Is Your Digestive System On Fire?

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Is Your Digestive System On Fire?

Cover of Shonali Sabherwal's book, The Detox Diet

One of my patients, Rashmi, thirty-two, a mother of two kids, found herself unenergetic, overweight and extremely stressed. She came to me after exhausting all her hope in allopathy medication. That's when people generally come to me, when their gut linings have already been destroyed by drugs and antibiotics. In her quest to get healthy, I was the sixth person she was visiting. She had been diagnosed with hypothyroid (or Hashimoto's thyroiditis) and was on medication and antidepressants. She had vitamin B12 deficiency and I also diagnosed her with adrenal fatigue. Rashmi's diet was fine, but it seemed as though something was wrong with her body's absorption. Her IgG test revealed food allergies and I suspected a leaky gut as well. She had already reached the full-blown stage of inflammation. I told Rashmi if she didn't fix her leaky gut, she would not be able to absorb anything that went into her body, from food to medication.

I started her on a programme of whole foods (foods that are considered good quality), fermentation, prebiotics and a diet rich in the fibres that good microbiota thrive on. I also gave her bone broths to repair her stomach lining (more on bone broths later). She said she was already managing her stress levels with yoga and meditation, and was under a good psychotherapist. After one month on the plan, she dropped 3kg and was sure she wanted to go ahead with it for at least the next three months as advised. In another three months, her vitamin B12 levels came back to normal (which was a sign her gut lining was on the mend for sure), her cortisol levels dropped, and the insulin as well as fasting blood sugar levels were stable. After staying on the plan for three more months, she lost 11kg. She was beaming and glowing from all the health benefits she was experiencing.

Our digestive system fits inside our bodies quite neatly and compactly, but if you were to lay it out in front of you, it would cover a tennis court. The digestive tract protects you from disease and any kind of outside infections; it is your immune barrier-your gatekeeper. It works extra hard not only to extract nutrients from your food but also to sort through and deal with the stockpile of undigested food, new microorganisms and the ones already present. This gang of microorganisms are a mix of good guys, bad guys and the ones that are neutral. I can't emphasize enough that the more diverse your gut microbes, the healthier you are. They protect you from harmful pathogens entering your gut, but only if the friendly ones outnumber the unfriendly ones. However, when this does not happen, you reach a state of dysbiosis. Over a period of time, dysbiosis will then lead to leaky gut syndrome. The overgrowth of bad microorganisms can cause your intestinal lining - which is slightly permeable and allows only nutrients and water to seep through the barrier of the gut - to become more porous, allowing toxins to escape directly into the bloodstream and cause a host of issues. In his book Eat Dirt, Josh Axe refers to a study by Alessio Fasano at the University of Maryland who brought out of the closet the protein zonulin, which causes the tight junctions of the gut wall to loosen. The three things that trigger the production of zonulin are exposure to bacteria, increased antibiotic use and exposure to gluten.

Another patient, Arun, came to me with fibromyalgia, an autoimmune condition characterized by chronic pain throughout the musculature and tissue in the body, and fatigue. He also mentioned he was suffering from IBD, which was a condition he suffered from before he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. He had tried everything and had found no respite. He ran his own business, and his stress levels were extremely high, though that is common to most of us today. He was managing his condition with physiotherapy but felt that he had to resolve his IBD first. He was right of course.

His food habits revealed a lack of good fibre in his diet and too much of refined white flour-pasta, cereal, bread, biscuits, crackers. He was also on a lot of pain medication, and had a habit of not chewing his food thoroughly. His blood tests revealed low levels of vitamin B, including B12, vitamin D and zinc. Also, a diagnosis done by me revealed there was an overgrowth of pathogenic yeast and depletion of certain good probiotic strains. I gave him a protocol I follow with my IBD clients - a diet high in digestive enzymes (probiotic-rich foods), prebiotic foods, grains (minimal at the start, as he was reacting to sugars), vegetables and good cold-pressed oils (fats). I also removed all trigger foods that fed his condition and the yeast overgrowth. In a month he found himself springing with energy and in three months he reported an 85 per cent reduction in pain.

Excerpted with permission of Penguin Random House India from The Detox Diet by Shonali Sabherwal available in bookstores and online.

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