Digestive & Gut Health


Digestive & Gut Health Support at the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre

Addressing intestinal health and digestive issues with integrative functional medicine

At our functional medicine Toronto clinic, gut health is commonly discussed with patients. This is because gut issues can manifest as symptoms unrelated to your gut!

The body houses a flourishing microbiota ecosystem, which provides balance and promotes optimal health. Each one of us has a diverse intestinal environment due to our unique biology and gut composition.

The International Journal of Molecular Sciences explains,the composition of the gut bacteria community in the stomach and colon is distinctive, which is mainly due to different physicochemical conditions, such as intestinal motility, pH value, redox condition, nutrients, host secretions (e.g., gastric acid, bile, digestive enzymes, and mucus), and the presence of an intact ileocaecal valve.”

With that, we might want to give our gut some extra love, especially since trillions of blossoming microbes are in the intestine! When you weigh these microbes altogether, they add up to roughly 5 lbs. Some gut microbiome functions in the body include:

  • Optimizing digestion;
  • Telling immune cells how to react to infections;
  • Helps with controlling brain function;
  • Helps with enforcing “good” cholesterol in the body;
  • Assists with blood sugar levels, helping with diabetes management.

It’s safe to say that improving gut health could make a beneficial change on long-term health, including chronic disease management.  After all bacteria, fungi, eukaryotes, viruses, and archaea live in the gut microbiome, and they’re all part of gathering energy from the food you eat; they also provide balance between the good and bad bacteria, help build neurotransmitters (i.e. serotonin) and vitamins (vitamin K), and participate in immune and metabolic functions.

In this post, the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre explains the inner workings of your gut and how functional medicine testing and integrative approaches to treatment could help.

8 Gut Health Facts You Need to Know

First, how much do you know about your gut? Below, we’ve compiled intestinal health facts you may not be aware of.

  1. Gastrointestinal issues tend to be the root cause of chronic conditions. A healthy digestive tract can process and absorb nutrients, battle toxicities, and balance good and bad bacteria. But once these tasks are disrupted, your overall health can go “off balance.”
  2. An unbalanced gut microbiome is called dysbiosis, which can affect long-term health by prompting mood swings, weight gain, and the overgrowth of unwanted organisms.
  3. According to the American Psychological Association, the gut is like a “second brain” because the gut wall is surrounded by 100 million neurons!
  4. Almost 1,000 anaerobic bacterial species and 100+ trillion organisms occupy your gut microbiome. In fact, these microbes “are a source of vitamins, including K, folate, thiamine and other B vitamins in addition to tryptophan,” states an article from Gut.
  5. Imbalances among the microbes could impact your other body systems, causing inflammation. If left untreated, this microbiome imbalance could cause a myriad of individual symptoms, such as indigestion, anxiety, or eczema, even possibly leading to an autoimmune condition.
  6. Your gut has a unique barrier, which is a membrane of cells that permit nutrients to enter the bloodstream, while blocking unwanted bacteria and undigested food particles. When this gut barrier is hindered, it can cause leaky gut syndrome and result in chronic inflammation and nutrient deficiencies.
  7. Toronto functional medicine providers agree that gut health plays a role in mood and memory. Did you know that 95% of serotonin is supplied by the gut? The American Psychological Association reports, “While harmful bacteria can ramp up anxiety, several studies have shown that beneficial bacteria can cause anxiety-prone mice to calm down.”
  8. Ever heard of the gut-brain axis? This allows the gut and the brain to communicate. This connection happens through the vagus nerve, which is a network that sends communication to and from the brain and gut, and vice versa. Some patients with specific medical conditions (i.e. irritable bowel syndrome) experience a defective vagus nerve, resulting in brain and digestive issues.

Continue reading below to see how poor gut health can arise; then you’ll learn how our integrative and functional medicine strategies could assist you.

How Poor Gut Health Can Happen in Toronto Patients

According to the functional medicine view, each patient is a unique entity with a distinctive health status. Therefore, functional medicine practitioners consider the individuality of the patient for treatments, which includes lifestyle factors, environmental factors, past medical conditions, and even genetics. When it comes to poor gut health, it can occur in patients for various reasons:

  • Consuming an unhealthy diet. A diet of processed, sugary foods fosters“bad bacteria, triggering an unbalanced microbiome. This is why we commonly recommend consuming organic foods with anti-inflammatory functions. It’s ideal to eat an assortment of nutritious foods rather than sticking to your daily bologna sandwich, because “[m]onotonous diets lead to a reduction in biodiversity of the microbiota,” confirms a Gut article.
  • Stress and neurological issues. Chronic stress causes the body to raise cortisol levels. Keep in mind that intestinal and brain health are interrelated, so stress – as well as neurological conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and dementia – could hinder the gut-brain axis.
  • Misusing alcohol. A once-in-a-while order of pina colada shouldn’t cause trouble to your gut (that is, if your gut isn’t already inflamed!). But alcoholic beverages can irritate the gut and overwhelm hormones that defend against inflammation.
  • Blood sugar issues. If you have insulin resistance or eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, AGEs (advanced glycation end products), which are glycated lipids, can build up in the body. This can result in gut permeability and promote oxidative stress and the onset of aging.
  • Hormone imbalances. Poor intestinal health has been linked to hormone imbalances (reproductive, cortisol and thyroid hormones). It’s not uncommon to experience hormone issues and leaky gut syndrome together. When hormone imbalances are left untreated, this could further expand gut inflammation.
  • Having an autoimmune condition. If you have an autoimmune condition like Multiple Sclerosis, there’s a chance that your gut health is already impaired. Remember how your gut and immune function are related? When your microbiome is compromised and leaky gut syndrome takes over, these are preconditions for an autoimmune condition.
  • Consuming excessive prescription and over-the-counter medications. Sometimes medications are over-prescribed or are taken when not necessary. Overusing medications, such as antibiotics and NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin), can squash the “good” bacteria and increase gut inflammation.

