by Katherine Willow ND
(Ed note: image below from http://jjkalleck.deviantart.com/art/Cookie-Monster-Digestion-211147115)
In naturopathic practice digestion is central and often the function we start treating first. The reason is that poor digestion can be responsible for so many other symptoms — joint pain, headaches, general inflammation, fatigue, PMS, allergies, urinary tract problems, deficiencies and many more.
Digestion is also very accessible to treatment for people in the developed world in that most of us eat and can choose our diets, at least to some extent.
Assessing and treating digestive disorders such as heartburn, bloating, ulcers, inflammatory bowel diseases, cancers, constipation and diarrhea can be divided into three main categories:
- What we eat — if it suits our constitution and whether we are sensitive/allergic to it.
- How we eat, as in timing, chewing, quantity, food combining, liquids with meals and relaxation.
- Interfering factors that need more in-depth treatments such as dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria in the colon), parasites, specific stressors, structural issues (muscles, fascia, joints related to digestive organs), toxicity, lack of hydrochloric acid &/or pancreatic enzymes &/or bile and more.
To start, replace irritating substances in a person’s diet with healthier versions. It is common to see a patient’s main complaint disappear with this step and the culprit is often what the person craves and “can’t live without”!
The list to avoid, at least temporarily, includes: sugar, wheat, dairy, all chemicals, caffeine, oils/fats that aren’t cold-pressed/organic and grocery store meat/chicken/eggs. Make changes gradually for best results.
To individualize the diet we use an electronic food (and vitamin) test called the Biotron, which we run out of our clinic and consider the most accurate food test available. This is for three reasons: results match the patient’s condition; test patterns are consistent for each person, even years later; and most importantly, people typically have great results in following this test, after which their food sensitivities start to decrease.
In parallel, we suggest healthy eating habits: slow down chewing so that food is more easily absorbed instead of becoming an irritant; eating three main meals without snacks — or in some cases six small meals — and not eating in the evening to give the digestive system a rest; limiting liquids with meals to ½ cup warm or hot water as cold and excess fluids dull digestion (we do need some sipped liquid to help absorb our food); eating fruit alone and not combining heavy starches and proteins is helpful for a time; and relaxation practices before eating, such as deep breathing, in order to optimize digestion, which shuts down when we are overly upset. Maybe hardest of all is to eat moderately, which provides enormous gains to our health with time and patience.
When there are indications that the problem lies deeper, we can ask for a Reams test (urine & saliva) to screen for digestive capacity; stool investigations for flora, yeast, parasites and enzymes; scope tests to check for ulcers/inflammation which can be treated with special diets, herbs and homeopathy; and structural assessments to rule-out interfering tensions.
Most importantly, we can correlate a person’s digestive complaints with the emotional shocks described by German New Medicine, usually issues relating to anger. If these are identified and healed, all other therapies are more successful. And vice versa.
Katherine Willow ND is a 4th generation naturopathic doctor who practices at the Carp Ridge Natural Health Clinic and leads monthly “Staying Healthy through the Seasons” retreats. In June we will focus on digestion, which is weakened in the heat of summer, and sweat in our new lodge for the solstice.