Three clients. Three conditions. All different. All connected.
Susan, now 43, had struggled with acne since her early teens. Yearning for clear skin, she’d invested in a myriad of lotions, potions and facials. Until recently however, pimple problems affected her confidence and her social life.
Rani, age 32, had tried everything she could think of to lose weight after the birth of her daughter. Diets. Detoxes. Fasts. Fitness-fads. A health-conscious gym-goer, she said she couldn’t fathom why she looked like she was pregnant three years postpartum.
And for as long as he could remember, Michael, now 38, had experienced bloating and abdominal pain. Frequently constipated, he said his digestive challenges often impacted his mood and energy.
Before turning to IMI, Susan, Rani, and Michael had attempted various approaches to look good and feel great. These one-size-fits-all solutions had provided temporary relief at best, but they had failed to address and resolve the underlying causes of our clients’ concerns. IMI’s naturopathic and functional medicine tests identified common culprits: gut health and detox challenges.
“All disease begins in the gut”
At least that’s what Hippocrates, the father of medicine, claimed over 2,000 years ago. Whilst not every single illness originates from the digestive system, a plethora of modern-day research and our own twenty-five years of clinical research confirm an inextricable link between the gut and overall health.
In recent years, scientists have discovered links to numerous aspects of health that seemingly have nothing to do with the gut. Anxiety. Depression. Hayfever. Fatigue. Even Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. And more.
Demystifying the gut and health connection
Your gut, made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses (gut microbiome), fulfils a number of crucial roles to support your wellbeing. It digests food, absorbs the nutrients it wants, and excretes the rest. It plays a significant role in the development and function of the immune system and serves as a tight barrier against harmful substances entering your bloodstream.
If you’re eating the right kind of foods, your gut is more likely to work effectively. Your food will be fully digested into small particles, which will pass through the gut barrier to enter your bloodstream. When your gut’s happy and healthy, you’re happy and healthy.
What happens when you eat the wrong kind of foods?
A chain reaction of events. When you eat the kind of foods that your gut can’t fully digest, the barrier is weakened. Too much of the bad stuff – including food additives and intolerances, sugar, and antibiotics – can cause an imbalance in the microbiome, and/or destroy the gut lining to cause a ‘leaky gut’. The once-tight gut junctions become loose enough for larger food particles, toxins from bad bacteria and yeast, and environmental toxins to easily pass into the bloodstream.
As a result, the immune system and the inflammatory cascade is triggered. Depending on your genetics or your unique weaknesses, you’ll experience uncomfortable symptoms and inflammation.
Leaky gut and food intolerance
Bad diet and specific food intolerances can aggravate the gut. Gluten intolerance, in particular, is often linked to leaky gut. In Susan’s case, it was an intolerance to dairy and candida overgrowth that manifested in chronic acne. Eliminating dairy from her diet helped put an end to her stubborn breakouts.
Dr Benita Perch, Naturopath and IMI’s Managing Director comments, “The inflammation resulting from leaky gut is an underlying cause of many chronic health conditions including skin complaints, bloating, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and depression. We’ve observed symptoms of depression in clients who are gluten intolerance, for example.”
Issues in gut motility or even a bout of food poisoning can cause bacteria that mostly reside in the large intestine (the colon) to travel in droves to the small intestine.
This is called SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) – the condition that caused Michael’s debilitating symptoms. Flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and IBS (Irritable Bowel Sydrome) can all be caused by SIBO. In fact, studies show that at least half of IBS sufferers have SIBO.
Large Intestinal Dysbiosis
Overgrowth of yeast, bad bacteria or a pesky parasite, can impact the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut.
“It’s just as important to have a healthy dose of good bacteria as it is to ensure efficient removal of bad bacteria,” Benita advises.
Yeast overgrowth in the large intestine can cause a myriad of chronic health issues. The toxins produced by yeast can cause foggy brain, fatigue, gastric challenges, and more.
Meanwhile, bacteria that overgrows in the gut can release particularly nasty molecules called lipopolysaccharides, or LPS. Highly toxic, they can lead to a variety of conditions like joint pain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
What are the detox challenges linked to gut health?
When the gut loses its superpower, the liver has its work cut out. Especially in cities like Hong Kong, our livers are already working in overdrive to eliminate everyday toxins (polluted skies, pesticide-laden food, household cleaning products, skin products and more). Leaky gut and dysbiosis cause a further overload of toxins in the liver, which can slow down its functioning. Our detoxifying systems are further challenged, which can result in liver disease, hormonal imbalances, cognitive issues, cancer, and more.
Do off-the-shelf detoxes and juice fasts help to improve gut health?
Rarely. We all detox differently, and it’s important to identify what your detox challenges are from a genetic perspective, Benita explains. Natural detoxification is a two-phase process. If, for any reason, phase one and phase two are not functioning at their best, toxins are not removed and cause damage to your DNA. This explains why some people try an off-the-shelf detox and feel dreadful afterwards.
Juice fasts are a no-no, says Benita. “In the first instance, you should be consuming vegetables, not drinking juices. Fasting should be done in a controlled manner at a time when every part of you is relaxed. You’re still working out at the gym, you’re managing a busy household, or you’re working a 9-8 job. This juice fast that’s touted as being good for you is placing increased stress on an already stressed out system.
Rani often embarked on five-day juice fasts. Her body fat would melt to give her energy, which naturally released toxins. Phase one worked quickly to increase toxicity, as it was meant to, but phase two was sluggish – it was unable to render the toxins harmless so they could be easily excreted. This created a traffic jam, which – along with the excess fructose in her juices – caused fluid retention and puffiness, hence Rani’s concern for her appearance. What Rani needed and what IMI provided was phase two support to clear the traffic jam.
“An off-the shelf detox solution might work for one of the few lucky people that are good detoxers. But the significant number of patients I treat with gut issues exacerbated by standard solutions indicates detox products and juice cleanses are doing more harm than good,” Benita notes.
Can we heal your gut?
Absolutely. Like Susan, Rani, and Michael, people come to us seeking real solutions.
Our experienced naturopaths will spend an hour with you to begin to piece together the puzzle of your health issue. Based on your condition and health needs, they will recommend the most appropriate tests to pinpoint the exact causes of your chronic condition.
Tailored to your individual needs, they’ll create a sustainable plan to ensure optimal gut health. To ensure they address every part of your health puzzle, they may recommend natural treatments and complementary therapies, such as lifestyle and dietary changes; naturopathic supplements, personalised herbs and probiotics; and osteopathy and counselling.
(Our clients requested aliases to protect their privacy.)