Sticking with the digestion theme, let's talk about gastritis.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is any inflammation in the stomach that does not involve an ulcer, typically involving inflammation of the mucosa. Doctors have previously believed that gastritis is the result of excess stomach acid and used drugs to decrease the gastric juices. In 1983, researchers discovered that H pylori was the leading cause of gastritis. If you have gastritis, it means that the body’s protective functions are not working properly.
Gnawing or burning ache, pain in stomach that gets better or worse with food, loss of appetite, bloating, belching, hiccup, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, dark stools, feeling full even if you haven’t eaten much, weight loss.
Causes: There are many possible causes of gastritis: Alcohol, H. Pylori, NSAID use, smoking, chronic stress, bile reflux, drinking poisons or other caustic substance, Autoimmune disorder, Corticosteroids, cancer drugs, antibiotics, excess coffee, organ failure, severe stress or trauma.
The top three causes of gastritis
Working holistically is definitely a mindset shift. It’s a shift away from quick fixes and pills to finding out why something is happening looking at the whole person including areas that may not seem to be relevant right away. We are connecting dots.
I grew up in a household where my mother was a nurse. If there was an illness, there was a pill for that! Mom being in the healthcare field, you would think our diet was good, right? Well, not really. I grew up after the societal shift when housewives stopped cooking everything from scratch and began making microwave and TV dinners. Everything was quick food and I grew up not knowing there was a different way to eat.
So for me a move away from the Standard American diet to a more whole foods, plant based diet was a huge shift.
What happened for me to make the change? I was living a life where I was in pain all the time. Not many people were aware because I didn’t complain, but the pain was there and only kept getting worse. This was pre-internet…can you believe there was a time before the internet? I started reading books on headaches, the different types and how to try to ease the pain naturally which led me to hydration, diet, exercise.
These headaches didn’t happen overnight. It was due to my diet and lifestyle growing up, but my teenage years were probably what solidified my pain. I ate a terrible diet, lots of sugar and lots of takeout. My pain was a symptom…my body was telling me to pay attention. I was paying attention, it just took a little longer to figure out because the information wasn’t at my fingertips, I had to hunt for it. Back in the 90s, holistic, integrative and functional practitioners where not readily found around where I lived. They weren’t in the yellow pages, so I figured a lot of it out on my own.
I am grateful to where this journey has taken me. It has led to where I am now, helping people and feeling so much better in my 50s than I did in my 20s! My journey has not been linear, I don’t think any journey is. There are always ups and downs but in my case each veer off has taught me something…
I get to pass my knowledge on to you and I love when you put the pieces together. I ask my clients to come into each session with an open mind. Most of what we talk about requires that, there are so many things we do as a society that damages our health but are considered “normal”. I’m hoping to not only inform my clients, but you reading this. There are so many ways we can improve our health, it takes small changes and a big mindset shift!
No one talks about the ill effects of caffeine because it is such a part of our life and because no one is talking, you don’t realize that it is a potent drug that has side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Just try going off it for a couple of days and you will feel the withdrawal symptoms like disorientation, irritability, anxiety, depression, increases in blood pressure and stress hormones, headache, etc. It can take three weeks or more after quitting caffeine before stress hormones return to normal.
When scientists do their studies, the “Normal” consumption of caffeine is considered to be 200-300 mg/day this “standard” is measured as 6 fluid oz so the caffeine content on this is 85 mg per cup. Most people drink way more than the standard 6 oz; a cup is more like 12-14 oz.
Ill effects of caffeine:
The effects on children are even worse it stays in a child’s system much longer than adults and can cause cumulative stress and addiction. They are also less able to detoxify the drug. According to Caffeine blues, no scientific study has ever shown that coffee is good for you; the discussion only concerns the degree to which it will harm you. The half life of caffeine can range from 3-12 hours which means there is a very real cumulative effect since most people have additional cups before the first one is even metabolized.
Caffeine is a biological poison used by plants as a pesticide. The caffeine gives the seeds and leaves a bitter taste which discourages insect consumption. If pests persist eating it, the caffeine can cause central nervous system disruptions and have lethal side effects so pests learn to leave the plant alone. Even with this, the plant can develop insect infestations so enormous amounts of pesticides and herbicides are applied to control the infestations. Coffee is the most heavily sprayed food or beverage.
Decaffeinated coffee is not much better! There is still caffeine in the finished product which undergoes an extraction process that usually uses chemicals that typically leave a residue. The bean is different from regular coffee beans so it is higher in acidity and they still use a lot of pesticides and herbicides.
What can you do?
