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.

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Part of the wondrous world of studying the human body and how it works is learning that we can indeed take an active role in helping to prevent our own diseases.  I have written recently about how toxins are partially responsible for the enormous increase in cancer rates in the United States in recent years.  When we take responsibility for our health and enable ourselves to rid our bodies of those toxins, we make room for healthier tissues to flourish and create an internal environment in which chronic diseases do not feel encouraged to take hold.  Another way that we can be proactive in disease prevention is through consuming enough substances called antioxidants.  We all have seen the ads in the produce aisle in the grocery store encouraging us to get at least 5 servings of fresh antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables for good health.  What are antioxidants anyway, and how do they affect us?

In order to address the antioxidant issue you’ll have to bear with me and allow a little bit of high school chemistry to come through.  Beware that this is a ridiculously oversimplified explanation of what actually goes on in our bodies, but I think you will get the idea.  Antioxidants are substances which scavenge free radicals from our bodies.  Free radicals are substances which are formed when weak molecules break apart in one of the thousands of biochemical reactions that happen in us every minute.  Normal metabolism creates chemical reactions in which one substance is turned into another to perform some very important function in the operation of our systems. Molecules are filled with electrically charged particles which strive to bond with each other in an effort to become stable.  Weak molecular bonds break and allow unstable particles called free radicals to form.  The free radicals search for electrical particles called electrons on the outer surfaces of other molecules and they steal them in an attempt to stabilize.  This then forms another free radical searching for another molecule from which to steal electrons and a chain reaction begins.  Free radicals continue to form and on and on it goes.  Out of control, free radicals will damage our living cells and alter their ability to perform as they should. Metabolism creates free radicals that our bodies’ antioxidant supplies should take care of, but environmental factors such as pesticides, cigarette smoke and radiation create additional free radicals that are sometimes too many for our own systems to handle.  If too many free radicals are in our bodies, the cellular damage they cause leads to serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

Antioxidants are substances which are electron-rich and they neutralize free radicals by donating electrons to make them stable.  Antioxidants have been called free radical scavengers.  They clean up the free radicals and help to prevent the cellular damage that ultimately comes from them. Vitamins A, C and E are all antioxidants.  While they are present in our bodies and in foods we consume, many people supplement their diets with these.  A word of caution, though, is that vitamins A and E are fat-soluble, which means that excess amounts of them are stored in the liver and fatty tissues.  This can create toxicity.  Vitamin C is water-soluble and can be excreted easily if excess amounts of it are consumed.  Many foods are great sources of antioxidants.  That is why the fruits and vegetables aisles in the stores remind us to get 5 to 8 servings of them every day. 

As we age the damage from free radicals is exponential.  It is urgent that we make certain our intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is adequate and that we supplement if we feel it is not.  I personally supplement and eat fresh produce every day.  I know that our over-farmed soil is not as nutrient-rich as it once was, and if you eat at the restaurants around here the nutrients are often cooked out of the vegetables anyway.  Southern cooking (thank God for it) often renders vegetables deliciously overcooked so that the nutritional values are diluted.  Most value is found in raw or only partially cooked produce. 

Hopefully this clears up the matter of free radicals and the relationship between them and antioxidants.  Free radicals cause cellular damage that ultimately results in serious illness.  Antioxidants act as little Pac-Men and get rid of the free radicals.  Get lots of antioxidants.  We humans must do the best we can to keep ourselves healthy and let nature take its course otherwise.  Treat your body well.