My Secret Weapon For Chronic Gut Dysfunctions
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The gut microbiome is one of the most important aspects of our overall health. Medical research has confirmed the powerful role our gut plays in even seemingly unrelated health problems such as autoimmune conditions, anxiety, (1) heart disease, (2) diabetes, (3) and even skin problems (4) like acne and eczema.
In functional medicine we recognize that poor gut health doesn't happen overnight. You don't go to bed one night perfectly healthy and then wake up in the morning sick. An unhealthy gut often starts before there are any obvious symptoms. A combination of genetics and lifestyle factors such as poor diet, chronic stress, and medications are all triggers that build up over time that perpetuate a cycle of chronic inflammation and continue to weaken the microbiome.
And for some people, their level of inflammation and subsequent gut dysfunction has reached a tipping point and developed into a diagnosable condition. These are the most common gut problems I see in my functional medicine clinic:
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Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by a variety of bowel symptoms including stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS affects close to 25-45 million people in America with two out fo three people affected being female.
In conventional medicine, standard treatment focuses on managing symptoms by prescribing medications that can mitigate pain and diarrhea or alleviate constipation. A person is typically diagnosed with IBS after crossing off other possible conditions. However, a new blood test has been developed that looks at the antibodies, anti-C-dtB and anti-vinculin, since those antibodies have been shown to be elevated in IBS patients.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a more general term for a variety of inflammatory health problems in the digestive tract including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD affect around 1.6 million people in the United States. Similar to IBS, the goal of conventional treatment is to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. This is achieved through medication and in some cases, surgery to remove inflamed areas of the GI tract.
To diagnose these conditions, it's important to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms as well as stool tests to measure the level of inflammation in the digestive tract. X-rays, MRIs, and scoping are also used to help make more definitive diagnoses.
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth
Your gut is comprised of the small and large intestines, and when you are not eating, the migrating motor complex (MMC) pushes gut bacteria down into the large intestines. But sometimes this process can fail. In cases of decreased MMC function, bacteria meant to migrate grows up into the small intestines where it doesn't belong. This wayward bacteria will eat what you eat, fermenting the food in the wrong area, causing gas, swelling, acid reflux, diarrhea, and constipation. This is Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO).
SIBO is usually treated with prescription antibiotics and prokinetic drugs to kill bacteria in the intestine and discourage bacterial overgrowth but it is very common for SIBO symptoms to reoccur, especially considering the fact that these treatments are aimed more at management rather than treating the root cause of why this happens in the first place.
Diagnosis of SIBO is made through a breath test to measure the amount of specific gases in a person's breath since the fermented bacteria produces certain gases that are expelled in a person's breath.
Functional medicine aims to calm inflammation and heal the gut using a variety of lifestyle and dietary tools. Often with these digestive problems, eating a regular diet is not always feasible. For my patients, I typically recommend incorporating bone broth and only cooked vegetables to give the gut a break from doing all the work of the full digestion process. But healing doesn't happen overnight. And for some of my patients, even this isn't enough to bring relief.
This is where Physician's Elemental DietTM comes in. This clinician-developed medical food is designed to maintain nutritional sustenance as a sole source of nutrition while under medical supervision. Since it comes in an easy-to-digest powder that is dissolvable in liquid, it is one of the best nutritional sources for those struggling with moderate to severely impaired GI function in those with the above gut dysfunctions. Comprised of a balanced blend of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) plus essential vitamins and minerals all in their simplest form, it is also free from intact proteins, polypeptides, corn, gluten, soy, and dairy.
Elemental diets have been around for years and confirmed by researchers to be beneficial for those diagnosed with these conditions. One study looked at 93 patients diagnosed with both IBS and SIBO who were given an elemental diet as a sole source of nutrition and found (5) that 85% of participants experienced symptom improvement and normal SIBO breath tests after three weeks. Another study (6) found that elemental diets were effective at achieving remission in those with Crohn's disease.
Developed as a 14- or 21-day program, Physician's Elemental Diet can now be purchased directly online by consumers. While a physician's supervision is needed, the power of purchase is now in the hands of the individual.
To learn more about Physician's Elemental Diet and more research around elemental diets check out elementaldiets.com.
As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.
- Banks, W.A., Gray, A.M., Erickson, M.A. et al. Lipopolysaccharide-induced blood-brain barrier disruption: roles of cyclooxygenase, oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and elements of the neurovascular unit. J Neuroinflammation 12, 223 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12974-015-0434-1
- Mendelsohn AR, Larrick JW. Dietary modification of the microbiome affects risk for cardiovascular disease. Rejuvenation Res. 2013;16(3):241-244. doi:10.1089/rej.2013.1447
- Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D. et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature 514, 181-186 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13793
- Bowe, W.P., Logan, A.C. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?. Gut Pathog 3, 1 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
- Pimentel M, Constantino T, Kong Y, Bajwa M, Rezaei A, Park S. A 14-day elemental diet is highly effective in normalizing the lactulose breath test. Dig Dis Sci. 2004;49(1):73-77. doi:10.1023/b:ddas.0000011605.43979.e1
- Yamamoto T, Nakahigashi M, Umegae S, Kitagawa T, Matsumoto K. Impact of elemental diet on mucosal inflammation in patients with active Crohn's disease: cytokine production and endoscopic and histological findings. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2005;11(6):580-588. doi:10.1097/01.mib.0000161307.58327.96
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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