Start weaning off coffee. Replace a little at a time with an alternative. There are actually a few...Roasted Dandelion root tea, Chicory root coffee alternative and Teechino. Teechino is my personal favorite. This one can be brewed like coffee or steeped like tea and they have many flavors., all of them are naturally caffeine free.
I've been off coffee for over 20 years, the first few days are the worst, but so worth it in the end! I want to hear from you! Let me know your successes in weaning off coffee.
Every time I talk to someone about sugar, in my head I’m singing the Archie’s song Sugar, Sugar. If you’re reading this and young, you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s an oldie but goodie for sure! As a kid we had it on a 45.
Sugar is everywhere especially if you are eating processed foods. The food manufacturers add a significant amount of salt, sugar and fat for that mouth feel we crave. It is added to just about everything and definitely difficult to avoid.
Processed sugar is devoid of fiber and nutrients and creates a quick rise in blood sugar followed by a crash. It actually steals nutrients that are stored in your bones to process and digest. This doesn’t happen when you eat complex carbohydrates because they contain fiber which slows down the processing in the body and these foods contain nutrients as well. So, your body winds up being satisfied after consumption. When we think of complex carbohydrates, think of vegetables, beans, intact whole grains and fruit. I know there are plenty of fad diets out there that say sugar is sugar but there is a huge difference between sugar and complex carbs.
When I work with clients, I teach them how to properly read labels. We are not looking at the nutrition facts, we look at the ingredients because it tells a proper story. The nutrition facts can be skewed. For instance, a nutrition facts label can read 0 sugars but there are 3 or 4 different sugars in the ingredients all by different names. If these are all .5 grams or under, they can be listed as 0. The ingredients are listed by weight, so the first ingredient is the most abundant in the food. If sugar is the first or second ingredient…put that baby back on the shelf!!
Another way the nutrition facts can look skewed, is when an item is full of dried fruit. The sugars are going to look high in the item, but it would be acceptable and a better choice because it contains fiber.
I teach my clients how to read labels so that they can utilize this when shopping and bring better foods home.
Sugar can be named many things beet sugar, cane sugar, syrup, glucose, maltose, barley malt, lactose, fruit juice concentrate, crystalline fructose, dextrose, agave, high fructose corn syrup to name a few. These are the ingredients you want to identify and try to avoid.
You also have better options to look for like maple syrup, coconut sugar, honey (raw and local), date sugar, Sucanat, Molasses
Sugar can negatively impact body especially if it’s in excess.
These are just a few ways that sugar negatively affects your body. Nothing in your body happens in a vacuum, if it affects one area it affects the whole. So start looking at labels and cleaning up your cabinets!
I’ve been talking a lot about stomach acid lately but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about zinc because there is a symbiotic relationship between stomach acid and zinc. If you have a zinc deficiency you may have a HCL deficiency as well and vice versa. We need adequate zinc to produce HCL and…we need adequate HCL in order to absorb zinc from out food. If one is out of balance, it affects the other. A catch 22!
It’s pretty common to have a mild zinc deficiency especially in children due to their rapid growth and as we age, our stomach acid decreases making it more difficult to absorb zinc and other nutrients. Our standard American diet is high in processed foods and very low in zinc rich foods and processed foods rob our zinc stores (as well as other mineral stores)
A telltale sign of low zinc are those little white spots on your fingernails. If you have them, then you are low in zinc. This is just one way your body help you identify deficiencies and possible health issues, so if you’re a lady and you polish your nails, you should pay attention to some of the other signs… You may also have loss of taste or night blindness. Zinc is super important in immunity, tissue growth and bone formation so we want to have plenty available for our cells.
If you catch every cold that comes around, have a decreased sense of smell or taste, altered vision, wounds that don’t heal quickly these are indications of low zinc status. You can do a zinc taste test using an Aqueous zinc solution, hold it in your mouth for 30 seconds and describe the taste, if there is one. No taste or varied slight taste after a few seconds is low zinc, a strong unpleasant taste you are sufficient in zinc.
Zinc can be found in the following foods:
Whole (intact) grains
Seeds (especially pumpkin)
Try adding some of the above foods into your diet.
In holistic nutrition we talk a lot about finding the root cause. Sometimes this can be easy, sometimes difficult, other times all you need is intuition. The case I’m going to talk about, took intuition.
Most of the time we don’t see a direct cause and effect, it’s a little more insidious. Let me give you an example of one where this can be seen. A few years ago, my older son started getting an ingrown toe nail on his big toe. He’s not a complainer, so it got pretty bad before he told me his foot hurt him. I took him to the podiatrist and she removed the nail and recommended antibiotics. Throughout that summer and into the next year, we had multiple trips to the foot doctor because it kept happening and started happening in the other foot too! Every time we went through the same thing, we went in, she removed the nail and recommended a permanent surgery which he eventually did and even though it took longer, the in grown nail came back.
