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Chronic Digestive Disorders

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    We know that our digestive system plays a very important role in the maintenance of our health and in protecting us from disease. Our digestion is considered optimal if our digestive tract is able to break down food and absorb the nutrients and energy. For this, the digestive tract needs an optimal amount of Hydrochloric Acid, bile and enzymes. Shortage of any of these components can take a toll on our overall health. But even though we are aware of this, our most common health problems originate in the gut. In fact, 56% of all Indian families report experiencing digestive health issues such as indigestion, acidity, and gas.

    In this blog, we will delve deeper into the subject and attempt to explain the impact of our digestive system on overall health, digestive problems and the indications they give about our gut health, and the interconnection between our digestive system and various chronic disorders. We will also be answering some commonly asked questions, such as – what is a digestive disorder, how to know digestive disorder, what are some disorders of the digestive system, what is leaky gut, and so on. 

    Importance of Digestive Health

    The Greek physician Hippocrates, who is considered the father of modern medicine, surmised that “All diseases begin in the gut.”

    Our gut has an important role to play in maintaining our brain health, joint support, skin health, immune function, and much more. The first signs of distress usually occurs in the digestive tract. This can be in the form of acid reflux (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), belching, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, yeast or parasitic infections, or food allergies and intolerances – all of which can be mild or severe.

    For the maintenance of our health, we need a good immune system. 70% of this immune system lies in the gut. The health of our gut determines nutrient absorption and what toxins, allergens and microbes are flushed out. So for the maintenance of our health, there should be an optimum quantity of good bacteria in the gut and they should function properly.

    Our gut houses trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi of over a 100 different species. For perspective, there are 10 times more bacteria in our gastrointestinal system than there are cells in our body. These bacteria are either good or bad. The good bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with us. That is, we are in a mutually beneficial relationship with them. The bad bacteria on the other hand, are parasitic. They live and feed off us, draining us of vital nutrients and eventually causing harm to our body. 

    Apart from microbes, our gut also produces several hormones that affect every single aspect of our health. It might surprise you to know that 95% of Serotonin (a feel good neurotransmitter) is found not in the brain, but in the gut.

    Basically, our gut is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in our body. That is why when people come to us at Wellfinity with their chronic health problems, we almost always start with fixing the gut.

    Gut Imbalances: The Root of What Causes Digestive Disorders

    For a healthy gut, we require the right quantity and quality of gut microbiota, the right amount of gastric acid and digestive juices, digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile acids from the gallbladder.  

    But there are also several factors that affect our gut health. Repeated antibiotics, frequent use of painkillers, steroids, acid blockers and consumption of genetically modified/ultra-processed/packaged/hybridized/ pesticide-laden foods, dairy products and sugars, impact the microbial terrain of the gut. Then there are drugs that deplete the body of precious nutrients as a side-effect. In common parlance, these are called ‘drug muggers’. It might shock you to know that Metformin, commonly used for the treatment of diabetes, robs the body of B12 which is essential for the health of RBCs, brain and nerve function.

    Additionally, bio-toxins, hormone imbalances (resulting from body products, food and water), daily stress, gluten, and excessive grain consumption also impact the gut negatively. Together, these environmental and dietary factors manifest in the form of symptoms such as gas, bloating, burning sensation, heartburn, constipation, inflammation, insomnia etc. These symptoms eventually lead to gut-related conditions such as Leaky Gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Ulcers and Crohn’s Disease. It is noteworthy here that recent studies have traced many autoimmune conditions back to Leaky Gut and gut dysfunction.

    So, if you are showing any of the symptoms it would be wise to make an appointment with the doctor right away.

    Fundamentals of Gut Health and Immune Function

    Our gut is a snake-like uninterrupted tube from our mouth to the anus. Once we swallow food, it enters our gullet or esophagus. It takes a few hours for the food to reach our stomach. Food travels from the stomach to the small and then the large intestine. This whole route is collectively called our gut or gastrointestinal tract. Along with the liver, gallbladder and pancreas, it completes our digestive system.

    Before getting into the specifics of individual digestive disorders, we need to understand the three fundamental aspects which promote gut health and can help us avoid most digestive disorders. These are:

    • Microbiota: As said earlier, there are trillions of microbes housed in our gut. Most of these are bacteria, but other single cell organisms such as viruses, fungi and protozoa are also present. Together, these make up our microbiota. When good bacteria gets hampered and bad microbes or pathogens increase, it causes disturbances in our gut environment.
    • Gut lining: Our stomach produces hydrochloric acid strong enough to burn our skin. On an average, we produce up to 17 cups or 4 litres of gastric juice per day, which includes stomach acid. Yet, the stomach lining does not get burnt. This is because it produces mucus to protect itself. For this reason, the gut lining is also called our intelligent barrier system. If this barrier is compromised, it will become vulnerable to pathogen invasion and nutrition from food will also enter into the bloodstream causing fermentation and putrefaction.
    • Immune system: 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut. This is in the form of Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue or GALT, which is the name for all the organized lymphoid tissues found in the intestine whose primary job is to support immune response. So, if the gut lining is compromised, this immune response will also get disrupted.

