Common Digestive Problems Could Be Deteriorating Your Overall Health Part 2

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Read Part 1 | Part 3

Gut Microbiota and Dysbiosis

common digestive problems and microbiotaA third category of common digestive problems involves your gut microbiota and dysbiosis. The gut microbiota has several important functions. One of these is metabolic in nature. The healthy bacteria in your gut ferments food and food products that aren’t digestible. This process releases short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and vitamin K. Another function is trophic. These SCFAs then aid in the growth of epithelial cells, and their differentiation in the colon, where they serve to protect against the development of cancers. Another function of microbiota is protective. Bacteria that live in your gut resist the growth of microbes that could be pathogenic.

When your gut maintains a balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria, it’s said to be in a state of symbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when this symbiotic relationship is upset. This imbalance can result from an overabundance of good bacteria or when you have an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria. Your nutrition suffers when this happens. Organisms such as yeast or protozoa can cause disease by inhibiting nutritional patterns. The clinical term for this pattern of imbalance is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). It indicates that gut bacteria from the colon has migrated back into the small intestine.

Why is dysbiosis a problem? A great deal of evidence shows this imbalance to be involved in several disorders both inside and outside the intestines. The mechanism that eventually leads to the development of disease involves a mutual relationship between the bacteria in the colon, their metabolic products, and your immune system.

A healthy relationship among these factors isn’t completely understood yet. Research is ongoing to determine specific bacteria associated with a healthy gut microbiota. These specific bacteria, through communication with your host cells, determine whether a good balance of bacteria in your gut is achieved or whether your immune system will be triggered causing inflammation.

Dysbiosis may be involved in, or be the cause of, some significant illnesses. For example, changes in your gut bacteria may be a part of the development of colorectal cancer. In this case, the dysbiosis itself may not be the most important causal factor. The interaction between diet and your gut microbiome may play a greater role. Diets high in protein may result in carcinogenic metabolites from the bacteria in your colon, leading to the growth of neoplasia in the colonic epithelium.

Other common digestive problems, that may be traced back to dysbiosis, of your gut microbiome, include irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Those conditions that don’t seem to be related to your gut include metabolic syndrome, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Some of the most common factors that lead to imbalance include stress, poor diet, a lack of sufficient nutrients, frequent antibiotic therapy, a suppressed immune system (often caused by emotional stress), intestinal infections, and parasites.

Intestinal Permeability

Another category of common digestive problems is intestinal permeability. Under normal conditions, your gut microbiome is protected by a layer of mucosal epithelial cells held together by proteins that form junctions between these cells. The food you digest passes into and through the epithelial cells where the nutrients then are absorbed into the bloodstream for your body’s use.

These tight junctions formed by the proteins prevent other substances from getting into your body through the bloodstream. But, things can happen to open up these tight junctions. When this happens, foreign bacteria, undigested molecules of food, and toxins from the environment gain access to your bloodstream.

Your body’s immune system begins to recognize these substances as foreign and attack them through an exaggerated immune response. This sets up your system for an increase in inflammation that gets into your bloodstream. A cycle of inflammation leading to more damage to your gut system, more foreign molecules in your system, more immune response, is then set in motion. The ultimate result is autoimmune disease.

common digestive problems and food allergiesAlong the way to autoimmune diseases, you can experience common digestive problems such as bloating, food allergies or sensitivities, malnutrition, and dysbiosis. On the other hand, you may not have digestive problems, but rather experience symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, and depression. You can recognize this triad of symptoms as being the same as some of those experienced by a person with adrenal fatigue or Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

One of the more serious issues with common digestive problems, of intestinal permeability, is malabsorption. The inability to successfully absorb nutrients is a significant step toward becoming malnourished. This occurs because the inflammation that is caused by peptides leaking through junctions, among the epithelial cells in your gut, causes mucus to develop. This mucus makes it harder for small micronutrient molecules to pass through to the bloodstream.

Another significant issue with this category of common digestive problems is the development of infections in your gut. These infections are caused by imbalances in acidity and a lack of healthy bacteria in the gut. The most common of these types of infections is H. pylori.

