25Apr

Changing to a Healthy Lifestyle, Made Simple (Part Two)

Maybe you’ve already successfully managed to change your diet and stick with your dietitian-recommended supplements specific to your needs. (Read this blog to read my tips on diet and supplements). Diet and supplements aren’t the only components of good health when you are changing to a healthy lifestyle. We also need to dig deeper and assess how you are doing when it comes to hydration, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. 

Changing to a healthy lifestyle can be overwhelming because it often involves massive changes to your habits. I’m here to help make this transition easier because I think that changing to a healthy lifestyle should be simple. And it CAN be simple. That’s why I’m sharing my best tips when it comes to changing to a healthy lifestyle. 

I believe that everyone deserves to feel their very best, and we all know that feeling dehydrated doesn’t feel so hot. So let’s start with some hydration tips.

Tips on how to stay hydrated

We have all heard the innumerous ways that drinking water can improve your overall well-being. When expressing concern about a symptom, one of the first questions often asked is “have you been drinking enough water?” 

While water may not be the sole solution to your problem, drinking it consistently can improve some symptoms as well as help point your practitioner towards the source of your ailments. Trying to drink water every day can be difficult especially if you are not already in the habit of drinking it. It can feel repetitive and like a drag to constantly force yourself to stop for a drink. Oftentimes you may even forget to drink water and find yourself at the end of your day realizing you have only had a few cups. 

woman drinking from a water bottle while outside in nature surrounded by brush and trees

Drinking water can be made much more appealing with these super easy and inspiring tricks: 

Drink a glass of water before every meal

Sometimes your day can be a little hectic, and drinking enough water is the last thing on your mind. Setting a goal to drink a glass of water with every meal or snack can help you track how much water you have had more easily. 

A lot of times your body is thirsty, but this can also register as hunger. Drinking water before your meal can help you realize that you may have been thirsty rather than hungry, which can help with your diet regiment as well. 

If those aren’t reasons enough, drinking a glass of water before a meal can aid with digestion while drinking a glass of water after can help absorb nutrients better. This is one of my favorite tips on how to stay hydrated… This hack helps reach two goals at once, an even better reason to incorporate it into your daily routine!

Drink a glass of water with each medication or supplement 

Most people need a swig of something to drink to wash down their pills. Why not turn that sip into a whole glass? Many medications and supplements are taken at different times of the day. This means you would be able to get a good amount of water throughout the day, especially if you have multiple things to take. 

Getting into the habit of drinking an entire glass of water with your supplements may even help you remember to take them because you may find yourself getting thirsty around this time. It’s a win-win. 

Always carry a water bottle with you wherever you go

A lot of times we find ourselves going throughout the day without water, maybe even wishing we had some right about now. Carrying a refillable water bottle when changing to a healthy lifestyle helps to eliminate this problem. 

Putting your water bottle in a place where you can see it often reminds you that water is available, and you’ll find yourself reaching for it throughout the day. Make sure to refill it as soon as possible once you have finished the bottle to have it ready to go the next time you get thirsty. 

You can also purchase a water bottle that has time markings on it to remind you to consistently drink throughout the day. Another option is to purchase a gallon bottle and make sure to finish that each day.

Hydration is also extremely important if you are staying active (as you should be when changing to a healthy lifestyle). Making sure you have water close by whenever you are working out can even help you finish your workout routine because you aren’t at risk of dehydration. Speaking of exercise, let’s discuss some of my top tips 

graphic outlining my tips on how to stay hydrated

How to become more active

We all know that exercise is an essential part of healthy living. However, knowing that exercise is important isn’t always enough to adhere to a new exercise regimen.

Here are my top tips for becoming more active:

Start small  

You aren’t going to become a triathlete overnight, and that is perfectly okay! No one expects you to be. Start off at a level that feels comfortable, and if you begin to experience any sharp pain, stop what you are doing. If you hurt yourself, then it will be even more difficult for you to continue your journey. 

Begin by setting small goals that you know you can reach and follow through with. Gradually build on those small goals as you begin to feel more confident and comfortable with your activity over time. This can help prevent an all-or-nothing mentality that many of us are prone to when it comes to workout plans. Setting reasonable goals and progressing slowly is the most sustainable method to becoming more active.

Other small changes you can make include finding ways to increase your total activity throughout each day:

  • Park at the far end of the parking lot to get more steps in
  • Opt for taking the stairs rather than elevators and escalators
  • Every hour during work, take a stretching break or take a lap around your office
  • Invest in a standing desk to decrease the number of hours you’re seated

Find the right workout for you

woman in silhouette dancing on the beach with a pink and purple sunset

It can feel like there is pressure to go to the gym to exercise and the thought of being surrounded by people in intense training can feel intimidating, especially during the pandemic. To keep exercising, choose an activity that you enjoy, and listen to what makes your body feel good. 

Think outside the usual running, swimming, and biking. You may find an activity that you look forward to, including: 

  • Dancing 
  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Rollerblading 
  • Martial arts

Schedule exercise into your day

Our days can get really busy, and sometimes the only thing you want to do at the end of the day is crawl into your bed and get comfortable. Like many other things in your life, you have to make time to exercise, rather than leave it as a thing you plan on getting done at some point in a day.

Find a time where you can clear your schedule and focus on your activity. Plan workouts for a time when you have the most energy. Invite other people to make it a social event. Make your activity a part of your day rather than an afterthought. Make it something you can look forward to. 

Some people prefer working out later in the evening, perhaps due to their work schedule or sleep schedule. But did you know that working out too late in the day can make it more difficult to sleep due to increased cortisol? Exercise is important, but you can also put more stress on the body if you aren’t getting enough quality sleep. Finding a balance is key, and that can take some time, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you are early in your journey.  When changing to a healthy lifestyle, we need to account for all of these aspects. 

how to become more active graphic

Sleep is another essential thing to focus on when changing to a healthy lifestyle, so let’s dive in for some tips on optimizing sleep. 

How to optimize sleep

Sleep is also essential for health, but many people don’t prioritize it. Some people believe that operating on just a few hours of sleep each night is perfectly fine, but this can be detrimental over time.

man sleeping soundly in bed with striped bedding and white sheetsHere are my top tips about optimizing your sleep:

Try relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety 

We have all had nights where we are in bed ready to go to sleep, but the day’s events just keep rolling around in our heads. Stress has been shown to make it much harder to sleep, and sleep deeply. Avoid anything that may cause stress before going to bed. This can include avoiding anxiety-provoking activities like watching the news or checking financial reports or stock markets. 

Incorporate stress management and relaxation techniques, such as: 

  • Accepting imperfection 
  • Balancing time between work and rest
  • Maintaining a balanced diet
  • Engaging in physical activities, at least 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week
  • Communicating emotions and concerns 
  • Utilizing body relaxation exercises such as mindful breathing
  • Use blue light blocker glasses, especially after the sun sets
  • Take Epsom salt baths

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Insomnia and poor sleep often point to an irregular sleep schedule. Having a bedtime routine can be helpful in winding down for a night of restful sleep. Having consistent bedtimes and wake times can help reset your body’s internal clock to be able to sleep. 

About 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep is the recommended amount daily.  Begin your bedtime routine 30 minutes before getting in bed; a relaxing routine can include light stretching, meditation, and/or taking an Epsom salt bath or hot shower. 

After having an irregular sleep schedule you may find yourself getting tired during the day. Daytime naps can make it really hard to fall asleep later, which will establish a broken pattern of sleep. This can lead to sleep deprivation and insomnia, so try not to nap throughout the day, especially in the late afternoon or evening. If you really need to nap, try and limit it to 45 minutes at most so that you will be able to get deeper, more consistent, and restful sleep at night.

Making sure your environment puts you in a sleepy mood

Using screens should be avoided as much as possible when getting ready to go to sleep. The light from screens signals the brain to be in a more wakeful state and inhibits melatonin secretion, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. I know many of us are guilty of this, but try not to take your phone into the bed to remove the temptation. 

Also, minimize other distractions by creating a dark and quiet environment right before bed. This can include getting blackout curtains and unplugging anything that may be making too much noise or emitting light. 

If possible, adjust your sleeping area to the right temperature range for you. Cooler temperatures are better, so aim for 65 degrees, plus or minus. Consider investing in a good mattress, pillows, and bedding that can support you the best. The goal is to make you as comfortable as possible as you fall asleep.

Strategies to use while falling asleep or staying asleep 

If you have tried everything above and you still can’t fall asleep or find yourself waking up during the night, here are some other strategies you can use. 

  • If you find yourself lying awake in bed for more than 20-30 minutes, leave your bedroom and read. You can also try another relaxation technique. 
  • If you have woken up because of light, try and cover your eyes with something dark. 
  • If you woke up because of recurring thoughts, try writing them down to help work out the problem. Being mindful of why you can’t sleep is the key to figuring out how to fix it. 

graphic with my tips on how to optimize your sleep

Speaking of mindfulness, that is our last lifestyle change that is essential for better health, so let’s dig in. 

Check in with yourself and reassess: Practicing Mindfulness

Checking in with yourself is extremely important while embarking on your journey. Think about the ways your new habits have made you feel, and talk to your physician about any adjustments you think you may need. 

Remember to always listen to your body. Make sure to stop every once in a while to think about the progress you have made and congratulate yourself for all that you accomplished. Even if the change seems small, be proud of yourself for committing to it, because it just brings you one step closer to the end goal you are working towards – taking the best care of your body that you can!

Practicing mindfulness can serve as a great tool to help assess how you are doing in your goal as well as help keep you motivated to reach it. Take a moment each day to consider how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. This can help you to identify patterns and call attention to your needs. 

cup of tea and napkin that says mind full or mindful with a pen on a blue and brown wood background

Here are some questions to ask before, during, and after completing your desired activity:  

  • What are you doing? 
  • What are you thinking? 
  • How are you feeling emotionally?
  • How are you feeling physically? 
  • Where are you? 
  • What time is it? 
  • Who is with you? 

If you feel as though you are not seeing results, don’t feel discouraged. Building habits takes time, and seeing results takes consistency. Track and celebrate your progress, even the ones that seem really small. 

Congratulate yourself for completing a goal on a day where it seemed really hard, and congratulate yourself on the easy ones too. Reward yourself with small incentives each time you reach a milestone because you deserve it!  

Some days you may get thrown off and find that you did not reach your goal for that day, and that’s okay too. Life happens. Recognize what set you back and adopt a plan for the next time to avoid that situation. 

Go back and remind yourself of the reasons why you started making these changes in the first place. Then you can start the next morning fresh and even more committed to changing to a healthy lifestyle.

