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Inflammation and Chronic Digestive Problems

I’m really intrigued by the recent articles that I have been reading about different kinds of digestive problems. The medical profession generally likes to give labels to different diseases. But, my interest now is what they have in common, rather than what makes them different. In other words, what do Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, Leaky Gut, SIBO and Irritable Bowel Syndrome all have in common?

Now, I understand more about the one thing they do share, that they all have in common. And that’s chronic inflammation. The causes are definitely varied, but the end result of chronic inflammation in the gut happens in all of them.

Sometimes it’s because of exposure to toxins, sometimes it is emotional stress, or even nutritional deficiencies. But, no matter what the cause is, there is a need to pay attention to the ramifications of chronic inflammation when looking at truly repairing the digestive system and the related systems that become affected by it.

Micrograph of the Large intestine of person with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Micrograph of the Large intestine of person with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

I agree with Dr Russell Jaffe MD when he says that the time has come to rethink inflammation. He suggests that we need to think about inflammation based on physiology rather than pathology. What that means is that inflammation is not just a parameter that you see on a blood test, but rather what happens to our bodies when there is inflammation and why is it there.

What happens when the body is inflamed?

The four signs of inflammation are “swelling,” “redness,” “heat,” and “pain.” Later “loss of function,” was added as the fifth result of inflammation. Then aside from physical changes, there are significant important psychological symptoms like loss of appetite, apathy, fatigue and an increasing sensitivity to pain.
When inflammation occurs, the body is unable to repair itself. Let’s say you stub your toe. It swells up, get red and hot and then once the body is able to ‘repair’ the inflammation, it returns to normal. With acute inflammation like this, there is a short-term immune response when there is trauma, infection or allergy. The symptoms happen when the immune defense and repair system uses up and runs out of the essential nutrients that it needs to energize and protect to body.

What is difference when there is Chronic Inflammation?

Swollen Digestive Tract

Comparison of Normal and Swollen Digestive Tract

However, when the inflammation is chronic, there is a cumulative effect. We used to think that we needed to fight the symptoms of inflammation. But, now we know that this isn’t the right approach. The inflammation is not acute, therefore, just reducing the current area of inflammation is not enough. Now, the symptoms of chronic inflammation need to be understood as the body’s cry for help.
It’s not a symptom that you want to suppress but rather an invitation to rehabilitate and repair. And we can do that by giving the body what it needs to do that.

Chronic inflammation is what you’re facing when the body is unable to repair itself, and the ‘first-responder cell team’ can’t complete the repair and the immune system is unable to overcome the symptoms presented.

What are the necessary steps to take when dealing with Chronic Inflammation?

The first concept to embrace is Epigenetics. What is that, you may ask? Epigenetics refers to our quality of life. This includes what we choose to eat, drink, and think. Believe it or not, this determines 92% of our quality of life years, whereas genetics only determines 8%.

And what’s more, if, what we refer to as a ‘repair deficit’ continues in the digestive tract, the gut lining is affected. And what happens is that it no longer protects the digestive system as it usually does. Lactose and gluten intolerance, as well as low mucosal antibody (IgA) and inflammatory bowel diseases, can happen or be exacerbated because of maldigestion, dysbiosis, leaky gut or in other ways that result in the digestive function in the gut being compromised, food not assimilated properly or being eliminated adequately.

Now we know that inflammation becomes chronic when there is an unwanted, yet persistent ‘stimulus’. This stimulus may come from free radicals that invade our bodies every day when we eat foods that are prepared with processed vegetable oils like french fries and fried food. Then there are other culprits like most salad dressings, non-fat dried milk, powdered coffee creamer, and of course crackers, cookies, chips, and many other processed foods.

The stimulus might be an allergy to wheat (gluten) which inflames the gut. It may be because of a low-grade infection from an old injury that never healed. Now, we also know that even heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals are a great burden on our bodies. It’s possible that a low-grade infection caused by a dental root canal treatment is the underlying ‘stimulus’.

