Category Archives: Digestive Health
The development of allergies is becoming more and more common. The same goes for sensitivities to foods, chemicals and environmental factors.
Our immune system and cellular tissue can become compromised due to inflammatory responses from the mechanisms of each reaction – especially through responses from sensitivities.
Here’s a little more information on the what and why of allergy and sensitivity testing – from an ND’s perspective.
A type 1 hypersensitivity reaction is an immediate release of histamine by IgE antibodies when exposed to an allergen. This type of allergy shows up quickly and sometimes with life-threatening symptoms such as swelling of lips or face, difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock. The cause of the reaction is usually quite clear such as peanuts and shellfish.
Immune complex disease
A type 3 hypersensitivity is mediated by IgG antibodies. This type of process antibodies bind to antigens and there is a gradual formation of antibody-mediated complexes (immune complexes) that can deposit in tissues and joints. Over time, this can lead to chronic inflammation, which can lead to an array of varying delayed onset of symptoms, like headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, joint pain, eczema, fatigue and many other health concerns.
type 1 hypersensitivity
Skin prick testing determines type 1 hypersensitivity, usually done through your medical doctor, where a purified allergen is injected just below the skin to produce a controlled reaction. This process usually tests for allergies like pollen, dander, dust mites, pet dander or certain foods.
If there is a known IgE reaction, foods that are causing an anaphylactic reaction must be avoided indefinitely.
type 3 hypersensitivity
Food Sensitivity testing exists to determine type 3 hypersensitivity reactions. It is a blood test done in a lab and usually requisitioned by a naturopathic doctor. This type of test can detect sensitivity for over 200 specific foods as well as yeast overgrowth (Candida albicans). It measures the food-specific IgG antibodies found in the blood.
The test may also reveal high levels of IgG antibodies to food that you never or rarely eat, but the same proteins can exist in multiple foods and this is explained by the test results. ‘Treating the root cause’ is one of the foundational naturopathic principles. From an ND’s perspective, testing is beneficial in knowing what the culprit is that is causing the IgG reaction.
Environmental allergens, however, are not so easily avoided. Developing preventative lifestyle methods such as introducing a high-quality air purifier in the house, cleaning dust & pollen laden surfaces, and closing windows, especially during the night, when pollen release is at its highest, can be helpful.
However, when it comes to foods that are causing a type 3 hypersensitivity reaction, a more preventative approach can be taken. First, removing the offending food(s) for a lengthy period of time is a must. Using substances to heal the gut and support the body’s digestive system while promoting proper elimination is the next step (see list below).
An intensive healing protocol, known as the Four R’s (remove, replace, repair and reinoculate is often used if the intestinal wall has been compromised due to ongoing inflammation from sensitivities).
Depending on the severity of the sensitivity and the tissue damage it may have caused, integration of the original foods that were eliminated may be slowly reintroduced while monitoring symptoms.
Key therapies in practice
L-glutamine is an amino acid that repairs cells when damage has occurred from food sensitivities, like inflammation. This inflammation can create spaces between the cells in the gut which allow for bacteria, food and toxic by-products to enter the bloodstream and cause subsequent ailments.
Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine in high doses and helps strengthen the immune system by increasing white blood cells, improves the linings of mucous membranes to reduce pollen and other airborne allergens. Vitamin C can be easily be taken just before bowel tolerance (at the point it causes diarrhea) to make sure maximum absorption and benefit have occurred.
Probiotics like CanPrev’s Pro-Biotik 15B, help strengthen the immune system by reducing inflammation and keep toxins moving through the system and out through the bowels efficiently.
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, Zinc, Selenium, and CoQ10 and N-Acetyl-cysteine are key at providing phase 1 and phase 2 in the liver with the nutrients it needs to process allergens efficiently so they can be eliminated through the colon.
Omega 3 fatty acids have an amazing anti-inflammatory effect, thus calming down the symptoms associated with allergies but also improving the immune system at the same time.
Detoxification is very important for chronic allergies, such as seasonal, asthma and hives, and is an area I usually begin with when developing a patient’s treatment plan that will properly address their allergies. This approach not only helps with treating the current symptoms but also addresses the root cause of improving the functioning of the elimination organs to reduce overall allergenic potential.
