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How Diet Becomes Disease

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long asserted that the central tenant to good health is good digestion. According to TCM, when digestion is poor, the qi, or vital energy force within a person’s body becomes depleted, and accumulates substances called "dampness," "heat," or "cold." Symptoms of deficiency of qi manifest clinically as decreased energy and sluggishness. Symptoms of dampness, heat, or cold accumulation include abdominal bloating, other digestive dysfunction, brain fog, sinus congestion, various skin complaints, joint pain, and numerous other conditions.

In the past few decades, pioneers in allopathic and functional medicine have begun to recognize that poor digestive function correlates with symptoms described by TCM a thousand years ago, and are finally making strides to address the root cause of these symptoms.

How can a poor diet and digestive dysfunction impact a person’s sinuses, skin, and joints?

Functional medicine attributes these symptoms to increased intestinal permeability, otherwise controversially coined "leaky gut." In essence, leaky gut is the biologic interpretation of ancient TCM observations. The underlying premise of this theory is that increased permeability of the gut is directly linked to inflammation. When structures within and between the cells of the gut are damaged, it results in excessive inflammation within the GI tract and the passage of inappropriate molecules into the bloodstream. When the immune system is confronted by these foreign molecules, it interprets them as harmful compounds and immediately mounts a systemic immune response. This, in turn, triggers a myriad of symptoms throughout the body.

What causes increased inflammation of the gut?

The key factors which are associated with causing damage the GI tract and stimulating a systemic inflammatory response are: 

Like most things in medicine, increased intestinal permeability is often multifactorial, which is why functional medicine takes a well-rounded approach to diagnosis and treatment of this condition. Generally, the first steps are to identify hidden food allergies and sensitivities along with how to effectively restore a healthy gut microbiome.

Food sensitivity testing has historically involved only checking an Immunoglobulin G (IgG) response which typically only measures for foods a person may be “deathly” allergic. The problem is because this test is both imperfect and often times, inaccurate with high rates of  false negative results, blanket food sensitivity testing is not an optimal solution. The Gold Standard has since been to have a person do elimination diet where they stop consuming the most common culprits well-known for damaging the GI tract, and then systematically reintroducing the eliminated foods. A person is asked to closely monitor their body's clinical response to this reintroduction and if it is associated with retriggering or exacerbating their symptoms. The problem is an elimination diet unfortunately yields conflicting results and hence, is no longer considered a valuable tool for determining a person’s food sensitivities. 

In regards to gut microbial imbalance, chronic inflammation in the gut can result in a change in the diversity and ratios of beneficial versus  pathogenic bacteria within the gut. A significant microbiome imbalance will definitely cause intestinal inflammation since these bugs are responsible for most cell functions. Furthermore, recent studies show that there is a suspicious correlation between dysbiosis and intestinal permeability since beneficial bacteria are instrumental in controlling cell death versus healing. For this reason, consuming a diet rich in prebiotics is critical to gut function and preventing the onset and progression of most diseases. 

In rare cases, antibiotics are prescribed to treat pathogenic bacteria discovered on lab testing for severe symptoms. Please note antibiotics literally means to kill all beneficial and pathogenic bacteria along with all other microscopic living organisms within the body in a non-targeted manner. The use of these drugs unfortunately leads to further long-term damage of the GI system and the immune system which can flare up a myriad of symptoms going forward. It is critical that if antibiotics are prescribed, non-dairy/casein/wheat/soy/corn probiotics are taken in order to give some additional benefit to the gut and hopefully decreased worsening of the intestinal permeability. Do note that probiotics and antibiotics are considered a big gun, short term solution which do not address the root cause of a disease and can actually worsen an illness’ ability to fully repair long-term. 

For optimal intestinal healing and maintaining a healthy microbiome, the most recent scientific studies have discovered that identifying and removing the biggest food triggers is critical to reducing gut inflammation.

Where to begin?

Start with removing some of the key insults of the standard American diet. Once a person is diagnosed with a disease or suffering from a myriad of symptoms, their digestive system is no longer able to process and metabolize the following items:

  1. Animal protein such as red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and fish
  2. Genetically modified grains loaded with starch: wheat, corn, soy, rice
  3. Processed foods where the live nutrients  have been stripped off of the food and possibly infused with chemically-derived vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
  4. Sugar in the form of artificial sweeteners (i.e., Equal, Nutrasweet), white sugar, agave
  5. Alcohol
  6. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages like black tea

Focus on enriching diet with tons of vegetables, especially those grown above the ground and complimenting them with mushrooms along with small lentils/legumes and/or ancient whole grains (i.e., amaranth, millet, quinoa, teff). 

