Digestive System Disorders - Page 1

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Digestive System Disorders - Page 1
Reprinted by permission from Bill Faloon of The Life Extension Foundation

It is estimated that more than 100 million people in America are affected by some form of digestive system disease which is more than half of the U.S. population!

For some people, digestive system disorders are a source of irritation and discomfort that may cause them to drastically limit their life styles and miss work frequently.  For others, these disorders may be extremely crippling, and even fatal.

The Gastrointestinal Tract (GI Tract)
The gastrointestinal tract is a long muscular tube that functions as the food processor for the human body.  The digestive system includes the following organs -- mouth/salivary glands, stomach, small/large intestines, colon, liver, pancreas, and gall bladder.

Irritations or inflammation of the various sections of the gastrointestinal tract are identified as gastritis (stomach), colitis (colon), ileitis (ileum or small intestines), hepatitis (liver), and cholecystitis (gall bladder).

The gastrointestinal tract is not a passive system.  It has the capability to sense and react to materials that are passing through its intricate structure.  For a healthy digestive system, we require various food selections that match our gastrointestinal tract capacity.

The Digestive Process
The GI Tract breaks down foods by using mechanical means such as chewing accompanied by the application of many other complex chemical processes.  These processes include everything from saliva to colon microbes.  Since the GI Tract is the point of entry for the human body, everything eaten has an impact on the body.  The food we eat is passed through the GI Tract and contains nutrients as well as toxins.  Toxins can be anything from food additives and pesticides to specific foods that induce a reactive response by the GI Tract.

The process of digestion is accomplished via the surface of the gastrointestinal tract using secretions from accessory glands.  The two glands providing the majority of digestive chemicals utilized by the gastrointestinal tract are the liver and the pancreas.  The liver controls the food supply by further processing the food molecules absorbed through the intestines.  This is done by dispensing those food molecules in a controlled manner by filtering out toxins that may have passed through the gastrointestinal tract wall.

In addition, the gastrointestinal tract is as a sensory organ.  By rejecting foods through objectionable taste by vomiting and/or diarrhea, the sensing capacity of the GI Tract helps protect the body.

The surface of the GI Tract has a complex system of nerves and other cells of the immune system.  The surface of the GI Tract, or mucosa, is part of a complex sensing system called the MALT (Mucosa Associated Lymphatic Tissue).  The immune sensors in MALT trigger responses such as nausea, vomiting, pain, and swelling.  Vomiting and diarrhea are abrupt defensive responses to MALT-sensing foods.  This kind of food intolerance is responsible for many digestive problems.  The gastrointestinal tract is "hard-wired" to the brain via hormonal, neurotransmitter-mediator chemical communication.

The gastrointestinal tract is a muscular tube that contracts in a controlled rhythm to move food through the different sections (peristalsis).  Strength and timing variations in the contractions can cause cramping (very strong contractions) and diarrhea (contractions are very frequent).  When the contractions are slow and irregular, constipation may occur.  "Motility disorder" is the general term used to describe problems with peristalsis.

In all but a few cases, a food allergy is the primary cause of gastrointestinal tract problems.  Chronic diseases have their origin in food allergies.  The dysfunction, discomfort, and disease associated with GI Tract are the result of local immune responses to food selections or combinations of foods.  Food selections are a result of personal tastes, social fads, ethnic culture, religion, and, to a larger degree, local and/or seasonal availability. The food selections made in modern affluent society are based on a developed taste for a rich diet centered on meats and dairy products that are loaded with fats, high concentrations of proteins, and fat-soluble toxins.  Advertising and misinformation about "healthy" diets have overshadowed human nutritional needs in modern affluent diets.

Dietary Shifts and Digestive Disorders
Human evolutionary history clearly shows that we are primarily herbivores.  Human saliva contains alpha-amylase, an enzyme specifically designed to break down complex carbohydrates into sugar compounds.  Our teeth are designed to cut vegetable matter and to grind grains.  Our so-called canine teeth bear no resemblance to the canines of a domestic house cat or other meat-eaters.  The human digestive system is long and the food is processed slowly to extract all the nutrients from plant related material.  Conversely, carnivores (such as cats) have short digestive tracts that digest flesh very quickly.  The digestive systems of carnivores are able to eliminate the large amount of cholesterol consumed in their diets.  Carnivores do not have alpha-amylase present in their saliva.

The effect of the shift in our diets during the last hundred years has resulted in 44% of Americans and Canadians being afflicted with heartburn.  Peptic ulcer appears in 5% of the population, and non-ulcer dyspepsia plagues between 20 and 40% of Americans.  Over-the-counter medications for these ailments are a multibillion-dollar industry.  In nearly every hour of television advertising there is at least one spot selling an antacid or related product.

If You Suffer from Ulcers
The medical community has discovered that most stomach ulcers are caused by the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria.  Blood tests for the presence of the H. pylori antibody can be administered by your physician.  Special antibiotic combinations can be used to eliminate this bacteria from the stomach within a matter of weeks.  Those who fail to eradicate H. pylori are at a far greater risk for contracting stomach cancer.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms
There are five basic symptoms indicating a gastrointestinal tract problem.  The symptoms are generally associated with dietary problems or specific food allergies.  It is critical for anyone suffering from serious gastrointestinal tract problems to work closely with a physician to test for more serious gastrointestinal issues.  It is essential that the physician should be experienced in working with dietary factors and food allergies.