    Digestive Problems and What They Tell About Our Gut Health

    We now know that our gut impacts our overall health and poor gut health manifests itself in the form of chronic diseases. The next logical step is to understand what some of our common digestive problems tell us about our immune system.

    • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/ Acidity/ Acid Reflux: 

    More than 50% of adult Indians experience symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux at least once a month. We often call it Acidity or Acid Reflux. Some people think of it as heartburn. When we have GERD, the sphincter that separates our Esophagus from the stomach doesn’t close as tightly as it needs to. This allows some content of our stomach to get into our Esophagus. As a result, we feel a burning sensation in our chest or throat. Symptoms of Gastoesophageal Reflux can include burping, heartburn, upper abdominal pain, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, laryngitis, chronic cough, asthma and dental erosions.

    Conventional medicine thinks that too much acid in the stomach is what causes acid reflux. Due to this misunderstanding, we take antacids. However, the fact is that GERD is caused not by high, but low stomach acid which increases the intra-abdominal pressure. In turn, this pressure pushes the food up to the Esophagus, leaving a burning sensation.

    If we have low stomach acid, it means our gut has a low acidic environment. This low acidic environment allows bacteria and pathogens to thrive. And when bacteria and pathogens thrive, it leads to chronic gut infections, impaired digestion and increased GERD.

    Now we need to know, how to get rid of acid reflux. It’s simple. We must reduce the factors that promote bacterial overgrowth, improve stomach acid, and restore healthy microbes and the mucosal lining of the gut. This can be possible by consuming the right food to cover nutritional deficiency/ insufficiency, and by avoiding allergens or inflammatory foods and environment. Improving lifestyle factors such as exposure to the sun, quality sleep, lower stress, movement, etc. can also help.

    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

    Many of us often ask – is IBS a digestive disorder? Well, it is. It occurs when our gut lining or wall breaks down and becomes permeable, toxins can enter the gut and undigested food can get into the bloodstream. This phenomenon is commonly called ‘leaky gut’. Because of the leak, the gut-immune system gets activated and leads to an irritable bowel, an irritable brain and other problems such as allergies, arthritis, autoimmunity and mood disorders.

    Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also be caused by Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which is basically the overgrowth of bacteria, fungi or yeast in the small intestine, food allergies, lack of digestive enzymes, parasites, zinc/magnesium deficiency or heavy metal toxicity.

    People suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome for a long time become plagued with problems such as bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation and pain.

    • Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

    Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The two common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Crohn’s disease most often affects the intestinal walls in the lower small intestine and the large intestine. On the other hand, Ulcerative Colitis affects only the mucosal layers of the colon and rectum where inflammation damages the lining of the colon and causes small pores or ulcers.

    IBD diagnosis may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers in the lower GI tract, anxiety, depression, and periodontitis. IBD causes an increased risk of developing dementia and reduced autonomic nervous system function.

    Both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis show some common primary symptoms such as pain, diarrhoea, fever, fatigue, and weight loss. However, there may also be some differences. For instance in the case of Crohn’s disease, malnutrition due to potential damage to the small intestine can also be seen. While in the case of Ulcerative Colitis, the patient suffers rectal bleeding. 

    The conventional approach looks to supress the symptoms of IBD through medicine or surgery, depending upon the diagnosis and the stage of the disease. On the other hand, holistic treatment looks to reverse the disease by reducing the inflammation through food, reduction in environmental toxins and also in the pathogenic environment in the gut. 

    • Celiac Disease

    Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the consumption of gluten damages the mucosal lining of the small intestine. It can show up at any stage and is usually triggered by stress, surgery, infection, environmental factors and intestinal permeability. It creates an environment in which dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut flora) leads to loss of immune tolerance to gluten.

    The most common symptoms of Celiac disease include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, GERD, chronic diarrhoea, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, chronic fatigue, reduced bone density, etc.

    In the treatment of Celiac disease, conventional medicine focuses on going gluten-free. However, holistic treatment includes, supporting the repair of the intestinal tract and optimizing digestive health, while simultaneously addressing imbalances such as nutritional deficiencies and systemic inflammation.

    How to Cure Digestive Disorder And The Importance of Food

    Our diet decides the kind of microbes that will be there in our gut. Fiber-rich, minimally processed foods promote a healthy microbiome. On the other hand, ultra-processed food promote growth of harmful microbes. If we have a diverse range of good bacteria, our gut will be healthy. And since the gut shapes our immune system, having a healthy microbiome means we will be in good health overall.

    Most of our chronic gut issues arise out of our eating habits. This includes eating the wrong type of food, eating at the wrong time, or eating in the wrong manner. For instance, if we eat inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy and ultra-processed foods, it can lead to bloating and gas to start with. Over a period of time it can cause inflammation and create a pathogenic environment in the gut that can lead to more serious chronic gut disorders.