Drink lots of water over a half hour or more before planning to eat your first meal and again after finishing the meal. Try to avoid drinking much liquid while eating though. 

 

Be mindful of the eating experience by trying not to multitask, but instead becoming fully immersed in enjoying every bite. This positive chewing and swallowing experience will dramatically help improve your digestive function and how your body responds to the foods consumed. 

Why might you choose to work with a provider?

Treatment of systemic disease impacting gut permeability generally takes patience since it can be a trial and error journey until you are able to fine tune your formula for optimal long term healing.  Self-guided treatment often makes sense for someone who has mild GI symptoms, is curious and motivated where completely eliminating the top foods noted above for 6 to 8 weeks can have a profound effect on lessening to eliminating a myriad of symptoms felt throughout the body. You may already have an inkling as to what foods cause you to feel more crummy, and can start with simply trying to remove these items out of your diet and assessing how you feel. You may be surprised by how much more energy you have and/or how much easier your digestion feels.

If your symptoms are more severe, working with an integrative holistic healthcare provider can be an invaluable resource, as they can guide you through the process of shifting your diet with more specifics given on more nutritious food recommendations best suited for you. They can also identify adjunct diagnostic laboratory testing to help uncover more complex underlying disease processes.

Things to look forward to with optimizing your diet in accordance to your body

First of all, imagine healing your skin, no longer suffering from joint or back pain and/or suffering from recurrent digestive problems WITHOUT EVER AGAIN BEING DEPENDENT ON PHARMACEUTICAL MEDICATION. While not all chronic diseases are not strictly caused by poor gut health, optimizing one’s digestive function will always trigger lasting positive results.

For those people mourning the loss of their favorite foods identified to be known triggers to their symptoms and disease, know that in some cases, it is possible to heal the gut sufficiently and  reintroduce some of these eliminated foods three to six months down the line. Essentially, some food sensitivities are transient in the sense that they were not main causes of increased gut permeability, but rather victims of leaky gut. With adequate healing of the interior lining and wall of the gut along with dramatically reducing systemic inflammation, your body may no longer desire the foods you once cherished, and instead desires fresh live nutrient-dense plants which both feed your microbiome and heal the gut. 

 

Our Advanced Health Team is Here to Support You

Jessica Kohali PA-C, LAc is trained in functional medicine, and can help guide you in uncovering and treating symptoms related to increased intestinal permeability. By combining the best in evidence-based Eastern and Western medicine, Jessica brings over 15 years of integrative medicine experience to her patients. She provides the full spectrum holistic primary care medicine for all adults through embracing her patient’s story in conjunction with their psycho-social-physiologic body to uncover the root cause of their illness. 

Through Jessica’s meticulous guidance and profound experience, her patients benefit from the immense value gained from personalized precision medicine in conjunction to her extensive training and experience in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, Herbal and Energy Medicine. She focuses on creating an equal partnership with patients on how best to shift their health trajectory and prevent them from ever facing a life-threatening illness. 

Our expert team of integrative holistic healthcare practitioners at Advanced Health work closely together to guide patients dealing with acute and chronic healthcare needs. To learn more about Jessica’s practice and Advanced Health, go to https://www.sfadvancedhealth.com. Let us help you take the next steps in turning your illness into wellness. 

Author
Jessica Kolahi PA-C, LAc. Jessica Kolahi P.A., LAc. Jessica Kolahi PA-C, LAc, brings over 15 years of integrative medicine experience to her patients. She provides the full spectrum holistic primary care medicine for all adults with specialization in women's health. Along with extensive training and experience in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, Herbal and Energy Medicine, Physician Assistant Jessica is able to combine the best in conventional and traditional medicine to uncover the root cause of disease. Because of Jessica’s passion for holistic preventative and integrative medicine, she focuses on creating an equal partnership with patients on guiding them on how to effectively shift their health trajectory and prevent them from ever facing a life-threatening illness. Learn more about Jessica's practice at www.integrativewomenshealthsf.com/

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