Treating digestive disorders are right up the naturopathic doctor’s alley. We LOVE treating the digestive system because….
Digestive health is critical to overall health. Hippocrates once said “all disease begins in the gut” and a couple thousand-ish years later, science is finally catching up. The microbiome (see definitions below) is a booming area of research right now. Variations in the microbiome has been linked with the development of all kinds of conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease to asthma, autism, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disease, obesity… Plus, naturopathic medicine has always emphasized a having a healthy digestive system. In fact, a common saying in college was “first, heal the gut”.
We’re good at it! Naturopathic treatments are really effective at solving digestive problems. We have a ton of tools to help regulate and improve the function of your digestive system and to optimize the health of your microbiome.
What Exactly Is the Microbiome?
The microbiome refers to the collective genetic material of all the microbes living in us and on us. “Microbiota” refers to the microbes (microscopic organisms) themselves. Microbial cells outnumber our own human cells 10:1 and populate our bodies in dynamic communities.
Diversity: a measure of how many different species and, dependent on the diversity indices, how evenly distributed they are in a microbiome. Higher diversity appears to be a marker for good health. While lower diversity is considered a marker of microbial imbalance and has been found in autoimmune diseases and obesity. Diversity appears to decline as we age, as lower diversity is found in older adults.
Dysbiosis: a disturbance or imbalance in the microbial communities either in or on the body that can be caused by environmental factors such as diet, stress, antibiotics, oral contraceptive pills, and lifestyle. Dysbiosis has been associated with health problems such as, including inflammatory bowel disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Commonly Treated Digestive Issues
Development and maintenance of a diverse and robust microbiome is critical for good health.
But the microbiome is not the only part we need to worry about. Our digestive tract spans from “gums to bum” aka “mouth to anus” and is actually considered external to our body. It includes several organs such as the stomach, small & large intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas that work together to ensure that food is digested, absorbed, used or eliminated.
We need to make sure that each of these organs are functioning well. Plus we need to make sure our digestive system isn’t taking in anything it doesn’t need or that could interfere with the functioning of the system.
See, a healthy digestive system selectively takes in what is needed (macronutrients, minerals, vitamins, etc) and eliminates what is not not needed. And it has systems in place to keep pathogens (bad bugs, viruses or fungi) from causing trouble.
Approximately 70-80% of our immune system is wrapped up in our digestive tract
So if there’s any dysregulation in our digestive health our immune system is right there, ready to respond. This is absolutely a protective mechanism. However, it’s really easy to get our immune system revved up unnecessarily if there is an imbalance here. For example, environmental stressors like medication use or stressful life events can cause intestinal permeability which puts us at high risk for food sensitivities. So we also need to screen for immune system involvement when we asses your digestive health.