At each appointment, I asked her why she thought this kept happening. She said some people are more susceptible to it than others and it’s probably genetic and possibly due to growth spurts. Most people accept this type of answer from a doctor because we collectively feel that they have gone through a lot of schooling so they must have the answer. I would accept this answer if he was a toddler, but he was 16! He has gone 16 years without having ingrown toenails. Something else was going on.
So, I started my research, why could this be happening? One of the reasons that came up in my research was shoes that are too tight. I had thought of this the first time we went and even asked but was told it’s probably genetic so I let it go. I had also just bought new shoes for him and thought they fit him correctly. My son does have a wide foot and since he’s older and can tell me how the shoes fit, I just check where the toe is to make sure they are long enough. He should know if the shoe is too tight, right?
After more research and another doctor in the same practice recommending different sneakers. I bought him new shoes again but this time they weren’t skater shoes, they were sneakers marked wide and just to be safe, I bought bigger socks too! I figured it couldn’t hurt! Since this time, he has only had one ingrown, he is now 20.
My gut was telling me that it he wasn’t just susceptible to ingrown toenails and it turned out to be an easy fix. There are other times it takes more detective work. Listen to your gut, ask questions and do some research If you look deep enough the answer is usually inside of you.
Your stomach secretes acid which not only breaks down the food we consume, but also destroys bacteria and parasites that may have entered with the food. So, to have ample acid is protective, it protects us from harmful things entering with food. The food stays in your stomach churning for between 1-3 hours. At the bottom of the stomach there is a doorway called the pyloric sphincter, it is considered the quality control center for the system. It regulates the passage of food to the small intestines. When we have proper pH in the stomach the pyloric sphincter is triggered to release the food into the intestine. The first part of the intestine is a transitional area, the stomach contents pH should be between 1.5 to 3 and mucous is secreted to raise the pH so it can continue through the small intestine without doing damage.
If, in this first part of the intestine, the stomachs contents pH is higher than 3, your stomach contents will not be released until absolutely necessary. Food staying in your stomach too long can cause fermentation, putrification and maldigested food and lead to gas, bloating and back flow of food into the esophagus. It can also lead to a deficiency of B12 and other nutrients and proteins that aren’t fully broken down. The acid triggers hormones and enzymes along with bicarbonate to be secreted and if the acidity isn’t there, these signals are not produced which hampers additional signals further down the GI tract.
With the contents staying in the stomach longer, the mixing is still happening and it’s easy for acid to spill out of the LES, the classic sign that your stomach isn’t acidic enough. Less obvious signs of improper stomach acidity are food sensitivities, a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition, unexplained bouts of nausea or diarrhea, food sitting uncomfortably in the stomach after eating, acne, obesity, fatigue, pale skin due to anemia, muscle cramps, hair or nails that won’t grow, and seeing undigested food in the stool. As you can see, you may not have typical signs of low acid secretion, but so many small seemingly unrelated symptoms point to it.
Here's an example. I am 52 years old, about two years ago I noticed that I had some swelling under my armpits. I thought it was weird, so I started to work on my lymphatic system, drank extra water and spent some time in my sauna, exercised a little more. Nothing made it budge.
Would you think something like this was related to digestion?
It wasn’t until I started to optimize my digestion that it went away, within three months. Like I said, an improper pH can come in many forms and a lot of the time we don’t connect it to digestion.
How can you optimize digestion?
These remedies can get you started. You can find all the items in a regular supermarket. If you find that these aren’t working for you and you need more support, reach out!
In my practice I talk about digestion ALL the time. It’s one of the places I start with everyone. Why? Because this is where the outside world meets you. I always get puzzled looks when I say this because we really don’t think about the body like this. What do you mean, my digestive system is outside of my body? Yes, technically your digestive system is inside you, BUT it’s a place to process the outside world.
Think about your digestive system for a minute, it starts with an opening at your mouth and ends with an opening at your butt, like a hose. A hose running through you, the stuff inside that hose, is the outside world and it’s not until the food goes through the hose that it’s able to enter into you.
In my last article I talked about why it’s important to chew your food. In this article, I’m going to focus a little further down to the stomach. So many people that come to me have issues directly related to the digestive system, they have symptoms of heartburn or indigestion and many are on or have been on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) or other acid blocking medications. They are told that because they have these symptoms, they have too much acid and it needs to be decreased.
Let’s think about this for a minute. When do we start having symptoms like this? Typically, we start getting light nudges from our body in our late 30s and it winds up getting worse as we get older. If heartburn was an issue of too much stomach acid, wouldn’t children and teenagers have heartburn and indigestion?
