Digestive System & Disease

By Dr. John Gannage, MD

The following information is intended to provide you with some insight as to what may be causing your distressing symptoms, and can include a method for beginning the process of feeling well again. Some of the concepts have been known for centuries, although not part of mainstream medicine – YET! It is only a matter of time.

As living beings, the quality of our digestion relates holistically to the function of every cell in every organ or gland within our bodies. The first step is making the correct food choices, providing the proper fuel for our inner machinery. What have become staples in our diet e.g. excessive dairy, refined grains, refined sugars, coffee, alcohol and processed meats, can slowly undermine the proper functioning of our digestive tract (and other organs, including our brains).

In combination with overuse of medications (e.g. antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antacids, steroids, and hormones) and stress, the more than 2.5 billion pounds of chemical pollutants dumped into our environment each year contribute to the burden of chronic disease that we are faced with at this point in human history.

There was a time when foods were eaten as close to their original source as possible, where additives and processing were unheard of. With the advent of modern day agricultural practices, changes in the family unit, the premium placed on convenience, and lack of rotation in our diets of wholesome foods, chronic illness has soared in our population, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer; as well as pediatric cancers, obesity, allergic illnesses and autism. The road back to wellness always includes proper nutrition and behaviour, and MAINTENANCE of them as part of everyday life. Does this need to be difficult? I don’t believe it does. Seek out like-minded individuals, and there are more of them everyday, and the journey will have many rewards.If you have eaten improperly for a number of years, the process of regaining your health may need to extend beyond an incorporation of wholesome foods. In the pyramid of intervention that we focus on at 300 Main Street, the initial step is dedicated to reducing toxicity within one’s intestinal system, and restoring proper liver function. Let me explain why it has been so successful for so many, since you may be having a hard time understanding what your headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia , depression, weight problem, fatigue, allergies, irritable bowel, colitis and so on have to do with nutrition, stress and digestion.

Poor digestion of food begins with eating a repetitive diet over a long period of time, which drains the body of chemicals (called enzymes) responsible for proper breakdown of food. Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine have a negative impact on the stomach as well, and overuse of antacids, although a nice band-aid in the short-term, actually makes health worse in the long run by removing one of the early links in the chain of digestion and intestinal health: stomach acid. Undigested food ferments and putrefies in the upper and lower tracts, causing bloating, gas and discomfort, as it provides food for bacteria and other micro-organisms rather than ourselves. Add excessive antibiotic or hormone medication to the mix and another major factor in the cascade of illness begins to operate: the selection and overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and other organisms, including Candida, which produce toxins and other molecules as by-product.

These by-products are detrimental to the lining of the intestine, inhibiting its ability to: absorb nutrients, act as an immune barrier, and to keep toxins out of the bloodstream. The reduction in friendly bacteria, the number of which exceed the number of cells in your body and the function of which includes proper bowel elimination and vitamin production, presents difficulty all on its own. (Incidentally, mainstream medicine currently notes ulcers to be caused by a particular kind of unfriendly bacteria, called H. pylori, and now treat with antibacterial medications as the new standard in ulcer management. Also, a very recent study has linked the use of antibiotics by women to a higher risk of breast cancer.) The technical terms for this process are: dysbiosis (unfriendly bacteria) causing autointoxication or “leaky gut”. It is this step, the “leaky gut”, that is thought to make a local problem (i.e. digestive UN-wellness) no longer local.

The toxins in the bloodstream normally are cleared by the liver and associated systems, but if this problem has persisted for a long time the liver becomes overworked and overloaded, and ITS function deteriorates due to the depletion of it’s nutrient reserves. Toxins in the bloodstream are treated the way they should: as foreign particles. A healthy immune system will send out protection, the end result being inflammation or “-itis”. All inflammation – regardless of the site in your body at which it settles as determined by individual susceptibility – results in pain, congestion, swelling or perhaps excessive mucus, which further interfere with function.

By these concepts, sinus”itis”, bronch”itis” (recurrent bronchitis by definition is asthma), arthr”itis”, fibros”itis” (or fibromyalgia), are all contributed to by digestive UN-wellness. Sometimes the toxins are not cleared well at all, perhaps affecting the function of other organs and glands, such as the thyroid, or the brain (causing toxic depression or fatigue), or storing themselves in soft tissue such as fat (along with water contributing to obesity) or muscle (contributing to pain, weakness or injury). The immune system becomes overworked and dysfunctional. Hormone systems become dysregulated. With the inclusion of nutrient deficiencies due to unhealthy food choices, depleted nutrients in the food supply, and reduced absorption from the digestive tract already mentioned, and the chronic illness cascade begins to cycle.With that broad overview and understanding, the process of reversing the cascade is possible. You can do it, by giving your body an opportunity to heal itself and employing the services of a qualified practitioner(s). Gain energy, clarity of thought, a better life, and reduce pain while attempting to prevent disease and complementing the treatment of established disease.

The system I employ keeps in mind the 4 R’s of digestive healing: REMOVE the toxins and unfriendlies, REPLACE the enzymes and healing nutrients, REPLENISH the friendly bacteria, and REPAIR the intestinal lining. For many, this is the best place to begin, as more than 50 % of one’s immune system exists within the intestinal tract. Also for many, it won’t be enough on its own. Addressing energy metabolism specifically, through heavy metal detoxification, chelation therapy, antioxidant support, and reducing free radical damage often times needs to incorporated (Step 2 in our intervention pyramid). For some, regulation of hormone function is a necessary 3rd step, and the 4th is specific immune modulation.

Some interventions address all 4 steps, being that the distinctions are for classification purposes only and in functional holistic medicine the concept of separation is artificial at best. For example, focusing on liver function alone through correction of autointoxication will benefit hormone metabolism and immune function, as well as assist the elimination of toxic metals such as mercury. The flip side is that a poorly functioning liver will not perform any of its many roles to optimal efficiency. Not only will your physical body require additional balancing measures, but emotional toxicity affects every cell in your body as well . Nutritional therapy needs to be combined with simplifying your life and employing methods to reduce stress, which has a negative impact on digestion (not to mention cardiac function and the immune system) all by itself. As examples, anger or hurry interferes with food breakdown and absorption. The nervous system and digestive system are therefore intimately connected. Positive emotion creates harmony in our digestive tract because it balances our entire body and all its systems.For all, healing is a process and a journey, not an endpoint. It is also a daily commitment – the individual sets his/her own limits. If you think the above information applies to you, knowing that it merely complements good medical care, and wish to gain further information so as to start converting digestive UN-wellness to wellness, come see the dedicated health professionals at 300 Main Street North in Markham (905)294-2335.

*not intended to replace conventional medical therapy. Appropriate use of a physician’s services and medication is an important aspect of overall health.

Dr. Gannage practices Integrative and Functional Medicine in Markham, Ontario, serving the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.