COLUMN: Is your digestion in the toilet?

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
April 9th, 2017

I’ll bet you didn’t know this is IBS month — Irritable Bowel Awareness Month. One of the most common problems, but, one of the most difficult to talk about for people is digestive difficulty. Whether it is abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, gas, bloating, feeling congested or alternating constipation and diarrhea, with pain, mucous, blood, flatulence, unusually thin stools, large stools, hard stools, pellet-like stools, you name it, we deal with them all! Generally, these symptoms indicate the bowel is not functioning properly and thus the term Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  This is the most common gastrointestinal condition reported and is also known as nervous indigestion, spastic colitis or intestinal neurosis.

The causes of IBS are connected to diet, physical issues, physiological and psychological factors.  

The first step is to correct the choices of food. It’s amazing in this day and age I still have patients who tell me their doctor told them food has nothing to do with their digestive problems. How couldn’t it—food is the only fuel that goes into the body, so, if it isn’t good choices, it’s like running a car with dirty fuel. I’ll bet that doctor doesn’t put bad gas in his BMW!

          It is important to increase dietary fibre. It is best to use fibre from vegetables, fruit, oat or rice bran, psyllium husk/seed, ground flax and chia seed and legumes (beans/peas). Even though All-Bran/wheat bran cereals are often suggested, wheat is among the most common causes of allergic and poor absorption reactions. In other words, wheat has been highly hybridized and our bodies have a hard time recognizing its structure and treats it as an irritant in some cases, or with others, people eat wheat too often each day. For example, some folks have cereal or toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner. All these carbohydrates, if they are from wheat, can just become too much for the system and eventually it becomes irritated and inflamed.  Therefore, the use of wheat bran is not advised.

          The second step is to have a variety in our food choices. It’s best to eat seasonally, since that ensures diverse choices. For instance, fresh greens and salads in the summer and root veggies and squashes in the winter. The same is true of grains. You need to have a variety, such as oatmeal for cereal, a sprouted mixed grain bread, quinoa or brown rice for dinners/lunches, a variety of crackers, such as RyVita, Rye Krisps, corn thins, oat cakes, brown rice cakes and Mary’s crackers and brown rice or quinoa/corn pasta as examples. This minimizes the chances of having too much of any one grain.

          The third step is to have slightly more veggies, fruit and grains than protein. This helps keep the pH alkaline. Ideally, if you look at what you are eating and you have 3/5 of your plate veggies/fruit or grains and the other 2/5 protein, your pH should be 6.8-7.2 ideally. An example would be your dinner plate with wild salmon (2/5), swiss chard, broccoli and quinoa (3/5).  You should try to limit acidic foods and drinks as they interfere with your ability to break down your food and make you too acidic. Therefore, minimize coffee, tea (black/green/white), yerba mate, honeybush, rooibos, Pop, citrus fruit and  tomatoes and anything white(flour, pasta, bread, crackers, bagels, rice, potatoes).  They typically give folks digestive problems. 

          The fourth step is to identify food sensitivities/irritants/intolerances or allergies. Often reactions are not initiated by the immune system, so do not form antibodies against the food or foods. Therefore food allergy tests (scratch or blood IgE-RAST) will not pick up these intolerances, irritants and sensitivities. It is essential to do an elimination diet or to have VEGA testing done. This will identify any food that disturbs the system.

          The fifth step is to determine if there is an over-growth of the yeast Candida Albicans in the intestinal tract. This means there is an imbalance, since everyone has some yeast in their systems, but if balanced, it is controlled by the good bacteria. If there is an over-growth of yeast it can lead to allergic reactions. This is commonly known as thrush in a child. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain the probiotics or good types of bacteria in the intestinal tract to make sure they keep control of any un-friendly bacteria, viruses or any other harmful bugs. They also produce many of our digestive enzymes, so, we need to re-build these after antibiotics.

          The sixth step is to maintain the proper amount of stomach acid. If people have bloating, gas, or constipation, I have them use 2 tsp/day of plain rice vinegar on their salads, veggies or stir-fries to maximize the body’s ability to break down the food properly and absorb the nutrients well. Part of that is to eat slowly, relaxed and not to drink fluids with meals. All these maximize the proper amount of enzyme released.

          The seventh step is to identify issues of anxiety, fatigue, hostile feelings, frustration, depression and sleep disturbances. This imbalance of not handling stress affects the adrenal gland. An increased production of cortisol compromises  digestion by decreasing or increasing the release of stomach acid. Biofeedback, counseling, physical exercise, yoga, meditation and coping  strategies often help.

          This should give you some ideas on how you can improve your digestion. As a patient once said to me proudly, “There’s nothing like a good bowel movement!”

Categories: GeneralHealth

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