SOUTH BAY TOTAL HEALTH
Health Care in Harmony with Nature
Dr. Arlan Cage, ND, LAc

 

Gastro-Intestinal System Disorders

"When in Doubt, Heal the Gut"
Old Naturopathic Maxim

 

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Our GI Tract: The Root of Health
Our Gastro-Intestinal system, or GI system, consists of a muscular tube that runs from our mouths, to its terminal end at the anus. Along its path the tube changes in diameter as specific functions it needs to accomplish change. The primary functions of the GI system are to digest and absorb nutrients, eliminate waste products, and to provide an immune barrier against any potential pathogens that may enter the tube along with the food and beverages we consume. The main organs of the GI system are the Mouth, Esophagus, Stomach, Small Intestine and Large Intestine, or Colon. Each of these is further subdivided by appearance or function, and these subdivisions will not concern us here. The GI system also has several accessory organs which secrete various digestive enzymes into the tube to aid with the digestion of food, specifically, the Liver, Gallbladder, and Pancreas.

Major Functions of Each Organ
The Mouth chops up food into small enough pieces to swallow, and starts digestion with the secretion of saliva. The Esophagus portion then carries the food into our Stomach, where most of the main digestion process begins. The esophagus is relatively unsophisticated compared to other portions of the GI tube - its only main function is to move the food forward. The Stomach secretes acid and a precursor digestive enzyme called Pepsinogen. In the presence of an acid environment this enzyme is converted to its active form called Pepsin which begins the digestion of Proteins as the Stomach mixes the food. There is some evidence to suggest that raw foods may contain enzymes which are also activated by stomach acid to begin the digestion of fats and carbohydrates. These naturally occurring enzymes, however, our destroyed by cooking, and diets deficient in raw foods will not start their digestion in the stomach, the way our GI system is designed, which will place a larger burden on later organs along the GI tract.

The stomach has the largest diameter of any portion of the GI tract since it acts as a reservoir to store the pre-digested food. It then meters out the food mixture, now called Chyme, into the Small Intestine. This is where the remainder of digestion takes place and the process of actually absorbing nutrients into our bloodstream begins.

In the Small Intestine, the highly acidic Chyme from the Stomach causes hormonal signals to be sent to the gallbladder and Pancreas - which then secrete their contents into the Small Intestine to aid in the digestion process. As the Chyme moves through the Small Intestine the enzymes break down food into small enough particles to be absorbed by the specialized cells on the SI lining called the Mucosal Layer.

These mucosal cells are highly specialized and contain still more enzymes on their surface to perform the actual absorption process. By the end of the Small Intestine any nutrients present should have been absorbed and the chyme now moves into the Large Intestine, whose function is to re-absorb the water that was added to the mixture in its path through the Small Intestine. When this is complete, our bodies excrete the now compacted fecal matter as wastes.

The entire length of this GI tube has embedded in the muscular walls a series of specialized Lymph Nodes called Peyer's Patches. Their function is to store dormant white blood cells, part of our immune system, and monitor the material being absorbed for anything dangerous. Roughly 75% of our body's immune cells our found in these Peyer's Patches lining our GI Tract, making the GI system the largest Immune System organ in the body.

When in Doubt, Heal the Gut!
An old adage from Naturopathic pioneers says to always start any healing process with the gut, in other words, the GI tract. They recognized its importance for absorption of nutrients, without which every organ in the body will be deficient and unable to perform its functions properly. The also understood the role of the GI tract in the operation of the Immune System and Detoxifying the body of wastes and poisons.

Lack of fiber in the diet is one of the critical root causes for many GI conditions. As mentioned earlier, the GI tract is a muscular tube. Like every other muscle in the body, it needs regular exercise to be healthy. Fiber in our diet provides bulk to the food being moved through the GI tract. This bulk causes the muscles to squeeze harder, i.e. exercise, in order to accomplish its tasks. Without this constant work, low fiber diets cause the walls of the GI to become soft, flabby and more prone to leakages.

As larger than normal food particles and other contaminants from the environment leak past our GI lining, they play havoc with our immune system. This Leaky Gut phenomena is one cause of the epidemic of food allergies and autoimmune disease we have in the U.S. today. It contributes to Arthritis, Chronic Infections and Immune System malfunction.

Problems in our food supply also affect the GI tract. Over-hybridized foods, genetically modified foods, poisons from pesticides and fertilizers, and simply the lack of traditional variety in our diet all contribute to food sensitivities and allergies.

Food allergies and local inflammation of the GI mucosal layer are the true cause of most cases of heartburn or acid reflux, NOT an excess of stomach acid. The lack of fiber when the food matter hits the large intestines contributes to a condition known as Diverticulosis -- the presence of small outpouchings through the wall, caused by a lack of muscular integrity. When these outpouchings become filled with impacted fecal matter then can inflame the tissue causing extreme pain.

The proper functioning of the GI tract truly is the most critical function for maintaining health of the organism. Only by understanding the importance of diet can you be ensured of long term health.

Conditions Treated
Inflammatory Conditions:
IBS
Colitis
Crohn's Disease
Acid Reflux/Heartburn
Ulcers
Diverticulitis
Diverticulosis
Gallbladder Conditions
GB Inflammation/Cholecystitis
Bile Sludge
Gallstones/Cholelithiasis

Pancreas Disorders
Pancreatitis
Pancreatic Insufficiency
Other GI Conditions
Leaky Gut Disease
Allergies
Arthritis
Auto-Immune Conditions
Eczema
Psoriasis
Colon Cancer
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