02 Mar Gut Health; IBS and Chinese Medicine. Part 1
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the right food is critical to good health, not just because of the vitamins and minerals that the western nutritional model has reduced food to, but for the complex interactions and communication these foods have with the trillions of microbes and cells in our bodies.
Increasingly in our modern society we are seeing more and more digestive complaints from mild bloating post meals, food intolerances, to increasing prevalence of more serious problems such as celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.
Many end up on a restricted diets such as FODMAPS, forever barred from eating certain types of foods or just putting up with niggling symptoms. Many remove the offending foods but never recover; such as celiac’s removing gluten.
“While healing may take up to 2 years for many older adults, new research shows that the small intestines of up to 60% of adults never completely heal, especially when adherence to the diet is less than optimal.” (1)
“A 2009 study in The Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics looked at 465 Celiac disease patients and found only 8% of adult patients reached “histological normalization” after following a gluten-free diet for 16 months, meaning their gut tissue completely recovered to that of a healthy person” (2)
However there are small percentages that actually heal their gut, which means that aside from just a gluten free diet, many suffers of gut diseases should consider alternatives. This is where the Chinese Medicine can come in. The Chinese Medicine and Chinese medicine food therapy is time-testing, its not a new fad, its not a detox, we are using real food to improve the function of the gut.
The concept of the Spleen in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine we place great emphasis on the health of the digestive system, which we term the Spleen and Stomach. In Chinese Medicine we believe in repairing the digestive system to restore function to the Spleen and Stomach to get ride of IBS and gut complaints.
The term ‘Spleen’ virtually describes the process of the digestive system along side the pancreatic enzymes break down of food. The concept also incorporates the digestive system’s vegetative nervous system, immunologic function, hemopoiesis, muscle metabolism, endocrine function (thyroid, adrenal cortex and medulla), hepatic metabolic function, protein, nucleotide, energy, water and salt metabolism.
Traditionally in classic Chinese Medicine texts the Spleen’s abilities are described as;
- Governs movement and transformation of grain and water
- The Spleen produces and manages blood
- The Spleen governs the flesh and opens in the mouth
Basically the Spleen (& Stomach) is responsible for receiving food, breaking it down and utilising the energy through the body. Alongside a lot of other functions, so improving the function is very important.
How do we know when our digestion is working properly?
One really simple way to know if our digestion is working properly is to observe our bowel movements. Many people pay very little attention to most bowel movements, unless they are extreme such as constipation and diarrhoea. Although, bowel movements may change from day to day slightly depending on diet, alongside other factors such as stress. If you mostly have bowel movements that are on either end of the Bristol stool chart (shown below) then this is telling us there are abnormalities in your gut and intestinal health.
The Bristol stool chart classifies bowel movements into 7 main categories keeping in mind that the type of bowel movement you have depends on the time it spends in the colon. Every person will have different bowel movements but it is considered to have normal to have stools similar to type 3-4, easy to pass and regular.
Type 1-2 – Indicate a form of constipation
Type 3-4 – Are normal and what you should be aiming for
Type 5-7 – Indicate diarrhoea and urgency.
Commonly I find that people who have types 5-7 can also have constipation, after a bowel movement they have an unfinished feeling like they still need to go. Often they will need to pass bowel movements but they are small and lack volume, leaving content inside the intestines. In my clinic I term this diarrhoea-constipation.
What are the signs of a healthy bowel?
Being ‘regular’ is a way of describing good bowel habits or normal bowel function. Being regular really means that soft yet well-formed bowel motions are easily passed and that this happens anywhere from 1–3 times a day to 3 times a week.
From Chinese Medicine perspective we consider 1-3 times per day within our normal range, unless the diet is very high in animal protein or gluten, which can be constipating. As you will read this does not form the ideal diet for gut health.
The bowel usually wants to empty about 30 minutes after a meal (commonly breakfast), but this can vary from person to person.
Good bowel function for adults
There’s more to good bowel function than just being regular. For example, you should be able to:
- Hold on for a short time after you feel the first urge to go to the toilet – this allows time to get there and remove clothing without any accidental loss of faeces
- Pass a bowel motion within about a minute of sitting down on the toilet
- Pass a bowel motion easily and without pain – ideally, you shouldn’t be straining on the toilet or struggling to pass a bowel motion which is hard and dry, and
- Completely empty your bowel when you pass a motion – you don’t have to go back to the toilet soon after, to pass more (remember what I mentioned above which I term diarrhoea-constipation)
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut syndrome a term used in natural medicine fields (also called increased intestinal permeability or hyperpermeability) is caused by damage to the intestinal lining and low sIgA (secretory immunoglobulin A) resulting in a loss of integrity of gut walls leading to increased permeability.
This allows bacteria, toxins and incompletely digested foods such as proteins and fats, and waste not normally absorbed “leak” out of the intestines into the blood stream (just imagine a garden hose with holes in it). The intestinal lining can then become damaged by the passage of these substances, which causes it to become inflamed. This in turn affects the normal absorption of all nutrients and overall digestive health.
A further more serious impact is the body’s immune system becoming compromised. This is likely as around 70% of the immune system is located in the abdomen area around the bowels. It is thought that leaking ‘toxins’ can also damage the liver, which can become overworked which leads to allergies, sensitivities and food intolerances.
Should you consider stool testing?
For some comprehensive testing is necessary to give us a better picture of what is happening. For example comprehensive stool testing can offer us information on presence of bad bacteria, parasites, the levels of good bacteria, as well as if you are digesting food properly. Your practitioner will guide you on if this is appropriate for you.
Examples of testing include Nutripath testing (CDSA 4+ Code 2008 and Multiplex DNA) cost is currently $520.00. It covers the following;
Macroscopic & Microscopic Description; Digestive, Absorption and Metabolic markers; Inflammation markers; Tumour/Ulcer markers; Beneficial and other Bacteria; Yeasts; Parasites (visual & chemical EIA detection); Antibiotics/Natural agents sensitivities (bacteria & yeasts) + PCR detection and identification of 10 parasitic & bacterial organisms: Giardia intestinalis, Cryptosporidium, Dientamoeba fragilis, Entamoeba histolytica, Blastocystis hominis; Campylobacter spp, Salmonella spp, Shigella spp, Yersinia enterocolitica, Aeromonas spp.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this blog will cover Chinese Medicine treatment of gut health issues.