Digestion is the centre of health. Without the proper absorption of nutrients in the gut, none of our other organs can fully operate as intended. Ensuring that both the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) as well as the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) are delivered to our body systems is the first step towards optimal health.

Digestive conditions treated by Naturopathic Doctors:

  • IBS
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Colitis
  • Constipation
  • Gas + bloating
  • Heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

Gut health

SIBO, bloating, digestion

Our gut is where we absorb the nutrients that act as building blocks for almost all of our biological processes. It is also where the majority of our immune system is parked, so that we can best identify and eliminate pathogens. The gut can also be an area of great discomfort and annoyance if things are not operating smoothly. 

We see a lot of digestive concerns in our practice. This can be due to an unidentified food reaction, to an imbalance in the gut microbiome, or to an enzymes deficiency, which is often secondary to a chronic stress. To complicate things, the gut plays a big role in hormone elimination, so a disruption of digestive function can compound a hormonal concern. 

How we address this:

  • A thorough intake usually gives us a pretty solid idea of what the issue is
  • Test: we will often do lab testing to confirm our suspicion. These tests include SIBO breath testing, comprehensive stool analysis, parasitology, stomach acidity testing, etc.
  • Deep dietary dives: we eliminate obvious allergens, and focus on boosting not only the nutrients in the diet, but the body’s ability to absorb those foods by boosting digestive enzyme secretion (including pancreatic, liver and gallbladder function)
  • Repair the microbiome: once we’ve determined if there is too much bad bacteria, not enough good bacteria, or both, we create a plan to correct for the imbalance using fibre and prebiotic foods, fermented food, probiotics and antimicrobial herbs and supplements. 
  • In some resistance cases, bacterial or yeast biofilms are involved which can be addressed as well.
  • The last step is to sort out what caused the issue in the first place. Is there an underlying cause of slow GI transit (like hypothyroidism)? Is the stress response crippling the digestive tract? Is there autoimmunity? Traumatic brain injury? Diabetes? Infection? Mold toxicity? Adhesions? 

How your digestion works

Your digestive tract is a specialized tube with each section playing an irreplaceable role in the breakdown and absorption of food. We must ensure that each section is fully functioning and symptom-free.

Digestion in the Mouth

Digestion actually begin prior to putting the food in our mouth. Once we see, hear, smell or even THINK about food, the salivary glands in our mouth start to secrete digestive juices which begin to break down the sugars in our food. It also lubricates the food as it is mashed up into a bolus to be easily swallowed and passed down the esophagus into the stomach.

Digestion in the Stomach

When the stomach receives the signal that food is on it’s way it secretes acid that serves two purposes:

  1. Sanitation of microorganisms entering on the food
    • Stomach acid kill many bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites hitching a ride on your meal. This keeps the upper GI tract low in microbial diversity and prevent invasion of lower GI regions by harmful bacteria.
  2. Digestion
    • The churning and acid of the stomach act to break down food, especially helping to breakdown proteins in our meal. The rest of our body is protected from the burn of acid as the stomach seals off the its contents from the rest of the body with two sphincters (circular muscle); the lower esophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach, and the pyloric sphincter at the bottom. If the upper sphincter does not close properly, some acid can splash into the esophagus causing pain (heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux). The stomach itself is protected from being harmed by acid because it is coated with a thick mucous layer. Some bacteria (H. pylori) can damage this mucous layer making the stomach lining sensitive to harm.

Digestion in the Small Intestine

The small intestine is where nutrient absorption occurs. The pancreas, liver, gallbladder and intestinal cells themselves aid in the last stages of food breakdown. So essentially, at the end of the small intestine the original food no longer exists. It is now the end product as protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fibre. In a highly coordinated manner the first three components are absorbed into the blood stream to be built back up into many different things that our bodies need. The fibre and any remaining nutrients then pass along to the large intestine.

Digestion in the Large Intestine

This is where we house a huge amount of bacteria. The bacteria digests any remaining nutrients and some of the fibre, and they help us in a couple of ways:

  1. Vitamin production — including K and Bs
  2. Immune system regulation — these bacteria interact with our immune cells to keep us on our immunological toes. This dance helps us to remember when to react and when to relax. When this balance is off we can develop allergies and even autoimmunity.