‘All Disease Begins In The Gut’ Hippocrates.
The entire digestive system, from mouth to anus, is approximately 30 feet long- with the small intestine itself measuring more than two thirds of this length at around 22 feet. With the average person eating about 35 tons of food in a lifetime, all of which must be processed through the digestive system, we place a great deal of stress upon this bodily system.
Digestive health concerns are very common modern-day disorders. Indeed, about one in five people in the UK and 10-15% of the worldwide population are thought to have IBS. Many people experience digestive health concerns on a daily basis and often their concerns worsen over time. Symptoms experienced vary in type, intensity, duration and severity and people commonly suffer in silence.
Impact of having a digestive health concern
Having a digestive health condition can interfere with all aspects of your daily life. You may not be able to eat with friends and family, you may be concerned about going out, may spend time researching where easily accessible toilets are or frequently experience pain or embarrassing gas.
Digestive health conditions may affect your:
- Social life. Digestive health concerns can affect your ability or desire to eat out or socialise with family and friends. You may worry about experiencing pain or embarrassing gas, or spend time pre-planning your route or the venue for accessible toilet breaks if needed.
- Leisure pursuits. Having digestive difficulties can affect your desire and your ability to participate in certain activities.
- Holidays. When all your friends are booking into hotels, you may need to look at self-catering holidays. You may also struggle when eating out.
- Work. Spending your day at work, university or school can be particularly difficult. Does your work accommodate and understand your needs and difficulties? Are you able to take time off if you need to? Is work stress affecting your digestive health? Digestive health concerns may actually impact upon your career choices, days off sick and your employment opportunities.
- Mental well being. There are significant associations between your digestive health and mental health. Having a longstanding digestive health concern, can particularly affect your mental well being.
Digestive Health Disorders
There are many digestive health disorders. These include, amongst others:
- Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
- Acid reflux / Indigestion
- Food sensitivities
- Coeliac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD’s) including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
What is healthy digestion?
Our digestive system is vital to ensure that we remain healthy. It begins in the mouth where food is chewed and mixed with digestive enzymes. Food then passes to our stomach where it is broken down further before being passed to the small intestine where it is absorbed into the blood stream. Undigested material is then passed to the large intestine, where it is then removed from the body.
Food contains an array of nutrients and although your choice of food is very important, it is actually how well you digest and absorb the food that you eat that determines whether we are able to access the nutrients that it contains. It could be said that ‘you are what you digest and absorb’ as opposed to what you eat.
Symptoms commonly associated with digestive disorders
Your symptoms may be mild or debilitating depending upon the level of inflammation and the cause of your condition. Some symptoms may be gastrointestinal in nature. However, sometimes you may not experience any gastrointestinal symptoms. It is also common for people with digestive health conditions to experience additional, seemingly unrelated symptoms. Symptoms may include, amongst others:
- Fatigue and / or anaemia
- Altered mood
- Impaired cognition and memory ‘fuzzy thinking’;
- Impaired sleep
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as: constipation, diarrhoea, pain, blood, mucus, food intolerances, food cravings, heart burn, bloating, bad breath, nausea, blood or mucus in your stool and indigestion
- An increased tendency to infections or a weakened immunity
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Hormonal imbalance such as irregular periods
- Skin conditions such as acne, spots and psoriasis.
Causes of digestive problems?
Having consulted with a GP, you may have been told that there is no known cause for your symptoms. This lack of certainty may leave you feeling dis-empowered, frustrated and despairing: why are you experiencing health problems when others around you, with similar backgrounds and possibly less healthy lifestyles, are not?
However, current scientific literature suggests that impaired digestive health can be triggered by multitude of factors such as:
- Genetic factors. Certain genotypes or mutations in specific genes have been associated with increased tendency towards specific conditions.
- Infectious agents. Viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasitic infections are frequently implicated in the development of digestive disorders.
- Nutrient deficiencies. Nutrients are vital to ensure that your digestive system can function properly. Nutrient deficiencies are frequently linked with the development of certain conditions.
- The presence of an undetected autoimmune condition (such as Hashimotos, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis).
