The way I see it, GI issues are not a problem. You read that correctly, they are not the issue. Rather, the bloating, etc., is a response to a deeper physiological issue that has yet to be addressed. Optimal digestion has many enemies, and having a GI system that functions optimally in today’s world is exceedingly rare. Among the many enemies of digestion that we will cover in this volume are stress, inflammation, and of course, nutrition/food choices.
By far, the most common GI symptom that clients come to me with is chronic bloating. No matter what they eat – even if they do not eat, they are bloated. Often, they have tried everything under the Sun to prevent the bloating all to no avail. These individuals are among the most frustrated clients that I see because they simply see no end in sight.
Let’s talk about Stress and Inflammation, man!
First, stress must be defined. Hans Selye, M.D., author of The Stress of Life, coined the word, “stress,” back in 1936. He originally defined it as the “the rate of wear and tear on the body.” A little later in his research Selye modified the definition to “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” And still later he settled on the more specific definition of, “the state manifested by a specific syndrome which consists of all the non-specifically induced changes within a biologic system.”
In other words, stress is the body’s response to a stressor or combination of stressors. Stressors can take many shapes and forms but the 6 main classes of stressors that we, as human beings, deal with on a regular basis are: physical (posture, pain, etc.), chemical (industrial, environmental, and petrochemicals), electromagnetic (computers, alarm clocks, cell phones, etc.), psychic (thoughts, self-talk), nutritional (food and drink), and thermal. What does that mean for your digestive system and bloating? In a word, everything! It is important to note that the human body does not differentiate its “stress” response. The response will be summated regardless of the source of the stressor or stressors.
The way I see it, the biggest threats to optimal digestion are inflammation and the stress cycle, which actually go hand in hand. When the body is “stressed” for any reason, it releases adrenaline and cortisol (amongst other things). Their job is to mobilize energy so that the body can respond to the stressor(s). The problem is that these hormones, and others, actually perpetuate the inflammatory/stress cycle.
As an example, cortisol released during a stressor (such as hypoglycemia) will begin breaking down musculoskeletal tissue to mobilize amino acids to convert them into glucose (for fuel) via gluconeogenesis. This is not news, and you can find more about the details in any decent physiology text. This breakdown of muscle tissue also leads to the release of free fatty acids (FFA). These FFA can actually increase the uptake of tryptophan (also mobilized in the breakdown of muscle tissue) in the brain. The increase in tryptophan uptake is likely to increase serotonin levels. That may sound like a good thing because everyone is taught nowadays that serotonin is the “feel good” neurotransmitter and it makes you “happy.” Actually, increased levels of serotonin stimulate the production of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which perpetuates the stress response all over again. Now, to bring this back to the discussion of the GI system -To a very large extent, structure dictates function. If cortisol levels are chronically elevated because of blood sugar handling issues, etc. that damages the intestinal mucosa (decreased structural integrity) and leads to increased intestinal permeability (decreased function). This is commonly called Leaky Gut Syndrome. In such an environment, the tight gap junctions of the gut open up and allow undigested food particles to pass through. Not only can this lead to bloating, but it will also tax the immune system and lead to the increased activity of inflammatory mediators, thus perpetuating the stress/inflammatory cycle.
To make matters even worse, according to Ray Peat, PhD, the breakdown of muscle tissues under the influence of cortisol also increases the release of cysteine, which along with the amino acids methionine and tryptophan can actually suppress thyroid function. Suppressed thyroid function leads to a host of physiological issues, not the least of which include impaired energy production = fatigue!
To simplify it – think of it this way. When your physiology is taxed for any reason and for any length of time, the blood flow to the digestive and reproductive systems is directed away from those systems and brought to the musculoskeletal system so that you can respond (fight or flight) to the stressor. Are you thinking about having a bowel movement or stopping to have sex when you are running from a lion? I think not. And I personally find it very interesting that digestive problems are at an all time high and in-vitro fertilization is one of the more rapidly growing branches of medicine today. Anybody else see a correlation of any kind?
As this non-specific response perpetuates itself – creating more stress and inflammation – overall digestive function (specific response) takes a beating. Down regulation of HCl production by the parietal cells of the stomach is common. This can lead to malabsorption issues as well as multiple nutritional deficiencies. At this point, an individual will begin to lose the ability to supply the body with the nutrition that it needs to maintain optimal physiology, energy production, and health. Fatigue is common, as are a host of other symptoms, including various forms of anemia, constipation, headaches, mood swings, hormonal issues, mental fogginess, changes in vision, joint aches and pains – particularly the knees, low back, and wrists, weight loss/gain, poor sleep quality/insomnia, intense hunger, cravings, and on and on the list goes.
Should You Really Eat Those “Healthy” Foods
Too often I have heard people “blaming” their chronic bloating on food intolerances or sensitivities. The way I see it is these intolerances do not just happen. Such intolerances are, in my opinion, a symptom of being in a chronic inflammatory state. Food of course can perpetuate the stress response and in many cases make the chronic bloating even worse. Oddly enough, under cooked cruciferous vegetables, and other undigestible foods, often perpetuate the bloating, as well as the inflammatory/stress response.
