Wellness Articles

Digestive Health

In our Monday lunch staff meetings I usually make my best attempts to be inspirational or motivational but when we return from a seminar I always bring some tidbits home and share them with our staff so they can learn as we do about various topics.  This past weekend we attended the Spring Conference of the Georgia Chiropractic Association in Savannah and were reminded of some valuable facts that were part of the subject matter in our Monday staff meeting this week.  We were talking at the conference with many other chiropractors from all over Georgia and vendors from around the country.  We all agree that the body heals much better and more quickly if the spine is adjusted and nerve interference is removed and maintained but there are some conditions that people do not heal from no matter how many times they get adjusted.  Other intervention is necessary and we heard from a former professor of ours about the role the digestive system plays in the body’s overall ability to heal.  I know this does not sound as much fun to learn about as perhaps the secret to enlightenment or the latest techniques to get the best beach body but the health of your digestive system is paramount.

People suffer from many obscure conditions that can be traced to the malfunction of the gastro-intestinal system, or the gut.  The GI system plays vital roles in the operation of our bodies.  It digests food, absorbs nutrients that are converted to energy, transports small particles which are attached to carrier proteins across the lining of the gut into the bloodstream, acts as a major player in the chemical detoxification of the body, and acts as a defender against various infections because it contains many antibodies and other disease-fighting chemicals.  As long as the gut is performing its duties properly our bodies hardly know it is there.  Sometimes, however, the intestinal lining becomes hyper- permeable and allows particles that do not belong there to cross into the bloodstream.  Large particles of bacteria, partially digested food and toxins leak into the body. 

This is a major cause of improper healing.  It also is responsible for many cases of fibromyalgia and food allergies.    The gut is what allows the body to absorb nutrients and convert food to fuel.  If these functions are not working well the entire body is unhealthy.  Sometimes doctors might diagnose irritable bowel syndrome if symptoms of excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and indigestion are present.  While IBS might certainly be going on, the leaky gut problem is likely occurring as well.  When food particles leak from a hyper-permeable intestinal lining, the body assumes that these are foreign particles since they are not normally found in the bloodstream.  The body then develops antibodies that leak across the membranes and are similar to antigens on our own tissues.  The antibodies which are made to attack them actually begin to attack our own tissues and autoimmune disorders often develop.  Many diseases, according to Dr. Paul Goldberg, a leading authority on leaky gut and how to heal it, are direct descendants of leaky gut syndrome.  He traces rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and other diseases to serious complications within the digestive system. 

Often overuse of different medications, especially antibiotics, can be attributed to an unhealthy gastrointestinal system.  Excessive antibiotic usage results in high presence of yeast in the body and yeast secretes a number of enzymes which ultimately break down proteins.  The intestinal membranes are partially proteins and these enzymes can actually break down the membranes and their linings.  This results in leaky gut syndrome and there we are again with all of the unhealthy particles being released into our bloodstreams. 

People are obsessed with their outward appearance and making sure the body appears to be healthy on the surface.  We should be granting equal time to assuring the health of our organs and tissues for longevity.  It is no secret that our food supply is mineral-depleted due to over-planting and over-processing of the end products.  If we are not supplementing our diets with vitamins and minerals that are readily absorbable into our systems, we are missing the proverbial boat.  If we are not supplying our digestive systems with proper support to add back healthy intestinal flora and plenty of the right kinds of fiber to assure adequate transit time of our food through our systems, we are costing ourselves the health we could ultimately have.  Ask your health professionals to provide you with information on the proper nutritional path for you to follow to internal as well as external physical health.  While tests for leaky gut are not often performed they are available.  Sometimes just by process of elimination and testing probiotic supplements you can find relatively simple solutions to some extremely complicated physical issues.  Don’t wait until your health fails before you look for solutions to protect it.  Treat your body well.

All About Gout

In the late 1980’s I worked as a real estate sales director for a firm in Helen, Georgia, and I was the understudy of one Mr. Richard “Dick” Etherton.  He was in his late 70’s, very chauvinistic, and a member of the “Old School.”  I never really figured out just what the Old School was, but I was certain that a young, ambitious, and energetic female was not ever invited to be a part of it.  Dick was angry at the world that he was on his way out professionally and that he, by the order of the owner of the firm for which we both worked, had to train me to take his place.  He was hard on me.  He had a particular penchant for pointing out every little thing I did wrong.  I now understand some of his predicament, but then I thought he was just a grumpy fellow who needed to retire.  Every morning my cheerful greetings were met with his moans and groans about all of his physical ailments as he walked across the floor with an exaggerated limp.  I thought he was making half of it up, but now I know that was far from the truth.  Dick always complained that his gout was getting the best of him.  This was the perfect reason for me to do all of the grunt work around the office and, I thought, a huge excuse for him to have a legal slave.  I did not understand the absolute torture that people with gout actually experience until I started to deal with it clinically.

Gout is a name for a form of joint inflammation (arthritis) that affects primarily the big toe.  The type of pain it causes is inexplicable.  Some compare it to the feeling that the toe is on fire.  Most often the attacks of gout come in the middle of the night with no warning whatsoever and even the weight of a bed sheet on the toe is unbearable.  The affected joint becomes excruciatingly painful, hot, and the skin around it might even turn red and shiny to show the outward signs of the inflammation that is occurring inside.  Gout has been referred to as the rich man’s disease since it is exacerbated by eating rich foods and drinking excessive alcohol, but in recent years it has been recognized to be a complicated and widespread disorder that can affect anyone.  While gout affects mostly men, women are more susceptible to it after menopause.