This, in turn, allows food and toxins to be processed properly, reducing toxic buildup from waste particles from inflammatory reactions.
Using supplements to support liver health, such as CanPrev’s Detox Pro, can ensure the liver has the nutrients it requires to neutralize toxins and get them out of the body. Along with eating a healthful anti-inflammatory diet, lots of water and fiber are all essential to enhance these detoxification systems, improve one’s immune response and decrease food sensitivities and allergy symptoms.
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You probably don’t think about them too much, except maybe which polish colour to choose next? But, you would be surprised what those little keratinized extensions of our fingertips (your fingernails) can tell us about our nutrition, and our health status overall.
Naturopaths often include an examination of a patient’s nails as part of their routine health evaluations. Signs on the nails may be an indication of certain conditions or deficiencies. However, it is not a definitive diagnosis without also looking at many other aspects of an individuals health in order to get the most informed view and create a holistic treatment plan.
What’s considered normal differs in everyone, but generally, fingernails should be clear, smooth, pliable and peachy-pink in colour.
There are numerous conditions that can affect the nails – too many to mention here, but in many cases, it is a nutritional deficiency that may be causing your nails’ odd appearance. However, it may also be that your body is not effectively absorbing nutrients or you may even be low in stomach acid – vital to digestion.
The 5 nail health signs to watch out for
Ever noticed white spots on your nails? While this is most often due to mild trauma (like nicking your nail), it can also indicate a zinc deficiency.
Zinc is found in such foods as oysters, red meat (especially lamb), legumes, nuts, egg yolks, oats, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, and cocoa or dark chocolate.
Lack of Vitamin C can cause pesky and often painful hangnails. Vitamin C-rich foods are citrus, berries, mango, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, and leafy greens.
Horizontal lines, ridges and spoons
What about horizontal lines or ridges across your nails? Sometimes called Beau’s lines – these may also be due to a zinc deficiency but could be indicative of low iron or anemia. Nails can be spoon-shaped at the tips with iron deficiency as well.
To pump more iron into your day, try spinach and other dark leafy greens like kale. Also, red meat, liver, egg yolks, beans, shellfish, dried fruit and blackstrap molasses – are all good sources.
It’s a good idea to pair those iron-rich foods with sources of Vitamin C for better absorption.
Example: fresh spinach and strawberry salad, topped with lean chicken for extra protein – also vitally important for healthy looking nails.
Dry, brittle and peeling
Dry, brittle, thin or peeling nails? Could just be dry nails, but possibly a lack of protein, Vitamin D &/or B Vitamins in your diet.
Food sources of Vitamin D are limited as it’s naturally attained by exposing your skin to sunlight, hence being dubbed the Sunshine Vitamin. However, fish, liver and egg yolks are reasonable sources, as well as many fortified Dairy products.
Be sure to incorporate Vitamin B-rich foods into your diet as well, such as whole grains like brown rice and oats, eggs, yogurt, milk and cheese, poultry, lamb, mushrooms, pumpkin, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower and many types of beans.
No half moons?
Ever noticed the lighter-toned half-moons at the base of your fingernail? Or perhaps you haven’t noticed them because they’re absent!
This is usually due to a Vitamin B12 deficiency and is associated with anemia. Vegetarians often have trouble attaining enough B12 as it’s found primarily in animal foods, so they’re encouraged to sprinkle cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast onto foods – or supplementation may be prudent.
As always, getting your full complement of nutrients is encouraged through whole food sources, but sometimes our diet just isn’t meeting all of our needs and this is where supplementation may be necessary – for all of the reasons we discussed in the article “Nutrient Deficiencies: Why Nearly Everyone Has Them!”
Check your nails weekly for something that may be out of the “norm” for you and inform your health practitioner. Be sure to discuss what nutritional deficiencies, digestion and/or absorption issues may be a contributing factor to the problem.
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, recommend that males and females ages 19-30 take in 400 mg and 310 mg of magnesium a day respectively. Males 31 and older should up their intake to 420 mg a day, and females 31 and older should increase their daily amounts to 320 mg.
