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Heal the Gut! (What???)

So many of the chronic, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases that I see over and over again in my practice can be helped by looking at and focusing treatment on healing the GI tract, or the gut.  Many  of my patients who seem to have disparate symptoms and names for their diagnosed illnesses benefit from this  approach.   Illnesses from arthritis, to Graves disease to Lupus, to Chronic Fatigue to Interstitial Cystitis to Skin conditions, to Chronic Vaginitis, to   Inflammatory Bowel Disease and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome ), etc. .  Many  patients are initially skeptical that their  bladder, skin,  joints, thyroid have anything to do with their GI tract.  But so many patients have benefited tremendously from this approach, that often the first place that I and other naturopathic doctors look is  at the GI tract.

The way this works is that the GI tract can itself become inflamed from an intestinal virus, antibiotic use, consuming gluten and other  perhaps hidden food allergens.  Stress also exacerbates this condition.  This allows macromolecules of foods that the person is eating to pass through the intestinal walls.  Then the person’s immune system reacts to that foreign substance in the bloodstream and the person can develop a new food allergy.  These antigen/antibody complexes can set off an inflammatory chain reaction in various tissues and organ systems.   So then the  origin of many  of the conditions  I listed above (and more) is indeed the GI tract.  This is sometimes called “Leaky Gut Sydrome”.

Another cause can be intestinal parasites ,  systemic candidiasis, or other intestinal  dysbiosis (gut flora imbalance) which produce endotoxins and increase intestinal permeability.  This can also lead to an inflammatory or autoimmune exacerbation.

My approach, while individualized for each particular patient and situation,  often includes the initial “research” phase in which we order a thorough and detailed comprehensive stool analysis from a progressive laboratory , as well as running an allergy panel  to determine delayed as well as immediate allergies to foods and possibly other things.   Most of the time, when one gets tested by an allergist, they are only looking for one type of  allergic reaction, the kind we think of when we think of anaphylaxis, or someone dying after eating one peanut.   This, of course, is crucial information to know,   but many of the inflammatory and autoimmune related conditions listed above (and more… the list is too long to be fully complete here)  are due to chronic exposure to lower level and delayed allergens.

By correcting the gut flora imbalance  to contain more beneficial bacteria,  and by healing the damaged and inflamed intestinal walls, as well as avoiding further exposure to the allergens,  I often see a great improvement in the clinical picture, as well as a decrease in antibody and inflammatory marker levels.

Sadly, what we are finding  is that often grains and beans  are allergenic to many people.   Recent findings in lab tests show that more  and more of my patients are reacting to these foods.  I am not 100% sure what is causing this, but I suspect that it has to do with our modern agricultural practices, including GMO  exposure.  This is not great news for dedicated vegetarians.   More and more of these patients are benefitting from a Paleo  and organic type of  diet.   This would certainly have been upsetting news during the 20 years that I was a dedicated and committed vegetarian (and even a vegan for a while!) but I have since added organic and grass fed meats back into my diet and have personally enjoyed improved health.

So if you or a loved one are experiencing  a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition,  you may want to pass this information along and have them consider this approach.   I have helped patients greatly reduce their pharmaceutical load this way (with supervision from their prescribing doc, of course).    It is always rewarding to get the news from a patient that their physician or specialist  reduced their dosages!  This is what motivates me to do this work year in and year out!

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