 

I hope that you’ve found these tips helpful and feel ready to tackle changing to a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we may need a little bit more support when making changes to our lives. 

For more and personalized guided assistance, I can help! Schedule your free Nutrition Strategy Call with me today.

21Apr

Simplifying Lifestyle Changes for Better Health (Part One)

Sticking to a new lifestyle change regimen can feel daunting. We have all been there… It can be frustrating. You want to make these new changes, but it can be difficult to get motivated and to make it part of your daily routine. Sometimes life can get so busy that it feels like a new routine is the last thing on your mind. This article will explain some easy ways to make some lifestyle changes for better health.

I want to share some useful tips to help you stick to your lifestyle changes for better health on several levels. These tips include simplifying how to stick to a diet, taking supplements, drinking more water, exercise, and setting a bedtime routine. Starting small can make a big difference, and I am excited to be a part of this journey with you. 

How to stick with a diet

man writing in food journal with healthy foods on the table in front of himSo, let’s assume that you already have a meal plan and feel that you’re on the road to a completely new lifestyle and better health. (If you aren’t sure where to begin diet-wise, I can help you with your nutrition! Check out what you need to know about becoming a client here.) But we all know sticking to a new diet plan can definitely be easier said than done. For most people, one of the most difficult lifestyle changes for better health is learning how to stick with a diet. 

Here are some easy tricks to help you stay motivated and be prepared to stick with a diet: 

Not only knowing your goal but understanding the motivation behind it is key

One thing to note – when I say “diet” I am referring to your general way of eating, not “going on a diet.” There can be many different kinds of motivations for changing your eating habits.

Reminding yourself why you are making a change in your diet can help you stay on course. Whether the reason is to lose weight, have more energy, reduce your gastrointestinal symptoms, or improve your mood. The reasons are your motivation.

Making a detailed list of all the reasons why you are starting this new diet can help you stay on track when you are tempted to stray from it. Later, when you are reaching your goals, you will be able to look back and see what you have accomplished so far. Seeing your progress can serve as further motivation to continue these new habits. 

Practice mindful eating 

We are all guilty of taking a meal to our desks and eating while working. Do you find yourself feeling dissatisfied after this? Our attention is pulled away from our food and the fact that we are eating, which can leave us feeling hungry. Mindfulness is one of my favorite lifestyle changes to promote better gut health and it promotes better mental health and wellbeing as well. So, how do you practice mindful eating?

Practice mindful eating by making time to focus on your meal. Focus on the way it tastes, how it smells, and the way it feels as you eat. Engage with it by taking in its appearance and taking your time eating it. This will leave you feeling more satisfied after a meal and can help you stick with new lifestyle changes for better health.

Be prepared: pack food or eat before you go

Being on the go can make your prescribed diet difficult to stick to, especially if you are hungry and in a rush. We often find ourselves in this situation more than we would like. To avoid this, try packing a meal to-go, or eat before you leave.

Sometimes you may find yourself hungry and without a meal ready. Try to research the menus of restaurants in advance to figure out what you can eat to allow you to follow your protocol. This can be done by simply googling “healthy restaurants near me” and then reviewing the menu to find an option that suits your needs.

It is also really important not to undereat or starve yourself. Withholding food when you are hungry makes you much more likely to binge out later, and is also not good for your body. Undereating can also drop your blood sugar, leaving you out of balance. This can cause you to crave more refined carbohydrates, which can spike your blood sugar. This blood sugar rollercoaster can drastically impact your mood and how you feel throughout the day. Food is fuel and we need to refuel regularly. 

Have tasty substitutes for your favorite snacks ready

We all have our weaknesses for certain junk foods, and the temptation to indulge ourselves can be strong when we are feeling hungry. Having a healthier alternative ready to go can really help to keep yourself on track to success with making lifestyle changes for better health. 

Be sure to stock up on your favorite healthy snacks when you go to the grocery store each visit. Then when you get home, pack up individual portions into ziplock bags or Tupperware containers. Preparing your snacks in ziplock bags ready for you to grab and go will make them more accessible to you throughout the day. This way, you already have something in your belly before you can even think about running to the vending machine. 

Graphic describing my top 4 tips for sticking to a new diet planStaying organized with supplements 

If you’re one of my clients, you have probably received a wellness supplement plan that will support your health as you make these lifestyle changes for better health. But now that you have been prescribed supplements, what’s next? 

Adding a handful of supplements to your daily routine may feel like another large change in your life, and it can feel difficult to keep up with it all. Especially if you have multiple supplements to take or have to take them at different times of the day. Their different times and dosages can feel like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

man holding a handful of supplements and a scoop of powder with a shaker bottle and a black backgroundHere are some great ways to stick to your recommended supplement protocol:

Place supplements in sight during mealtimes 

The first step to taking your supplements is remembering to take your supplements. We’ve all heard the saying “out of sight out of mind.” Using this philosophy, store your supplements in a place where you can see them during mealtimes. This will help keep them at the forefront of your mind to help to make sure you are taking your supplements regularly and on time. You may also want to print out your supplement schedule provided by your practitioner and keep it in sight on the fridge as a reminder.

Get a supplement organizer

It can feel overwhelming to remember which supplements to take and when to take it at any given moment. It can also be tedious to read each individual package or double check your wellness plan protocol to find out these details each time you need to take your supplements.

Print out your supplement schedule provided by your practitioner and use this as a cheat sheet to refill your organizers. You can also use a sharpie to write on the caps of the bottles to remind you of your dosage and timing. For example, you can write “2×3” if you are taking 2 capsules, 3 times a day.

Purchasing a supplement organizer (we recommend this one, it is only $13.99!) helps take the pressure off by keeping you organized. It saves a lot of time, and if you find yourself on the go, these organizers can be taken with you easily. 

Use alarms to remind you to take your supplements

A really helpful tool for sticking to your protocol is your phone! Let’s be honest, our phones go with us almost everywhere, and you may find yourself on it more often than you would like. You may even be reading this blog on your phone right now. I’m sure you never thought this would happen but guess what, I am recommending you use your phone even more! 

Sometimes we become busy and may forget to take our supplements. Scheduling reminders on your phone or computer can help to make sure that you are sticking to your prescribed treatment. You can even set several alarms if you need to.

Re-order your supplements early 

One of the worst things that can happen is that you have been successfully following your supplement protocol, and you go to take your next dose but- oh no! You ran out! This can feel like you have been derailed from your progress, and now you have to go without your supplements until they arrive. 

The best thing to do is to combine the above tips by purchasing 4 supplement organizers and arrange an entire one-month supply at once. Set a reminder to reorder your supplements from my online dispensary Fullscript at the end of week 3 or the beginning of week 4. Order next month’s supply and refill your pill organizers only once a month.

 

graphic describing my top 4 tips for staying organized with your supplements

Diet and supplements are only two parts of the equation when it comes to making lifestyle changes for better health. Stay tuned for the next blog post that will outline the other essential lifestyle changes for better health, staying hydrated, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness.

Do you need more personalized support when it comes to making lifestyle changes for better health? You don’t have to go through it alone. Schedule your free Nutrition Strategy call with me today to get started on your journey to improving your health through diet and lifestyle changes!

17Mar

MRT Food Sensitivity Testing and the LEAP Protocol

Since you’re reading this, you may be dealing with uncomfortable post-meal symptoms and are trying to find out the cause. This article will walk you through our favorite method to test for food sensitivities: MRT food sensitivity testing.

With so many foods and chemicals available today, chances are you have experienced unpleasant symptoms after a meal but can’t pinpoint the exact cause. While these symptoms are not typically life-threatening, they can disrupt your life with uncomfortable symptoms. This is because the body’s immune reaction generates feelings of fatigue, bloating, gas, stomach pain, brain fog, and more.

While one common recommendation for food sensitivities is doing an elimination diet and keeping a food journal; this approach can often be tedious and not reliable. Think about it… If your food sensitivity is due to a chemical used in a particular food, there is no way you can detect that specific chemical from an elimination diet alone. This is why I want to introduce to you the Mediator Release Test (MRT). This article will explain to you why this combo of MRT coupled with the LEAP protocol is highly effective at detecting personalized food sensitivities. 

What are food sensitivities?

wooden block letters spelling out the words "food sensitivity" on a light colored wood backgroundIn the broad sense, a food sensitivity refers to the body’s adverse reaction to specific food or chemical antigens (also known as a toxin or foreign substance) causing negative physiological effects within the body. The term “food sensitivity” specifically refers to a delayed, dose-dependent, adverse reaction to food.

In simpler terms, your uncomfortable symptoms occur awhile after consumption and also depend on how much you eat. This physiological reaction involves the immune system’s white blood cells (WBCs) and functions in the production of inflammatory mediators that ultimately cause the symptoms of food sensitivities. 

How do food sensitivities affect the body? 

In short, when we eat foods or chemicals that our bodies are sensitive to, our WBCs will be triggered to release various mediators such as histamine, cytokines, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and up to 97 others into the bloodstream. As a result, the mediators that are released into the bloodstream usually cause subtle, unpleasant, or disruptive symptoms throughout the body. 

To put this concept into perspective, a common food sensitivity is gluten. Gluten sensitivity often causes abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and brain fog after consuming moderate amounts. What’s most important to recognize from this example is that the mediators that are released are not localized to a single organ. But rather, they circulate throughout the body causing a multitude of symptoms. 

With that said, you may have experienced a similar situation, which can be very frustrating when trying to figure out exactly what is causing your symptoms. Luckily, a test known as the mediator release test (MRT) can be very helpful with determining not only if your symptoms are food-related, but also identifying specifically which foods or chemicals are the root cause. 

What is the mediator release test (MRT)?

Now that we know what mediators are, how they are released, and what functions they have on our body, it makes sense that the most accurate food sensitivity test would focus on mediators. The test that we use to test food sensitivities is called the mediator release test (MRT). This test involves drawing blood (at a facility or with a mobile phlebotomist) and then having that blood sample shipped overnight to a lab. Once in the lab, it will be divided and mixed with high-quality freeze-dried food/chemical antigens that are tested on the MRT panel. 

The next step of the MRT food sensitivity test is to analyze the mixed-blood samples by using the technology of flow cytometry and impedance technology to measure the liquid-to-solid ratio. What this means is that when a WBC reacts to a certain food antigen found within the mixture, there will be an increased amount of mediators released from the WBC which ultimately causes the WBC to shrink in size. While this food antigen response is a normal physiological process that constantly happens within the body, when a food sensitivity is detected, the WBC mediator’s response actually reacts in the form of a threat and is elevated to much higher levels than normal. 

How does MRT food sensitivity testing work?

