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In my last post, I covered stomach acidity and its impact on digestion, immunity and overall health. If digestion is not in working order, then nutrients don’t get absorbed properly, immunity is compromised, and chronic inflammation multiplies.
In the pharmacy, a lot of patients especially women, talk to me now more than ever, of unexplained chronic pain, tiredness, weight gain, recurrent infections, and auto-immune diseases with no clear origin.
Men and women alike, are constantly asking why in spite of their medications, they are still experiencing poor digestion, bloating, chronic intestinal irritation, skin related issues like psoriasis, eczema, rashes and flare-ups, food allergies and infections.
All of these conditons originate as inflammation in some form or another.
The hormonal and antibiotic fed meats, processed, and genetically modified foods we are eating, chronic stress, overuse of certain medications, hormonal  imbalances, among other factors, could be the key of many of these unexplained and layered conditions.
I grew up watching my dad taking a car apart, until he found the part and the problem that needed to be worked on and fixed it. Sometimes I thought, how is he going to put this car back together? But piece by piece with patience, he always did.
Every part has a function and every problem has an origin, that is what he would look for.
In my post, Chronic Inflammation – Time for a Tune Up , I use a car engine to help explain what is happening in chronic inflammatory conditions.
In healthcare today more than ever, we need to step back and go to the basics.
Learning how the digestive tract works, where most of our immune system is present, is the starting point in understanding and reducing chronic inflammation, and many other conditions that follow.
The next piece of the puzzle is the small intestine where further digestion and the absorption of nutrients takes place.
The small intestine is a coiled tube which stretches out to 16 to 20 feet in length. It has three parts, the duodenum, jejenum, and ileum.
The small intestine’s wall is full of finger like projections called villi which are there to increase the absorptive surface area to take nutrients out of the intestine and into the body’s circulatory and lymphatic systems. Once the nutrients are carried into the circulatory and lymphatic systems, they are taken to the liver for further detoxification and filtration, to organ sites for functional use, energy or storage. 
The small intestine’s greatest function is the absorption of nutrients into the body.
The stomach connects to the small intestine’s duodenum section. Here, the partially digested food called chyme is sent from the stomach, and is further broken down and digested.
When the duodenum receives the partially digested chyme, the pancreas secretes more digestive enzymes and sends them into the small intestine. The small intestine also produces digestive enzymes, and contains microflora which help to eliminate harmful pathogens.
Proteins are further broken into amino acids, carbohydrates into simple sugars, and fats into fatty acids and glycerol.

villi in intestinal wall incease absorptive area
Bile salts are sent in from the liver and gallbladder to help neutralize chyme’s acidity level, allow for digestive enzymes to activate, and to help make fat easier to digest. Some minerals like iron and calcium are mainly absorbed in the duodenum.

Next the digested contents pass into the jejenum where further digestion and most of nutrient absorption takes place. Amino acids, simple sugars, most minerals ( except sodium, chloride and potassium which are electrolytes), and most water soluble vitamins are absorbed here into the circularory or lymphatic vessels.
In the ileum, the last section of the small intestine, vitamin B12, fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins, most electrolytes, bile salts, and water are absorbed into the body.
Everything else that is not digestable or toxic is sent from the ileum to the colon (large intestine) for further processing or elimination.
As we can see, different sections of the small intestine absorb particular nutrients.
Absorption has to work properly to get the nutrients into our body and keep toxins out.

How does absorption work?

The nutrients are transported across the intestinal wall which has tight spaces between its cells. The cells in the wall selectively allow transport only to the digested nutrients intended for the body to use, and block out toxins and pathogenic microorganisms.
When the lining in the intestinal wall is damaged, the tight spaces between the cells are broken down. This creates leaks in the wall, and healthy absorption and immunity become compromised.  What happens is that undigested particles and toxins that used to be kept out of the body can now leak out of the intestine and into the body.
This is called leaky gut syndrome.
When the body has improperly digested food particles circulating in the blood, it may not recognize it and will start to fight to get rid of it. This creates inflammatory responses, fevers, and in many cases what is considered food “allergies” or sensitivities such as to gluten.
Also, pathogenic bacteria and microorganisms that were normaly kept out may get into the circulation and into the body creating further inflammation and infections.
The liver along with the immune system have to work against these infiltrations. This is energetically draining in addition to causing auto-immune reactions, electrolyte and mineral imbalances.
What happens is that the immune system can become hyper-stimulated, and in defending itself may begin to attack its own tissues. Examples of this are Crohn’s and Celiac disease.
A lot of unexplained chronic joint and muscular pain may stem from the body trying to get rid of malabsorbed food and toxins.
Psoriasis and eczema which in most cases are chronic conditions, may have their origin when fatty acids are not absorbed right, or when they are deficient. The skin needs fatty acids to regenerate, hydrate and build its lipid layer.
Many unexplained skin rashes and flare ups may be related to toxins being eliminated through the skin.
Again, the digestive system is critical in maintaining health and immunity, and has to work properly to keep chronic inflammation from getting started.

