As Naturopathic Doctors, our goal is finding the root cause of disease. Naturopathic medicine is rooted in the belief that the body has the innate ability to heal itself if given the right environment. By working with patients to discover the underlying causes of disease, ND’s help patients come closer to a balanced and disease free life.
One discovery that we have made while practicing naturopathic medicine is that there is very little healing that can occur without listening to and healing the gut. The GI tract is physically and physiologically central to our health, having direct correlation to nearly all of our body’s biological processes. In our experience thus far, we have found that most patients with chronic diseases have some complaint in the GI tract. Patients often report gut concerns such as chronic constipation, diarrhea, gas, or bloating, but never connect them to their other chronic symptoms. With the inflammatory foods our nation is built on, it is not surprising that so many of us suffer from chronic GI concerns.
But the story doesn’t stop in the gut. What many people don’t know is the important role the GI tract plays in the rest of our body. For starters, the GI tract is responsible for the digestion and absorption of many important nutrients. Every process in our body is aided by vitamin and mineral cofactors and without their proper absorption it is easy for these processes to stop working optimally.
Beyond vitamin and mineral absorption, the GI tract also houses 80 percent of our immune system. The healthy bacteria, or probiotics, that live in our GI tract, along with gut associated lymphatic tissue (GALT), create a first line defense against invading pathogens. At birth, our mothers provide us with this healthy bacteria as well as immunoglobulins to help prime and build up our immune systems. C-sections and formula feeding have been implicated in an increased risk for allergies and asthma, mostly due to the fact that these children’s immune systems are not fully established, as they would be during a vaginal birth and breastfeeding. Allergies, asthma, a decreased immune system, eczema and auto-immunity can have a direct correlation to the GI health for this reason.
Another important function is the gut-brain connection. The GI tract houses the enteric nervous system or our “second brain”. This is a network of neurons and neurotransmitters that are directly wired to the brain. In fact, 95 percent of the serotonin in the body is made in the GI tract. Therefore, a healthy gut means a healthy mind and vise versa. The connection between the GI tract and the brain is undeniable and has been shown over and over again in research.
The final piece of the puzzle is the removal of toxins and waste. We are exposed to many toxins on a daily basis in our environment. Many toxins are also produced through the natural processes in our bodies. A proper functioning GI tract and regular bowel movements are necessary to eliminate these toxins, keeping us happy, healthy and balanced.
So what symptoms could you be suffering from that you might not know are connected to your gut? If any of the below rings true for you, you are encouraged to visit your local Naturopathic Physician.
- Joint and muscle pain
- Inflammation can start in the GI tract, release inflammatory cytokines into the systemic body, creating joint pain or stiffness, and muscle tension. Many mineral deficiencies have also been implicated in muscle and joint pain, such as calcium and magnesium. Mineral deficiencies are often created from dysfunction in the GI tract.
- ADHD and attention issues
- We already talked about Serotonin and it’s production in the gut. Any imbalance in neurotransmitters could result in attention or hyperactivity. Yeast, or candida, overgrowth in the GI tract has also been shown to correlate with inattentiveness or brain fog.
- Anxiety and depression
- Your gut houses over 30 neurotransmitters making it nearly impossible to disconnect this from the brain and mental health. It should be mentioned that SSRI’s, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are often used to treat depression. In other words, finding ways to increase serotonin in the body will improve depression. Healing the GI tract is one important way to accomplish this.
- A decrease in nutrient absorption itself can cause decreased overall energy production. Malabsorption can also decrease the activity of the endocrine system, such as the adrenals and thyroid, further leading to fatigue.
- Recurrent Infections
- When there is chronic inflammation in the gut, the healthy bacteria, or gut flora, that normally inhabit the GI tract can be killed off. These bacteria create our immune system. A deficiency in gut bacteria can decrease immune response and cause recurrent illnesses. Antibiotics can also create a bigger problem by not only killing off the intended bacteria, but our good bacteria as well.
Adding a high quality, multiple strain probiotic, considering digestive enzymes and adding nutrients, such as l-glutamine and demulcent herbs, are just some of the tools Naturopathic Physicians utilize to help speed GI tract healing. Make an appointment today with your local Naturopath to determine if gut healing is right for you.
Christine Schoenek, ND
Christine Schoenek, ND graduated from Oakland University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She then attended National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) where she earned a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, graduating Suma Cum Laude and Valedictorian of her class. Christine currently holds her Naturopathic license in the state of Vermont and is a member of the Michigan Association of Naturopathic Physicians (MANP). Christine believes in the key principle of Naturopathic Medicine – the body has the innate ability to heal itself. Click here to read more.
Kelly S. Hassberger, ND
Kelly S. Hassberger, ND graduated with a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, with highest honors, from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in July of 2011. She then went on to complete a 1-year general medicine residency in Naturopathic Medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine Medical Center. She has always had a passion for medicine and through growing up in a household that opened her up to the power of a healthy, loving, fulfilling life, she found her passion in Naturopathy. Click here to read more.
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