Unfortunately, there are lots of different reasons and factors to consider that constantly irritate the body.

Chronic inflammation falls below the threshold of perceived pain. You don’t think you feel sick, but a fire is quietly smoldering within you, upsetting the delicate balance among all of the major systems: endocrine, central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular/respiratory.

In a healthy body, these systems communicate with each other. With chronic inflammation, that communication becomes distorted.

Some 20 years after their discovery in 1982, and having endured a storm of criticism from the medical establishment, Warren, 68, and Marshall, 54, found that Helicobacter pylori played a role in gastritis and peptic ulcers. It was only in 2005 that they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Even then, the idea of chronic inflammation was being suggested.

The Nobel Assembly’s comment was, “This was very much against prevailing knowledge and dogma because it was thought that peptic ulcer disease was the result of stress and lifestyle,” and mentioned that it was chronic inflammation that had a damaging effect on arteries, which could lead to high cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes.

Inflammation in Blood Vessels.

Microorganisms can cause inflammation in the blood vessels. The inside of the arteries come under attack. Immune cells are released to fight the inflammation, and then cholesterol is laid down like a Band-aid over a wound. However, the inflammation is still active under that Band-Aid. Then what happens? What happens in time is that the Band-Aid bulges. Maybe a small part of the blood vessel gives way and a blood clot is needed to stop the problem. Then if the clot breaks loose and travels up to your brain, you have a stroke. If it travels up to your heart it results in a heart attack.

Chronic inflammation is a dangerous condition to deal with.
It affects all parts of the body.

The different aspects of Epigenetics all contribute to encouraging a healthy digestive tract. Here are the ones that I’d like to pay attention to first. I’ll address them one by one in follow up posts:

– poor diet,
– inadequate sleep,
– irregular elimination,
– inactivity, and
– stress.

New Ideas about Chronic Inflammation

The San Diego Chapter of Crohns and Colitis Foundation Association – CCFA – held a patient and family education workshop on Saturday, April 12th. It was an extremely informative and well attended workshop. Some of the attendees were people who had just recently been diagnosed, with both Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, while others had been suffering with symptoms of IBD for years. Some were in remission, other now. There were family members of patients who came as well. The common theme was
their desire to know more about the causes of IBD and how to control diarrhea, pain, bloating and other uncomfortable associated symptoms. Lots of pertinent questions were asked and fortunately, many were
well answered.

The meeting was held at La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology. Dr. Mitch Kronenberg PhD, who welcomed us, told us that he was the one to actually start it in 1997. He is now the head of the division of Developmental Immunology. Mitch Kronenberg PhDDr. Kronenberg’s research focuses on what they call ‘natural killer T cells’, known as NKT. He studies their responses to bad (or pathogenic) bacteria. Most importantly, his laboratory also studies the causes and development of inflammatory bowel disease. He
told us that he has authored more than 250 publications. In fact, he is known as an Institute for Scientific Information “Highly Cited Scientist”.

It was very interesting to hear that his studies of Crohn’s and colitis investigate how these conditions are brought about by immune responses. What intrigued me the most is that he has found that it is the
uncontrolled response of white blood cells in the intestine that leads to chronic inflammation.

I was thrilled to see that Sigma Tau, the manufacturers of VSL#3 probiotics, was one of the sponsors included in the event. I have been advocating the use of VSL#3 for well over 10 years now. 30SachetsUnflavoredFront_2_274x218There are
lots of studies accumulated over the years to support the beneficial use of VSL#3 for IBD patients. Yes, research shows how loading doses of VSL3 are used to effectively control symptoms of ulcerative colitis as well as pouchitis.

You may not know that there are several kinds of VSL#3 now. We sell boxes of 30 sachet powders that contain 450 billion strains, convenient VSL 60 capsules of 122.5 billion strains each and VSL#3 Junior which are delicious watermelon flavored 30 powder sachets well suited for kids. I get great results using all three.

