Optimising DigestionA healthy digestive tract is one of the keys to overall wellbeing. The digestive process, which takes place every time we eat, enables nutrients to be released from our food and absorbed into the cells of our body, where they perform numerous functions that enable our body's metabolic processes to take place. For example, the creation of energy, the development of muscle, the successful operation of the immune and nervous systems. Any food material that is not digested and absorbed, such as insoluble fibre, also has to be eliminated from the body.
When the digestive process stops working properly, the consequences can be unpleasant. These include diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, flatulence and abdominal discomfort. Perhaps you are taking medication to suppress the symptoms, have tried unsuccessfully to make dietary changes, or are just 'living with' your unpleasant condition. You may find that your symptoms worsen when you are under more stress than usual.
If this is the case, the nutritional therapy approach may be very helpful. A nutritional therapist seeks to optimise your gastrointestinal health, maintaining optimal digestion and absorption of food.
What is involved?The first step is to take a detailed case history at your initial consultation. This involves going through an extensive questionnaire covering your health history, diet and lifestyle, which you complete prior to the consultation. Your therapist will ask many questions as she looks for clues to the events or situations that may have contributed to the development of poor digestive health. For example, you may have picked up a parasitic infection while travelling abroad, or developed an imbalance in your gut bacteria as a result of anti-biotic use. Or it may become clear that you experience symptoms when you eat particular foods.
At this point, your therapist may suggest that you trial changes to your diet to see if these make a difference. For example, she may ask you to exclude wheat and/or dairy products until your next appointment, to see if this makes a difference to your symptoms. She will work with you to identify suitable alternatives that will enable you to meet your nutritional needs. She may also suggest supplements that help to support digestive health. It may be that you are able to return to eating the excluded foods after following a gut health support programme.
What about tests?Should your case history suggest it may be useful, your therapist may suggest that you undertake a test to examine your gut function. This involves taking stool and saliva samples at home, and returning them to a laboratory. Your therapist recieves the results approximately three weeks later. Areas covered include the presence of parasites, pathological bacteria or yeast overgrowths, gut bacteria imbalance, markers for gut immune function and gut inflammation, digestive enzyme capacity, and immune response to certain foods: gluten (found in wheat, oats, rye and barley), milk, eggs and soya.
Your therapist will then put together a dietary and supplement programme designed to help optimise your gut function. The cost of the test (around £220) is payable directly to the laboratory and may prove a worthwhile investment as it enables a targeted approach to your digestive health.
Other tests relating to digestive function are also available, and will be recommended if considered more appropriate than a full gut function test. These include food intolerance screens (from a blood sample), tests for parasites and pathogenic bacteria only, and an assessment of gut immune function.