Gut disorders are at the root of many different diseases including sleep, autoimmune disorders and mental emotional imbalances. In my clinic, time and time again, I end up working on digestive issues. In my personal life, I had to work on healing my gut. Even though generally I was mostly asymptomatic, when I did further testing and worked on healing what was discovered, my health improved.
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Symptoms that show up in gut disorders
Some of the symptoms that regularly present in my patients, which alert us that gut disorders may be playing a role, are the following:
- Bloating after eating or a couple of hours after
- Gas with some or most meals
- Painful sensation in the stomach area or intestines, intensity varying from mild to severe
- Gnawing hunger sensation when feeling hungry
- Irregular bowel movement, slow or fast transit, stools that float in the bowl, loose or hard stools
- Headaches after eating foods, or suspecting it may be from foods
- Low appetite or high sugar cravings
- Burping after meals
- Recurrent yeast infection that shows a possible involvement in the gut’s immunity and candida overgrowth
- Extra coating on the tongue and/or cracks in the middle area of the tongue
- Immune and/or autoimmune issues; since 70% of the immune system is located in the gut, when someone suffers immune imbalances, we must look at the gut
I have worked with patients who have no symptoms of digestive distress, but when using diagnosing tools from Chinese medicine, we see a tendency towards possible abdominal dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance). In this case, my patients improve with the treatments, which shows that the diagnosis was correct.
How acupuncture and functional medicine can help gut disorders
Healing gut disorders involves the combination of a functional medicine approach, acupuncture and herbs. Most importantly, the first step to always look at is something that we do every day: what we put in our mouth. Since is something we literally do every few hours, it holds great power.
This can affect us either positively or negatively, depending on our choices. The world of nutrition is complex and sometimes what seems like a healthy choice may not be so for you. I am here to help you figure out what would help you the most.
The 5 Rs come to the rescue
One of the first approaches to identify the root problem of your gut issues and form a treatment plan involves the 5 Rs:
- Remove: this means removing any factors that may be affecting your gut such as food sensitivities that cause inflammation, bacteria overgrowth, lack or decreased healthy bacteria, parasites, and emotional stress.
- Replace: digestive enzymes, bitters, bile and betaine HCL are some of the secretions that may be low and affecting your digestion.
- Reinoculate: this involves replenishing probiotics that may be low in your gut, but especially prebiotics; probiotics are like visitors to a city, while they are there, they help the economy. To thrive you have to build your own gut bacteria; prebiotics help build your own gut bacteria, which is crucial for long-term health.
- Repair: next step is repairing the lining of the gut; this can be done with soothing herbs and key nutrients that increase the integrity of the lining.
- Rebalance: lastly, to cement all the work you have done so far and keep up the good results, we have to work on stress levels, sleeping well, exercising. It’s likely that through this 5 R journey, you know your body a lot more. So listening to that is part of the rebalancing and maintaining.
Acupuncture and the power of Chinese medicine
Acupuncture is the main therapy I have used for years to help the body heal. It is powerful and can be used by itself, but it is more effective when used with proper nutritional support as in the steps listed above. Before adding the 5 Rs to my practice, I used the Chinese medicine nutrition principles.
In Chinese medicine we use simple but powerful concepts:
- We eat according to the climate we are in; for example, in the winter or when you have what we call a “low digestive fire,” eating foods with warm properties and more cooked foods helps you get healthier.
- Looking at the natures of the foods is crucial. Looking at the food nature is related to its effects on the body, which are the following: cold, cool, neutral, warm and hot.
- The five tastes in Chinese medicine correlate to different organs: sour connecting to liver, bitter to heart, sweet to spleen and stomach, spicy to lungs and salty to the kidneys. I use these principles to guide and teach you about your nutritional needs and why you tend to have certain cravings.
How do I look for gut disorders?
In order to help you with any of these therapies, we have to understand what exactly is happening in your gut. I may use any of these or a combination:
- Looking at your tongue can tell me a lot about your digestion and nutritional needs; the coating, color, shape, size and cracks all offer valuable information. When I look at your tongue, I will explain what I see and how it connects to your symptoms. As you start improving we tend to see positive changes on your tongue.
- Taking your pulse also helps me figure out which organs are affected; I am looking for rate, shape of the pulse, and feeling each position under my three fingers (each side and position connects to various organ systems).
- Stool analysis can give a lot of very valuable information such as bacteria overgrowth, levels of beneficial bacteria, whether you have worms, parasites of viruses such as H. Pylori, pancreatic enzyme levels, inflammatory markers in the gut, secretory IgA (immune system functioning in the gut) and more!
Insomnia and the gut
My practice is heavily focused on sleep and I have been noticing many of my insomnia patients also have gut disorders.
This makes a lot of sense, since most of the neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. If the production of certain neurotransmitters is impaired due to poor digestive health, the sleep will be affected.
Digesting food, digesting thoughts
In Chinese medicine, when we talk about digestion, we refer to both digesting food and thoughts. It is fascinating noticing how people with certain digestive patterns will have more trouble with worry, overthinking or ruminating.
We are meant to take in events, digest them and let them go when we sleep. Instead we ruminate, regurgitate and stay up at night. Acupuncture and the other therapies I use are highly effective for this problem.