Gut or Digestion Problems?

woman with gut issues

Digestion Trouble? It’s all in your Gut!

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to your gut.  We’re still learning a lot about how the interaction between the digestive system and the rest of the body works. We know that the intestinal flora in your digestive system can affect your body’s ability to perform several critical functions that affect your overall health, such as:

  • Absorbing and producing vitamins and minerals,
  • Regulating hormones,
  • Effective digestion,
  • Responding to the immune system, and
  • Eliminating toxins

For those of us who already suffer from gastrointestinal or digestion disorders such as IBS, Celiac disease, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, SIBO or leaky gut syndrome, the link between gut and mental health becomes more pronounced. Our gastrointestinal (GI) issues can even be the root cause of many symptoms throughout the body.

Given how extensive the influence of the gut is on these essential bodily functions, it’s clear that looking after our gut health is one of the most important ways we can look after our overall health. There are many ways to take care of your gut, these are two factors that influence bowel flora directly: prebiotics and probiotics.

How does the connection between the gut and the body work?

In between the layers of your digestive tract is something called the enteric nervous system (ENS).  This is made up of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells lining your GI tract literally from top to bottom.

The ENS sends messages between the gut and the brain. That’s why the gut is often called the “second brain.” As you’ll see from the symptoms listed below, the messages that the second brain sends can be very persuasive!

How can you tell if your gut is imbalanced?

The ideal balance of gut bacteria is about 85% good bacteria to 15% bad bacteria out of about 100 trillion bacteria that naturally live in our gut.

This balance can be upset in the course of daily life by caffeine, processed foods, stress, long-term use of medications and definitely antibiotics. In fact, one course of antibiotics can leave your gut bacteria weaker for up to four years!

As we age, the natural decrease in our stomach acid (which plays an important role in the growth of good bacteria) enables bad bacteria to get stronger.

The main culprit of a bacteria imbalance, though, is over consumption of sugars. To make an immediate positive impact on your gut health, it’s essential to limit simple carbohydrates like sugars found in sodas, desserts, and processed foods like flour products.

There are all kinds of indicators of an imbalanced gastrointestinal system. These can be symptoms like:

  • Bloated, gassy and distended abdomen
  • Extreme bowel movement patterns like diarrhea or constipation (or a fluctuation of both)
  • Skin conditions including acne, rashes, psoriasis and eczema flare-ups
  • Constant fatigue despite getting an adequate amount of sleep
  • ‘Down’, depressed or sad emotions, irritability
  • Candida or yeast overgrowth
  • Weight loss due to lack of an appetite or cravings causing weight gain due to poorly absorbed nutrients

How can we help our gut communicate best?

You can help heal your gut by providing it with what it needs to keep the necessary balance of good and bad bacteria.  This helps your gut take care of its biggest job – regulating digestion. That way, the gut’s messages to the body and mind are clear, efficient, and healthy.

How? It comes down to maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and high quality rest and supporting your gastrointestinal health with both prebiotics and probiotics!

Prebiotics vs Probiotics – What’s the difference?

Probiotics

These are the healthy, “good” bacteria that naturally live in the colon of our digestive systems. When consumed in the right amounts, probiotics can have great benefits to our health overall. Once in the colon, probiotic bacteria multiply, helping to regulate the balance between the good and bad bacteria that live there. You might be familiar with certain kinds of probiotics, as there are a few that have specific health benefits like Lactobacillus acidophilus.  Diversity of gut bacteria is what keeps us healthy, that’s why it’s important to consume a variety of different strains.

There are a variety of natural food sources for probiotics, largely found in fermented foods. A few fantastic choices for probiotics are:

  • Kimchi
  • Unpasteurized sauerkraut – natural, made with salt not vinegar
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Pickles

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that help probiotics grow and remain in your digestive system.  They’re known as “food” for your good bacteria.

Less information has been publicized about where you can find prebiotics, but that could be because you’ve been eating them this whole time! Prebiotics are a non-digestible fibre source that’s plentiful in lots of raw foods:

  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions (which still contain prebiotics once cooked)
  • Chicory root
  • Dandelion greens
  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Jicama
  • Under-ripe bananas

Taking probiotics alone is a good beginning.  We want to encourage the colonies of bacteria to grow and support a healthy gastrointestinal system.  That’s why it’s important to eat prebiotics also to ensure that the probiotics can multiply and do their work effectively.

