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Natural Ways to Heal Your Digestive Tract: Part Two

In part one we discussed the effects of food sensitivities on digestive health. For part two, I wanted to outline some of the key nutrients that heal the gut lining and can repair the damage caused by food related inflammation. There are many nutrients that can fit into this category but I have included three unique ingredients that I find work best with my patients.

L-glutamine is a conditionally essentially amino acid that is the primary fuel source for the cells lining your intestinal wall (enterocytes). Since damages during stress are so high the intestinal tract accounts for approximately 40% of the glutamine utilized by the whole body. It works with other amino acids, such as leucine and arginine, to maintain integrity and function by decreasing inflammation, enhancing antioxidant protection and restoring the junctions (called “tight” junctions) between enterocytes. L-glutamine supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms in conditions with increased intestinal permeability such as Crohn’s disease, food sensitivities, infections, dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria), postoperative inflammation and other gastrointestinal conditions. One big advantage of L-glutamine is that it is an amino acid that is hypoallergenic and can be taken in high doses which means that even very sensitive people can supplement with glutamine. In addition to its benefits in the intestinal tract, glutamine supplementation enhances immunity by serving as fuel for immune system and is a precursor for glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants.

Zinc-Carnosine is a combination of the mineral zinc and potent antioxidant carnosine. This combination has been used as a prescription medication in Japan since 1994 for the treatment of stomach disorders such as ulcers, dyspepsia and infections with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria associated with stomach ulcers. Clinical trials have demonstrated remarkable improvements in symptoms including heartburn, nausea, vomiting, belching, bloating and anorexia and improved healing rates during supplementation with zinc-carnosine. Zinc-Carnosine can be especially helpful for individuals with “leaky gut syndrome”, a condition associated with increased gut permeability (see part one for more info). Zinc-carnosine helps stabilize the gut mucosa and to stimulate healing and repair in the GI tract. In humans, zinc-carnosine has also been shown to protect the gut from damage caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are known to make the intestinal lining more leaky.

Digestive enzymes – Enzymes are essential for many functions of the body, and are especially important in the digestive system. Digestive enzymes are required to break down food into smaller particles so the body can use them. Enzymes called proteases breakdown proteins, lipases break down lipids and amylases break down carbohydrates. Some people argue that under optimal conditions a healthy human body does not need digestive enzyme supplementation. While this may be true in theory the reality is that one in two Canadians have some degree of substantial digestive tract disease or dysfunction at some point in their lifetime.  A number of factors can cause a decrease in the body’s ability to produce enzymes including food related inflammation (previously discussed in part one), difficult to digest foods (especially high in protein and fat), and poor pancreas function.

There also are many factors that decrease the production of stomach acid, which is essential to the breakdown of proteins and the absorption of vitamins and minerals (including B12 and magnesium). A number of medications (antacids, proton pump inhibitors) commonly prescribed for digestive symptoms decrease stomach acid and have been linked to a number of long term health problems.

It’s important to look for a broad-spectrum enzyme supplement that contains proteases, lipases, amylases and alpha Galactosidase. Alpha Galactosidase is particularly important because it’s the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of non-digestible sugars found in legumes that cannot be broken down in the small intestine. One specific enzyme that stands out with a very specific and unique function is the DPP IV Protease. This enzyme helps break down problematic proteins like gluten and casein at the intestinal border. Since so many people are sensitive to wheat and diary proteins, this enzyme can really help with the breakdown and elimination of any gluten or casein that makes its way into the digestive tract. If these proteins are not adequately broken down they can trigger a damaging immune response and can lead to inflammation and possibly autoimmune diseases. DPP IV Protease has been found to be deficient in those with autism and atopic dermatitis

There are so many other great natural ingredients that also help heal and repair the intestinal tract. Some of my other favorites are probiotics and anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, fennel, and licorice.


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