    Apart from inflammatory foods, food allergens, spicy or citrus foods, tomato-based foods, fries, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can also disturb the gut microbiome. Eating just before bed or on an already full stomach, or eating without a gap of 3-4 hours between meals can put pressure on the working of the gut and can be harmful over a period of time.

    The solution our gut issues is to improve our gut microbiome. This can be possible by having a ‘rainbow diet’ which is basically a diverse variety of plant based foods, and consuming probiotics (like yogurt and fermented foods) and prebiotics (high-fiber foods) which are sources of good bacteria. Ideally, we should eat at least 30 different varieties of plant-based foods in a week. Additionally, we should avoid eating anything sweet, we should remain active and we should sleep well. It is also advisable to keep the mind stress-free, limit the use of antibiotics to only when absolutely necessary and avoid smoking.

    The Interconnection Between Our Digestive And Overall Health

    • Healthy gut means overall health

    When our digestive tract is healthy, it digests food, assimilates nutrients and filters out toxins, allergens and microbes. But if the gut microbiome lacks diversity and contains potentially harmful microbes, it increases our chances of developing a disease. It follows then that a healthy gut means we are healthy overall.

    Secondly, the gut lining of the small intestine houses the gut-immune system. If this gut lining breaks down, the immune system will be exposed to foreign particles from food, bacteria and other microbes. Such a breakdown can happen due to reasons such as too much stress, too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, intestinal infections, low-fiber/ high sugar diet, alcohol etc. This will weaken the immune system and make us more prone to flu, virus, fever, cough and cold. In the longer run, it will invite a host of pathogens to weaken other organs.

    Moreover, the gut is responsible for getting rid of toxins that are a by-product of metabolism. The liver dumps this by-product into the gut in the form of bile. If the gut becomes dysfunctional and this waster piles up, our body will become toxic. 

    • The gut-brain axis

    The gut-brain axis is linked to brain-related issues such as depression, anxiety, autism, fatigue, brain fog. An interesting fact is that 95% of the ‘happiness hormone’ Serotonin is produced not in the brain, but in the gut. 50% of Dopamine is also made by our gut. Our gut contains more neurotransmitters than our brain and there is a constant exchange of messages between the two. If there is an issue with the gut, our brain catches the signal immediately and we start experiencing fatigue, brain fog, mental distraction, uneasiness, anxiety and in severe cases even depression and insomnia. If those messages either from the brain to the gut or from the gut to the brain get altered for any reason, it will impact our health negatively.

    It is estimated that nearly 40 million adults in India older than 18 years have experienced some sort of anxiety-related disorder. Nearly one in every 20 Indians suffers from depression. Many of these brain and hormone problems have their roots in underlying gut health problems.

    • The gut-skin axis

    Our skin works much like our gut. Both of these come in contact with matter from the outside world. Both also act as barriers and prevent pathogens from entering our body. Scientists have known for the longest time that some skin complications can occur alongside gut symptoms and vice-versa. For instance, inflammatory bowel disease is accompanied by psoriasis and eczema. Likewise, psoriasis, eczema, atopic dermatitis, chronic itch and rosacea often occur alongside celiac disease. This is because most skin issues have their underlying root cause in gut inflammation, poor gut microbiota, leaky gut, or infections in part or whole of the gut. For instance, if you are experiencing inflammation in the gut, the symptom is likely to show on your skin. Thus, the skin is often the first place where the effect of an unhealthy gut shows. And once the gut issues are addressed, the skin condition will also improve.

    The gut–skin axis is a 2-way pathway that connects the gut and skin. Through this connection, our gut microbes send signals to our skin that influence things like skin structure, inflammation, and the production of sebum (the oily, waxy substance normally found on skin). If anything in our gut is disrupted in that signalling process, our skin will feel the effects.

    Conclusion

    Thus, we see that the gut is essential for the maintenance of our overall health since 70% of our immune system lies in our gut. Several factors can affect our gut health including inflammatory medicines, ultra-processed foods, bio-toxins, hormone imbalances, stress, gluten etc. If the gut is affected, we experience various symptoms starting with gas, bloating, burping, heartburn, insomnia etc. and eventually leading to more serious problems like Leaky Gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gastroesophageal Reflux, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Many autoimmune diseases can be traced back to Leaky Gut and other gut dysfunctions.

    There are three fundamental aspects which promote gut health and help us avoid chronic disorders. These are our microbiota, gut lining and the immune system. We should have a good understanding of how they function if we want to stay healthy.

    And finally, the conventional approach to treating some common chronic disorders is fundamentally flawed from the point of diagnosis. Moreover, it looks to treat those problems with medication. However gut disorders can be treated and cured with simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Such a treatment is permanent and sustainable. 

    At Wellfinity we understand that most of our chronic health problems begin in the gut. Therefore, our treatment almost always starts with fixing it. What you need to understand is that no one is immune to the occasional stomach ache. But when bloating, gassiness, reflux, diarrhoea or constipation become the norm, it is time to act! 

    So if you are showing any of the symptoms discussed in this blog, get an appointment with our expert doctors as soon as possible. Because like they say – a stitch in time saves nine.



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