In many integrative practices, almost every consultation begins with a story about the gut. In my experience, problems with nutrition, digestion and elimination are the centre of nearly every chronic disease process. In this article I aim to highlight why we have placed so much importance on this digestive system, and the things we put into it.
DR LEILA SADIEN
****THE STORY OF TOBY****
Allow me to take you on a journey into the digestive process, as it should be. Imagine yourself as a 1 year old baby. Toby’s first bite of a peanut butter sandwich enters into the mouth, first to be broken down by the few little milk teeth, then mixed into the saliva where some of the bacteria you have brought with you are destroyed, and where you begin to digest into smaller pieces. Imagine yourself as a complex conglomerate of molecules – a beautiful, colourful Lego block structure – if you will. This structure will be systematically broken down through the various digestion steps, till it comprises only one Lego piece at the end of your journey, but for now you are still a conglomerate and you have just entered into the stomach sac.
Here you will be exposed to extreme acidic conditions to allow further breakdown of your molecules, as well as to inactivate some more of the bacteria you have brought along with you. Some parts of you will be absorbed here too, including water and certain vitamins. A lesser, lighter you, will then be passed into the small intestine, where digestive enzymes will further pull apart your Lego blocks, and most of you will be absorbed into the blood stream. What’s left of your poor self will now enter into the large intestine. The last of your blocks will be absorbed and whatever of you is rejected by the defense system, will be turned into stool and ultimately flushed away.
In the intestines, the interface with the human self is like the great wall of China! Nothing gets in without the defense system allowing it through. There is a constant battle of good and evil happening on multiple levels before food is finally allowed to be absorbed, and become a person! On the surface we have billions of good bacteria called probiotics, which create the perfect environment for digestive enzymes to work. Because of the spaces being filled up by these bacteria, there is no room for bad bacteria to grow. Once the molecules of food eventually enter the cell of the intestines, the immune system of the cell will decide if the particle can be let through to the blood stream or if it must be taken away to be expelled as a toxin. Once it enters the blood stream, there is again an interaction where the immune system decides if it can be integrated to the body or if it must mount an inflammatory reaction in the blood stream to get rid of this toxin. Inflammation is the cause of most disease, including pain disorders, heart disease and cancer.
This is how our food can become poisonous, every thing we eat can be broken down into medicinal or toxic, and the scariest thing is that the foods we eat every day can be incredibly poisonous, without leaving any obvious clues.
So why do we suddenly start becoming inflamed to the most seemingly harmless molecules of food? Where did God’s creation go wrong?
Picture the gut of Toby, now 19 years old through the eyes of the same bite of peanut butter sandwich.
- The sandwich is broken down in the mouth as before, but a few more of your pieces are allowed through this time (Toby had a tonsillectomy a few years ago)
- You are now in his stomach but because Toby had some heartburn a few months ago after a rather adventurous family trip to Durban, he has been on Nexium, stopping the acid production in his tummy.
- Many more of the bacteria you brought along with you are again allowed through, as well as much larger chunks of Lego blocks than before. In the intestines, instead of a strong defence force protecting your gut, you face barren land (this is because of the 3 times Toby had antibiotics for his recurrent tonsillitis when he was 10).
- Antibiotics are basically nuclear bombs on your Great Wall, they destroy troops from both sides, allowing the fungus and bad bacteria you brought along as an innocent sandwich, to flourish and multiply in the gut, destroying the cell lining of the intestines.
- You are now still a conglomerate of molecules, where you should have been a simple Lego block. Suddenly you are too big to enter into the cell as before, you now slip past because of the spaces left by broken cells (the Leaky Gut syndrome you may have heard of), where you have bypassed another step of the immune system.
- Finally in the blood stream, Toby’s immune system freaks out entirely because it cannot distinguish between the different Lego pieces comprising you, so it mounts a huge inflammatory reaction, which, being in the bloodstream now, sweeps you off to Toby’s weak spot… his skin, and suddenly, after a few PB sandwiches too many he breaks out in acne! The only clue that this may be related to food is the fact that he occasionally suffers from bloating, heartburn and winds.
How many of us can not relate to Toby’s medical life history??
- As calamitous as this situation may seem, with the advent of holistic management of disease, we are now able to heal Toby’s gut and restore normal function to his defense system.
- We simply replace the soldiers on the wall by having him take a probiotic or drink some Kefir or Kombucha every day. We get rid of the bad bacteria or fungal overgrowth, using natural non-harmful medicines like grapefruit extract.
- We give him digestive enzymes to take with each meal, to help break down the Lego blocks.
- We repair his gut wall using things like Aloe and Glutamine and we remove the potentially toxic stressors in the form of a food detox, introducing them slowly back to assess which foods are actually his toxins.
At Renascent Health we assess each client to ensure that the gut repair is specialised for them. We place our patients on a 3 week Elimination diet and with the help our functional medicine dietician, help them figure out what their specific toxins are in their food and then help them to keep it out of their diets forever. Our practice stocks all the supplements mentioned above and to make life really easy we also stock Kombucha in different flavours and a delicious range of gluten free, diary free, sugar free and yeast free products.
If you have any sign of chronic inflammation in your body, any sign that there may be certain foods your gut doesn’t react well to, or simply just an irregular, imperfect stool pattern, please contact us for a wellness assessment, don’t continue to fill your body with toxins a moment longer, your immune system will thank you for it.
Dr Leila, owner of Renascent Health, is an aesthetic and integrative GP in Pinelands, Cape Town. Her warm empathetic nature and focus on finding the root cause of disease is what sets her practice apart. She embodies the lifestyle and exudes the wellness she teaches and believes that doctors should be facilitators on the patients own journey to wellbeing.