Sneaky, painless conditions that lead to chronic disease

In a previous post, I helped identify 12 times that you should pay attention to stomach pain…

But some intestinal diseases don’t cause any pain. That doesn’t mean they’re not causing damage. I’d like to share some critical information about these sneaky, yet dangerous conditions, and how they are connected to many other chronic diseases.

Dysbiosis and leaky gut

You have heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You have probably also heard of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). These are conditions of an unhealthy intestine that can cause symptoms of bloating, cramping, or gas. Now I’d like to talk about intestinal diseases that will likely not cause you to have intestinal symptoms: dysbiosis and leaky gut.

Dysbiosis refers to an unhealthy mix of bacteria in your intestinal tract. When you harbor unhealthy bacterial strains and yeast, then your small and large intestinal lining is ready to leak unwanted molecules into your bloodstream, even if you don’t have inflammation there which would cause you pain.

First, let me outline the usual causes of dysbiosis and a leaky gut condition. Here are the most common causes:

  • Foods that disrupt normal intestinal flora such as refined sugar (feeds yeast); bread (contains yeast and promotes yeast).
  • Foods that can be allergenic to the intestinal lining such as wheat protein (gluten), dairy (cow) protein, chemical food dyes, and preservatives.
  • Digestive enzyme deficiency or low stomach acid (undigested foods become food for unhealthy gut bacteria and yeast).
  • Foods that disrupt stomach acid balance (important for digestion) such as excessive alcohol and/or caffeine, foods high in trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, and spicy hot foods. Also eating late at night or under emotional/mental stress will disrupt natural stomach acid production and weaken the stomach lining.
  • Foods low in fiber. Did you know that fiber ferments to produce the short-chain fatty acids acetate, propionate and butyrate, which help heal the intestinal mucosa?
  • Lack of abundant micronutrients in your bloodstream including omega 3 fatty acids, organic vitamins, organic minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and plant-derived chemicals (aka “phytochemicals”).
  • Antibiotics promote the overgrowth of resistant bacteria, yeast and parasites.
  • Motrin® and corticosteroid arthritis medications.

Now let me share with you the consequences of dysbiosis and a leaky gut that conventional doctors are just beginning to learn about, even though the science has been available for many years now.

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Idiopathic disease

You’ve probably heard of autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, there is some trigger that produces an immune response targeting your own body or organs. There are more than 160 known autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases are among the top ten leading causes of death for U.S. women under age 65. 1 Autoimmune diseases are considered in conventional medicine to have “no known cause,” given the term “idiopathic.”

However, science, in the past several years, has demonstrated that one major source of these immune system triggers is proteins that make it through an unhealthy intestinal wall and into your bloodstream. Once there they cause the immune system to react and in turn, target your own body tissues causing inflammation in your body (not your gut wall directly). This dysbiosis and leaky gut is a major contributor to conditions such as arthritis, eczema and food allergy, and all autoimmune diseases. 2 3 4 Dysbiosis and leaky gut science was pioneered by Dr. Alessio Fasano and others. From what they have demonstrated, every inflammatory disease of the brain, eyes, skin, lungs, liver, intestines, joints, nerves, endocrine glands, including even heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — all begin from an unhealthy intestinal tract.

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World Health Organization says this about causes of chronic diseases

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes what is behind chronic disease, arriving at the same conclusion as Dr. Fasano’s science on leaky gut. They write,

“The causes of chronic diseases are known; unhealthy diet and excessive energy intake [too much food]; physical inactivity; [and] tobacco use. The major modifiable risk factors, in conjunction with the non-modifiable risk factors of age and heredity, explain the majority of new events of heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases and some important cancers.” 5

This statement mirrors the conclusions of the authors of the China Study, work of T. Colin Campbell, PhD., of Cornell University, who led more than 20 researchers, spanning 40 years of compiled data from both animal studies and a study population of approximately 650,000 rural Chinese. They concluded that approximately 97 percent of all chronic illness (i.e. heart disease, cancer, diabetes) is attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle — and only 3 percent are attributed to genetics. 6

Nutrient-rich food is the most important first step

To reverse an unhealthy gut I recommend nutrient-rich, high fiber food as your predominant food source. As an example, a smoothie containing fresh apples, strawberries, spinach, rice milk, flax/olive oil and ice is nutrient-dense and healing to anyone’s intestinal tract. Many additional foods can be added to such a smoothie for flavor (i.e. liquid stevia) or calories (i.e. almonds, avocado, raw eggs). A smoothie is also an easy way to introduce nutrient supplements. I remember my first time drinking a generic brand of Aloe Vera juice. It tasted terrible! At that time I knew almost nothing about nutrient-dense and whole food nutrition.

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[1] Walsh, SJ, LM. Autoimmune Diseases: A Leading Cause of Death among Young and Middle-Aged Women in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. 2000;90:1463-1465
[2] Jenkins, R.T., et al., Increased intestinal permeability in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a side-effect of oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug therapy? Br J Rheumatol, 1987.26(2): p. 103-7
[3] Jackson, P.G., et al., Intestinal permeability in patients with eczema and food allergy. Lancet, 1981. 1(8233): p. 1285-6.
[4] Fasano A. Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Feb;42(1):71-8.
[5] Article found online at: http://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/part2_ch1/en/index12.html
[6] Campbell T, Campbell TM. 2005 The China Study: the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. Benbella Books, Dallas TX.

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Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.