The good news is these mediator response levels are exactly what MRT food sensitivity testing assesses. The test will quantify the level of food and chemical reactivity in the form of a standard deviation bell curve for your functional medicine practitioner or certified LEAP therapist to better analyze. The goal is to choose the lowest inflammatory foods while providing a balanced diet with a variety of foods.  How it works is the standard deviation graph values represent a bell curve ranging from 0.0 to 2.0. Within those values, any food item with a reactive value of 0.0 will have a negligible bar graph, 0.5 is ¼ of the way up the “green” bar graph, 1.0 is halfway across, 1.5 is ¾ of the way across, and 2.0 is the highest level of the bar graph. 

standard deviation graph of initial clinical symptom threshold of MRT testing

While manifestations of symptoms are most commonly seen after the 2.0 threshold, individual variations occur. For example, some people may have symptoms from foods slightly below 2.0. Others might not notice symptoms until the reactions are in the “yellow” range. In other words, food choices should ideally consist of items that have a reactive value of 1.0 or below. However everyone’s body is unique, and as mentioned before, food sensitivities are both dose- and frequency-dependent. 

Therefore, with the help of your functional medicine practitioner or certified LEAP therapist, together you will better understand your personal threshold with the results from the standard deviation graph and use it in your lifestyle, eating, and performance (LEAP) protocol. With the LEAP protocol, you will work to formulate a customized diet plan to meet your individual needs while avoiding foods or chemicals that are triggering.  

MRT food sensitivity testing reliability

Why did I say the MRT test is the most accurate? Well, compared to other food sensitivity tests that are outdated or focus on only one sensitivity metric like IgG antibodies, the MRT is highly reliable due to its capacity to measure the exact cause of food sensitivities in the form of all mediators and antibodies released.

In addition, the MRT test is very accurate with a sensitivity rating reaching 95% and a specificity of 92%. (1) Likewise, MRT has proven to have a reproducibility constant of 90% of the time. In other words, out of every 10 people being tested, 9 of them will consistently obtain the same lab results. This helps eliminate false-positive discrepancies. 

Who should test for food sensitivities?

One thing to know about adverse food reactions is about 50 to 90% are actually due to sensitivities or intolerances. (1) In fact, one major cause of food sensitivities is actually occurring because of poor gut barrier function aka “leaky gut”. Leaky gut occurs due to irritants such as food antigens (gluten for example) causing an inflammatory response on the gastrointestinal lining leading to mucosal tissue damage.

intestinal barrier and microvilli of the gut get damaged with food sensitivities

What this means is through the inflammatory response these food antigens destroy our intestinal villus which is the absorption site of our nutrients. It also means this inflammatory response is downregulating the gut’s first physical barrier of defense against pathogens, parasites, bacteria, and yeast known as the secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA).  Lastly, it means the inflammatory response is causing an erosion of the gut barrier’s tight junctions allowing for large undigested molecules in our bloodstream. (2)

Why do food sensitivities matter? 

Without our villi properly absorbing nutrients and without SIgA protecting us from these pathogens, the gut’s permeability through tight junctions allows for undigested food and other toxins into our bloodstream which further perpetuates the inflammatory response. Remember what happens when we have an inflammatory response? White blood cells come to the scene and ultimately release our not-so-friendly friends, the mediators. 

As mentioned before, the mediator response is not localized to a single organ and ultimately leads to uncomfortable symptoms and various disease states. Likewise, because the villi are not properly absorbing our nutrients we can also become malnourished, contributing to additional signs and symptoms. 

The good news is this can be prevented with an MRT by identifying any food sensitivities and eliminating them through the diet. Next, you can begin repairing the leaky gut with the help of a functional medicine practitioner or certified LEAP therapist by incorporating any supplementation into your LEAP protocol if necessary. 

So, if you believe food may be contributing to your symptoms and you are having trouble pinpointing the root cause, a food sensitivity test might be beneficial for you. If you are wondering what some of these food sensitivities can manifest as the following symptoms and conditions are a good indicator you may be dealing with a food sensitivity and MRT food sensitivity testing might be right for you. 

Food sensitivity symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue, achy joints
  • Brain fog, headaches, mood swings 
  • Sinus or ear congestion, runny nose
  • Nausea, unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence 
  • Diarrhea, constipation 
  • Rashes or itchy skin
  • Water retention

Food sensitivity-related conditions can include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • GERD
  • Asthma
  • Migraines
  • Leaky Gut
  • IBS
  • Rhinitis/Sinusitis

What is the LEAP elimination diet protocol?

The LEAP Protocol stands for Lifestyle, Eating, and Performance protocol. This protocol is prescribed after MRT food sensitivity testing to tackle individualized food sensitivities.

LEAP stands for lifestyle, eating, and performance diet protocol. The LEAP protocol as briefly talked about is based on the information provided by your MRT food sensitivity testing results, and is used as the new foundation to health and recovery. Unlike a typical elimination diet and food journal; the LEAP protocol entails a multiphase approach (usually 3 phases total) with an initial immuno-calm phase to drastically reduce inflammation. This is then followed by the incorporation of safe foods while temporarily eliminating sensitive foods.

Therefore, with the help of a functional medicine dietitian who is certified as a LEAP therapist, the LEAP protocol is used to selectively expand on acceptable food options to ultimately develop a flexible and nutrient-dense food plan that is free from adverse food reactions. Depending on your case, you may also be given lifestyle strategies to minimize symptoms, repair your digestion, and restore your gut health.

What’s next?

If you’re tired of not feeling your ultimate best, and feel like any of the symptoms or conditions I provided relate to you, then it’s time to let the science talk.  With MRT food sensitivity testing, not only will you obtain personalized results, but with the help of a functional medicine dietitian and certified LEAP therapist, you can begin enjoying food again without the fear of adverse food reactions. 

 

Take the LEAP symptom assessment to determine if LEAP is something that could work for you!

Are you ready to make the step? Schedule your appointment today to speak with a gut health expert and begin your journey to wellness! 

List of food sensitivity symptoms includes: fatigue, achy joints, brain fog, headache, mood swings, congestion, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, rashes, itchy skin, water retention, weight loss or gain

List of food sensitivity related conditions including: leaky gut, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, crohns disease, gerd, asthma, migraines, IBS, rhinitis/sinusitis

Resources

  1. https://www.functionalnutritionanswers.com/what-is-the-best-food-sensitivity-test/
  2. https://todayspractitioner.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/For-the-Assessment-of-Intestinal-Permeability-Size-Matters-191_ATM_p12_24Vojdani1.pdf
09Feb

Healing H. pylori with Nutrition Therapy

Have you been suffering from sharp pains or burning in your abdomen that just won’t go away? Is this pain making it difficult to complete your daily activities? You may have caught an H. Pylori infection. Healing H. pylori requires guidance from a skilled healthcare practitioner. So don’t worry, we will have you feeling better in no time!

What is Helicobacter pylori

Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that lives within the stomach. It releases toxins into the lining of the stomach, going through several layers of mucus and stomach tissue. This causes damage to the stomach lining and reduces stomach acid production. 

Stomach acid is necessary to break down proteins, and low stomach acid means food is not digested as fully or efficiently as it would under normal conditions. This affects amino acid absorption, meaning the body is not able to absorb all the nutrients from your food, impacting every cell in the body. 

By limiting amino acid absorption, an H. pylori infection can impact the production of:

  • Antibodies/Immunoglobulins (responsible for fighting against infection)
  • All enzymes (responsible for energy production and other bodily processes)
  • Thyroid hormones, insulin, follicle-stimulating hormone, and all other amino acid-based hormones
  • Hemoglobin and ferritin (store critical proteins transported to all cells and tissues)
  • Neurotransmitters

The body tries to fight against these toxins by using inflammation as a natural defense.  Inflammation is a common response to any type of trauma to the body because it wakes up the immune system and encourages phagocytes, your own personal fighter cells, to come to the area.

The resulting inflammation may be responsible for the pain that you may be feeling from the infection.  Unfortunately, the H. pylori bacterium has evolved to be prepared for the inflammation response and is immune to it, allowing for the infection to persist if not treated properly. 

Testing for H. pylori

There are several easy ways to get tested for an H. pylori infection by your healthcare provider. 

Breath Test

This test is able to identify most people with H. pylori. To take the test, your healthcare provider will have you swallow a solution that contains urea. If H. pylori is present, the bacteria will convert the urea into carbon dioxide after about 10 minutes. Determining whether you have H. pylori is then detected by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled.

This test can also be used to measure whether the infection has been successfully treated. The breath test for H. pylori is most effective if you have been experiencing symptoms for about six months or less. 

Blood Test

blue medical glove holding h pylori blood test on white background

Blood tests are used to detect the presence of H. pylori antibodies. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system made specifically to fight certain infections. Once your immune cells come into contact with bacteria, it creates specific antibodies for that bacteria so that it may fight it off more successfully.

After an extended period of time of being infected, the number of antibodies in the blood may begin to decline, which could result in the test having incorrect results. 

Stool Testing 

Stool tests can detect if there are traces of H. pylori in the feces. Since H. pylori resides in the stomach, the bacteria are able to travel through your digestive tract along with digested food. We all know where that ends up!

If treatment is successful, there will no longer be H. pylori present in the gut, so this method can also be used to confirm whether the infection is no longer active. 

This testing method is best for chronic infection, where symptoms have been present for over six months. 

This is the testing method we use with clients because it also analyzes markers for maldigestion, inflammation, dysbiosis, metabolite imbalance, and other possible infections. We choose this method because it gives more information than just whether or not the H. pylori infection alone could be the root cause of your symptoms.

GI effects functional nutrition test comprehensive stool analysis sample report

Endoscopic Exam

An endoscopic exam is a procedure where a small piece of tissue from the stomach lining is tested. This test is usually recommended by your healthcare provider in response to an ulcer, bleeding, or when checking for cancer. Since this examination is used to test for other issues within the gut, it can often miss the infection itself. 

How is H. pylori transmitted?

The most common way to become infected with H. pylori is through consuming contaminated uncooked foods. 

This infection can also be passed from person to person from direct contact with: 

  • Saliva (1/3 of all cases are caught through saliva/kissing) 
  • Oral cavity 
  • Vaginal and prostate fluids 
  • Fecal matter 

Prevention of H. pylori

wash produce carrots endives herbs to prevent h pylori infection

Since this is an infection primarily passed between food and people, H. pylori prevention has a lot to do with safe food preparation and cleanliness. 

Some tips for preventing an H. pylori infection include:

  • Wash your produce
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after using the restroom or handling uncooked foods
  • Make sure all food is thoroughly cooked 
  • Avoid food and water that is not clean 

With these easy practices, you can protect yourself from H. pylori and many other types of harmful bacteria!

