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As we have discussed in the digestive system lessons, understanding the processes of digestion allows us to better understand and treat the problems with digestion. Because of the many different interconnected aspects in digestion, the problems that arise in the digestive process can be multiple. However we can think of them as falling into the following categories:
Colon and Microbiome)
Certainly all areas of the digestive tract do not exist in isolation and are dependent on one another but problems with digestion can occur in just one of these. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list and solutions to problems with digestion. It is meant to help you better think about what could be occurring so you can find a solution faster and with a more holistic outcome. So with that in mind we will give examples of some of the problems and how they are handled with holistic health treatments.
First a little on the basics. The main purpose of digestion is to breakdown the food we eat into macro-nutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc). Enzymes are the link that takes the food from what we see on our plate to the nutrition we get from it. Problems occurring with enzymes can occur at any stage where enzymes are supposed to be secreted. To learn more on this see the role of enzymes in the digestive system. There are two main areas where enzymes are secreted, the stomach and the small intestine.
The question you need to ask yourself is what would interrupt my enzymes from being secreted? To that question, the answers are multiple but there is a short list that is more common.
Age related decline in digestive enzymes
So how do you know if this is one of your problems with digestion? Two of the most common symptoms associated with this are gas and bloating and similarly a feeling of fullness with small meals. In some cases there may also be a dull pain associated with the bloated feeling.
Because there is a general feeling of not being well with eating around mealtime it can lead to a doctor’s visit. Most doctor’s will prescribe an antiacid pill for this. Some common examples of this often to over prescriptions are omeprazole, ranitidine, pantoprazole, etc. This is unfortunate because while it does take care of the pain and discomfort it does not aid in the actual digestion of the food. In the end your problems with digestion leads to a problem with vitamin deficiencies.
The solution can be as simple as supporting the deficiency of digestive enzyme with actual enzymes. In some cases the solution should focus more on the digestive process as a whole. It is important to be cautious with using enzymes as those with ulcers and gastritis can be worsened by these.
So lets say you get all the macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients broken down, now what. They need to get into the body and this is where absorption comes in. A common example of an absorption problems is with vitamin B 12. Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that is absorbed in the small intestine but requires a specific helper in order to be absorbed, called intrinsic factor.
Some people are born with a deficiency in this helper due to an autoimmunity to the intrinsic factor. In this case the body makes antibodies to the the helper causing the immune system to destroy them. This can be present early on in life or be acquired over time. The end result is a marked decline in b12 absorption.
A similar problem can occur from age as our bodies decrease the amount of intrinsic factor that is produced leading to decreased absorption. So how do you know if this is one of your problems with digestion? Most people don’t know. However, the most common symptom associated with B 12 deficiency is fatigue. Still there are many other broad ranging symptoms that can occur from B12 deficiency involving the nervous system.
After making it through two of the most important steps in the digestive process, breakdown and absorption, there is one final barrier to make it through. That is the immune system. We discuss the role of immune system in detail here in immune system role. So check that out for more details.
With regard to the digestive system, there are several issues that can arise because the bulk of your immune system is centered around the digestive tract. This acts like a security system for the body to defend against pathogens and other unwanted invaders. As a result immune problems that occur in the digestive tract can cause a host of problems. These are typically associated with autoimmune disease such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s but can also be more of a Leaky Gut Syndrome. While these have been extensively described and differentiated in conventional gastroenterology, there is an alternative explanation you may be interested in.
The idea is that the immune system in the digestive tract gets triggered by a protein in food and begins making an antibody to that protein. In some cases the body makes an antibody that is similar in structure to the proteins in the digestive tract leading to the autoimmune condition. The body then creates antibodies against the digestive tract with each encounter of that food.
The fundamental treatment in this case is to determine which food or foods are causing the auto-antibody production. There is also an association of these autoimmune conditions with bacterial health and the Microbiome
As the food passes into the last part of the digestive tract you, there is a final set of problems with digestion people can encounter. The bulk of these problems are related to the balance of bacteria and other microbes in the colon. This has been explored extensively in other posts and you can check out role of bacteria in digestion for more details.
To give you a taste for the level of the complexity, the number of microbes in your colon outnumber the number of cells in your body many folds. There are multiple strains and species as well as different kinds of microbes (like yeast and fungi and parasites). Most of these microbes are beneficial but they have to be kept in relative balance of one another. Multiple thinks effect this balance like transit time of your digestive tract (start to finish) and the foods consumed.
The most common symptoms associated with colon and bacterial problems are diarrhea and constipation which of course can have many different sources other than the microbiome.
As you can see problems with digestion can have many different sources. This post gives you a basic understanding of why and where those problems might arise. To dig into these details more and find a solution to your problems with digestion sign up for health mentor or check out the book, Gut Check.