Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, MD
Doctor of the University of Naples, Federico II
President of the European Institute of Nutritional Medicine, E.I.Nu.M
are some of the most frequent symptoms and diseases.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Most often when one of the above symptoms manifests itself our first reaction is not to contact a physician but to try and handle it by ourselves. When this fails and we finally go to the doctor we usually get prescribed drugs designed to reduce gastric acidity.
The fewer the drugs, the better
The vast majority of people have come to regard pharmaceutical treatment with mistrust. Far from unfounded, this skepticism was vindicated a few months ago in a article of the Archives of Internal Medicine published by the American Medical Association: it has now been proven beyond doubt that gastric acid drugs do more harm than good. The authors state that this specific class of drugs has its place in cases of serious digestive system diseases, where they are very effective, or when treatment is of short duration but that this does not justify the more than one hundred million prescriptions issued every year for drugs of this type.
According to the researchers, in the majority of cases their prescription is not indicated. For example, a drug receives approval for the treatment of stomach ulcers with a maximum treatment period of one month but once on the market it is used to treat heartburns, stomachaches or indigestion for periods lasting years.
Their long term use has been linked to a higher incidence of infection, spinal fractures, a higher overall risk of fracture, diarrhea and even pneumonia.
Patients, as well as physicians, in their effort to reduce the intensity of the symptoms, use pharmaceutical treatments with unclear indications, thus starting a vicious circle.
The question is: what can we do to improve the functioning of the gastrointestinal system? Before we do anything to improve it we should understand how it works as the more we understand something the greater the control we can exert over it.
Gastrointestinal system, the pillar of good health
We very often hear that the gastrointestinal system is the pillar of good health. But what does this really mean?
Obviously the gastrointestinal tract's role is the absorption of nutrients from food. Equally obvious is the fact that this function underlies the function of all others systems of the human organism.
When the body as a whole lacks the elements it needs to perform necessary chemical reactions and to build the tissues that make it up, the state of health of every individual part is threatened. There isn't a single organ that is not directly influenced by a condition of poor nutrient absorption.
Gastrointestinal tract and immune system
The gastrointestinal system comes into direct contact with exterior agents entering the organism such as food, drugs, toxic compounds, preservatives and microbes, and forms therefore an important and integral part of the immune system.
There is a multitude of lymph nodes along the gastrointestinal tract and it is inhabited by trillions of bacteria. There are more lymphocytes (the white blood cells responsible for the defense of the organism) in this area than in all other organs and lymph nodes of the immune system combined.
Recent discoveries published in a 2010 issue of Nature magazine, reveal that, with 3,300,000 genes, the DNA of the bacteria located in our gastrointestinal system is approximately 150 times the DNA of human cells.
Eighty five percent of these bacteria are probiotic, i.e. they assist the organism in its function, while 15% are indifferent or may become pathogenic under certain conditions. Antibiotics, diet, lifestyle and stress can upset the balance, leading to the manifestation of certain diseases.
The authors of the article initially recorded the bacterial population colonizing the human intestine. They then linked this so-called gut flora to diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
A specific alteration of the intestinal bacterial flora in quantity and quality translates into a specific disease.
This discovery opens the door to news ways of handling these and other diseases, replacing therapeutic approaches of the past. The latter consisted of long-term treatment involving heavy drugs and their results were poor in the majority of cases.
Two things are self-evident:
1. Natural function of the intestine must be restored so that it can absorb nutrients and
2. Gut flora must be rebuilt.
Just these two things can change the individual's overall health picture to the better.
One realizes the extent of the gastrointestinal system's influence when one considers the fact that 90% of human serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract! Through this neurotransmitter the GI tract has a direct effect on the function of the brain and nervous system. This is why the digestive system is sometimes called the "small brain."
What can be done?
These recommendations have to do with prevention and the strengthening of a healthy state. For the treatment of pathological conditions of the GI tract specialized knowledge is required and consultation with a physician and clinical nutritionist are mandatory.
Reduce the amount of processed food consumed or eliminate them completely from the diet
Reduce the consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates (these feed pathogenic bacteria and fungi, substantially altering gut flora balance)
Eat fermented foods (yogurt, cheese, natto, kefir)
The intake of 2 grams of glutamine daily before bed has been found to assist the restoration of the intestinal mucosa
The intake of quality probiotics in sufficient quantity assists the good functioning of the gastrointestinal system and is beneficial to general health
As mentioned in previous articles, medicine constantly undergoes change, moving away from the treatment of disease toward the achievement of health.
To your health!