Symptoms of H. pylori infection

woman in black in white holding stomach in pain glowing red

Since the inflammation response to H. pylori is ineffective, the body is left in a state where it is constantly inflamed. Chronic inflammation is stressful on the body because it knows that the bacteria is still there. 

If left inflamed for too long, the body will begin to damage healthy cells within the digestive tract.

Digestion and malabsorption-related symptoms of H. pylori:

  • Belching 
  • Nausea 
  • Constipation 
  • Upper abdominal pain 
  • Heartburn or acid reflux 
  • Gastritis 
  • Indigestion 
  • Amino acid deficiencies 
  • Depression 
  • Joint pain 
  • An ongoing need for HCl or digestive enzymes
  • Weak immune system
  • Fatigue
  • Unstable blood sugar 

Symptoms can occur in clusters as well as change over time.

Other consequences of H. pylori

green helicobacter pylori bacteria

A common failure for diagnosis is that H. pylori can manifest in symptoms that lie outside of the digestive tract such as bladder infections, insomnia, and anxiety.

These types of symptoms can make it difficult to pinpoint the infection as the root cause, so it is important to express when your symptoms first started as well as what was going on in your life at the time.

Extended inflammation can also lead to more serious problems because of the damage done to your cells. 

Examples of less common, but more serious, effects of an H. pylori infection are:

  • Duodenal or peptic ulcers 
  • Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma
  • Gastric adenocarcinoma

H. pylori infections are the strongest risk factor for gastric cancer – nearly 75% of all gastric cancer cases can be attributed to H. pylori. This is why it is so important to seek help if you are feeling any symptoms of an H. pylori infection – you need to treat the inflammation before it becomes a more serious concern. 

Co-occurring conditions are more likely if infected with H. pylori

Another important thing to consider is that H. pylori may not be the only factor at play in your digestive struggles.

Since this infection lowers stomach acid, it also makes it easier for other infections and overgrowths to take place within the digestive tract. Many times, we will see both H. pylori and other conditions, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), co-occurring. 

If your digestion is out of whack, you should consider getting tested for more than one kind of infection/overgrowth.

If you have both SIBO and H. pylori, H. pylori should be treated first because it occurs earlier in the digestive tract. H. pylori lives in the stomach, while SIBO takes place in the small intestine, and the acidity in the stomach is necessary to heal and prevent SIBO. 

Treatment for H. pylori

The conventional method of healing H. pylori is through the use of antibiotics, but this does not always fully treat the infection or address the consequences of the infection. Doctors may prescribe Prevpac for about 2 weeks along with an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Our approach involves addressing the full spectrum, starting with why the infection was allowed to take place (the root cause) and ending with the symptoms and other consequences of infection.

The following protocol can be utilized to fully treat and heal your body.

Stage 1: Stress Management and Adrenal Support

the word stress written in pencil and half erased

The first step is to resolve any factors that may be causing any additional inflammation. This process focuses on individualized dietary and lifestyle changes. Our team will work with you to discover your personal needs in order to help you find the support program that will work best for you! 

The Importance of Stress Reduction

Reducing stress supports the adrenals and helps to reduce both inflammation and symptoms of an H. pylori infection. Practicing mindfulness and incorporating new stress management techniques train the body to better recognize that it is not in danger, allowing the body to relax more easily.

Reducing inflammation is essential for treating an H. pylori infection, and strengthens the overall health of your gut. Stress negatively impacts every step of the digestive process, and can also lower stomach acid levels. This is why it is so important to address stress when healing H. pylori: the effects of each can compound on each other and make you feel even worse.

After incorporating stress-reducing and anti-inflammatory practices for about 60 days, you can move onto stage 2 of your treatment protocol. Following an anti-inflammatory diet can also be helpful in reducing any irritants to your gut, reducing the severity of painful symptoms.

Adrenal Support for Healing H. pylori

One common effect of H. pylori is adrenal dysfunction (aka adrenal fatigue). Your adrenal glands produce hormones that allow your body to work through stressful situations. After prolonged periods of stress, such as from having an H. pylori infection, you can experience adrenal burnout symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, or widespread inflammation. 

Participating in our personalized Adrenal Reboot Program can help to reset your stress response system, reduce inflammation, and alleviate symptoms of burnout. Another option is our app-based Adrenal Cleanse protocol, more suitable for those who feel they need less personalized support. We also recommend testing for possible food allergies and sensitivities. It’s possible that consuming certain foods results in additional, unnecessary inflammation within your body.  

Stage 2: Treatment phase – Eliminating H. pylori

After strengthening the digestive system through stress management, it is now time to move onto killing the H. pylori infection. Antibiotics can be used, but there is also a more natural approach. These two methods can also be used together if they are determined as the most effective form of treatment by your healthcare provider. 

Herbal treatment of H. pylori may include: 

  • Mastica/mastic gum
  • Slippery elm
  • Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root Extract (DGL)
  • Zinc carnosine

During this step, you may need to support your liver detox pathways because H. pylori can be transmitted to the liver through the blood. Extra support will aid in helping against any deterioration of liver function potentially caused by the infection. 

3. Replace healthy bacteria

After successfully killing off your H. pylori infection, it is now time to repair your gut and rebuild any deficits in order to protect from future infections by maximizing gut function. In this step, probiotics (usually multi-strain, high potency) are introduced.

Probiotics are called “good bacteria” because they help fight off bad bacteria and help keep your gut microbiome well-regulated. This is also a good time to begin taking a gastrointestinal (GI) repair powder, glutamine plus herbal support, to repair any damaged GI tissues. 

After this step, we recommend retesting in order to verify that you are no longer carrying H. pylori and that probiotics, the healthy bacteria, have recolonized the GI tract. If your test results show that this is true, your GI tissue is on the road to recovery and the treatment has been successful in healing H. pylori.

If you happen to also be suffering from another pathogen in your GI tract, it is now possible to begin treatment to restore your gut health back to optimal function.

Working with a skilled practitioner is essential to ensure optimal results, as both the dosage and the length of the protocol matter for lasting success. The treatment process takes patience and ongoing support, and having someone to guide you can help keep you on track!

 

If you’ve been having digestive distress and think H. pylori may be the culprit – schedule a free 15-minute discovery call and we can discuss how to plan out the best approach for you!

 

11Dec

Your Guide to the SIBO Breath Test

Gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea… If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). These symptoms are common for many causes of gastrointestinal distress. So you may be thinking – how do I know it’s SIBO and not something else entirely? Enter the SIBO breath test.

woman clutching stomach in pain with outline of digestive organs on white background

Testing is important to determine whether or not you have SIBO. There are a couple test methods, but the most consistently recommended method is the SIBO Breath Test.

This blog will help you understand the SIBO breath test and kickstart your journey to proper treatment.

Why choose the breath test?

Since many other conditions can cause the same symptoms as SIBO, it is extremely important to be tested before starting any form of treatment. Testing for SIBO will guarantee that you will receive the correct treatment that will alleviate your gastrointestinal distress.

Treatment without confirmation of SIBO through testing can have possible adverse side effects. The use of antibiotics, or herbal antimicrobials and an elemental diet, can negatively impact your health if this is not the treatment you need.  It is important that the treatment you are given will address the problem at hand. You don’t want the treatment to end up causing more problems. So, the confirmation of SIBO before treatment is the best course of action.

The two SIBO testing options are the SIBO breath test or jejunal aspiration. But what about stool tests? Stool tests don’t always provide much meaningful information related to SIBO. This is because the results of stool tests actually reflect what is going on in the large intestine – not the small intestine. Stool tests are useful to obtain an idea of what is going on in your digestive tract, but cannot specifically reveal SIBO.

Jejunal aspiration is a very invasive, expensive test that used to be the gold standard of testing for SIBO. However, because of the nature of the test and a history of false positives and false negatives, it is no longer considered the gold standard.

The SIBO breath test is now the method most recommended because it is noninvasive, not as expensive, and completely safe. The SIBO breath test usually costs about $200, and insurance sometimes covers this cost.

SIBO Testing Explained

The breath test measures levels of hydrogen and methane gas in your breath. These levels relate to the fermentation rate of bacteria throughout your digestive tract. Normally, the small intestine does not have much bacteria or gas production. With SIBO, the gas production will be higher in the small intestine because of the overgrowth of bacteria.

small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

During a SIBO breath test, you drink a sugar solution: either glucose or lactulose. Once this sugar reaches the small intestine, where nutrient absorption occurs, the bacteria ferment the sugar and produce gas. Measuring the gases that these bacteria produce (but that the human body does not) is the best way to determine the presence of bacteria in the small intestine. 

There are 3 types of SIBO, categorized based on the type of gas the bacteria produce in the small intestine. The 3 types of gases are: Hydrogen, Methane, and Hydrogen Sulfide. 

Currently, there are no tests for hydrogen sulfide gas. This means that the SIBO breath test will only include results for hydrogen and methane. However, a skilled practitioner can infer the presence of hydrogen sulfide SIBO based on symptoms and something called a “flatline” result in the hydrogen/methane breath test.

What to Expect When Taking a SIBO Breath Test

As with most tests, there is some preparation required in order to obtain accurate results. For SIBO breath testing, there is an essential prep diet that must be followed. This diet may be followed for up to 2 days based on the direction of your healthcare practitioner. 

Preparation: SIBO Test Diet

Before you can take your breath test, you need to spend at least 12 hours on a special diet followed by a 12-hour overnight fast. If you suffer from constipation, this prep diet period will be extended to 36-48 hours total. If you have taken antibiotics within the last month or laxatives within the last week, it is recommended to wait to take the test. This test should not be administered in this situation because the results will be skewed and inaccurate.

sibo test prep diet with plain white rice and baked chicken on white plate

The prep diet consists of:

  • Baked or broiled animal protein
  • Plain white rice
  • Eggs
  • Small portions of oils or fats
  • Plain water
  • Weak black coffee or tea
  • Salt and pepper
  • Clear chicken or beef broth

This list includes the only things that should be eaten during the 12-hour diet – any additions to this diet will invalidate your breath test results. For vegetarians and vegans, speak with your RD to determine your special diet. 

The purpose of this diet is to starve the bacteria in your small intestine for 24 hours to ensure that the results are accurate. 

Other requirements for taking the test include:

  • Avoiding cigarette smoke exposure
  • Avoiding exercise
  • Waiting one hour after waking up to start the test
  • Following instructions closely to ensure the best results

Taking the hydrogen/methane breath test

close up of blonde woman blowing into breathalyzer sibo test

The test is administered either at a clinic or at home. Taking the test at home means it is your responsibility to follow the instructions closely. You will breathe through breathalyzer device at 15-20 minute intervals over the course of a 2-3 hour period. 