Gouty arthritis is caused by the deposits in the joints of tiny sharp crystals formed by excessive uric acid in the bloodstream.  Uric acid is formed naturally by the metabolism of purines.  Purines are substances found in certain foods and in alcohol, especially beer and wine.  As the purines are broken down by the body, uric acid develops and in most cases is excreted naturally.  In some cases, though, an excessive amount of the uric acid builds up in the bloodstream and is deposited in joints in the form of tiny needle-like crystals which get into the joints themselves or the tissue surrounding the joints and cause pain, inflammation, and swelling.  The intense pain from gout usually lasts from 5 to 10 days per episode, and there really is no way to prevent attacks once they begin.  Sometimes it can be weeks, months, or even years between attacks at first, but as the condition progresses the attacks get closer and closer together.  Gout can ultimately bring about more intense pain and even joint destruction.  Treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and in some cases steroids to control the acute nature of the attacks.  Most doctors suggest a preventative strategy to reduce the amount of uric acid in the bloodstream and, hopefully, squelch the intensity of future attacks. 

Foods which are high in purines and should be restricted or avoided altogether include organ meats, shellfish, red meats, peas, lentils, and beans.  Excessive alcohol intake should also be avoided, especially beer and wine.  No more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women is a safe bet for those who suffer from gout.  Certain blood pressure medications can cause an increase in uric acid levels in the blood.  If gout becomes an issue and you are taking blood pressure medication, check with your doctor to make sure that the medications you are on are not increasing the likelihood of an attack of gout.  It is also a good idea to increase your water intake if you suffer from gout.  Increased intake of water can dilute the uric acid in your body and ultimately decrease the amount that is in your bloodstream.

For the time that I worked with Dick Etherton, I felt that he was a huge cross for me to bear.  His attacks of gout were intensified by his absolute defiance to do anything other than eat three or more portions of red meat every day, smoke multitudes of Winston cigarettes and drink copious amounts of Miller High Life.  I did not realize at that time, though, how much pain he was in more often than not.  I look back and am grateful that he was hard on me, as that helped build my work ethic and character, but I often regret that I was so hard on him, as that just added one more pain to an area of his anatomy that was pain-free before I came into his life.  Treat your body well.

Simple Solutions for Nutritional Balance

As I was placing a loaf of Irish Soda Bread in the oven this past weekend, I realized that the delicate balance of health is very similar to a good recipe in that it should have a firm foundation with a few basic ingredients and the flexibility to allow a bit of trial-and-error substitution for variety.  There have been times in my life when I was struggling to find the right mix for myself, and finally I have found the recipe that works for me.  Perhaps some of these suggestions will spark an interest in finding the right things for you.  Of course, the facets of health that must be balanced include nutrition, stress management, exercise, and communication with your personal health care team.  This column will focus on nutrition and its part in the game.

The most annoying four-letter word for many people is diet.  The truth is that diet is lifestyle.  I remember as a child eating wonderful foods that all Southerners love and thinking it was normal to eat like that every day.  Fried everything along with vegetables seasoned with cured meat and biscuits or cornbread on the side was perfectly acceptable fare, or so I thought.  It was good for the people who worked hard in the fields all day, but that sort of work is out of the picture for most of us.  Eating like a field hand won’t work if you do it every day, but once in a while it is all right.  On other days, however, some rules must apply.  First, eat sensibly.  Moderate portion sizes are essential to any healthy diet.  Once around the table with the platters is enough.  Avoid getting seconds.

 Anything that is white should be avoided as a general rule.  White flour, white sugar, and white rice all are heavily processed and processed foods put heavy strains on the digestive system.  When a diet is high in whole grains, digestive health is better.   There are many choices widely available for bread, pasta, and rice.  Be careful to look for whole wheat bread or stone ground whole wheat bread and not just plain wheat bread.  There is a major difference in the degree to which each of these is processed.

 Next, supplement.  Since our soil is depleted in many cases of the nutrients that our bodies need to remain healthy, supplementation has become vital.  There are many different types of multi-vitamin and mineral supplements, herbs, and tonics on the market now.  It can become confusing trying to decide which ones you need, so the best route in my estimation is to make sure you first have a whole-food source (as opposed to a synthetic source) multi-vitamin every day.  The whole-food source vitamins and minerals can actually be used by your body and absorbed properly.  Synthetic versions are often merely expensive contents of septic tanks.  If they pass right through your digestive system without being absorbed, they are no good to you.  Anything else you need can be added as time goes on and you gain more knowledge about the different choices available.  Most of the vitamins on the shelves of the local stores are synthetic, so read labels carefully.  There are websites and other sources of good supplementation advice out there, so take your time and be well-informed.

Finally, there is no way around drinking plenty of good clean water.  I emphasize clean water because our tap water is chlorinated heavily to kill bacteria and other things that might be floating in it.  I don’t know about you, but drinking chlorinated water is not very appetizing to me.  Ingesting chlorine is not pro-health.  Distilled or reverse-osmosis filtered water is best, but carbon filtration is needed minimally in order to eliminate chlorine.  Many illnesses can be avoided by simply drinking enough water.  A good rule of thumb to determine how much water is enough for you is half your body weight in ounces.  For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume at least 75 ounces of water per day.  It will make a difference in your life.

Hopefully this will be some good starter advice for you in getting on the road to good health.  If I can be of service or assistance, please let me know.   The Irish Soda Bread recipe is delicious, and it can be consumed as part of a healthy diet.  Treat your body well.