- Food intolerances / allergies
- Hormonal factors. Some digestive health conditions in women are triggered after pregnancy, miscarriage or the menopause. There is some thought that the physical trauma and change in hormones may influence the development of these conditions.
- The use of certain medications or medical interventions: this may include the use of antacid medication and antibiotics alongside surgery
- Lifestyle factors. Research also suggests an increased risk of developing a digestive health conditions is associated with, amongst others:
- Lack of or high levels of exercise
- Insufficient fibre, water, fruit and vegetables amongst others
- High calorie intake and obesity
- Lack of sleep and rest
- Psychological stress and anxiety
- Occupational exposure. For example, individuals working in certain industries such as chemical industry, farming or shoe and leather workers where chemical exposure is higher
- Toxin exposure (such as exposure to mercury- amalgam fillings, aluminium, mould, medications or other toxins).
- Tooth decay / inability to chew food thoroughly
How digestive health disorders are managed medically
If you have a digestive health condition, it is likely that you have had numerous appointments with your GP for a host of symptoms. You may have been referred to a specialist consultant Gastroenterologist for an assessment and diagnosis. You may have been prescribed various medications in order to try and control the pathology of your condition. Specific treatments will depend upon the type and severity of your diagnosis. However, the medical management of digestive health conditions typically includes:
- The prescription of medications such as painkillers, antibiotics and antacids.
- The use of immunosuppressant medication if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
- Concurrent anti-depressant medication if you are experiencing anxiety, depression or any additional cognitive difficulties.
- At a later stage, you may be offered surgery to control the progression of your condition. This may include the removal of gallstones or surgery to remove an affected region of the colon. You may also be referred to a Physiotherapist or an Occupational Therapist.
- It is also particularly common that you may be given no intervention. Frequently, once diagnosed with a condition such as IBS, people are often told that there is little that can be done.
Your medication may be regularly reviewed, altered or increased over time to ensure that it can meet your changing needs. It is important to note that you may be required to take your medication for the long-term, foreseeable future. Every individual responds differently to the medication they are prescribed and the clinical efficacy of the different medications vary greatly. Although your medication may alleviate your symptoms, it cannot reverse your condition, may be associated with a host of adverse side-effects, and does not address the root cause of your inflammation.
Personal experience has taught me that having a digestive health condition can be both devastating and overwhelming. Your symptoms and condition can affect your ability to work, your home life, leisure pursuits, holidays, social life, relationships, motivation and mental well-being. There is, however, a lot that you can do to support your digestion and improve your symptoms and your body’s ability to repair.
Imagine you are standing on a tack. How would you treat the pain and inflammation? The obvious answer is that you would take the tack out of your foot. You wouldn’t just take aspirin or painkillers until it felt better, you would address the root cause of the problem. The question should always be: ‘Why do I have these symptoms and this diagnosis’?
The root cause of your diagnosis or symptoms may be due to a variety of factors, such as a vitamin deficiency, a thyroid disorder, toxin exposure or food intolerance. You can take pain killers or medication to suppress your symptoms, however, if your sluggish thyroid or vitamin deficiency and so on, are not restored to optimal levels, you will not return to full health.
Unlike conventional medicine which carves your body into separate specialities (such as your digestive or nervous systems) I use a functional medicine approach. Functional medicine views your body as one whole, fully functioning, integrated system, rather than a host of isolated symptoms and takes into account your personal story. I aim to determine the root cause of your digestive health concerns. I then work with you to address the underlying imbalances and causes of illness and thereby calm your inflammation and its resulting tissue damage.
Current, evidence-based, scientific studies suggest that dietary and lifestyle changes can influence both the development, onset and progression of a digestive health concern. I am trained to consider your individual biochemical needs and to use foods, and where relevant nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes, to address these needs. I will work with you to demystify the plethora or nutritional advice currently found in the media and introduce simple, achievable, appropriate and timely dietary and lifestyle changes which support your digestive systems ability to function correctly.
Once your digestive system if working well, you can start to notice profound changes in your health and vitality: how you look, feel and think.