The chronic, low-level kind of inflammation, generated by this category of common digestive problems, is a major factor in the development of many chronic health conditions. It contributes to heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, various skin conditions, and gastrointestinal problems. A significant problem associated with this category of common digestive problems is that of damage to the gut wall’s ability to detoxify environmental toxins and toxins derived from certain foods. This will lead to an overburden on the liver and new chemical sensitivities.

You can also experience decreased defense against unhealthy bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and yeasts due to inhibition of the gut’s immune globulin coating. This can lead to increased infections because bacteria and yeasts find their way out of the gut where they can’t be controlled. The Standard American Diet (SAD) and stress are two of the major causes of leaky gut. Stress by itself can cause leaky gut by decreasing blood flow to the gut system, essentially starving it. SAD also leads to intestinal permeability problems. Consuming trans fats, fried foods, deamidated gliadin, and processed foods, on a daily basis, sets up the gut for permeability problems. Combine this with alcohol consumption, and the risk multiplies for the development of leaky gut.

Other dietary culprits involved in the formation of problems in this category, of common digestive problems, include the consumption of sugars and the regular intake of caffeine and soft drinks.

Medicinal causes of leaky gut include anyone who has been treated with antibiotics. This automatically insures the imbalance of gut flora due to the indiscriminate killing of bacteria by the medication.

Anti-inflammatory medicine common digestive problemsA counter-intuitive reason for the conditions, that lead to the development of inflammation, is taking “anti-inflammatory” medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are non-prescription medicines used to help people deal with the pain of arthritis, chronic back pain, migraines, gout, and pain associated to menstruation. Even though these medications relieve inflammation in other parts of the body, they interfere with prostaglandin production and affect the gastrointestinal mucus. This leads to attacks on your gut wall by acid and enzymes.

There are nutritional factors that aid in the support of good mucosal health and boost normal intestinal permeability. Some of these factors are antioxidants, probiotics, digestive enzymes, dietary fiber, and mucosal nutrients. Some of these nutrient products help to alleviate damage done by leaky gut syndrome.

Common Digestive Problems and the Nervous System

The next category of common digestive problems is that related to the nervous system. We have all experienced a flare-up of stomach problems when we’re stressed. It’s clear that the nervous system has an effect on your gut system. Sometimes it is more apparent when you feel one of the “negative” emotions like anxiety or depression. It isn’t clear whether your emotions cause common digestive problems, but they certainly affect them. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders, and the one that seems to have the most effect on the digestive system.

Once you experience anxiety, your brain sets your body into the “fight or flight” mode, taking energy away from certain parts of the body, to send to your muscles and hormone system. The energy required by your gut system, to encourage healthy digestion, is not as necessary under stressful conditions. Ordinarily, since anxiety is supposed to be a temporary condition, you might not even know you have any common digestive problems. But, in our stress-filled world, your body doesn’t have time to recover from one anxiety situation before another has developed. Thus, you end up with significant stomach issues.

In the case of anxiety, you can see a mutual relationship between stomach issues and anxiety in another way. For example, indigestion can cause discomfort and pain, both of which can lead to anxiety. Gas can lead to chest pain which typically brings on anxiety. Any kind of long term discomfort can bring on anxiety, which then can lead to increased indigestion and poor nutrition.

In the same way, neurotransmitters like serotonin can alter your mood and affect your stomach. Low serotonin can cause anxiety, and anxiety can lower serotonin. Since your gut system produces much of the serotonin in your body, low levels can lead to any number of common digestive problems.

Researchers have found a close communication between your brain and your gut system. This function of your gut system is called the enteric nervous system. There is a close communication between these two organ systems, causing scientists to coin the enteric nervous system your “second brain”. Your second brain contains more than 100 million neurons, more than your spinal cord or your peripheral nervous system. This second brain, working along with the one in your head, influences your mental state and has an effect on certain diseases in other parts of your body.

It may be that your second brain plays a major role in influencing your moods. One example would be the feeling of “butterflies” in your gut. This appears to be a part of your stress response mechanism. Moods of all kinds can be significantly influenced by your gut system through communication between gut and brain (by way of the vagus nerve).

common digestive problems and alleviating depression Some medications used to alleviate depression also have a detrimental effect on your gut system. Ninety-five percent of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, is found in your gut. A type of medication used to help with depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increases serotonin and decreases the symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome is often caused by increased levels of serotonin in the gut system.

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