Nausea and vomiting can vary between squeamish feelings in the stomach to violent actions of vomiting.  People with nausea and vomiting symptoms should assume the ingestion of a reactive food (i.e., food containing toxins) or poisoning with a pathogen such as staphylococci (a form of bacteria).  Vomiting immediately after eating is usually proceeded by watery salivation.  Some chronic low intensity nausea can occur for a protracted time due to sustained low-level food allergies or problems with food combinations.  Patients with lower-level nausea usually have their symptoms disappear with diet revision.  Nausea and vomiting are also linked with migraine headaches caused by food allergies.

Bloating can result from excessive gas in the digestive system and failure of the digestive tract to sustain youthful peristaltic contractions.  A lack of sufficient quantities of digestive enzymes and bile acids required to rapidly break down food can also be a factor.  Intestinal gas results from food fermentation and/or swallowing air while eating.  The bloating from intestinal gas is different from that which occurs in the colon.

Constipation is the decreased frequency or slowing of peristalsis resulting in harder stools.  When the gastrointestinal tract is slowed down, feces can accumulate in the colon with attending pain and toxic reactions.  A "spastic colon" results when the colon contracts out of frequency in painful spasms blocking movement of the stool.  Some people experience painful days of constipation followed by forceful diarrhea and watery stool often accompanied with abdominal cramps.

Diarrhea is the increased frequency of bowel movement that is loose or watery.  If diarrhea increases, the possibility of celiac disease is a possibility.  Celiac disease is a serious disease that allows certain macromolecules to pass through the intestinal wall.  If blood appears in the stool, ulcerative colitis is likely.  Protracted bouts with diarrhea can result in nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption of essential nutrients.

Abdominal pain appears in different patterns and with varying intensities.  Cramping occurs because of muscle spasms of the abdominal organs.  Severe cramping pain, often called colic, usually occurs from problems with food intakes that exhibit strong allergic response.  Abdominal cramping near the navel is typically from the small intestine and near the sides, top, and bottom of the lower abdomen, the pain is associated with the colon.

Issues associated with central gastrointestinal tract disorders and diagnoses include depression, migraine, asthma, sinusitis, and fibromyalgia. These diseases have been identified with specific patterns of food allergic response.  All of these diseases also have links to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  IBS is more accurately referred to as RBS-reactive bowel syndrome.

Steps to a Healthier Digestive System
Elimination diet plans are a good method of determining what foods are harmful to the GI Tract.  Planning and following such diets are a safe starting point for anyone desiring to help themselves by tracking their gastrointestinal tract's response to food.  Interview physicians to learn who may be most qualified to assist in planning an elimination diet.  A very good indicator of a healthy gastrointestinal tract is a regular transit time for complete food digestion.  Patients who are "regular," are usually in good health.

Enzymes -- Vital to the Digestive Process
Aging causes many people to experience problems with complete digestion.  This can be helped by the use of specific enzymes to improve the efficiency of digestion.  Enzymes can be used to speed up the digestive process and to make more nutrients available for absorption and full use of food.  The capacity of the living organism to make enzymes diminishes with age, and some scientists believe that humans could live longer and be healthier by guarding against the loss of our precious enzymes.

Enzymes are responsible for every activity of life.  Even thinking requires enzyme activity.  There are two primary classes of enzymes responsible for maintaining life functions -- digestive and metabolic.  The primary digestive enzymes are proteases (to digest protein), amylases (to digest carbohydrate), and lipases (to digest fat).  These enzymes function as a biological catalyst to help break down food.  Raw foods also provide enzymes that naturally break down food for proper absorption.  Metabolic enzymes are responsible for the structure, repair, and remodeling of every cell.  The body is under a great daily burden to supply sufficient enzymes for optimal health.  Metabolic enzymes operate in every cell, organ, tissue, and need constant replenishment.

Digestion of food takes a high priority and has a high demand for enzymes.  When we eat, enzymatic activity begins in the mouth, where salivary amylase, lingual lipase, and ptyalin initiate starch and fat digestion.  In the stomach, hydrochloric acid activates pepsinogen to pepsin, which breaks down protein while gastric lipase begins the hydrolysis of fats.  Without proper enzyme production, the body has a difficult time digesting food, often resulting in a variety of chronic disorders.

Poor eating habits, including inadequate chewing and eating on the run, can result in inadequate enzyme production and hence malabsorption of food.  And, this is exacerbated with aging since a decreased hydrochloric acid production declines as well.

Saliva is rich in amylase while gastric juice contains protease.  The pancreas secretes digestive juices containing high concentrations of amylase (to digest carbohydrate) and protease (to digest protein) as well as smaller concentrations of lipase (to digest fat).  It also secretes a small concentration of maltase which reduces to dextrose (sugar).  Animals eating raw food often have no enzymes at all in saliva, unlike humans.  However, dogs fed a high carbohydrate, heat-treated diet have been found to develop enzymes in their saliva within a week in response to enzyme-depleting foods.

One of America's pioneering biochemists and nutrition researchers is Dr. Edward Howell, author of Enzyme Nutrition.  He cites numerous studies showing animals' enzyme deficient diets cause them to suffer from enlargement of the pancreas.  The pancreas is forced to work overtime resulting in a wasteful outpouring of pancreatic digestive enzymes to compensate.  Available enzyme-producing capacity is used to digest food instead of supporting cellular enzymatic functions.

How significant is an enzyme deficiency to overall health?  For starters, organs that are overworked will enlarge in order to perform the increased workload.  Those with congestive heart failure or aortic valve disease often suffer from an enlarged heart -- not a healthy condition.  The tremendous impact that wastage of pancreatic enzymes can have on health and even life itself has been established in animal studies. The critical question is how this applies to human health.

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