The DRI also encourages pregnant or lactating women to boost their magnesium intake even higher and to consult their doctors for suggested amounts.
Sea vegetables (kelp), nuts and seeds, beans, soybeans and some seafood (crab, clams) generally contain higher levels of magnesium compared to other foods. Grains and pseudocereals like quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice will offer you a relatively high amount of magnesium as well. But the real winners when it comes to the most nutrient dense, magnesium-rich foods are fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens like chard, collards, and spinach. Nuts and seeds pack a big punch for their size when it comes to magnesium density too!
True or False: Organic Foods Contain More Magnesium
It is no surprise that choosing to buy organic dark leafy greens and vegetables, can cost you. But if you choose to not purchase organic produce will you pay in a different way? Does buying organic make a difference in terms of mineral (magnesium) content compared to conventionally grown crops?
According to the Environmental Working Group, conventionally grown spinach ranks second when it comes to produce containing pesticide residue.
While some studies conclude that organic food may or may not be more nutritious than conventionally grown, it is safe to say that buying organic can protect you from detrimental pesticides and herbicides that generally act as antagonists when it comes to magnesium absorption and can eventually block mineral absorption and lead to mineral deficiency.
Is Dietary Intake Enough?
Swiss chard contains a whopping 150 mg of magnesium per cup. But does that mean you are covered when it comes to adequate magnesium intake? Not necessarily. Lifestyle, physiological, and agricultural factors all play roles in how dietary magnesium is absorbed. A disappointing reality, but a reality nonetheless!
Let’s Explore Why
Mineral-rich foods are becoming an anomaly these days. High rates of soil erosion account for less magnesium in the soil which results in low mineral content in plant foods including magnesium.
Many fruits and vegetables have lost large amounts of minerals and nutrients in the past 50 years. For example, McCance and Widdowson’s epic compilation, the Composition of Foods, has tracked the nutrient composition of foods since 1940. Between 1940 and 1991, there was an average magnesium decrease of 24% in vegetables and 16% in fruits.
Some foods have seen more drastic declines than others. Carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium content. You would have to eat 4 carrots today to get the same magnesium in 1 carrot from 1940!
And that’s only one reason. The health of our digestive system is also a factor in whether or not we can adequately break down food to get the good stuff. Optimum absorption is key in making sure magnesium actually enters our cells!
Absorption of dietary magnesium isn’t guaranteed, though. Enzymatic function, stomach, and bowel health are key factors in the absorption process. From the beginning of the digestive system (oral cavity) to the very end (the anus), all parts need to be working efficiently (especially the small intestine) for optimum breakdown. Even if our digestive process is working perfectly, mineral content in food likely won’t be high enough to offer our cells optimum protection.
Cooking methods and refined foods can also account for magnesium loss. If we choose to fry that one cup of swiss chard instead of bake or lightly sauté it, we can cheat ourselves out of getting the magnesium we need.
Between mineral-depleted plant foods, compromised digestive systems, and popular denaturing cooking methods, optimizing our magnesium intake via food can become quite a challenge.
Ironically, magnesium needs magnesium to facilitate the absorption process. It’s imperative for helping to synthesize enzymes, repair tissue in our intestinal lining, and contribute to our parasympathetic nervous system health, for starters. In order for these processes to function properly in the first place, we need to have enough magnesium in our bodies to provide energy to get these physiological jobs done and done well.
What are the symptoms of SIBO?
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, is just that – when bacteria (or other microorganisms, good or bad) grow out of control in the small bowel. Compared to the large colon, it should be quite low in bacterial count.
Colonization also ends up damaging the specialized cells lining the small intestine – a condition that has been coined leaky gut – or an increase in intestinal permeability, which further impairs the digestive process and can exacerbate nutrient malabsorption.
This can allow pathogens, toxins and undigested protein molecules to enter the bloodstream that, in turn, cause widespread inflammation, food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders, and other undesirable immune reactions.
