Gastrointestinal (GI) problems affect all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. Indeed, GI problems are one of our most common afflictions. Since you are reading this book, my guess is that you or someone close to you has a digestive problem that you would like to improve. This workbook offers many tools and techniques to do just that.
A few years ago, I was doing research for a medical mission group to determine the most common botanical medicines used in the area of Nicaragua where the group was planning to go. Many indigenous plants were used as home remedies there, as they are throughout many countries in the world. I was astonished that so many of these remedies were for gastrointestinal complaints, from worms and parasites to diarrhea, gas, constipation, ulcers, and liver problems. The number of concoctions listed for GI problems exceeded any other physical category.
This emphasized for me that what I have observed in over thirty years of primary care practice is true. Bellyaches and GIproblems are extremely common everywhere. The kinds of conditions seen in underdeveloped countries may be somewhat different from what we experience in places like the United States, but digestive problems are a major health issue the world over. Indeed, I have researched a vast number of therapeutic approaches for GI issues in other systems of medicine representing the people and cultures of India, China, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
Many GI problems that bring people to the modern medical doctor or traditional healer are short-term and self-limited. These include problems like stomach flu, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, gas, constipation, and infantile colic. Others are troubling chronic conditions such as heartburn, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel disease, malabsorption, and gallstones, as well as certain liver and pancreatic conditions.
The approach I take in this workbook is a holistic one. It is integrative in bringing together evidence-based modern medical treatments with traditional, natural, and complementary remedies. I emphasize not only treatment but also prevention through sound nutrition and a balanced lifestyle.
Further, my approach is ecologically sound "green medicine," a systems-biology approach known as functional medicine. This approach does not merely define medical issues in terms of certain disease states or specific organ dysfunctions, but rather it incorporates an integrative view of how all body systems and the gut interact. It is becoming well known that an ecological model is the best solution to many of the planet’s problems. Everything is in some way connected to everything else. It is the same in your body.
How and what you eat is due not only to your food choices but also to the conditions of soil and sea, agricultural and fishing practices, pesticides and toxins in the environment, culture, cooking methods, and food availability. These ecological and global factors affect our health and that of our world community’s most vulnerable, including infants and the frail elderly.
Getting relief from chronic, complex medical conditions, including those of the GI system, requires such a holistic and ecological viewpoint. An example of a functional-medicine approach is as follows. Have you, or has someone you know, ever felt vaguely sick, achy, fatigued, or just "blah?" If you brought those general complaints to your doctor, he or she might not find any specific problem, such as an infection, ulcer, or other explanation, despite thorough examination and testing. The functional-medicine approach helps in this situation by identifying conditions that affect function even before they can be characterized as a medical condition. So the fatigued and "blah" feeling might be due to a food allergy, chronic inflammation, or gut bacterial imbalance that wouldn’t show up in regular blood or X-ray tests but can nevertheless affect how you are feeling and functioning day to day.
The gut is the conduit of good health and poor health. If misused, it can contribute to many illnesses far removed from the abdominal cavity. Poor nutrition leads, of course, to obesity and its attendant problems. These include risk factors responsible for the epidemic of childhood diabetes, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, peripheral vascular and cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Food sensitivities and allergies also contribute to many of these diseases by stimulating chronic, silent inflammation. Such inflammation wreaks its damage by depressing the immune system, which leads to recurrent infections such as those of the sinuses, respiratory tract, skin, and other structures.
This workbook’s functional, ecological approach is based first in your personalstory. I encourage you to understand your own story of both illness and wellness through a number of exercises, including diet and symptom diaries. The stories of others included in this book may remind you of your own problems or those of friends and family members. This book offers approaches to the most common GI problems. It examines the interaction of these problems with all aspects of health and includes helpful tables listing the full range of therapeutic options.
Your story and history are vital, since the underlying causes of disease are complex and often deeply rooted. All of the following can play a significant role in your GI health and wellness: genetics, physical and psychological trauma, sexuality, environmental issues, stress, relationships, sleep patterns, diet, exercise, spiritual perspective, use of medications, and exposure to toxins. Without an understanding of the influences of these factors on the terrain of your health, we may miss important turning points or conditions that led to your being prone to acquire a particular condition. These factors also may have triggered your disease or continue to sustain and aggravate your gut condition.
After reading this book, you will have some important self-assessment tools for your own GI health that hopefully will expand beyond how you have thought about it previously. A number of exercises and worksheets will help you assess your lifestyle, behaviors, and health risks, showing you how these impact your gut health and overall well-being.
Included are methods for identifying food sensitivities and allergies, as well as several specialized diets to help you improve your gut health. This book will also help you weigh the benefits and risks of using certain GI medications.
I hope you enjoy the positive approach taken to creating a healthier diet and lifestyle. Practical tips include a list of SuperFoods and behavioral change methods that will help you heal your gut and your life. Eating well, managing stress, exercising, and cultivating a mindful movement practice can all contribute to a healthier gut and a healthier life in mind-body and spirit. This allows you to enjoy the fruit of your talents, time with family and friends, and rewarding work, all without being impaired by poor gut health, belly pain, and the limitations of various preventable gut-related illnesses.
A Note of Caution
I strongly support self-care, personal health empowerment, and improving your understanding of gut health. However, these cannot substitute for evaluation by a trained health professional in cases of long-standing or undiagnosed symptoms. This book is thus not meant as a substitute for professional medical judgment, though it can serve as a helpful adjunct to it.
When in doubt about your digestive health, see your doctor or other health professional to exclude serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, like cancer, infections, inflammatory conditions, stones, and bleeding. Problems such as these may lie hidden and out of your sight or understanding within the abdominal cavity. Be safe, be sane, be healthy.
Get a complete history and exam from a reliable practitioner if you have any question as to what is going on inside your abdomen. In some cases, this will require blood, urine, or stool testing, imaging studies, or endoscopic procedures. Regular screening with colonoscopy for those at high risk and those over fifty can save lives through early detection and treatment of colon polyps and cancers. Immunizations can reduce risk of serious diarrhea and hepatitis. In a word, be kind to yourself and your belly. Do what you can within the boundaries of common sense and good hygiene to keep well and attend to acute, self-limiting conditions. Seek medical attention for longer-standing problems and be willing to try an expanded range of therapeutic options as described here if standard medical therapy is not offering complete relief.