Gut Health and Chronic Illness

Fundamentals of Treating Chronic Illness: The Gastrointestinal System and Gut Ecology

The health of the gastrointestinal system is a primary initial focus in Dr. Harris’ practice in treating anyone with chronic health complaints.  Imbalances in gut function and ecology can lead to many disturbances in normal physiological function in numerous systems in the body.  These disturbances are so vast that few people in our modern society are free from the effects of some degree of gastrointestinal imbalance.

Aside from obvious digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, there are many other symptoms and conditions that are influenced by gut health.  The lining of the intestines comprises a key barrier that divides the inside of the body from the outside world.  When this barrier is compromised through localized irritation,  it loses its ability to be selective in what it allows to pass  through it.  We have very few pain receptors here so we typically don’t sense this irritation.

A poorly functioning intestinal barrier allows for the passage into the body of larger food molecules and other by-products of enzyme and microbial metabolism that it shouldn’t.  Many of these compounds are quite toxic to tissues deeper in the body.   Organs and tissues are then exposed (leaking into the blood from the intestines) to these toxic substances and will feel their effects over in time – initially as a decrease in function, in some cases pain, and eventually degeneration.  The organs of detoxification (primarily the liver, secondarily the kidneys) must metabolize, mount an immune response to, or deal with the effects from through the binding at cell receptor sites.  The influx of these foreign substances puts a significant stress on detoxification systems and the immune system as well as organs and tissues throughout the body as mentioned above. 

As this scenario continues, problems in overall health begin to develop.

Symptoms or illnesses can manifest as:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Allergies
  • Dermatitis
  • Joint or muscle pain (very common)
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Sinusitis
  • Prostatitis
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Fatigue
  • Neurological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia or “brain fog”
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Many, many others

Delicate hormonal balances can be influenced as well.

More contributors to low-level inflammation:

Breakdown in the intestinal barrier can often prevent necessary nutrient absorption, setting the stage for potential nutritional deficiencies.  There are several things that can contribute to the low-level inflammation of the gut wall lining, such as:

      • Intake of foods that are not efficiently and completely digested (due to insufficient digestive secretions, a lack of enzymes for specific foods, or other mechanisms of food intolerance)
      • Increased transit time (longer periods of time between when a food is eaten and when it is eliminated through the stool
      • Insufficient fiber in the diet
      • Regular use of non-steroidal or cortisone based anti-inflammatories
      • Higher levels of stress and its related hormones which have a negative influence on a “first defense” component of the immune system in the gut, as well as decreasing digestive function in general
      • Dysbiosis:  an imbalance of the normal flora (microorganisms) of the gut.  This might be bacterial overgrowth, yeast/fungal overgrowth, parasites, and typically includes a deficiency of “friendly” bacteria.  Dysbiosis can result from any of the things listed above and is a common and persistent damaging influence for many people.

Treatment measures are initially directed toward food desensitization, correction of dysbiosis and nutritional deficiencies, and herbal, homeopathic and dietary interventions that promote gastrointestinal integrity. Please click HERE to view an illustration of the concepts discussed on this page.

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