The fact is that by your mid twenty’s your stomach acid naturally decreases, this is a normal part of aging and can set the stage for heartburn and indigestion and lead you to think that you have too much acid.
So what’s happening to give you heartburn?
At the top of the stomach, there is a doorway called the lower esophageal sphincter. This doorway opens and closes to allow food to go in and keep the food in the stomach. If the stomach does not have the proper acidity, this doorway can open when it should be closed. As food inside the stomach is being processed, a little bit of acid can splash out of this doorway onto cells that aren’t capable of handling acid. This is the feeling you get when you have heartburn.
Your stomach is meant to be acidic. It’s meant to be the place where the chemical breakdown of food happens, it also is meant to protect you from pathogens, bacteria and viruses. If you are taking medications to decrease your stomach acid further, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies, parasitic infections, H. Pylori and an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria. These medications can be helpful to reduce pain and esophageal inflammation, but they don’t address the underlying cause.
What can do to assist your body in healing?
Did you know, chewing your food is an important part of digestion? It is! It is often overlooked as part of the digestive process and many times, with certain foods, we chew our food a couple of times and swallow. If this food is meat, you feel it slowly go down your esophagus. I remember this feeling well. When I ate meat, I felt it so tedious to chew that I often swallowed after a couple of bites and felt it almost getting stuck in my esophagus. This is not good, instead of the stomach receiving a smooth broken down mass of food (called a bolus), it receives chunks of food.
We need to chew our food well. When we do, we start the chemical process of digestion which enhances saliva production. Saliva contains enzymes like Amylase that help to break down and moisten the food. Your teeth and tongue help to mix the food and enzymes so that the food glides down the esophagus easily and can help take some strain off the rest of the digestive system.
How is this? When you chew your food, your intelligent body sends chemical messengers to the rest of your body, it tells your stomach to start producing digestive juices because food is coming. If your food is chewed thoroughly, the digestive juices can get right to work efficiently because the surface area of the food is bigger. If your food is received in chunks this can result in gas, bloating and indigestion. Did you catch that? Not chewing your food can result in some of the symptoms that bring you to me! As we travel further down the digestive tract, if we miss this one critical step in digestion, it can also result in leaky gut which can open the doors for so many health issues.
So, how well do you chew your food? Examine your oral health. Do you have teeth that hurt, dentures that don’t fit right? Sensitive teeth? This can all impact how thoroughly you chew the food. The amount of times you chew the food will vary depending on what food you are eating. For instance, if you are having a smoothie, just a few times is sufficient, if you are consuming animal foods, you want to chew that to an almost liquid state. As the saying goes “chew your liquids and drink your solids”. Chewing may seem like an insignificant task, but it is the first step and essential to optimizing your digestion!
If you’re like me, by now you have probably been inundated with emails for detoxes, weight loss gimmicks and fat loss supplements, all discounted to entice you buy. A new year a new you, right? Get healthy in the New year! Try this for 30 days and lose 20 lbs! You know what I’m talking about. These ads lure you to believe that if you follow a specific protocol (that is usually impossible to follow) or pop a pill, you will lose weight. Then when you lose the weight and gain it back, you are left thinking you just didn’t have enough willpower! Why? These diets are gimmicks, they are designed this way so the writers can make money time and again because you think it was your fault you failed. It was NOT your fault, you were tricked into thinking there is one thing that will help, a quick fix. These gimmicks do not teach you how to eat or even what foods might be better for you. There are no quick fixes and, we, as a culture, need to move away from this “diet mentality” and really learn about how food affects us individually.
What I want for you in the new year is to learn to change your lifestyle so you never have to think about dieting (or detoxing) again and so you don’t fall for a quick fix. I want you to change your mindset regarding eating. I want you to know that there is no one diet plan that is going to work for everyone all the time…at least not for the long term. I want you to know that there is so much more to being healthy than just losing weight.
Here are four things you can put into place immediately to start you on your new health journey:
1.Eat whole foods – this does not mean looking at foods that say whole wheat flour. A whole food is how you find the food in nature. An apple, celery, kale…these are whole foods.
2.Eat organic as much as possible – the pesticides that are sprayed on food are meant to kill insects, they affect humans too but at a much slower rate.
3.If you do buy packaged foods – read the ingredient label, it should contain a small list with only things you know. For instance: wheat berries, or dried apples
4.Research the ingredients - Can you say the ingredient? Do you know what it is? Is it organic? Is it verified GMO free? If you can’t pronounce something and don’t know what it is, or is genetically modified, put it back on the shelf!
Making small changes like these can help you now in the New Year and be a catalyst to a lifetime of health as well!