The first breath collection is your baseline. The baseline measures the gas production without any food in your system due to your overnight fast. Having no food in your system means that the bacteria have nothing to ferment and use for energy, so there shouldn’t be much gas production.  

After collecting the baseline measurement, you will consume a sugar solution. The rest of the test measures the bacterial gas production over time, which relates to the amount of bacteria present in each segment of the digestive tract. The higher the levels of gas present = the larger the overgrowth.

After the test is complete, the testing kit will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results will be sent back after a couple weeks and should be interpreted by a professional with SIBO test experience.

Click here to watch a very useful video that explains the process of SIBO breath testing.  Watching this video before your test is important for understanding the SIBO testing process, especially if you are doing the test by yourself at home.

SIBO Breath Test Results

sibo breath test sample report

The best way to understand your SIBO breath test results is to have a gut health practitioner interpret them. It is possible that your results will show positive results for both hydrogen and methane SIBO, positive for only one of the two gases, or negative for both. Any result gives enough information to guide what the next steps should be. 

One possibility is that hydrogen levels appear elevated but still fairly low, while methane increases over time during your breath test. This may mean that you have a mixed-type SIBO, where both hydrogen and methane producing bacteria are present. Methanogens that produce the methane gas are actually fed by hydrogen gas, which results in the lower presence of hydrogen gas in the breath test.

Another possibility is that the results graph presents in a flatline for the production of both gases. This means that you tested negative for both hydrogen and methane SIBO. If this flatline occurs and you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, it is highly likely that you have hydrogen sulfide SIBO.

Symptoms of hydrogen sulfide SIBO:

  • Digestive issues
  • Pain (abdominal, joint, visceral)
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Tingling and numbness in extremities
  • Feeling sick and toxic
  • Intolerance to sulfur-containing foods (garlic, meat, seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, and more)
  • Smelly breath and gas

Due to the nuance that is present in this testing method, it is extremely important to work with a professional who has experience with the SIBO breath test. Knowing whether you have SIBO or not, and if so, which type of SIBO is present is essential for formulating the treatment protocol. Each type of SIBO has different requirements for treatment, and each involve a completely different approach.

Retesting hydrogen and methane levels

Usually, after completing the SIBO treatment protocol and your symptoms have subsided, another SIBO breath test is recommended. The reason for retesting is to determine whether or not the SIBO treatment was successful. If the SIBO treatment worked, your SIBO should be eradicated and the SIBO breath test will come back negative for both gases. 

If cost is an issue, another option is to monitor your symptoms and retest only if symptoms return. Recurrence is always a possibility, so be sure to communicate with your functional medicine dietitian if you start to experience the uncomfortable symptoms again.

dietitian woman in white lab coat writing on clipboard with colorful fruits and vegetables and yellow measuring tape on white background

Do you think you have SIBO? Schedule your appointment today to speak with a gut health expert and begin your journey to wellness! 

04Dec

How to Heal SIBO: The 3 Types

If you’re reading this, you probably know a little bit about what SIBO is and you may think that you have it. But simply thinking that you have SIBO isn’t enough to determine what happens next. The next step is to test for SIBO in order to determine if it is actually present (test, don’t guess!). And if you do have SIBO, what type of SIBO do you have? Knowing what type you have is the first step to understanding how to heal SIBO.

There are 3 general types of SIBO, which are categorized based on which gas the microbes are producing in your small intestine.

The 3 types of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) are:

  • Hydrogen SIBO
  • Methane SIBO
  • Hydrogen sulfide SIBO

Each of these types of SIBO require a different approach when it comes to treatment, so knowing which kind you have is extremely important! Keep in mind; it is absolutely possible to have multiple kinds of overgrowth at the same time.

You will often see the 3 SIBO types written as “hydrogen-dominant” or “methane-dominant” because it is possible to have both but one is more dominant than the other.

How to heal SIBO completely depends on which kind or combination you have. So, staying in continuous contact with your functional medicine dietitian is vital to make sure your treatment protocol is the correct one for you!

Hydrogen SIBO

woman in bathroom stall with red wall and stone walls holding stomach and toilet paper diarrhea

This is the most common type of SIBO. These bacteria produce hydrogen gas by fermenting carbohydrates in the digestive tract. 

Signs and Symptoms of Hydrogen SIBO

The large amounts of gas that they produce can lead to severe bloating and abdominal discomfort, which can worsen as the day progresses.

The bacteria also produce serotonin, which increases the contractions of the small intestine. The increased frequency of contractions in the small intestine leads to a decrease in gut transit time, which results in diarrhea. 

There is also another mechanism at play here that leads to faster movement through the bowels and diarrhea. Toxins released by these bacteria can irritate the gut lining, draw more water into the bowel, cause more contractions, and ultimately result in diarrhea. 

It is also possible that you don’t experience diarrhea at all, and don’t experience any other symptoms.

The reduction in gut transit time also contributes to malnutrition due to the malabsorption of nutrients, because there is simply less time for the nutrients to be absorbed. The loss of liquids and electrolytes is also an issue and can lead to dehydration.

hydrogen sibo symptom checklist

Treating Hydrogen SIBO 

Hydrogen dominant SIBO responds well to antibiotics (usually rifaximin), herbal antimicrobials, and the Elemental Diet. Your functional medicine dietitian will evaluate your best course of action based on your medical history.

Methane SIBO

toilet paper roll with black alarm clock with dark background

This type of SIBO is the second most common. Methanogens produce methane from hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide. Technically, these microbes are archaea and not actually bacteria.

There is some discussion of renaming this SIBO type to IMO (intestinal methanogen overgrowth). This name change would account for the fact that the methanogens are not bacteria. Additionally, methanogens can actually overgrow in all areas of the colon. This why SIMO (small intestinal methanogen overgrowth) isn’t the proposed name.

The potential name change highlights the fact that this SIBO type is different than the rest and requires a different approach to treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Methane SIBO

A common sign of an overgrowth in these archaea is chronic constipation. High amounts of methane can contribute to increased transit time within the digestive tract. The longer time food spends within the colon causes constipation. It is also possible to have diarrhea with this type, but this is less common.

Weight gain and increased body fat is also a common sign of methane dominant SIBO. This is partially due to the longer gut transit time that makes food sit in the gut for longer periods of time, allowing more calories to be extracted and absorbed.

Another reason is because archaea make more calories available to us in the gut by breaking down fiber, which we normally cannot digest by ourselves. This is the same reason cows can survive on grass alone!

methane sibo symptom checklist

Mixed Type: Methane SIBO and Hydrogen SIBO Combined

Since methanogens require hydrogen gas to produce methane, it is common to find this type of SIBO in combination with hydrogen SIBO.

It is thought that the hydrogen type can lead to an overgrowth of methanogens because it provides tons of hydrogen gas that the methanogens need! In this situation, it would be considered mixed type SIBO.

Treating Methane SIBO

Methane SIBO can be much harder to treat than hydrogen SIBO because archaea do not directly respond to antibiotics. Remember – archaea are not bacteria!

If these archaea are being fed by an overgrowth in bacteria that produce hydrogen gas, antibiotics can potentially be useful to get rid of one of the components that the archaea need. Antibiotics kill off the bacteria that produce the hydrogen gas, thus starving the archaea.

For this type of SIBO, it can be more beneficial to approach treatment with herbal antimicrobials or the Elemental Diet

Hydrogen Sulfide SIBO

man holding nose and holding hand up something is stinky on white background

This type of SIBO is a bit different from the first two. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas that is actually produced by the human body! H2S is produced throughout the GI tract in a healthy body. In healthy levels, H2S helps to maintain the integrity of the gut lining. However, in excess amounts H2S is actually considered a neurotoxin.

With hydrogen sulfide SIBO, this normally beneficial gas is being produced in levels that are toxic! Too much H2S can lead to nerve damage, chronic gut inflammation, and DNA damage that can lead to colon cancer. The intestinal barrier can become leaky, which increases inflammation and causes other issues. Too much hydrogen sulfide can lead to immune suppression, laying the groundwork for chronic infections.

Excess hydrogen sulfide can also inhibit cellular respiration in mitochondria. Cellular respiration is the process in our cells that pulls the energy out of what we eat!

People with this type of SIBO usually feel sicker overall because of the systemic issues that result from the damage to our mitochondria. Without the ability to convert food to energy, cells can die and tissue death becomes a possibility. This also means that you aren’t receiving energy, and can result in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Hydrogen Sulfide SIBO

Diarrhea and constipation are both possible symptoms, depending on whether other types of SIBO are present. Abdominal pain and sensitivity are also extremely common. You may also experience gas that smells like sulfur, or rotten eggs. Halitosis (bad breath) and gum disease can also be the effect of excess hydrogen sulfide. 

The non-GI issues that can arise due to the neurotoxic effects of hydrogen sulfide can include:

  • Body pains
  • Increased food sensitivity
  • Tingling in hands or feet
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

If you have hydrogen sulfide dominant SIBO, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you would be experiencing all of these symptoms at once.

hydrogen sulfide sibo symptom checklist

Testing for Hydrogen Sulfide SIBO

With all of the possible issues hydrogen sulfide SIBO can cause, it is obvious how imperative it is to identify this type of SIBO. Unfortunately, this type is not currently testable by all testing methods, but that should change in the near future… 

Update: there is a new test called Trio-Smart that has recently become available, and it is the only SIBO test that currently tests for all 3 types. There is some debate about whether or not this test is accurate. 

There are ways for your functional medicine dietitian to make an educated guess on whether you have hydrogen sulfide SIBO from the current breath tests, but it is not a foolproof method.

About 1 in 10 SIBO cases are due to hydrogen sulfide-producing bacteria. Hopefully someday soon we will be able to test for H2S in a simple and effective way.

Treating Hydrogen Sulfide SIBO

How to heal SIBO caused by H2S-producing bacteria is different from the other types. Sulfur is needed for this gas to be produced, and we obtain that from certain amino acids in our diet. If you have this type of SIBO, avoiding foods and supplements that contain sulfur is essential for recovery. 

Unlike the hydrogen and methane types, this type of SIBO cannot be treated with the Elemental Diet because the medical beverage contains these sulfur-based amino acids. 

A completely different treatment approach is required for hydrogen sulfide SIBO and should be advised by your functional medicine dietitian.

The Importance of Knowing Your SIBO Type

Knowing the type of SIBO you have is extremely important. Without knowing the specific SIBO type, you will not know which type of treatment would be most beneficial. It is essential to know the type of SIBO you have to truly understand how to heal SIBO.