Consume a combination of prebiotic and probiotic foods on a daily basis, to help replenish and maintain a healthy digestive system for overall health.

Is a supplement necessary to have enough prebiotics and probiotics?

Getting your nutrition from whole foods is always the preferred route to optimal health, but sometimes you need a little help. In that case, look for:

Prebiotic supplements: Prebiotics are actually really easy to get in a well-balanced diet, and due to the nature of the fibre they contain, that’s really the best way to get them. If you are looking for a little extra push, try using chicory root as a coffee substitute, or using a powdered acacia gum (gum arabic) in a morning smoothie. Having these kinds of foods in your diet can assure you that your gut bacteria is well fed and well cared for.

Probiotic supplements: You should be looking for a supplement containing CFU (Colony Forming Units) in the billions. The generally recommended dose can vary between 30 to 150 billion CFUs per day, taken in up to four doses. To maintain diversity of gut bacteria, aim to supplement with different stains of good bacteria.

How long should I take probiotics?

You can safely stay on probiotics indefinitely.  We definitely recommend them if you’re on, or coming off of: antibiotics, the birth control pill or radiation treatment.

If you choose to supplement, remember to take it at breakfast when the bacteria have the best chance of surviving the acidic environment of the gut. Whether or not supplementation is a regular part of your supplement regimen remember that taking probiotics after a course of antibiotics is one of the best ways to ensure your full and healthy recovery from the inside out.

Just as we take care of our muscles and our minds by feeding them the things they need to stay strong and healthy, so too must we take care of our “second brain”, our gut health, by feeding it what it needs to perform in optimal health.

Prebiotics and probiotics are the two primary ways of keeping your digestion healthy, happy, and functioning optimally! Remember, while everyone can take prebiotics and probiotics, from children to pregnant people, to the elderly – everyone is unique.

We would love to help you determine which foods and supplements are best for you and your family. Please book an appointment to ask our naturopathic doctors for their recommendation of both the type and dosage that could be right for you.  We also offer many other options to improve your digestion.

 

 

 

 

 

What is Fatty Liver?

picture of a healthy liver without fatty liver disease

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

What is Fatty Liver (NAFLD)?

NAFLD is a condition where there are fat deposits in the liver in someone who is not an alcoholic.  The condition is thought to affect anywhere from 1 in 3 adults in the US and 1 in 10 children.  NAFLD is the leading cause of liver disease in Western countries.

Why is NAFLD a problem?

NAFLD itself is not necessarily serious but it can progress into another condition known as NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). The fat deposits create inflammation in the liver and over time can damage the liver, leading to scarring, cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Severe liver cirrhosis can necessitate a liver transplant.

What are the symptoms of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

You may have NAFLD and have no symptoms, the majority of people with the condition have no symptoms.  Children may have symptoms of abdominal pain and fatigue.  Your doctor may feel enlargement of your liver on physical exam.  

What causes Fatty Liver?

NAFLD is associated with Metabolic Syndrome – a group of symptoms (syndrome) that includes signs and symptoms such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, diabetes or pre-diabetes and being overweight.

How is NAFLD diagnosed?

A blood test for liver enzymes may be abnormal or not.  A liver ultrasound may show NAFLD.  NASH can only be diagnosed by liver biopsy.

What elses causes it?

Fat accumulation in the liver can also be caused by excess alcohol intake, certain medications, viral hepatitis, autoimmune liver disease, and metabolic or inherited liver disease.

What can be done about fatty liver disease?

In one study, mung bean sprouts that had been germinated for 4 days plus HIIT training improved sugar and fat metabolism, as well as liver function and cellular appearance in rats with NAFLD. Since insulin appears to play a significant role in fatty liver, adopting a low glycemic index, low glycemic load diet that requires less insulin is a good idea.  There are several other naturopathic interventions for fatty liver.

For more help with fatty liver disease, book an appointment now with one of our naturopathic doctors.

5 Factors Affecting Your Kidneys

picture of kidneys, for kidney health

Maintaining the Health of Your Kidneys

Your kidneys sit close to your back, just beneath (protected by) the ribs in the midback. They are just under the red blobs in the diagram above (the red blobs are your adrenal glands). They filter about 140 liters of blood each day and produce about 1-2 liters of urine.  Their job is to remove waste products from the blood for excretion in the urine.