The most common symptoms of SIBO are:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating or distention
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Excessive gas or burping
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Joint pain and other inflammatory reactions
- Skin issues like rashes, acne, eczema and rosacea
- Depression, and other mental health disorders
- Restless legs syndrome
- Histamine intolerance
- Fatigue or lethargy
One of the biggest concerns with SIBO is that it can actually lead to malnourishment, whereby essential nutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats aren’t properly absorbed. This can then cause a number of vitamin & mineral deficiencies like iron, vitamin B12, calcium as well as in the fat-soluble vitamins — vitamin A, D, E and K. 
Wondering why the symptoms sound curiously similar to IBS?
One of the most common conditions associated with SIBO is Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 
While they have similar symptoms and are often overlapping conditions, the association between the two still has some unknowns, according to scientists. They remain distinctly different in how they can manifest, how they are diagnosed, as well as how they are treated.
On the other hand, some studies have found that SIBO is concurrent in more than 50% of all cases of IBS, and successful elimination of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine reportedly resolves symptoms of IBS as well.
But, what causes SIBO in the first place?
According to experts, the causes are not clearly defined but predisposing factors to acquiring SIBO can include:
- Diabetes type 2
- chronic pancreatitis
- Crohn’s disease
- injury to the bowel
- a structural defect in the small intestine called blind loop syndrome
- intestinal lymphoma
- immune system disorders like scleroderma
- recent abdominal surgery
- use of certain medications, including proton pump inhibitors (acid reflux medications) and immuno-suppressant medications
Celiac disease has also been found to increase the risk for developing SIBO, as it disturbs gut motility leading to poor functioning of the small intestine. 
Additionally, heavy metal toxicity, low stomach acid, inflammatory diets, and stress – are all thought to be contributors as well.
How can you treat it?
Generally, there are 3 mains goals when treating SIBO:
Most holistic health practitioners advise using some variation on the “SIBO diet” for at least 2 weeks – which may include any or all of the following:
- Herbal antibiotics like oregano oil
- Low FODMAP, GAPS and/or AIP diet – see explanations below
- Re-populating the gut with good bacteria using probiotics, and then “feed” them with prebiotics such as under-ripe bananas, asparagus and Jerusalum artichoke
- stress management – this is key in preventing and managing most, if not ALL health conditions
However, a prescription antibiotic may be needed, at least initially, in more severe cases to get the bacterial overgrowth under control.
By eliminating FODMAPS from your diet for at least 2 weeks, and then transitioning to the GAPS diet or AIP protocol, you can start healing the gut, and can begin to eradicate the microorganisms that are causing havoc in your small intestine.
What are FODMAPs?
These are Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.
These are the foods that aren’t fully absorbed by the body and end up fermenting in the gut. This would include ones we would normally consider ‘healthy’ for us – like apples, pears, apricots, cauliflower, barley, garlic & onions.
What is GAPS?
The GAPS, or Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet, was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell- McBride, Neurologist & Neurosurgeon, in response to the dietary needs of her autistic son.
Foods eliminated by the GAPS diet:
Things like sugar, grains, starchy carbs & potatoes, conventional meat & dairy, and any processed foods including artificial chemicals and preservatives.
What is AIP?
The AIP or Autoimmune Protocol is considered a stricter version of the Paleo diet, which involves the elimination of foods that are considered gut irritants like grains, legumes, eggs, dairy, nightshades, nuts & seeds, and processed foods including industrial seed oils.
Additional eliminations are alcohol and NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. For natural, drug-free inflammation-fighting pain relief, try Curcumin-Pro with Bromelain.
The AIP can be very difficult for many people to follow, but sometimes it’s temporarily necessary to fully heal a very leaky gut, which goes hand-in-hand with the incidence of SIBO.
It may also be wise to supplement with the following when treating SIBO:
- Digestive Enzymes
- B Vitamins, especially B12 – sublingual, therapeutic dose
- Fat soluble vitamins – Vitamin D & K
- Minerals: Iron & zinc
Testing specifically for SIBO can be a bit tricky and it can be difficult to get a definitive diagnosis. So be sure to work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner or Naturopath to effectively test (often with a minimally invasive lactulose hydrogen breath test) and treat this condition, as well as address other underlying gut dysfunctions.
I think we can all agree that there are literally dozens of reasons why our gut health can become compromised. For even more tips on how to have a happier digestive system – READ THIS