Digestion 101: Inflammation
Inflammation is the first step the body has not only to combat irritation or injury now, but to continue to cause inflammation in the attempt to induce healing. This chronic inflammation can reduce the body’s ability to heal over time. Add to this a poor diet, stress or erratic meals and the digestion process becomes agony. The digestive system takes in hundreds of substances each and every day that the body must process. Many of these substances may actually irritate or even injure our intestinal tract, either chemically or physically (think of the hard edges of nuts). Or we may not have enough digestive enzymes in the proper ratios to break down these substances, causing the body to discard the food as indigestible. Even a disturbance in flora (the natural body bacteria that helps break down food) can cause "dysbiosis", a condition of imbalances in the ratios of bacteria in the digestive tract. We may simply experience constipation on a regular basis, causing material which should be eliminated from our bodies, to back up and block areas of our digestive tract. We may have contracted a parasite, or the bacteria from our last bout of the stomach flu may never have completely gone away.
Any of these situations can cause the body to chronically react to try and resolve the situation. Inflammation is the first step the body has not only to combat irritation or injury now, but to continue to cause inflammation in the attempt to induce healing. This chronic inflammation of the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract can cause malabsorption, the inability to absorb nutrients, which can deteriorate tissue and reduce the body’s ability to heal over time. Add to this a poor diet, stress or erratic meals and the digestion process becomes agony.
In order to work with digestive inflammation, you need to do three things: stop the immune reaction, clean out any offending substances and heal the damage. These steps are not necessarily done consecutively, but it depends on your individual situation. For instance, you may need to clean out first, but there is a lot of inflammation involved, so the system has to be calmed down a bit first before cleansing. This is especially true in colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Once the system is cleansed, then you want to rebalance the system, so this doesn’t happen again.
Step One: Stop the immune reaction. Inflammation can be a reaction to irritation or injury, it can be the body’s attempt to initiate the healing process or it can be the immune system over-reacting to triggers, similar to an allergy. So I use two things to begin here: something to modulate the immune reaction such as Echinacea Purpurea Glycetract or Standard Process Immuplex. Sometimes I will need to provide adrenal support as the adrenal glands are what modulate body inflammation, and chronic inflammation can often be a reaction to stress and adrenal fatigue. Finally, something to reduce the inflammation such as a blend of Boswellia, Hemidesmus, High Grade Licorice, Gotu Kola and Chamomile.
Step Two: Cleansing. Cleansing the intestinal tract is something that is best left to a professional. This means, particularly in inflammatory situations, not to purchase and take anything over the counter from the health food store. Many of these products are not made for irritated and inflamed tissues and may do more harm than good. By seeking out a professional naturopath, you can tailor a program to you, perhaps beginning with a hypoallergenic fiber such as Metagenics MetaFiber and some bentonite clay. This alone may do more than any comprehensive program. Goldenseal is another great product during the cleansing as a strong herbal antibacterial agent. Even Edgar Cayce’s remedy of Slippery Elm Powder and American Saffron Tea can enhance cleansing for an irritated gut. Once cleansing is completed, reacidification and introduction of flora is essential. I like to use organic apple cider vinegar and Lactic Acid Yeast wafers combined with a strong probiotic such as many of the options that Pharmax produces.
Step 3: Heal the damage. Healing the gut is essential to eliminate leaky gut issues and to restore proper function. Herbal options such as Goldenseal, Chamomile, Gotu Kola, Marshmallow Root, Calendula, Aloe Vera and Licorice are essential as combination formulas. Also Okra Pepsin is perfect at this stage to restore a normalized mucosal lining to the gut. Part of this process is also beginning to understand why this happened in the first place. That understanding can lead to the best ideas for rebalancing the system. Perhaps this all started with food poisoning, or your trip to Cambodia, or your divorce. Emotions can play a huge role in the initiation of digestive problems and should be treated seriously when they occur. I recommend many clients receiving emotional therapy to handle the trapped emotions that are present. Even manual therapies such as Visceral Manipulation and Myofascial Release can help to free emotional memories stored in our digestive tract.
Whatever the initial factor that began the process, it is important to identify it so that you can be aware of your inherent weaknesses for the future.