In the Functional Medicine world, we commonly use a scale to rate how severe someone’s digestive complaints are. Minor symptoms are classified as “asymptomatic.” Asymptomatic doesn’t mean you’re free from symptoms. It means symptoms are being perceived as normal. Most of us think bloating, acid reflux, stomach pains, constipation and diarrhea is normal. None of that is normal! Our digestive factory is where we make what we need to survive. Without this, we couldn’t manufacture hormones or connect usable cells for skin and hair. We wouldn’t have vision or healthy brain function. The digestive factory is like a plant. Water it, give it sun and nutrients and it will thrive. Neglect the plant and it will suffer.
Stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) breaks all your food into one chain of peptides. Stomach acid is stimulated when a large nerve in the brain senses the need to create more gastric juices. This nerve, the vagus nerve, is also responsible for all other major organs and their parasympathetic (rest and digest) function. So, when stress hits, lower stomach acid levels prevent food from breaking down into little pieces. If the food isn’t completely broken down when it reaches the small intestine, small immune cells that float around checking samples will find these larger unbroken down pieces of food. The unbroken down food causes a cascade of immune responses and inflammatory events. If you have ever had food reactions where you can’t pinpoint the food, but you just get random digestive issues, this might be your asymptomatic problem!
We do a test to see if too little hydrochloric stomach acid is the issue. If you get random food sensitivities or acid reflux, try mixing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water. If it relieves your symptoms, you need more stomach acid. If it doesn’t, we start to look at other possible perpetrators.
Another common problem I see is when patients eat the same foods continuously. Eating diverse fruits and vegetables ferment in your gut as enzymes that help break down other foods. If you don’t eat a variety foods, you are more likely to have food sensitivities. If you have ever had an ALCAT or food “sensitivity” test done and the results showed foods you are mildly or severely reactive to, it is not always true. That test is very misleading. It simply shows the random sampling the immune system checked and found those foods weren’t completely broken down or your immune system tagged that food incorrectly. People get these food allergy tests, then are instructed to avoid certain foods. The consequence is once they remove the food from their system, the gut loses the enzymes to break that food down. Then, it becomes a struggle to ever add those foods back into the diet! The true problem is parts of the digestive factory are not manufacturing and the immune system is having an inflammatory response.
Another common problem I see is bloating. Bloating should never happen, but when it does, it’s because food is not breaking down completely and it’s emitting gas in the gut which causes the door between the small intestine and large intestine to stay open. That door needs to remain closed because the large intestine houses most of our good healthy probiotics and flora. If those probiotics float up into the small intestine, you can get yeast over growth issues. The inflammatory cycle continues! We can even determine that if you get smelly gas, you probably aren’t breaking proteins down very well! So we use a specific enzyme to treat this. Digestive problems can affect many other areas of our bodies, mood and much more. Research has shown Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s/dementia, brain fog, insomnia, and hormone imbalances all have roots in digestive dysfunction. A simple, regular blood test from your physician can help me identify how well your system is handling the digestive process. Since “digestive issues” are not a CDC classified disease, most people’s blood tests come back as “in-range.” The range established by the lab is quite large. In functional medicine we use a much smaller range to determine where dysfunction exists. Sometimes, diet changes,exercise, stress reducing activities and supplements still don’t fix people. Some people try medication, which drastically changes their chemistry, but fails to address the root cause of the problem. Other people have claimed chiropractic helps, and while the cracking motion stimulates endorphins and makes us feel good after, it's no where near as targeted as blood lab analysis.
This is where acupuncture works so well! We can see on a blood test which organs are under performing and which ones are over stimulated. We can needle specific areas with a specific type of stimuli and increase the function of certain organs, while helping slow down the function of others. Acupuncture helps regulate the immune system by stimulating red and white blood cells. It also decreases inflammatory cells. After treatments, endorphins are increased, which helps with pain and brain fog. Acupuncture has also been shown to help regulate hormones. So, we find that patients are able toget over that hump and get better faster, when they couldn’t do it on their own. Checkout our downloadable (Metabolic Assessment Form) to see how well your digestive factory is performing!
Dr. Christina Fick (DAOM)