If you’re suffering from SIBO, you will want to pursue the most effective treatment protocol based on both your type of SIBO and your medical history,  guided by your functional medicine dietitian.

Also, retesting after a SIBO treatment protocol is very important because these three types of SIBO can be interrelated. This can sometimes mean that you can get rid of one type of SIBO with the potential of having a second type remaining.

Many times you can have more than one type at once, but one type is suppressed (often the hydrogen bacteria). Hydrogen sulfide and methane both use hydrogen in order to thrive, so getting rid of either of those types might mean you’re left with hydrogen SIBO after treatment.

Now you understand why knowing your SIBO type is so important for laying the groundwork for proper treatment for healing SIBO. Working with a healthcare professional who is familiar with SIBO and who understands how to heal SIBO and all its variations will give you the best results. 

Once you know which type of SIBO you have, you are one step closer to recovery! Schedule your appointment today to continue your journey to better gut health.

type of SIBO determines treatment

 

02Dec

All About SIBO

Are you suffering from gastrointestinal distress that just won’t get better no matter what you do? It is possible that what you are experiencing is due to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). This would mean that you need more directed help in order to feel better!

What is SIBO?

diagram of enteric organs with emphasis on small intestine bacterial overgrowth

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition where the bacteria in the small intestine are growing in much larger numbers than usual.

The small intestine’s job is to absorb nutrients from the food we eat, continuing digestion after food leaves the stomach. The small intestine is the longest portion of our gastrointestinal tract, and normally contains a relatively low concentration of bacteria relative to the large intestine.  

Many people generally learn that bacteria are bad or unhealthy, but the reality is that certain bacteria naturally live in our digestive tract as normal and beneficial microbiota. These beneficial bacteria help prevent other bad bacteria from colonizing and making us sick.

With SIBO, these bacteria have surpassed protective numbers and they are no longer beneficial. The bacteria have often relocated from either the mouth or the large intestine into the small bowel. Here, they start competing with you for nutrients, causing inflammation, and leading to many other health complications.

SIBO is actually a symptom of a larger problem. There are many things that can go wrong in the digestive tract that pave the way for SIBO, so what are the things that can lead to SIBO?

What causes SIBO?

blue image of person with intestines showing with red rod bacteria bacilli

Healthy digestive tracts are designed to prevent SIBO in numerous ways. The acidity of our digestive juices usually kills most bacteria in the stomach, and any remaining microbes are usually destroyed by bile in the duodenum.

The movement within the digestive tract caused by peristalsis and the migrating motor complex (MMC) prevents bacterial adhesion to the intestinal wall and sweeps materials through the digestive tract to be eliminated.

Also, the ileocecal valve blocks the passage of bacteria from the large intestine backwards into the small intestine. All of these things usually help prevent the overgrowth of bacteria in the digestive tract. So what happens when these protections fail?

Low Stomach Acid and Bile Flow

Without the proper amount of stomach acid, bacteria that would typically die in the stomach can now sneak their way into the small intestine.

Disruptions to bile flow leads to a reduction in the antibacterial nature of our digestive system, promoting small intestine bacterial growth.

The bacteria entering our small intestine can come from contaminated food or water. They could even be the bacteria that naturally live in the mouth. Sometimes these bacteria are detrimental to our health; secreting toxins that trigger food poisoning with extremely uncomfortable symptoms, inflammation, and can even lead to the paralysis of the MMC.

MMC Dysfunction

The job of the MMC is to sweep undigested food and bacteria through the digestive tract between meals.

When the MMC malfunctions, bacteria hang out in the small intestine long enough to flourish, a root cause of SIBO. Anything that leads to the dysfunction of the MMC can cause SIBO because the housekeeping isn’t taking place, leaving food in the small bowel for bacteria to thrive on.

Surgery

SIBO can also be a consequence of gastric or abdominal surgeries, constipation, or anatomical structural abnormalities that cause obstructions in the intestines.

Blockages further in the system can lead to bacteria from the large intestine migrating upward through the GI tract and ultimately translocating into the small intestine where they don’t belong.

Chronic Stress

woman in gray tank top holding head looking down on beige background

An overarching root cause of SIBO can actually be stress, which leads to issues with the gut-brain connection.  The underappreciated vagus nerve connects our mind and digestive system, sending signals from digestive organs to the brain and vice versa. This nerve innervates nearly every organ in our torso, supplying them with parasympathetic, rest and digest impulses. 

Stress inhibits the vagus nerve, leading to the sympathetic, fight or flight responses predominating. Digestion is halted during stressful situations, because energy is needed elsewhere in the body in preparation to escape or battle a potential threat.

When digestion is halted, less stomach acid is produced. Another consequence is that the MMC will shut down, leading to the stasis of food and bacteria in our system. It all comes together… stress can cause the problems that lead to SIBO!

The connection between our gut and brain is bidirectional: the situation in our gut impacts our brain, and the situation in our brain influences our gut.

This can turn into an unrelenting cycle where you start off stressed, then your gut starts acting up, then you become even more stressed due to the gut issues, which never improve because you’re stressed out! Yikes, deep breaths… 

Signs of SIBO

woman in pink long sleeve dress holding stomach on white background

Symptoms of SIBO include: 

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Leaky gut
  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Eczema

Other signs to watch out for are the outcomes of malabsorption: anemia, weight loss, and certain nutrient deficiencies.

SIBO co-occurs with many other conditions including:

  • IBS
  • Leaky gut
  • Celiac disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fibromyalgia

According to the SIBO Academy, around 1 in 5 adults in the United States have IBS – and over 1/3 of these cases also have SIBO. There is also a high correlation between SIBO and NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) due to the accumulation of bacterial toxins that cause inflammation.

Since SIBO can present with a wide variety of symptoms and comorbidities, both GI and non-GI, it can often be difficult to identify based on symptoms alone. The non-GI symptoms are neurological and psychological, resulting from dysfunction in the gut-brain connection. It is important to take note of and communicate any symptoms you experience. 

Identifying SIBO requires a comprehensive overview of your medical history including reviewing medications, assessing risk factors, evaluating diet and nutrient levels, and of course, a sibo test.

Testing for SIBO

SIBO can be detected through hydrogen and methane breath tests, which measure the production of these gases within your digestive system.

The SIBO breath test involves drinking a sugar solution containing either glucose or lactulose, and then periodically blowing into a tube to measure the amounts of gas present over time. Blowing into the tube at specific intervals over a period time is important because the timing is what indicates the location in your digestive tract where these gases are being produced.

Breath tests are valuable because our bodies don’t produce these gases – the bacteria do. Bacteria thrive on carbohydrates for energy by fermenting sugars and producing methane or hydrogen gas as a result. In healthy people, the bacteria of the large intestine are exclusively responsible for this gas formation.

With SIBO, the small intestine bacteria also end up producing these gases. Elevated levels of these gases within a certain timeframe of the test can expose the presence of SIBO, suggesting a decreased ability for your body to absorb nutrients and signaling to other potential issues.

There are 3 types of SIBO, dependent on which gas is being produced:

  • Hydrogen
  • Methane
  • Hydrogen sulfide 

It is possible to have more than one type of SIBO present at once, especially methane- and hydrogen-dominant types. Unfortunately, there is not a test available for hydrogen sulfide SIBO yet, but that could change in the near future. (There is now a H2S test, but it has not been recommended by professionals yet)

Healing SIBO

Treating SIBO is crucial because without intervention, the negative symptoms will persist. This can lead to malnutrition resulting from the decreased absorption of nutrients.

zoom in on malnutrition entry in the dictionary

SIBO can lead to nutrient deficiencies of iron, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), vitamin B12, and calcium. SIBO can also prevent absorption of macronutrients: proteins, fats, and especially carbohydrates. Deficiencies in any of these nutrients can lead to other complications that can negatively impact your health.

Antibiotics can be used to treat SIBO by killing and removing bacteria from the gut. Initially, this may sound like exactly what we need, but remember that a certain amount of gut bacteria is actually favorable.

SIBO is not an infection and will not respond to treatment the same way infections do. Antibiotics kill both the overgrowth and the beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion. About half of the time, antibiotics for SIBO will return due to the fact that one’s diet and lifestyle often need to be adjusted in order to prevent recurrence.

The most effective approach to treating SIBO and maintaining a healthy gut post-intervention is to utilize the 5R protocol which addresses more than just the removal of the bacterial overgrowth.

The 5R Protocol is an all-encompassing approach that directs attention to all of the factors that can impact recovery.

restore your gut health using the 5 r protocol
  1. Remove excess bacteria by removing stressors and irritants
  2. Replace bacteria using digestive enzymes
  3. Repopulate using probiotics and prebiotics
  4. Repair the intestinal wall with nutrients and supplements
  5. Rebalance lifestyle to support maintenance of a healthy gut

Best Diet for SIBO

food spelling out the word diet on a white plate with a white gold background

Getting rid of the bacterial overgrowth is the first priority, so how do we accomplish that? Many of the diets for SIBO that may be recommended to starve the bacteria can be stressful to follow, difficult to understand, and time consuming. These diets can be extremely restrictive, leading to orthorexia (food obsession) or even further nutritional deficiencies.

There is one diet for SIBO that is easy to follow. It effectively starves the bacteria in just 2 ½  to 3 weeks all while still providing adequate nutrition to the body. This diet for SIBO is called the Elemental Diet. Following this diet for SIBO requires consuming only a medical, complete-nutrition beverage for 2 ½ to 3 weeks. 

This diet can be just as effective as herbal or antibiotic interventions. This makes it a great option for those with stubborn cases or those who want quick results. It is similar to fasting, so social support along with constant contact with your dietitian is essential to ensure lasting results.

After completing the Elemental Diet intervention to remove SIBO, the rest of the 5R protocol should be followed in order to sustain gut healing and prevent relapse.

In the same way that gut health issues don’t appear overnight, SIBO won’t vanish overnight. But with a little time and effort, you can heal your gut microbiome and go back to living your life with less stress, less discomfort, and improved wellbeing!

Do you think you have SIBO? Instead of sitting in doubt, make an appointment today to take the next step to improve your gut health!

28Nov

The Migrating Motor Complex

Imagine… you’re sitting in class taking an exam, or waiting to be called into a job interview. You’re sitting in dead silence until… your stomach growls. Oh no, did everyone hear that? We’ve all been there! Maybe you haven’t eaten recently because you were cramming for the exam or preparing for the interview. These growling noises are actually the result of the migrating motor complex.

Most people have never heard of this before, so we wanted to dive into this topic to explain what the migrating motor complex (MMC) is, why it’s important, and how to enhance its function.

