Functional MedicineGet to the root cause of medical problems
The Gut Brain Connection
When people think of gut health, problems such as acid reflux, belching, burping, gas, excess bloating, constipation, diarrhea or abdominal pain are the things that immediately come to mind.
But there’s also a gut-brain connection, according to Dr. Jamie Walraven, and that means issues with the gut can also lead to irritability, trouble focusing, headaches, vitamin deficiencies, joint pain or changes in your skin and nails.
Helping clients isolate and diagnose problems with their gut and putting them on a road to better health is one of the primary services offered by Walraven and the staff at Ageless Wellness. It all starts with a good oral history and physical exam, Walraven says. “An oral history will include asking things like, do you have any of the symptoms that relate to abnormal gut health as described above? Do you have a history of things that correlate with gut dysfunction? Do you frequently rely on antacids or anti-ulcer medicines? Have you had multiple courses of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medicine every day over a long period of time?” If the response to any of those questions indicate higher risk factors, Walraven may then recommend blood, stool or urine testing to identify markers of a leaky gut or intestinal permeability. From there, a treatment plan can be formulated — something Walraven calls “The Five Rs.”
The Five Rs of Gut Health
This stage of the treatment involves eliminating things that are causing irritation. “When your gut is inflamed it’s like having an open wound on your arm,” Walraven says. “You want to do things to heal it and protect it. You wouldn’t want to rub salt in the wound every day. So remove things that you know are salt in the wound. Some examples would be if you take aspirin or other medications that cause problems with the gut, or foods and alcohol that are irritable to the gut.” The most common dietary irritants are gluten and dairy. Another thing that can be a problem to the gut is stress. “If people that are under a lot of stress we talk about how to manage that stress better or get rid of it,” Walraven explains. “And while we can test for food allergies and sensitivities, we can’t really test for food intolerances. So I’ll often ask someone to go on an elimination diet, which is basically where we take foods out that are likely to cause problems and then slowly add them back in over a period of time, usually two to three weeks, and monitor your systems to see if you have any changes.”
This stage involves restoring your digestive system with vital enzymes that may have become deficient for some reason. For example, someone with acid reflux who’s on antacids or proton pump inhibitor medication may experience a decrease in the production of natural enzymes in the stomach necessary to digest food. Without those enzymes, food just sits in your stomach and putrefies. So we replace that natural digestive enzymes or may add in something that helps coat the gut.
When your gut becomes inflamed and irritable, it’s often caused by an imbalance of harmful bacteria. Ideally, you want friendly bacteria and less yeast in your gut. This is achieved by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and fiber. When someone is off-balance or has dysbiosis — which means an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria — we replace that friendly bacteria with probiotics, which are nutrients that feed the healthy bacteria. We use them as placeholders while we evacuate the bad bacteria and get you to a place where you’re eating a lot of healthy food again.
This stage involves rebuilding the cells in the intestinal walls, which can be damaged by gut inflammation, sensitive foods, medications, alcohol, or things like radiation and chemotherapy. “Ideally we would try to determine why you had the damage to the intestinal wall in the first place,” Walraven says. “If there’s nothing that is predisposing you to that, providing some digesting enzymes and rebalancing your gut may be enough.” If the intestinal wall is damaged, it can usually be repaired by adding essential vitamins and amino acids back into the diet, as well as herbal supplements like aloe, marshmallow root, berberine and slippery elm. Drinking bone broth, which contains collagen, can also be helpful.
This stage involves maintaining the repaired gut by incorporating habits that are healthy long term, and being on guard for changes in your gut health so it’s easier to jump on it when it’s just beginning rather than going on for years and years. Anyone who believes they may be suffering from similar problems should call Ageless Wellness and schedule an appointment for a Functional Medicine visit, Walraven says.