Eighty percent of immune and hormonal stress comes from my gut?!
Sound Consumer | November 2002
by Dr. Rebecca Wynsome, N. D.
(November 2002) — While the Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) controversy continues in the media and our minds, let's focus on the link between our digestion, immune stress, and hormones. Let's start with a few basics:
Our bodies utilize and break down foods via digestion. The liver then filters these metabolites of foods, in addition to filtering our hormones. We refer to the intestines and liver, working together, as "the gut."
Dysbiosis is an imbalance of the flora and environment in the gut — a major contributor to immune stress in the body. Eubiosis is the dynamic state of healthy balance in the intestines. Mal-digestion contributes to dysbiosis in the body. This can be a result of insufficient stomach acid and/or low pancreatic enzymes output, among other things.
One can experience other difficulties with digestion caused by certain chemicals in food, such as coffee, caffeine, tea, potatoes, tyramine in wine and cheese, etc. Our body needs to break down all foods that we eat and then detoxify them through the liver.
Symptoms of poor digestion and metabolic toxicity can include feelings of sluggishness, heaviness or denseness, headaches, lethargy, increased thirst, poor concentration and/or worsened memory, PMS, peri-menopausal and menopausal issues, and many others. Bacterial growth in the small intestine and dysinsulinemia (when the body loses responsiveness to insulin to regulate blood glucose) are other contributors to poor digestion.
For better health, optimize your digestion by eating a variety of foods, eating a minimum of unhealthy foods, and rotating your stress foods through the diet.
In addition to mal-digestion, other digestive stresses include immune responses to food particles. We have a huge amount of lymph tissue around our intestines called the G.A.L.T. (gut activated lymphoid tissue). The gut and immune system are intimately linked.
A few of our gut immune responses are: immune fatigue/incompetence, muco-toxic reactions, digestive inflammation causing immune problems and delayed food sensitivities. For example, an acute allergy vs. delayed (hidden) sensitivity reaction can be determined through a blood study and/or an elimination diet.
Testing for stessors
The most common high stress foods include: dairy, wheat (including all gluten grains), eggs, corn, citrus, peanuts, soy, chocolate, beef, caffeine, sugar, garlic, yeast, Nightshade family foods and alcohol. If you suspect you are sensitive to one or more of these foods, eliminate all forms of these foods from your diet for 14 days.
On the 15th day, select one food to add back into your diet and have a fair amount of that food at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For two days after your specific food challenge watch for the return of your symptoms. Record your results. Reduce your intake of the stress food(s) to one to two times per week, if you choose to eat it at all.
If you would like specific testing for various digestive or immune issues, consult with a physician practicing Functional Medicine, such as a naturopathic physician. There are tests that can pinpoint problems and effective treatments to optimize your digestive function.
Hormones naturally found in our body, as well as additional hormones we take, are broken down and processed through the intestines and the liver (affectionately known as "the gut"). When we have mal-absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, our hormone balance can be disturbed.
We (men and women) are exposed to many estrogens, including our own native estrogen, estrogens we take [such as synthetic HRT (SHRT) and natural HRT (NHRT)], and environmental toxins that mimic estrogen in our bodies, such as petrochemicals, plastics, cosmetics, sunscreens, etc. The goal is healthy estrogen metabolic detoxification.
There are specific tests available that show the breakdown products of estrogen and various hormone ratios to assess your functioning and risks. Keeping your digestion as optimal as possible aids our estrogen balance, by assisting the liver function. In my practice, we find that we can use 50 percent less actual hormone and/or hormonal support when a person's liver and digestive tract are functioning and filtering optimally. This reduces the risk of cancers and other health-related problems.
If you would like specific hormone testing to find out your risks and options for increased vitality and hormonal health, consult with a naturopathic physician. Good digestion is the foundation of good health, energy and hormone balance.
Dr. Wynsome is a graduate of Bastyr University and has practiced Functional Medicine in Seattle for 12 years. She is currently working on "Correcting Imbalanced Hormones," a book due for release in 2003. Rebecca may be reached at 206-283-1383.