What is the Migrating Motor Complex?

the migrating motor complex is your guts housekeeper surrounded by cleaning products

The migrating motor complex (MMC) is responsible for moving material through our stomach and small intestine, cleaning house between meals or during sleep.

It is active during fasted states in order to push any undigested residues through the upper GI tract and into the large intestine to prepare a clean slate for your next meal.

This housekeeping role is essential because it reduces the chances of bacterial overgrowth. Without the complete removal of any leftover food within your system, bacteria have a chance to gorge on your meal. This can potentially lead to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Migrating Motor Complex Stimulation

The MMC has multiple phases with varying strengths of contractions. But what stimulates the contractions to begin with?

The first section of the small intestine, the duodenum, is responsible for regulating the gastric contractions of the migrating motor complex by producing motilin when the duodenum is devoid of food.

3d diagram showing where the duodenum is within the human body

Any nutrients present in the duodenum will suppress the release of motilin, preventing the peak contractions from occurring. This is why spacing out your meals is important – grazing throughout the day can actually halt the migrating motor complex and inhibit it from effectively clearing out your system.

The accumulation of digestive juices in the duodenum increases pressure, which stimulates the release of serotonin. Serotonin further increases the pressure, leading to even more serotonin release, which leads to more pressure, which leads to… you can probably see where this is going!

This positive feedback mechanism reveals that more gastric, pancreatic, and bile secretions are associated with higher migrating motor complex activity. These secretions also aid in cleansing the small intestine by preventing bacteria accumulation. So you can imagine that a lack of any of these secretions could lead to an ineffective MMC and bacterial overgrowth.

The MMC and the Gut-Brain Connection

The vagus nerve is responsible for stimulating the migrating motor complex and supporting normal digestion and elimination. This nerve innervates nearly all of the organs in our torso with parasympathetic (rest and digest) impulses. While sleeping, the vagus nerve is most active because this is the time we are most relaxed and in a parasympathetic, unstressed state.

So you can imagine that when the vagus nerve is inactive, under-stimulated, or damaged, that this can cause a lot of issues with many organs in the body. Stress of any kind can send your body into a fight-or-flight, sympathetic response that deactivates the vagus nerve functions.

This is a huge problem because our bodies were designed to exhibit these stress responses when we encounter threats to our lives – not for the everyday stressors that exist in modern society.

Migrating Motor Complex Disorder

Food poisoning is often a cause of migrating motor complex dysfunction. These pathogenic bacteria that enter the small intestine through the stomach can release toxins that cause damage to the vagus nerve, preventing the MMC from working effectively to sweep material – including the pathogenic bacteria – through your digestive tract. The stasis of food and bacteria in the GI tract can lead to further issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, and SIBO.

Traumatic brain injuries, whether they are as mild as hitting your head on something or as severe as a car accident or concussion, can also be a cause of migrating motor complex dysfunction. Due to the gut-brain connection, any injury to the brain could trigger glitches in the migrating motor complex.

man in gray suit and glasses graping forehead sitting at desk with half open laptop

Chronic stress is another – and possibly the most common – culprit of MMC complications. We all encounter stress in our daily lives… this could be stress from work, relationship problems, or overlapping layers of uncertainties about the future. No matter the source of stress, our bodies are automatically reacting in the same ways – in order to ensure our survival. 

In reality, these responses are maladaptive to our current lifestyles. Most of us aren’t facing a fight to the death with a lion on a daily basis, but our bodies are still responding as if we are! The stress response turns off the vagus nerve and shuts down the migrating motor complex, both of which only work when we are in a relaxed, parasympathetic state.

Most of us spend more time in a sympathetic state than our bodies were designed for, and it directly affects our digestive functions. Any issue in your digestive functioning can cause even MORE stress… and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Tips for Enhancing Migrating Motor Complex Function

1. Space out your meals

fork knife and black alarm clock on white plate on blue wood surface

Since we know that the migrating motor complex slams on the brakes the minute we eat something, it makes sense that spacing out meals would be effective in enhancing migrating motor complex function. This also means that constant snacking is often a no-go if you are experiencing issues with digestion.

Eating one nutritionally balanced meal every 3-4 hours is usually recommended to ensure that the migrating motor complex’s housekeeping roles can be completed before you become hungry again.

Fasting overnight is something most of us do without thinking about, and it’s also something that is critical for optimal digestive function. Not eating between your last meal/snack of the day and breakfast should be relatively simple, because the majority of that time you are sleeping (hopefully!).

Giving your system a 12-hour overnight break from processing foods can guarantee that the migrating motor complex has plenty of time to fulfill its housekeeping duties.

2. Support your stress response

woman in camo yoga pants sitting on dock meditating with headphones

Addressing the stress in our lives is often the first step to eliminating digestive issues. Eliminating certain stressors that you encounter frequently is always a good place to start. However, sometimes it isn’t possible to completely remove a stressor from your life. This is where stress management comes into play.

Things like yoga, mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques are useful in lowering stress hormones, like cortisol. Training your body with relaxation techniques allows you to more easily get into a parasympathetic state. 

You can also support your stress response by using adaptogenic herbs and following an adrenal supplement protocol in coordination with your functional medicine dietitian. All of these things help tone down stress responses and improve vagus nerve function, leading to better digestion. 

3. Try prokinetics

Prokinetics are supplements that stimulate the migrating motor complex by promoting movement through the digestive system. Prokinetics include supplements such as medicinal bitters, ginger, and 5-HTP. Before taking anything, you should speak with your functional medicine dietitian to figure out the right support you need.

The MMC is essential for clearing out our digestive tract of any undigested materials and bacteria, eventually resulting in their elimination from the body. This process is absolutely necessary to prevent uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating, and to avoid more serious problems like IBS and SIBO.

Taking the steps to improve your migrating motor complex function today will help you acquire and maintain a healthy gut and relieve you of any gastrointestinal distress.

 

Schedule your appointment today for personalized tips for improving your gut health!

25Nov

Low Stomach Acid: Why it Matters and How to Fix It

Digestion begins in the mouth, but it definitely does not end there. After chewing and swallowing your food, the first organ in the digestive tract that is put to work is the stomach. Low stomach acid causes digestive dysfunction, and this blog will explain to you why that is.

The stomach produces stomach acid (HCl), which is extremely acidic (about 1.5 pH). Unfortunately, up to 90% of people experience hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) at some point in their lives, especially as we get older. In this condition, the pH of the stomach acid can be less acidic, around 3-5.

Low stomach acid can result in poor digestion and cause many uncomfortable symptoms. Many people will grab antacids to address their symptoms because they may not realize that the underlying cause might actually be low stomach acid. Luckily, there are many courses of action that can be taken to improve your stomach acid levels without medication.

Why do we need stomach acid?

Stomach acid is important for multiple reasons. First, it helps break down food in the stomach. The stomach is the first part of digestion where protein breakdown occurs. Without sufficient stomach acid, you may risk ineffective protein absorption due to less proteins being broken down into smaller peptide chains and amino acids.

In addition to protein digestion, stomach acid is also important in triggering some digestion of carbohydrates and fats. When your stomach spits out its contents into the small intestine, the acid stimulates your pancreas to release digestive enzymes and your gallbladder to release bile. Without enough stomach acid, the pancreas and gallbladder aren’t sufficiently stimulated to release these juices, and digestion may become less efficient.

Stomach acid is needed to absorb important nutrients including iron, B12, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Without the proper breakdown or absorption of nutrients, we end up obtaining less nutrition from the foods we eat. In addition to potential malabsorption of the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals may also be absorbed in lower amounts. This improper digestion can also lead to excess fermentation by our gut bacteria, resulting in problems such as bloating and gas. 

Another reason that we need plenty of stomach acid is because we consume potentially dangerous bacteria with our food and drinks regularly. Our stomach acid is there as a first line of defense against these pathogens, making it less likely that they will take hold further along the digestive tract, making us sick. These pathogens could also cause an imbalance in your personal gut microbiome, causing issues such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Signs of low stomach acid

Here are some common symptoms that can stem from low stomach acid:

  • Heartburn or acid reflux shortly after eating
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Burping or flatulence
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation
  • Adult acne and other skin issues
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Anemia – iron or B12 deficiency
  • Brittle nails and hair loss in women
  • Fatigue
  • Protein maldigestion and malabsorption
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Poor immune system functioning

Some chronic health issues that are associated with low levels of stomach acid include: 

  • Food allergies
  • Celiac disease
  • Eczema
  • Gallstones
  • Psoriasis
  • Asthma
  • Gastric cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 

Improper digestion due to low stomach acid can end up affecting your entire body due to the decreased availability of nutrients and increased levels of chronic inflammation.

What causes low stomach acid?

One of the biggest things that affects your entire digestive system is stress. These stressors can include dietary, pathogenic, and emotional stressors, along with pain and hidden inflammation.

When stressed, the stomach produces less stomach acid. This compounds on itself, resulting in less and less stomach acid the more you are exposed to continuous stress throughout your day.

Decreased stomach acid production also occurs as a result of aging. Around age 30-40, stomach acid secretion is usually cut in half compared to our teenage years. This effect continues, with people over 60 years old producing significantly less stomach acid: about 25% of what they did when they were adolescents.

Other things that can lead to low stomach acid levels include drinking alcohol, smoking, caffeine, some antibiotics, malnutrition, and the overuse of antacids.

Low protein, high carb diets or diets high in processed foods can also reduce stomach acid levels. Deficiencies in minerals such as zinc – which is needed to produce stomach acid – are also often a cause of reduced stomach acid.

However, stomach acid is needed to absorb zinc, so if you’re suffering from low stomach acid, simply taking zinc is not necessarily effective to improve your stomach acid levels. The stomach acid levels need to be addressed first before you can address the zinc levels. 

How do I know if I have low stomach acid?

You can start by doing a quick burp test to see if you might have low stomach acid.

It is not recommended to do this test frequently.

  • Before you eat or drink anything, and before brushing your teeth
  • Mix a small glass of warm water with about 1/8 tsp of baking soda
  • Drink the entire glass (warning: it will be a little salty and metallic)
  • Set a timer and wait for the burp!

Burp timing and its possible meaning:

  • Before 1 minute = high stomach acid
  • 1-2 minutes = normal stomach acid
  • 3-5 minutes = low stomach acid

Once you’ve done this self-test, be sure to communicate your results with your functional medicine dietitian.

This test isn’t foolproof, but when taken along with a full review of your medical history and analysis of diagnostic tests, it can give your functional medicine dietitian a good idea of your stomach acid levels. Your functional medicine dietitian can then suggest specific nutritional therapy to begin to address your problem.

