In previous articles we have defined food allergies, discussed how they develop, and given a general overview of symptoms. In this article we will cover the process of digestion in greater depth, and talk more specifically about IBS symptoms.
Digestion Basics: What Everyone Should Know
Our digestive tract is a 30 foot long muscular tube that begins at our mouth and ends at our anus. Its 3 main functions are:
1. Transform food into absorbable nourishment.
2. Fend off invading organisms and toxins.
3. Expel waste products.
Ingested food travels down the digestive tract through a process called peristalsis, a wave-like muscle contraction. During peristalsis different enzymes, bacteria and acids critical to digestion are secreted in a highly specialized and coordinated process. Only when the food is completely broken down should it pass through the digestive tract's tissue wall to be absorbed by our bodies’ cells.
The Immune System in our Digestive Tract
Around 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract. Its primary role is to decide whether to “ok” or attack a food we ingest. When our immune system doesn't like something in our tube, it fights with inflammation and excess mucus. If the immune system is constantly on the offensive, these reactions can damage our digestive tract. Inflammation deteriorates the intestinal lining, resulting in something called “Leaky Gut syndrome.”
IBS Symptoms: A Closer Look
Constipation: Indicates a traffic back-up in your small intestine and colon. When bowel movements are difficult to pass, extremely firm, pellet-like, include bloating, distension, abdominal pain or a sense of incomplete evacuation, you may be constipated. There are three major side effects of constipation:
1. Malabsorption of nutrients, leading to many health problems.
2. Delayed waste removal, which sometimes causes the reabsorption of waste products.
3. Painful passing because of drier and harder stools.
Diarrhea: Indicates that too much water is being retained, and not absorbed, in the digestive tract.
There are three potential causes:
1. Food may be moving through the tube too quickly for the formation of solid stools. This happens when the peristalsis speeds up in order to expel a perceived threat. Either the food goes up (vomit) or comes down (diarrhea)
2. An immune response which causes irritation or inflammation of the intestines.
3. Toxins in the digestive tract can force the water flow into the tube rather than being absorbed.
Regardless of the cause, a loss of water that should be absorbed leads to dehydration and poor absorption of nutrients.
Gas & Bloating: A natural and normal by-product of food processing, excessive or odorous gas indicates faulty digestion. This is most likely because of a food allergy or a bacterial imbalance in your digestive tract.
Why Medication Fails
If you suffer from IBS or IBD, you have probably been introduced to a long and ever-growing list of medications. Unfortunately, drugs treat individual symptoms and not the cause. Additionally, many of the drugs have detrimental side effects.
6 types of drugs to treat IBS symptoms:
1. Bowel movement speed modifiers (Zelnorm, Lotronex, Calmactin)
2. Laxatives for constipation (MiraLax, Perdiem, Ex-Lax, Milk of Magnesia)
3. Antidiarrheal (Imodium, Lomotil)
4. Abdominal cramp pain relievers (Donnatal, Levsin, Levbid, NuLev, Bentyl, Pro-Banthine)
5. Antidepressants (Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil, Elavil)
6. Narcotic analgesics (Vicodin, Demerol, Xanax)
As you can see, none of these is an IBS “cure” because no such medical cure exists. You may feel relief temporarily, but this is because of a forced biochemical modification, not a permanent resolution. Once you stop using the medications, the symptoms will return. With over 20 million Americans diagnosed with IBS currently, it is time to address this disease with honesty and transparency. Many doctors and scientists agree- we must assess food allergies and digestion in order to transform our health once and for all.
What can we do if we suspect we have an allergy?
There is good news. We can successfully eliminate the symptoms by discovering what foods serve as our triggers. By excluding the trigger food from our diet, the intestinal inflammation quickly recedes and the symptoms disappear.
The Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay panel (ELISA) is a blood test that examines 96 of the most common foods. The food categories tested include: animal products, dairy, meat and fowl, grains, nuts, vegetable, seafood and fruits By undergoing the ELISA test, patients are able to measure both IgE, IgA and IgG immune responses. Ann Arbor Holistic Health provides a simple means that combines both tests.
2. Supplements and Vitamins
Vitamin D, essential fatty acids, and probiotics are recommended supplements that help speed up our recovery process. Supplements such as quercetin and curcumin are plant-based herbs that lessen inflammation and ease our symptoms. Once we know what food is causing us problems, we can jump start our healing with some of these natural remedies.
Most doctors offer a IgE blood test called RAST (short for radioallergosorbent test). Though this method is extremely accurate in determining IgE based food allergies, it does not address the issue of non-IgE allergies at all. The ELISA food allergy food allergy test offered at Ann Arbor Holistic Health also tests for IgE food allergies.
4. Elimination Diets
Though elimination diets are accurate and cost-effective, they involve a long and arduous process. Most food intolerances are caused by the following foods: Dairy, wheat, egg, soy, peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts. Removing one of the above from your diet can theoretically indicate the allergen, but as we have seen with Leaky Gut Syndrome, we often have more than one allergen due to years and years of damaging inflammation. Testing for multiple-allergens is very difficult to do with this method.
5. Stool Samples
Stool samples are excellent barometers of human health. Since the majority of the body's immune cells are present in the intestinal tract, a stool sample is the best place to search for evidence of food allergies. However, stool samples are messy and unpleasant.
6. Skin Prick Tests
Skin prick tests, one of the most common methods for IgE immune responses, can be painful and do not detect non-IgE food allergies. They can also be inaccurate with a high level of false positives.
“You are what you eat. Or, even more accurately, you are what you absorb,” says Dr. John Wycoff, an osteopath based out of East Lansing who believes hormonal balance, allergies and diet are integral to health. As reactionary medicine and over-usage of prescribed chemicals fail to alleviate our pain and discomfort, more and more physicians are embracing holistic approaches to healing. Through a deeper understanding of what our bodies do and do not absorb, and how these physiological responses affect us, we can take charge of our wellness and move towards a brighter, more fulfilling future. If you are experiencing any of the listed symptoms, please give us a call today.