Health really does begin in the digestive tract. 

What can cause leaky gut syndrome?

  • Poor diet: high levels of refined sugar, processed foods, preservatives, hormonally and antibiotic treated meats, food dyes, excessive alcohol and caffeine, low fiber intake
  • Some medications: NSAIDS (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, etc, over use of antibiotics, corticosteroids, synthetic hormones (birth control) and synthetic hormonal replacement
  • Health conditions: poor digestion, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, Celiac disease (allergic reaction to gluten), chronic stress, Candida overgrowth, lack of digestive enzymes, microflora deficiency,  lack of minerals especially zinc, omega 3 fatty acid deficiency , etc

Essentially, good maintenance of the intestinal lininig is key in preventing inflammation from getting started.
Good nutrition and exercise (oxygen) helps to keep the intestinal lining in healthy condition because the cells lining the intestine need omega 3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants, minerals, fiber, protein, digestive enzymes, and a healthy microflora to work and regenerate properly.
Antibiotics and hormone fed meat, processed food, too much refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine can deplete the microflora and irritate the intestinal lining.
Certain medications like the NSAIDS, corticosteroids, and synthetic hormones irritate the lining and decrease the protective secretions of the intestine’s wall.
Overuse of antibiotics depletes the good microflora in the intestines and often causes fungal (Candida) overgrowth ( chronic yeast infections).
Lack of digestive enzymes and microflora prevents food and toxins from proper digestion and elimination.
Stress increases cortisol which aggrevates and releases substances that break down the intestinal lining.

In addition to improving your diet and increasing exercise, there are many supplements to help maintain the intestinal lining in good health:

  • Digestive enzymes – break down nutrients for optimal absorption
  • Probiotics – maintain digestive tract immunity and keep Candida (yeast) from overgrowth
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – maintain cellular fatty acid membrane structure 
  • Fiber –  detoxifies the intestine, increases motility
  • Zinc – protects the intestinal cellular lining, antioxidant
  • Aloe, licorice, slippery elm bark, marshmallow root – aid in mucous protective lining of the intestine
  • aloe vera
  • Glutamine – amino acid used for intestinal cell structure, potent antioxidant
  • Maitake and reishi mushrooms – potent anti-inflammatory for GI tract
  • Ginseng, Eleutherococcus, Rhodiola – stess adaptogens, reduce cortisol
  • Antioxidants – protect the integrity of intestinal cells from oxidation

Some excellent supplement products include:

– Vitalgest by Dr Global Health
– Champex by Maypro Industries
– Lifeshield Reishi by New Chapter
– Super Omega 3 by Carlson labs
– Stress Advantage by New Chapter
– L- Glutamine by Jarrow Fornulas
– Aloe Vera Juice by Lily of the Desert
– Lean N Clean by Nutrigenesis
– Supercritical Antioxidants by New Chapter
– Grifon Maitake D- Fraction by Maitake
– Primal Defense by Garden of Life
– Digest by Enzymedica

Checking for engine leaks is another inflammation tune up to maintain optimal health, and keep the digestive tract in great condition.

Camille Medina, RPh
Natural Pharmacy C.l.i.n.i.c., llc

Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins,  pgs 2006-2069
Jones and Bartlett Learning , 2010
Leaky Gut Syndrome, Wendy Wells NMD


The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Suggestions and ideas presented in this document are for information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice, or for diagnosing  illness. Seek advice from a health care professional before administering any dietary supplements.
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