Restoring acid levels

Increasing your stomach acid levels will help to improve both your symptoms and your overall digestive function. 

Since everyone is different, please be sure to get guidance from your functional medicine dietitian to determine which course of action will work best for you

Here are some things that may be recommended to help bring relief and to rebalance your stomach acid levels:

  • Reduce stress using relaxation techniques
  • Chew food thoroughly before swallowing
  • Eat protein at the beginning of a meal
  • Eat fermented foods, if tolerated (kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir)
  • Exercise
  • Avoid drinking liquids before and during meals
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and highly processed foods
  • Stay hydrated
  • Try digestive enzymes, bitters, apple cider vinegar, or HCl supplements*
  • Follow nutritional therapy, advised by your functional medicine dietitian

* only take these with guidance from your functional medicine dietitian who will give you a personalized 5 R Protocol

A note on acid-reducing medications…

We don’t recommend regularly using antacids or PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) to treat any digestive symptoms before speaking with your functional medicine dietitian. These are meant to be short-term solutions, but many people end up taking them long term.

Consequently, cutting out these medications cold turkey can lead to severe pain and burning symptoms. If you’re taking these medications and feel dependent on them, you will need to be weaned off of them gradually and under the guidance of your functional medicine dietitian.

If you have low stomach acid – these medications won’t address the actual problem and often end up causing more problems down the line. These medications are used to reduce stomach acid levels, and are often recommended or prescribed by doctors without even checking your stomach acid levels first. Many doctors will assume that your symptoms are caused by high stomach acid, when in reality it is likely to be the opposite. 

If you were prescribed these medications but were actually suffering from low levels of stomach acid, the result may be that you have almost no acid production. So instead of guessing what the root cause of your digestive issues might be, talk to your functional medicine dietitian today and get tested!

Do you think you may be suffering from low stomach acid? Let us help you find the root cause of your symptoms and get you on the road to recovery. Schedule your appointment today!

20Nov

The Steps to Digestion: A Quick Guide

Do you often experience abdominal pain, bloating, or acid reflux after eating? Do you reach for symptom soothers like Tums or Pepto bismol more often than you’d like to admit? Maybe you pop probiotics because you’ve heard from a friend that they help with bloating, but that isn’t working? Digestive symptoms typically signal that something has gone wrong during one of the steps to digestion.

Digestion is a very complicated process that most people don’t fully understand. There is much more going on than just food going through your mouth, reaching your stomach, and eventually coming out the other end. Each meal travels 26 feet before it ends up in the toilet! That’s 26 feet where potential problems could arise.

digestive system with neon pink blue green and turquoise

The digestive organs usually work in perfect coordination like a well-oiled machine. But like any machine, sometimes things can go wrong. Reaching for over-the-counter (OTC) symptom soothers is not always the best choice to address your digestive issues, especially if you are experiencing these symptoms regularly.

This blog is a quick guide to digestion and a basic explanation of all the steps to digestion. Reading this blog should help you realize that digestive issues are not usually an easy fix!

Digestion Starts in the Mouth

woman smiling and eating a yellow popsicle on white background

Digestion begins when you take a bite of your food and start to chew. The salivary glands in your mouth kick into action, infusing each bite with saliva that is filled with enzymes that kickstart the process of breaking down starches and fat. This fat digesting enzyme is only available in trace amounts for adults. In babies, it’s present in much larger amounts and helps the infant digest the fats in milk.

Chewing is imperative for multiple reasons. The first is because it breaks down your food into smooth bits that can be swallowed without choking. Chewing also helps you burst open foods like seeds that cannot be digested without being physically broken open. Many people eat way too quickly, so be mindful when you eat, and chew your food thoroughly before swallowing!

peristalsis graphic showing how it moves

Once you swallow your food, it travels down your esophagus where wave-like movements direct it towards your stomach. These waves are referred to as peristalsis.  A sphincter muscle allows entry to the stomach, and helps to prevent food from coming back up in the wrong direction. The next steps to digestion are outlined below.

The Stomach breaks down and liquefies your food

black and white xray image of torso organs with red highlight of stomach and esophagus

Once food exits the esophagus, it enters the stomach where it is added to stomach acid, enzymes, and fluids. Your stomach has 3 layers of thick muscles that tighten and relax, churning this mixture thoroughly until your food turns into a liquid called chyme.

There are actually a couple compartments within the stomach. When food enters the stomach, it gets stored in the top compartment shortly and then moves into the lower compartment where the churning begins.

Eventually after a lot of churning, the food becomes chyme: an acidic, mushy food paste that consists of partially digested food and gastric juices. The gastric juices contain concentrated hydrochloric acid, (HCl) water, and enzymes. Stomach acid is extremely acidic (~1.5 pH), but doesn’t damage your stomach due to the mucus produced by the walls of the stomach that protect the digestive lining. This acid will kill most bacteria that sneak their way into the stomach with your food.

At this point in digestion, the starches are partially split and proteins are uncoiled. Fats separate from the rest of the mixture and float on top of the watery, protein and carb-rich chyme. As the chyme leaves the stomach, the fat layer is the last to exit. The more fat in a meal, the slower digestion proceeds, which explains why you feel fuller longer after a fatty meal.

Food exits the stomach a little bit at a time through a valve at the bottom of the stomach called the pyloric valve. Your stomach spits out chyme into the small intestine for a few hours after your meal until it is empty.

The small intestine is responsible for nutrient absorption

The small intestine is an incredibly long and winding organ where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. There is so much surface area on the walls of the small intestine that if it were laid out flat, it would cover 1/3 of a football field!

This hugely important organ receives and secretes enzymes in response to food to help break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in preparation for absorption. You may be able to guess that the role the small intestine plays is actually one of the most important steps to digestion, and you would be correct. Each step is extremely important, but nutrient absorption is essential to life.

The cells along the walls lining the small intestine have finger-like projections called villi that pick up vitamins, minerals, and broken down nutrients once they’re small enough to absorb. Each villus then directs these nutrients into your bloodstream or into your lymph.

villi of the small intestine

The liver and gallbladder are in charge of bile production and storage

Your liver has many functions, but did you know it plays a role in digestion? The liver produces bile, which helps digest fats. The liver sends bile over to the gallbladder for storage, where it remains until needed in the small intestine. Once the small intestine is in need of bile, hormone messengers signal the gallbladder to contract and squirt bile through the bile duct into the small intestine.

Bile is an emulsifier. What this means is that it causes the separated fat layer to become suspended within the watery chyme.  This leads to more fat being exposed to fat-digesting enzymes for optimal absorption. Most bile gets reabsorbed and reused, but some may exit the body with the feces at the end of all the steps to digestion.

diagram of the liver and gallbladder and their parts

It is indeed possible to live without a gallbladder, because the liver will continue to produce bile. But instead of the bile getting stored somewhere, it is delivered directly into the small intestine through a different duct. If you have had gallbladder removal surgery (and even if you haven’t), you may need some supplemental bile and enzyme support.

Your pancreas secretes digestive enzymes

black and white xray image of torso organs with pancreas highlighted in red

Your pancreas is in charge of making digestive enzymes that help break down macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) into smaller and smaller pieces until the nutrients are small enough to be absorbed.

The job of the pancreas is to release pancreatic juices containing these digestive enzymes into the small intestine. Pancreatic juices also include alkaline bicarbonate, which neutralizes the stomach acid that enters the small intestine with chyme. The pancreas plays an essential role in digestion because the small intestine cannot play its role in nutrient absorption without these digestive enzymes.

One type of nutrient that doesn’t get absorbed in the small intestine is fiber. So, fiber will move along into the large intestine for the next steps to digestion. 

Stool is formed in the large intestine

diagram of the intestines and all of its regions

Once the remnants of your food enter the large intestine (colon), digestion and absorption are mostly complete. Essentially all of the carbs, fat, and protein have been digested and absorbed at this point.

The colon absorbs any leftover minerals and reabsorbs water that was donated by other digestive organs earlier in the digestive process. What is left behind is a paste containing water, indigestible fiber, dead bacteria, and any other undigested materials: this is what makes up your feces. The longer stool sits in the colon, the more water is extracted and the harder your feces become, leading to constipation.

A lesser-known organ: the gut microbiota

Our colon contains about 100 trillion beneficial microbes. They outnumber human cells by about 10 times! In a way, the gut microbiota can be considered its own organ. For example, humans don’t create enzymes that allow us to digest fibers, so this is where the gut bacteria come in handy.

Gut bacteria are able to ferment and break down fibers for us. They salvage nutrients for us that we wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise. They turn fibers into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate, propionate, and acetate that benefit us in many ways. For example, SCFAs can give energy to colon cells, can protect against inflammation, and can even promote brain health. 

Our gut microbiota also break down and help recycle the components of bile. They can even produce some vitamins for us, but not in amounts large enough to meet our body’s needs. So it is still very important to make sure you have a balanced diet based on a variety of foods to ensure you are consuming enough micronutrients.

gastrointestinal bacteria friendly vs unfriendly

Our gut microbiota can also be thrown out of balance, in a state called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when you have a higher proportion of unfriendly bacteria compared to friendly bacteria. This can lead to many other health complications. A comprehensive stool test can be used to determine whether or not you are experiencing dysbiosis or have a balanced microbiome.

Research about the gut microbiota is booming. There is still so much that we don’t understand, but we are just now realizing the impact these bacteria have on our lives.

Potential root causes of digestive dysfunction

hand holding marker and words that say root cause on black background

So now you should understand a little bit about the complex interrelation between the digestive organs. There are many points along the way where problems could arise.

Here are some examples of potential root causes that can lead to various digestive and absorption issues:

  • Not fully chewing your food
  • Sphincter muscle dysfunction between stomach and esophagus
  • Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) due to bacteria leaking from the mouth or relocating from the large intestine
  • Low stomach acid production
  • Insufficient bile flow
  • Low production of pancreatic enzymes
  • Motility dysfunction of the small or large intestine
  • Dysbiosis of gut microbiota
  • Chronic stress
diagram showing stress causing brain gut dysregulation and altered motility of intestine

OTC medications simply mask your symptoms but they don’t address the root cause. This is like putting a band-aid on your symptoms, only providing temporary relief. Diving deep into the steps to digestion to really understand your digestive function, and finding the issue your symptoms stem from is often the only way to get rid of uncomfortable symptoms for good! 

Do you need some help figuring out the root cause that your digestive issues are stemming from?

Schedule your appointment today to get your digestive system back in check!

Interested in learning more about digestive health? Read our other blog, “Heal Your Gut with 5 Simple Lifestyle Changes” to learn more about what you can get started on doing today!

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