By Martha Calihan, MD
Hippocrates, said to be the father of Modern Medicine, is quoted as saying “all disease begins in the gut”; these seem like wise words even today.
Digestive complaints are among the most common symptoms that bring people to the doctor. These days, there are far advanced testing options available to evaluate for serious diagnoses, but oftentimes people continue to experience significant symptoms and a lack of wellbeing despite the lack of a particular diagnosis. Lots of people get diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) a non-specific description of a constellation of symptoms but a name that doesn’t identify the root cause of the symptoms.
Other common conditions that affect the digestive system include gastritis, Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), and colitis. We are also seeing a rise in the number of people diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disorders, such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
Our digestive tracks are our interface with the outside world, it’s where the inner and outer environments meet. The intestine is designed to help us absorb the nutrients we need, to keep out toxins and infections and to provide an elimination route for our waste products. It is also the source of a major part of our immune system, as we now know that the majority of our immune system is, in fact, within the gut. It is an amazingly intricate and well-honed system that is essential to our health and wellbeing.
When the is a malfunction in this system, there can be both immediate and long term effects. With so many components to the digestive process, there are a lot of places where it can go wrong; where issues can develop that can impact our health.
Some of these cause symptoms and problems that are obvious to relate to the gut, many are not.
Understanding how critical the gut is to our health, it is very common for a functional medicine practitioner to spend time looking carefully at a person’s gut health in their assessment of that person’s concerns. We often look for signs of inflammation in the gut, of a dysregulation of the immune system, a problem with the digestive enzymes needed to digest the foods, infections, parasites or an imbalance in the gut bacteria. These are all fairly common findings and give us as functional medicine physicians, some insight into the root causes of a person’s symptoms. These imbalances also provide a place to start to rebalance the system towards enhanced health.
There are a number of examples of specific conditions related to disturbances in gut health that I will be discussing in the weeks ahead and I will show the profound impact of a healthy gut to our wellbeing.
I have said that Functional Medicine is the “medicine of why”….understanding the role of the gut in health and illness is a start in the process of understanding the “why”. Hippocrates was right, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Dr. Martha Calihan has practiced Family Medicine for more than 20 years, during which time her interests and her practice have gradually evolved into a holistic, integrative approach to medicine. She is licensed to practice acupuncture and is also trained in both Mind-Body Medicine and Functional Medicine. She is the founder of the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg.
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