GI Complaints: An Underlying Contributor to Most Chronic Illnesses
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the gateway to the body, where food is processed and nutrients are absorbed. It is also the site where many chronic diseases originate. The health of the GI tract is critical to overall health, and any disturbances to its function can lead to a wide range of health problems.
Studies have shown that GI inflammation can cause leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability. This condition is when the tight junctions that connect the cells lining the intestines become loose, allowing larger molecules to pass through the gut wall and enter the bloodstream. These molecules include toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles that can trigger inflammation and damage to other organs in the body. Research has suggested that leaky gut may contribute to a wide range of chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and multiple sclerosis (MS) 1.
Antigens leaking out of the gut can also trigger autoimmunity. An autoimmune disease is when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, causing damage and inflammation. One example is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to an underactive thyroid gland. Rheumatoid arthritis is another autoimmune disease that is also associated with leaky gut. The inflammation and immune response initiated in the gut can contribute to the development of these and other autoimmune conditions 2.
Diet is a critical factor in maintaining GI health. Consuming a diet high in gluten, processed foods, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and refined sugars has been shown to contribute to chronic GI complaints. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, can cause inflammation in the gut, leading to damage to the intestinal lining. Processed foods are often high in sugar and additives, which can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to dysbiosis. GMOs are genetically modified organisms that can increase the risk of gut inflammation and damage. Refined sugars are rapidly absorbed and can cause spikes in blood sugar, leading to inflammation and increased risk of chronic diseases 3.
In conclusion, GI complaints are an underlying contributor to most chronic illnesses. Many chronic diseases can be prevented or cured by keeping the GI tract healthy with a healthy diet, stress management, and targeted supplements. It is essential to understand the role of the gut in overall health and take proactive measures to support its function.
One of the first things to check in any chronic illness is GI function.
- How often do you have bowel movements?
- Do you experience constipation, and if so, how often?
- Have you noticed any changes in your bowel movements, such as irregularity or increased frequency?
- Have you experienced loose stools or diarrhea, and if so, how often and for how long?
- How would you describe the consistency of your stool (e.g., hard, soft, watery)?
- Do you notice any excessive gas or bloating, and if so, is it more frequent or less frequent than usual?
- Have you noticed any changes in the quantity or odor of your gas or bowel movements?
- Have you experienced any pain or discomfort during bowel movements?
- Are you currently taking any medications or supplements that may affect your bowel movements?
- Do you have heartburn?
Laboratory Testing for Bowel Function and Immunity
Even though symptoms can tell you a lot about how your bowels work and how healthy they are, lab tests can give you more information about what's really going on.
Some of the laboratory tests available include:
- Food Allergy Testing: This test is used to identify any food allergies or intolerances that may be contributing to GI symptoms. A blood test can measure IgE and IgG antibodies to various foods to assess for reactivity.
- GI Panels which measure markers for bowel Immunity and function: These tests measure levels of antibodies or inflammation markers in the blood or stool. For example, a stool sample can be tested for calprotectin, lactoferrin, and M2-PK, which are markers of inflammation and/or cellular damage in the intestines.
- Bacterial and Candida Overgrowths: A stool sample can be tested for bacterial and fungal overgrowth. This includes testing for pathogens such as C. difficile and E. coli, as well as non-pathogenic overgrowths that may disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome.
- Balance of the Flora: This test measures the presence and abundance of different bacterial species in the gut microbiome. It can provide insight into any imbalances that may be contributing to GI symptoms.
- Genetic Probes for Bacterial Pathogens, Worms, Parasites, and Flukes: This test uses genetic probes to detect the presence of bacterial pathogens, worms, parasites, and flukes in the stool. These organisms can cause a range of symptoms from GI upset to systemic illness.
- Breath Tests for SIBO: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition in which bacteria overgrow in the small intestine, causing symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Breath tests can measure the levels of hydrogen and methane gas produced by the bacteria.
- Tests for Malabsorption: These tests can assess whether the body is effectively absorbing nutrients from food. Examples include blood tests for nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12 or iron, and breath tests for carbohydrate malabsorption.
Overall, laboratory testing can provide valuable information to help diagnose and treat GI symptoms. Testing, along with a good history and physical exam, can provide the information needed to design a plan for the restoration of both your GI health and overall health.