Rather than just addressing your diagnosis and related symptoms, I work with you to determine possible contributory risk factors that may be affecting your biochemistry and triggering your digestive health symptoms.
An initial holistic assessment of your health, diet, lifestyle, symptoms, family history and medical needs will be conducted to identify any nutritional imbalances or factors which may be contributing to your health concerns and symptoms.
If potential causes remain unclear, I may advise GP or private functional laboratory testing (such as an evaluation of your gut function, nutritional deficiencies or bacterial overgrowth) to clarify any contributing underlying biochemical imbalances. Please see information on relevant diagnostic tests.
Thorough assessment can identify:
- Underlying imbalances or nutrient deficiencies
- Infections such as bacterial overgrowth
- Food intolerances: host of symptoms
- Inflammation: autoimmune condition such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis
Once assessed, I will then help you understand the potential origins of your condition. Written handouts may be provided for you to read at your leisure after your consultation. I explain:
- What has gone wrong
- Why you have the symptoms that you do
- How we can address your symptoms
Personalised Health Optimisation Plan
I will then work with you to design a bespoke nutritional and lifestyle programme using a wide variety of delicious food choices, to meet your health needs and help change your body’s biochemical environment. Changes introduced will address the root cause of your symptoms, reduce inflammation and help support healthy immune system responses, thereby enabling you to manage your symptoms and condition more effectively whilst empowering you to regain control over your own health and reach your health goals.
Every individual seen is unique and any advice provided is tailor-made to address your health concerns, dietary and lifestyle preferences, budget, medication, symptoms and needs at a pace that suits you. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and no two programmes are the same. Changes are introduced gently and over time to ensure that they are achievable and that you do not feel overwhelmed. Your programme is reviewed and adjusted during follow-up consultations to support you on your journey to optimal health. Click here to read more about the consultation programmes I offer.
The 6 R’s
There are a wide range of approaches that may be of benefit to you. These can be explored to ensure that the right one is chosen to meet your specific needs. However, in general, I use the 6 R’s approach outlined below. The staging and timing of the protocol are essential to the success of the programme and although written as 6 steps, one or more of these may be undertaken simultaneously as required:
- Remove: I will work with you to remove factors that may be triggering an inflammatory response (such as foods, toxins, hidden or latent infections and stress).
- Replace: We will replace any foods and nutrients that your body may be lacking, to promote and support its ability to repair, metabolise, digest, detoxify, signal effectively and ensure our genes can express themselves appropriately. In some instances, nutritional supplements are recommended.
- Repair: We will help support bodily tissue that has been damaged by the immune systems response by ensuring that the correct nutrients are in place to help it heal.
- Re-inoculate: Beneficial bacteria are vital to support not only our gut function but our overall health. At the correct time in your programme, we will ensure that these are introduced, using either probiotic food sources and / or supplementation if required.
- Re-balance: This stage addresses you as a whole to ensure that all relevant additional factors have been addressed to promote your health and well-being. This may include: your diet, lifestyle, family, hydration, sleep, stress levels and genes.
- Retest: Nutritional Therapy is a science and retesting is therefore a vital aspect of any nutritional programme. Retesting relevant components of your health helps determine the biochemical effectiveness of any intervention and also highlights any additional areas which may need to be addressed.
I hope that what I have written helps give you a brief overview of how making changes to your own diet and lifestyle can influence how well your body can work both physically and mentally and thereby can influence your overall health status.
For an example of a case-study, please see here: https://immunonutrition.co.uk/case-study-ibs/
If you would like more information or professional help to start improving your health, please contact me today.
Please note: Nutritional Therapy is a complementary therapy that can work well alongside other medical or complementary therapies. It does not replace any medical advice. Clients are always encouraged to consult with their GP regarding any health concerns or for advice, diagnosis and treatment. To get the most out of dietary and lifestyle interventions, please seek professional advice, as there is a plethora of misleading information currently available which may not be beneficial or specifically intended to meet your own identified needs. I am happy to work alongside other healthcare professionals or complementary therapists involved in your care to explain your Nutritional Therapy programme and to ensure it is safely and effectively implemented.