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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
November 2005

Pathways to Healing
by Elaine Zablocki

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New Book Offers Tools for Optimal Digestive Health
A just-published book from Healing Arts Press will benefit anyone who has digestive problems—and according to the National Institutes of Health, more than 90 million of us fall into that category. Optimal Digestive Health offers a comprehensive view of digestive health solutions, drawing on mainstream, complementary and integrative medicine. Edited by Trent Nichols, MD, and Nancy Faass, MSW, MPH, it includes chapters written by 25 physicians and complementary practitioners.

The book is organized into three sections. The first part offers an overview of the way the digestive system works, and various problems that may occur. The final section (about a hundred pages) discusses more than 20 specific conditions, such as gastritis, gall stones, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. In between, there are chapters on many resources available to cope with digestive problems, including various tests, plus a substantial section on the tools of mind-body medicine. The book is designed to help readers create their own individualized programs for better health, including improved diet, exercise, rest, stress reduction, and a range of complementary therapies.

Jerry Stine, head of the LifeSpan Institute, wrote six chapters for the book, on topics such as blood sugar and carbohydrates, detoxification, and new strategies for digestive health.

He became deeply interested in nutrition and health because of a life-threatening personal experience, he says. He was diagnosed with a severe form of ulcerative colitis, and he was told he would die from it. In fact, he recovered, after hair analysis discovered that his body had high levels of lead.

"This was back in the early '70s, and hair analysis was brand new," he recalls. "The concept that relatively low levels of toxic metals could have a significant influence on health was new. I realized my life had been saved by a test that wasn't part of conventional medicine. I realized there was important information that wasn't part of the conventional medical map, and I wanted to accelerate our learning about the causes and dynamics of illness."

Digestive health is particularly important, Stine says, because disturbances in the digestive function can profoundly influence long-range health. An individualized approach is essential, since each person is different. Optimal digestive health must consider food allergies, microorganisms and digestive aids. "Real success comes from fine-tuning a program to meet each individual's specific needs," he says.

In his chapter on carbohydrates, Stine emphasizes the importance of eating carbohydrates that rank low on the glycemic index. That means they break down into glucose slowly, avoiding dramatic changes in blood sugar levels. Foods high on the glycemic index, such white flour, sugar and potatoes, produce a spike in blood sugars. "Sugar is a seductive food," Stine says. "When people start eating it, I see their health change dramatically. We see weight gain, increased fatigue and unstable moods. Simple carbohydrates also tend to encourage the growth of undesirable microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract."

When writing about new strategies for digestive health, Stine alerts readers to the issue of microcirculation. "This is one of the principal mechanisms that makes chronic illnesses chronic," he says. "It means that when the immune system is activated, for whatever reason, the microcapillaries which go to every cell in the body, tend to become less efficient. They develop a coating of fibrin, and so the red blood cells can't do their job." There are straightforward solutions, Stine says, including pharmaceuticals and a number of botanical products.

Stress, Immune Response, Food Allergies
The book also features several chapters by Michael Rosenbaum M.D., who has been practicing nutritional medicine for 30 years. In the chapter on immune defenses, he analyzes the important role the digestive system plays as part of the body's immune response.

"Stress is one of the most potent enemies of the immune system," Rosenbaum says. "Often it is a silent problem, and people aren't aware of it. However, when people who are experiencing various forms of stress are tested, we find that their immune response has decreased."

Zinc is one of the tools Rosenbaum relies on to boost the immune system. "Zinc is critically important for growth and wound healing, and it is essential to the cells with rapid turnover, especially the lining cells of the gastrointestinal tract. Immune disorders are very common in elderly people, and you can often restore immune competence by giving older people 30 mg of zinc a day."

In two chapters on food allergies, Rosenbaum talks about ways to identify and cope with the problem. "Airborne allergies are immediately evident," he says. "When you breath in an allergen, you start sneezing or your eyes start watering and itching. Food allergies are often silent, because of one fascinating fact: for the most part, they obey the laws of addiction. That means people can develop a tolerance to certain foods, just as you develop a tolerance to drugs. You need a larger and larger amount in order to feel the effect. In fact, people often crave the very foods to which they are most allergic."

The foods that often cause allergies include milk, wheat and corn. Soy allergies are more common than they used to be, Rosenbaum says. The symptoms may range from a runny nose, to typical allergic symptoms such as hives, to many forms of gastrointestinal distress, including gas, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea. "One prominent symptom of food allergy is plain old fatigue," Rosenbaum says. "It just makes people feel tired and full of aches and pains."

Rosenbaum uses an intradermal skin test to identify food allergies. What do people say when he asks them to give up a favorite food? "When they have a positive skin test, and they see the reaction on their own skin, that's pretty compelling evidence," he says. "When they eliminate that particular food and their symptoms start to go away, that's also pretty compelling evidence."

Because food allergies follow an addictive pattern, many people experience a withdrawal response when they change their diet, so they may feel awful during the first four days. Then they start to feel much better, Rosenbaum says, as long as they don't accidentally consume that food again. "If you eat it again within three to four weeks, you may have an exaggerated negative reaction, because you will be super-sensitive to that food during that period."

For sample chapters from the book, plus links to other health resources:

Elaine Zablocki is the former editor of CHRF News Files and Alternative Medicine Business News.


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