Health issues linked to poor gut health:

GERD
Acid reflux
Acne
Psoriasis
Eczema
Type II diabetes
Cardiovascular disease
Obesity
Diarrhea
Constipation
Cancer
Asthma

Improving Gut Health: Our Toronto Functional Medicine Approaches in Treatment

So how can you start rescuing your gut? At the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre, our integrative and multi-convergent approach to gut health is evidence-based with compassionate care. Here’s an example of how we could address your gut’s current symptoms:

  1. First, an initial consultation with one of our functional medicine providers would occur. We would discuss your health goals, medical history and recommend particular functional medicine lab tests that focus on intestinal health (i.e. gut health assessment, comprehensive stool analysis, etc.). We may also bring up other ways to explore your health issues, such testing for nutritional deficiencies or food sensitivities.
  2. These gut-specific test results would then help our healthcare providers determine if parasites, bacteria, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), or yeast overgrowth is present in the body. The results of these lab tests would then be used to determine your next courses of action.
  3. Then clinical therapies are customized for your health needs. Some of these therapies may include allopathic and/or alternative therapies, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, naturopathic care, and herbal medicine. We might also target gut health with these helpful tools:

-Nutritional changes: The elimination diet – which involves removing certain foods and reintroducing them later on – could indicate food intolerances. If you can’t tolerate certain foods, eating these particular foods could harm the gut, so this diet helps you uncover irritating foods.

Also try rotating your food choices to balance your microbiome. Here’s a tip: if you have a preferred snack, eat it on one day and give it a break for three days. You could also eat fibre-rich and cooked foods instead of raw food. Although raw items are wholesome, they could cause bloating. Cooked food, on the other hand, can lessen the work for your digestive tract.

– Dietary supplements: We may recommend nutraceuticals backed by scientific evidence to support your gut. L-glutamine, for example, is an amino acid that has been shown to assist enterocytes with thriving in the gut: “Animal studies show that the structure and function of the gut is preserved by glutamine,” states an article in The Lancet.

Other supplements that may be beneficial for the gut are deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) for soothing the gut lining; clove (Syzygium aromaticum) for fighting bacterial overgrowths (i.e. yeast); and digestive enzymes for optimizing digestion.

Probiotics: It’s not uncommon for our Toronto practitioners to recommend a high-quality probiotic! Probiotics can provide you with additional “good” bacteria for replenishing the microbiome, especially if you’ve just completed a course of antibiotics.

-Stress management: Remember the link between mental health and the gut? Well, lifestyle counseling may be advised to reduce stress, which could impact the future of your gut health. We would discuss new ways to alleviate your worries, such as meditation or yoga.

It’s surprising how a fragile gut can have control over bodily functions, individual symptoms and chronic conditions. Thus, maybe we should consider changing lifestyle factors to alleviate bloating, itchy skin, and even hormone concerns.

What could you achieve if you paid attention to your gut? Would you see an improvement in energy levels and less digestive issues? Start transforming your intestinal health from the inside out at the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre.

Become a New Patient to Relieve Digestive Issues in Toronto

If you’re interested in becoming a new patient at our clinic, our private practice is currently accepting new patients who want to be treated with Western medicine, naturopathic medicine, and other natural treatment options.

At the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre, our personalized approach to wellness and clinical care is designed to empower patients to take control of their own health. Our patient-centered care consists of collaborative approaches, clinical nutrition, and a wide range of wellness services. Services include integrative care for fertility, acupuncture, naturopathic treatments, and more.

Are you ready to replenish your gut? To join our practice as a new patient, click here to reach our functional medicine Toronto clinic for a DISCOVERY SESSION on gut health.

References:

Cho, Ilseung, and Martin J Blaser. “The human microbiome: at the interface of health and disease.” Nature reviews. Genetics vol. 13,4 260-70. 13 Mar. 2012, doi:10.1038/nrg3182

Ferranti, Erin P. PhD, MPH, RN; Dunbar, Sandra B. PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN; Dunlop, Anne L. MD, MPH; Corwin, Elizabeth J. PhD, RN, FAAN 20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Human Gut Microbiome, The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing: November/December 2014 – Volume 29 – Issue 6 – p 479-481 doi: 10.1097/JCN.0000000000000166

Hulst, R.R.W.J. van der et al. “Glutamine and the preservation of gut integrity.” The Lancet 341 (1993): 1363-1365.

Shanahan F, van Sinderen D, O’Toole PW, et al Feeding the microbiota: transducer of nutrient signals for the host Gut 2017;66:1709-1717.

That gut feeling” by Dr. Siri Carpenter, the American Psychological Association, published September 2012, Vol 43, No. 8, viewed on June 8, 2022.

The Gut-Brain Connection: How it Works and The Role of Nutrition” by Ruairi Robertson, PhD, Healthline Media, updated on August 20, 2020, viewed on June 8, 2022.

Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health,” by Ruairi Robertson, PhD for Healthline Media, Updated on June 27, 2017, viewed on June 7, 2022.

Zhang, Yu-Jie et al. “Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 16,4 7493-519. 2 Apr. 2015, doi:10.3390/ijms16047493