Naturopathic medicine has long espoused the connection between digestive health and overall wellness. The internal ‘terrain’ of the body determines susceptibility to illness and the general state of health, and has everything to do with the ecosystem of the gut. The term ‘dysbiosis’ refers to an imbalance of this internal ecosystem, a complex environment of microflora, chemical signaling, and immune activity. Disturbances of the gut can have far-reaching effects including digestive symptoms, immune issues like allergies or autoimmunity, and mood or neurological conditions. Fortunately, naturopathic medicine specializes in identifying and resolving imbalances of the gut.
A growing body of evidence elucidates the mechanisms connecting gut ecology and physical or psychological ailments. The gut has long been referred to as the ‘second brain’ because it is rich with its own nerve supply called the enteric nervous system. This intricate nervous system responds to changes in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, a chemical that affects mood and sleep. Although serotonin affects the mind and is considered the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, the majority of circulating serotonin is produced in the gut and is essential for digestive function. Hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol, also affect the gut.
A naturopathic approach to any health concern, whether physical, mental or emotional, includes attention to nutrition and digestive health. For many patients experiencing depression and anxiety, making dietary modifications and treating the health of the gut can make a profound impact on their mood. Assessing digestive function, addressing overgrowth of unfavorable organisms in the gut, replenishing beneficial probiotic flora, and repairing damage to the gut mucosa are all components of a gut repair protocol.
Evaluation of digestive function and the intestinal microbiome may be part of a clinical evaluation using digestive stool analysis testing. Such functional medicine tests are unique from routine colonoscopy or conventional stool tests, and are available through naturopathic physicians and other holistic doctors. With this information, an individualized plan can be made to remove unfavorable organisms, such as overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria or yeast like Candida albicans. Next, supplementation of high-potency, multi-strain probiotics containing Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium replenish protective gut flora. These organisms have many roles, from maintaining proper digestion and elimination to regulating immune function. Addressing digestive impairments and modifying the diet to remove food sensitivities is crucial in the gut recovery process, and may require several months of strict avoidance of gut irritants like wheat and other gluten-containing grains. Finally, repair of the gut lining using herbs and nutrients that rebuild the protective mucous membrane is the final phase of gut recovery.
Whether you suffer from depression and anxiety, digestive complaints, other chronic illness or simply want to improve your overall health, treating the gut is the foundation of wellness. Spring is a perfect time to get your gut health back on track with a naturopathic digestive health assessment.