic chamomile tea, which both aids digestion and calms the nerves.
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 one oriental tradition. As Dr. Emoto points out 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 to it 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. Macrobiotic 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.