When I take a patients’ history, I always enquire about my their digestion. I ask them about the pattern and consistency of their bowel movements and if they suffer from symptoms of indigestion such as gas, bloating, burping, acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation. I am frequently surprised when someone finds it normal that they pass stool once a week! Many of them suffer from gas and bloating on a regular basis and think that’s normal, while others keep popping acid inhibitors to suppress their acid reflux. I would like to discuss some reasons why you may be having this problem and steps to be taken to correct it.
Firstly, your digestion and bowel function will greatly depend on your lifestyle, diet and exercise. A well balanced diet consisting of protein, healthy grains, fruits and vegetables is required for regular bowel function. These days many patients in the hope of losing weight go on high protein diets forgetting the necessity of the rest of the components. Natural fiber from fruits and vegetables help to keep bowel function regular besides the nutrition and antioxidants they provide. It is very important to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day if not more. Many patients tell me that they forget to drink water due to busy work schedules. I suggest to them that they fill a container with a gallon of water every day and bring it to work and keep it by their desk, making sure by the end of the day they have finished most of it. Exercise is another key factor that speeds up your metabolism and helps to regulate bowel function. When your metabolism is slow, you will go to the bathroom less frequently while exercise contributes to bowel motility and aids in elimination.
Another big cause of indigestion is when our body is unable to produce adequate digestive enzymes required to digest foods. Digestion is the chemical breakdown of large food molecules into smaller molecules that can be used by cells. The breakdown occurs when certain specific enzymes are mixed with food. Digestion begins as soon as we put food in our mouths. Teeth help to chew and break food into smaller particles. Saliva produced by salivary glands contains an enzyme that begins to digest the starch from food into smaller molecules. The next set of digestive glands is in the stomach lining. They produce stomach acid and an enzyme that digests protein. The stomach empties the food into small intestine where enzymes produced by the pancreas will help to digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The liver produces bile which is stored between meals in the gall bladder. At mealtime, bile is released from the gall bladder via bile ducts into the intestines to help in the digestion of fats. Please refer to the picture below that shows the digestive system and how the food passes down the mouth to the rectum. In the process, it shows what organs produce which enzymes and how it helps to digest food.
Now imagine if you are missing any one or more of these organs or enzyme systems is not working efficiently enough to produce the enzymes that it should be. The result is that you will have difficulty digesting the food you are eating which can cause symptoms of indigestion.
I would like to provide some examples here. When a patient has a bariatric surgery where part of the stomach is removed, they lose the ability to adequately digest proteins, because as mentioned earlier, proteins are largely digested in the stomach. Patients who have had their gall bladder removed have a lack of bile that helps digest fat, thus they usually have gas and bloating and pass stools that float because of undigested fats in it. Patients who have had parts of digestive tracts removed due to cancer or who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s will suffer from digestive issues as well.
At our clinic we have successfully treated a variety of digestive problems. In naturopathic medicine, we believe that many diseases can originate in the gastrointestinal tract. Thus in order to have an overall successful treatment outcome, we need to address the issues of the gut that a patient is having regardless of the disease they are being seen for. One common tool has been adding a digestive enzyme as a supplement to a patient’s treatment protocol when we suspect, based on their symptoms, that they may be lacking the production of certain enzymes. It has helped patients with conditions like external hemorrhoids, acid reflux, constipation, and eructations among other symptoms that can rise due an inability to properly digest foods. We are able to individualize treatments based upon the presenting symptoms and/or condition. Thus for a patient with a gall bladder removal, we use bile in supplement form to help digest ingested fats, while patients who lack production of stomach acid may need a supplement that replaces hydrochloric acid to help digest proteins.
All of us need to eat healthy diets and have optimal digestion in order to get our daily dose of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the food we consume. If our body has lost the capacity to do that, maybe because of an inflammatory bowel condition resulting in parts of digestive tract having been removed, or if our organ systems don’t work well, you can benefit immensely from getting a Nutrient IV treatment at the clinic. These treatments are becoming very popular among many physicians, including the ones who practice in a more traditional manner. Commonly known as a Myer’s IV, we individualize treatments for every patient, mixing vitamins and minerals in a IV bag and administering it through a vein. One of my patients who has history of cancer and has 80% of her colon removed was surprised why she was not told that she will not be able to absorb nutrients from her foods for the rest of her life! When I first saw her, she was so fatigued, she could hardly function because whatever she was eating, went right through her system causing 6-8 watery bowel movements/day. Now she comes in weekly for her nutrient IVs and could not feel any better.
The use of probiotics to prevent gas, diarrhea and cramping from use of antibiotics is becoming very common. Antibiotics will kill the beneficial bacteria along with disease causing bacteria in the gut. A decrease in beneficial bacteria will cause digestive problems because of a flora imbalance. Thus using a good probiotic supplement can help restore healthy bacteria that prevent development of diseases and increases patient’s immunity or disease fighting capacity.
You may have noticed that you may not be able to digest the same food as well as someone else in your family while eating dinner together. Have you given a thought on what Blood Type you are? Consider that you need to eat right for your Blood Type and read the book written by Dr. Peter D’Adamo. You will find out why if you are Blood Type A you may do better by eating more vegetarian foods compared to Blood Type O who can tolerate more meats. We offer the Dietary Serotype Panel blood testing at our clinic and can provide you more of an individualized diet plan that can help reduce inflammation, digest foods better and thus cause weight loss.
In this article, I have tried to explain a few reasons of indigestion and provided a few tools to help correct it. I would recommend consulting with your health care provider to address your problems in detail. At our clinic we can help with ordering specialized testing and providing safe, effective and natural treatments for you and your family.