Digestive issues affect a wide range of people in today’s society. The most common symptoms I see in my practice include acid reflux or GERD, constipation, bloating or gas and diarrhea. Following is my list of frequently asked Questions and Answers on digestive issues:

Q: What is a probiotic and do I need to take them?

A: A healthy digestive system has a balance of friendly or beneficial bacteria living within the intestines. The term dysbiosis describes the condition when the gut bacteria are out of balance with too few beneficial bacteria and an excess of undesirable organisms. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that can be consumed to restore gut bacteria balance, and can have very positive health benefits for those in need. So while beneficial in many instances, not all probiotics are alike and not everyone’s intestines are in need of additional bacterial flora.

Many factors in our modern hurried lifestyle can disrupt the balance of the friendly bacteria and lead to gut dysbiosis and poorer health. These include: using antibiotics which can also destroy friendly gut bacteria; relying on antacids and gastric acid blockers; a high fat low fiber diet; traveling abroad which increases the risk of contracting foreign organisms; and consumption of food and water contaminants such as pesticides found in fruits and vegetables.

In contrast, there are many benefits to having a proper balance of
gut bacteria: 

  • Detoxifying the colon and promoting regular bowel movements
  • Manufacturing certain vitamins and essential fatty acids
  • Producing natural antimicrobials to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi
  • Stimulating immune functions
  • Promoting a healthy intestinal pH
  • Helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels

Proper balance may be achieved with Probiotics by some individuals, but they are not beneficial to everyone and individual diagnosis is recommended.

Q: I have acid reflux so should I take antacids?

A: I discourage the indiscriminate use of acid blocking or acid neutralizing products. Although it is believed by many that acid reflux is caused by excessive stomach acids, my experience indicates the vast majority of acid reflux conditions are associated with insufficient stomach acid, digestive enzymes, pancreatin, pepsin or other naturally-produced substances required for proper food digestion. Antacids neutralize stomach acids. By neutralizing the stomach acids (or blocking the production of sufficient stomach acid) one can suffer serious long-term health consequences if in fact there was not an excess of stomach acids to begin with. Too little or insufficient stomach acid will result in the improper digestion of food and the lack of absorption of essential nutrients for maintaining good health.

Q: When I eat certain foods I bloat up like I am pregnant.
What should I do?

A: There was an old TV commercial depicting a cab driver who developed gastric distress after eating a pastrami sandwich. The cabbie immediately reaches for a bottle of medication in his cab’s glove box. It didn’t occur to him that the pastrami sandwich might have been the problem, or that he might have a more serious health issue that didn’t allow him to eat the sandwich without distress. Medication was his cure (or so the commercial would have us believe!)

Bloating is from the production of gases in the stomach or intestines from food that has undergone insufficient breakdown or is a local irritant to the gut lining. There are a number of potential reasons for the bloating including an improperly functioning autonomic nervous system, or a lack of stomach acids, digestive enzymes or other substances required in proper digestion. In the case of the cabbie, there is also the possibility that some food source within the sandwich was the cause.

My point is that reaching for a bottle in the glove box may relieve the symptoms but is not a cure. For long-term wellness, one should work with a professional to develop a plan to correct the problem.

Jim Harris is located at The Art of Wellness Center in Palm Springs. Please submit your nutrition questions to Jim via email: [email protected]. www.TheArtofWellnessCenter.com

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