I have had many clients significantly improve the health of their digestive systems simply by eliminating cruciferous vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. That may seem like a long list of foods to eliminate but it is actually quite simple. The indigestible fiber, poly-unsaturated fats, phytic acid, and phytates contained in these foods are very rough on the digestive system and physiology of a human being. Simply put, we (human beings) do not have a rumen (special part of a cow’s stomach as an example) and are not designed to eat cellulose and other indigestible fibers.
For more information on this, please read this post by Josh and Jeanne Rubin of East West Healing and Performance: http://eastwesthealing.com/what-the-hell-do-you-mean-i-should-not-eat-salad/
For additional information on the detrimental aspects of poly-unsaturated fats, please see this article by Ray Peat, PhD:http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturatedfats.shtml and for a basic crash course in phytic acid and its detrimental effects, particularly on digestion, see this article by Ramiel Nagel at the Weston A. Price Foundation: http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/living-with-phytic-acid
The way I see it, it is necessary to eliminate indigestible fibers, phytic acid, phytates, and to do everything in one’s power to reduce the consumption of poly-unsaturated fats to foster an environment favorable for the body to heal the digestive system to avoid bloating and other GI related symptoms. Continuing to put foods into the system that challenge digestion in one way or another will only serve to perpetuate the existing problem and keep you in an inflammatory and hypo-metabolic state. This is antagonistic to creating optimal health – be it digestive health or otherwise.
If you are having constant bloating and GI issues and you successfully remove the offending foods from your diet for at least 3-4 months or more, and you are still having constant bloating issues, etc., it is possible that you could potentially have visitors – by that I mean possible bacterial, parasite and/or fungal infections.
There are a number of organisms that can infect a human being and create lots of issues. There are over 3,200 known parasites in 4 major categories and hundreds of these can infect the human being (though we can only realistically test for a few dozen). The major classes are Protozoa, Trematoda, Cestoda, and Nematoda. Within these classes are flukes, tapeworms, pinworms, round worms, hook worms, and other microscopic organisms that can run around causing all sorts of GI and other problems. H. Pylori is another common infection (bacterial) which can cause lots of bloating and gas issues
There are a number of excellent functional lab assessments that can help you identify if indeed you do have some kind of infection. Such a test would need to be performed by the appropriate licensed medical professional, however. In the event that one does have a parasitic/fungal infection, it is important to work with someone with extensive experience eradicating those issues. If these infections are mismanaged, it can strengthen the infection and spell disaster for the individual infected.
Helpful “Stuff” for the GI System
Here are some things you can consider if you are having GI symptoms and issues with chronic bloating (by no means is this a comprehensive list – just some basics):
1. Drink 1-2 cups of warm water about 20 minutes prior to meals to aid in the digestive process. Placing a little sea salt (white) or Morton’s Pickling Salt in the water can help with many things but in terms of digestion, it can help to stimulate HCl production in the stomach.
2. Eliminate the foods mentioned earlier in this Blog Post.
3. Consider the use of HCl and/or digestive enzymes. This should not be a permanent solution. If you eat correctly, your dependency on these should diminish over the course of a relatively short period of time.
4. Stop eating garbage and fast foods.
5. Stop eating foods packaged in bags, boxes, or cans.
6. Switch to good fats – mostly coconut oil, real butter, lard, and/or tallow.
7. Stop using commercial fiber supplements. Most of them are filled with common food allergens and neurotoxic artificial sweeteners. Many of them will make digestive issues worse in my experience.
8. Stop taking commercial vitamins and supplements. They are almost all synthetic and are likely making you worse.
9. Try to eat slower. Take time to actually chew your food.
10. Take time to be present with your food and relax during and after your meals.
11. Have your detoxification system assessed. Often, the hepatobiliary system (liver-gallbladder) is overloaded.
12. Avoid overeating at all costs.
13. Regulate your blood sugar. This is essential for optimal digestive health, among other things.
14. Use a little gelatin with your flesh proteins. This can decrease the stress response to animal meat consumption which is common in many with overloaded GI systems (and even those with normal GI systems).
15. Consider structural stressors as a potential root cause: respiratory mechanics, TMJ dysfunction, vision, vestibular, Cranial issues (particularly anything effecting the Vagus Nerve – CN X – but all cranial nerves communicate with one another) and Upper Cervical Subluxation complexes, pelvic girdle and sacral issues, etc.
16. Assess your zinc status. Zinc is needed for many things in the body, particularly maintaining adequate levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
17. Consider the use of traditional bone/meat broths in place of flesh proteins for a while.
18. Consider regular Acupuncture and TCM treatments to decrease Sympathetic Nervous System tone and improve peristalsis.
19. Throw away your microwave.
It is my hope that you have found this information useful in some way. Use what you can – discard the rest. As always, feel free to comment below or I can be reached via e-mail for questions and comments.
Thank you for reading!
In Health and Happiness,
Brandon J. Alleman