Factors that influence kidney health:

  1. Diet – inflammatory foods and high blood sugars will damage the kidneys.  Studies have shown that removing inflammatory foods and better managing blood sugar (especially for diabetics), can improve kidney function.  Foods that tend to provoke inflammation include: sugars, cooking oils, trans fats, red meat, processed meat, refined grains, additives like MSG plus any foods that you are sensitive to such as dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts or beans.
  2. Fiber intake – higher dietary fiber intake improves kidney function.
  3. Sugar and artificial sweetener intake – a recent study found that intake of greater than 2 artificially sweetened sodas per day lead to a decline in kidney function.
  4. Protein intake – high protein diets have been discouraged in the past as putting too much strain on the kidneys.  In healthy kidneys, protein consumption is not of concern.  In fact, one recent study showed that pregnant women with higher protein intake, produced children with better functioning kidneys. The only people who need be concerned with limiting protein intake, are those with kidney disease.
  5. Caffeine – there appears to be no association between caffeine intake and kidney disease.  In fact, one study found a lower risk for kidney stones in those who consumed more caffeine.

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

References:

Xu H, Huang X, Risérus U, Krishnamurthy VM, Cederholm T, Arnlöv J, Lindholm B, Sjögren P, Carrero JJ. Dietary fiber, kidney function, inflammation, and mortality risk. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Dec 5;9(12):2104-10. doi: 10.2215/CJN.02260314. Epub 2014 Oct 3.

Xu H1, Sjögren P, Ärnlöv J, Banerjee T, Cederholm T, Risérus U, Lindholm B, Lind L, Carrero JJ. A proinflammatory diet is associated with systemic inflammation and reduced kidney function in elderly adults. J Nutr. 2015 Apr;145(4):729-35. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.205187. Epub 2015 Jan 28.

Lin J1, Curhan GC. Associations of sugar and artificially sweetened soda with albuminuria and kidney function decline in women. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2011 Jan;6(1):160-6. doi: 10.2215/CJN.03260410. Epub 2010 Sep 30.

Miliku K, Voortman T, van den Hooven EH, Hofman A, Franco OH, Jaddoe VW. First-trimester maternal protein intake and childhood kidney outcomes: the Generation R Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jul;102(1):123-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.102228. Epub 2015 May 13.

Ferraro PM, Taylor EN, Gambaro G, Curhan GC. Caffeine intake and the risk of kidney stones. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Dec;100(6):1596-603. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.089987. Epub 2014 Oct 1.

What is a detox?

what is a liver detox liver picture

Liver Detoxification

What is a detox?

Detoxification (detox) is the process whereby the liver breaks down toxins and body waste to prepare them for excretion either through the urine or the bowel.  There are two steps, known as phase I and phase II liver detoxification.  Waste must pass completely through both steps and then be excreted to be removed from your body.  The steps require certain nutrients to be performed properly including: vitamin B6, vitamin B12, active folic acid (5MTHF), indole-3-carbinol, glucarate, N-acetyl cysteine, glutathione, etc.

A detox involves supplying the specific nutrients required for complete, efficient liver detoxification and ensuring proper function of the organs of elimination – the liver, colon, kidneys and skin.

What are the benefits of doing a detox?

Toxins build up in our bodies through eating the wrong foods, pesticides/herbicides sprayed on our food, exposure to pollution through our environment and living an unhealthy lifestyle. Sometimes our bodies need assistance in getting rid of these toxins and this is the purpose of a detox.  The benefit of doing this is to remove toxins, chemicals and waste that may have adverse effects on our bodies.  Some are hormone disruptors, some may be cancer promoters, some affect fertility and some just make us feel sick or sluggish.

When is it a good time to do a detox?

Detoxes can be done at any time during the year if you want to address a certain condition. However, if you are looking to do a general cleanse, then the optimal times are spring and fall.

What are the side effects?

Everyone responds differently to detoxing. Some people who are more sensitive and/or have a lot of toxicity may experience headaches, low energy and moodiness but these symptoms usually clear up within the first week or two.

What detox is right for me?

There are many different detoxes available, although many of the health food store variety don’t do very much other than cause frequent bowel movements through laxative herbs and fiber supplements. These are not recommended nor particularly beneficial.

General liver/colon cleanses, digestive cleanses, Candida diets and heavy metal detoxes are some examples of detoxes that our naturopathic doctors may recommend depending on your specific condition.

What’s involved in a detox?

A detox usually involves making some necessary dietary modifications along with 1 or 2 nutritional and/or herbal supplements. They usually last about 3-6 weeks.