How much VSL#3 should you take?

Clinical studies that have evaluated VSL#3 for the dietary management of ulcerative colitis (UC), an ileal pouch or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) used varying daily amounts of VSL#3. Daily intake usually ranges from 225 (1/2 packet or 2 capsules) to 3,600 (8 packets of VSL#3 billion bacteria. Daily intake based on studies are as follows:
For Adults:
VSL#3 Capsules (112.5 billion in each): Consume 2-8 capsules daily or as directed
VSL#3 Packets (450 billion in each): Consume 1-8 packets daily or as directed

For Children:
VSL#3 Capsules (112.5 billion in each): Consume 1-8 capsules daily or as directed
VSL#3 JUNIOR packets (225 billion in each): Consume 1-4 packets daily or as directed
VSL#3 Packets (450 billion in each): Consume 1-4 packets daily or as directed.

Chronic inflammation, that’s what I’ve been talking about for years. Now, finally, medical research has progressed enough to validate the understanding that we, who have used a functional medicine model long before it even had a name, have known about for a long time. Sometimes, new concepts are hard to welcome into our way of thinking. Fortunately, we are seeing this type of verification from many different reliable sources now and that makes it easier.

Dr. Leonard Smith MD who is a retired general, vascular, and cancer surgeon as well as an expert on nutrition and natural supplementation talks about chronic inflammation as well. Dr Leonard Smith MDHe is currently on the volunteer faculty of the Department of Surgery and is a medical advisor and lecturer for the Division of Integrative Medicine at the University of Miami, Florida. Acknowledging the effectiveness of whole organic foods and nutritional supplementation, Dr. Smith stays on the cutting edge of research and
keeps pace with the latest advances in the field of functional nutrition.

He quotes a study to show that with aging there are marked reductions of several important species of probiotics, especially Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides, as well as a reduction in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

He explains how these bacterial imbalances lead to improper immune sensing by what they call, ‘the gut-associated lymphoid tissue’ (GALT). This is what leads to increased inflammation and leaky gut symptoms. What happens is that the inflammatory proteins increase and so your gut and immune system is kept out of balance. Then widespread inflammation is found everywhere.

Because the origin of chronic inflammation is in the gut, this is where the balancing out begins. Did you know that two-thirds of the body’s defenses live in the digestive (GI) tract? Intestinal bloating, frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation, gas and pain, heartburn and acid reflux are all early signs of an inflamed digestive tract.

Your immune system first manifests ‘over work’ in your digestive tract. It was designed to get rid of viruses and bacteria in your food before they infect your body. It has to take nutritional value from the food you eat and get rid of the rest. Now it has to do a whole lot more.

Today we give our digestive systems a lot more work to do. We have changed from eating a hunter-gatherer type diet to eating convenience and fast foods. This overwhelms our metabolism and GI tract. This breeds chronic inflammation. The modern diet gives us an eating pattern that has an upside-down ratio of fatty acids, high levels of wheat, dairy, and other common allergens and of course, way too much sugar and carbohydrates.

So the first step in reducing inflammation on a cellular level is to pay attention to your diet, in particular your glycemic load, your intake of essential fatty acids, and being aware of food sensitivities. Unfortunately, as we get older, foods that never bothered us before, like dairy and wheat, may trigger chronic low-grade indigestion or other seemingly minor symptoms that put our immune system on guard — with additional inflammatory concerns to follow.

I am a firm believer in the use of probiotics on a daily basis. They help reduce chronic inflammation in all types of digestive complaints. In fact, there was a recent study on the effectiveness of probiotics by Yoonl et al published in Dec 2013 to show how the proportion of patients whose symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS – were substantially relieved, were significantly higher in the probiotics group than in the placebo group.

So, start taking probiotics on a regular basis today to reduce pain, increase energy and relieve chronic inflammation. You’ll feel the benefits immediately.

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