The Gastro Intestinal or GI tract performs the following functions:
- Breakdown of large food particles in the stomach (mainly by mechanical movement and acid)
- Digestion and absorption of food in the small intestine
- Absorption of fluids and vitamins in the large intestine
- Expulsion of waste material and toxins
- Immunological surveillance by the large number of lymph nodes surrounding the GI tract
The GI tract also includes the following:
Liver (mainly involved in metabolizing food and neutralizing toxins)
Pancreas (release of digestive enzymes and hormones that control sugar metabolism)
Gall bladder (involved in the production of bile for digestion of fats)
Starting with the stomach, the most common problems are:
- Heartburn (regurgitation of food and acid back into the esophagus)
- Irritability, pain and ulcers are usually due to too much acid and too little protective mucous in the stomach
The most common causes of this are:
- Unhealthy diet (of junk food) that is low in antioxidants
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen)
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Helicobacter pylori infection (very common and can be detected by the urea breath test)
Excessive acidity can be prevented and/or neutralized by natural remedies such as:
- Large glass of water with freshly squeezed lemon juice in the morning
- Green leafy vegetables (these alkalinize the stomach as well as the whole body)
- Baking soda in a glass of water (1 teaspoon in 250 ml of water) in the morning
Note: Baking soda in water is also excellent for kidney support, especially for those with poor kidney function
- Poor diet
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Laying down flat immediately after eating (try sitting or reclining after meals)
- Overly large meals instead of smaller, more frequent meals (this also contributes to deposition of fat and obesity)
- Weak sphincter strength between the stomach and the esophagus i.e. the “food pipe”.
This last point can be corrected surgically if the symptoms are severe.
Note: prolonged heartburn can lead to cellular changes in the food pipe that can predispose to esophageal cancer (difficult to treat; poor prognosis)
Problems in the small intestine
These usually stem from:
- Ulcers due to H. Pylori infection
- Irritation due to poor quality diet (junk food, trans fats, overly fatty foods, preservatives, etc.)
- Poor food digestion and absorption due to lack of bile from the liver and/or digestive enzymes from the pancreas
- Inflammation due to immunological surveillance by the local lymph nodes and a consequently an inflammatory reaction due to toxins or pathogens found in food or ingested liquids
Problems in the large intestine:
These usually stem from:
Imbalance between probiotics (i.e., healthy bacterial such as Lactobacillus and “bad” toxic bacteria such a Bacillus Cereus).
Probiotics are necessary in order to prevent colonization by “bad” bacteria, for the proper healthy state of the inner lining of the large intestine, as well as for the synthesis of certain vital vitamins
The most notable vitamin produced by probiotics is vitamin K, which is crucial for proper blood coagulation
Without probiotics, bad bacteria colonize the colon and start producing toxins as a by-product
These toxins cause damage and inflammation of the inner lining, which can predispose to such conditions are irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), diverticulitis as well as colon cancer
These toxins are also absorbed into the blood after which they are distributed throughout the body, causing all-over (systemic) toxicity and inflammation
This can predispose to a large number of diseases as well as a feeling of lethargy, lack of energy and an overall feeling of poor health.
Improper functioning of the large intestine can also lead to either diarrhea or constipation, as the large intestine is the main site for regulating how much water is absorbed or left behind in stool.
Other very important aspects for a healthy GI tract:
Fiber (e.g., psyllium husks) is extremely important:
- It prevents constipation (which itself can lead to irritation, inflammation and systemic toxicity) and diarrhea (which can cause lethargy due to electrolyte loss).
- It lines the inner lining of intestines with a protective layer, preventing irritation and inflammation.
- It stimulates the proper peristalsis (i.e. contractions of the intestine) for proper expulsion of stool and to prevent constipation/diarrhea.
- It lowers the absorption of cholesterol and fats.
This last point contributes to the prevention of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries, which are responsible for heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease as well as kidney damage, eye damage and potentially the rupturing of the aorta (aneurisms).
- These are substances produced by certain plants and found mostly in seeds.
- A prime example is the “gooey” substance formed by flax seeds when heated in water.
- These substances resemble mucous and are excellent as a protective substance for the inner lining of the GI tract
- They protect from irritation and excessive acid as well as facilitate the easy progression and expulsion of waste materials. As such, they also prevent constipation
Water (at least 2 liters per day) is also very important
- It facilitates toxin expulsion
- It neutralizes excessive acid
- It prevents dehydration and constipation
The good stuff:
- A healthy diet rich in antioxidants:
- Vegetables (especially green leafy ones like kale, spinach, parsley, celery)
- Fruits (especially the not-too-sweet ones)
- Lean protein sources like fish and poultry and eggs
- Nuts and healthy oils (olive, avocado, grape seed and coconut)
- Water (especially with electrolytes like EmergenC)
- Probiotics (plain yogurt, kefir, sour milk, encapsulated probiotics)
- Mucillages (flax seed)
- Lemon juice or baking soda with water
The bad stuff:
- Junk food (chips, fries, beef from fast food restaurants, processed foods, hot dogs, thick crust pizza, etc.)
- Alcohol and tobacco
- NSAIDS (not enteric coated aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol etc.)
- Too much coffee (irritates the stomach, stimulates acid production and is hard on the liver)
- Simple carbohydrates (exhaust the pancreas, lead to fat deposits, obesity and diabetes)
- Overly fatty foods (take a toll on the liver and cause inflammation in the intestines)
- Laying down after eating
- Lack of fluids, especially water
- Lack of fiber and fiber-rich vegetables
- Lack of antioxidants
The Downside of Overeating:
- Pressure on the esophageal sphincter leading to heartburn
- Stagnation of food in the intestines leading to toxin formation and absorption
- Stress on the pancreas (must produce excessive digestive enzymes) and the liver (must metabolize the excessive food and toxins)
- Absorption of excessive calories leading to obesity
- If the majority of the excessive food is in the form of carbohydrates, predisposition to diabetes
- Potential imbalance between probiotics and pathogens, leading to intestinal and systemic toxicity
- A healthy diet and small, frequent meals instead of infrequent large meals
- Digestive enzymes as a supplement to facilitate quicker digestion and expulsion after a large meal
- Of utmost importance for GI health are prophylactic medical tests
- For colon cancer screening, colonoscopies for everyone aged 50 and every 5 years thereafter
- Chronic hiccups should be investigated for esophageal cancer
- Chronic heartburn should be corrected and esophagus monitored for esophageal cancer
- Frequent stomach pains should be investigated for an ulcer and a test for H.Pylori performed
For more sage advice from Dr. Karol and for natural health product recommendations, visit vitarock.com.