Testing Your Gut Part 2: Serum Test


There is another amazing biological reality in your body to ensure you are safe and secure and your health can prosper.  Tight junctions between the cells that line the small intestines are a necessary protection against the outside world becoming a part of your inside world.  I call the protein that holds the cells together a type of glue because when the cells do not adhere to one another the gut lining can become permeable or open.   The glue that binds cells to cells at the gut barrier is called Zonulin.

Zonulin is a protein in your body when over produced signals channels to open at the gut barrier allowing large molecules to pass directly into the blood stream.  On some level it is like the Panama Channel in your gut but in multiple locations which should never occur.

When the gut barrier becomes “leaky” allergies can develop to foods and autoimmune conditions can develop over time like celiac disease, insulin dependent diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  The long term results are inflammation that can occur at the gut lining and/or at a distant site.  Both neurological disorders and cancer are also a result of high Zonulin levels.

The top reasons why high levels of Zonulin can occur are:

  •          Overgrowth of unwanted organisms, for example parasites in the intestine
  •          Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) so an imbalance of good/bad bacteria
  •          Fungal over growth or Candidia overgrowth
  •          Allergic reaction to gluten containing foods (Gliadin in the diet)

Repairing the damage and refurbishing the gut barrier is the job of a clinician in tandem with you the patient. The actions your clinician will take will be based on your test results, your history, lifestyle and dietary habits and how your current state of health is today.

Identifying the offending organisms will be of great value. If there is an unwanted parasite a remedy will be put in place to treat that critter. If bacterial overgrowth is present a probiotic/prebiotic will be used to repopulate your gut with good flora. If an overgrowth of fungus is present an antifungal will be given whether pharmaceutical or herbal. Lastly, if you have a food sensitivity or allergy to gluten containing foods elimination of this food will be highly recommended.

Zonulin is a simple serum or blood test. This will have to be drawn and submitted to a unique lab that specializes in this gut marker.  Your clinician needs an account with the lab as well. Traditional doctors routinely do not know about this marker and do not have an account with this specialized lab unless they do functional or integrative medicine.

You may have to educate him or her about this marker and its value to understanding your health challenges more comprehensively.  I will continue to encourage you to become your own health advocate and at some level your own doctor.

To your health,

Dr. Dana

Remnant Health Center

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Testing Your Gut Part 1: Saliva Test

Photo from amherstpediatrics.net

Each of us has a remarkable immune paint that coats the surface of the gut barrier so foreign substances cannot enter. This remarkable paint is secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA).  Secretory IgA is the most abundant class of antibodies found in the intestines of humans.  This immune paint exists on all body surfaces that come into direct contact with the outside world from your nose to your anus, your tear ducts and nipples to the tube you pee out of.  Secretory IgA is an amazing protection; it is our first line of defense.

Its’ defense is against viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungus.  This barrier paint also protects against toxins such as heavy metals (mercury, lead, etc.) and unwanted chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.  Secretory IgA and mucous creates a protective slime that sticks to the gut lining and creates a wall of protection.

So why does this matter, and what can you do about this?

Well you need a health professional who knows about this immune paint, also known as a marker. That could be your doctor, a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. They can order a simple saliva test that you collect in the comfort of your own home.  This test will reveal if your immune paint is working or not. If it is not you are susceptible to infection.

To fix this issue I prescribe a pill or powder used in the medical community, known as L-Glutamine that will restore your immune paint over time.  I prefer the powder because the body has less stress in absorbing a powder.  It will take at minimum 3 months to fix this issue.

It is rare that an individual has an adequate secretory IgA level in today’s high stress society.   If you have lower levels it could be related to high stress in your life, a disruption in your sleep wake cycles and the presence of food allergies. Because it is so rare to have enough of the secretory IgA in your body it is more important now than ever that people know about this test and ask for it!

Tune in next week for part two of the “Testing Your Gut” miniseries!

To your health,

Dr. Dana

The Moat Around Your Castle

Photo from Flickr.com user ukgardenphotos under Creative Commons licensing

Photo from Flickr.com user ukgardenphotos under Creative Commons licensing

Your one cell thick gut barrier is the wall, or moat, protecting your inside world from the outside world.  Consider that the inside of you is the castle, your territory, the you that moves and is in the world. This protective one cell layer acts as a gatekeeper.

The barrier is semi-permeable, meaning it selectively allows certain substances to come in like the nutrients, electrolytes and water, while maintaining an effective defense against toxins, antigens (foreign substances your body wants to attack) and microorganisms.  A healthy gut barrier consists of numerous villi, or fingerlike projections, in the small intestines which absorb nutrients for the body to function and maintains tight junctions, which act as a tight barrier between cells.  If this layer becomes compromised you can get into trouble fast.

When the barrier between you and the outside world becomes compromised, it is unable to break down food and allow nutrients to cross the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. This can lead to serious health consequences, like premature aging.

The immune protection that resides on the gut barrier is like a paint called “secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA),” an antibody which I did my doctoral studies on. This defensive antibody is the first line of protection for the gut barrier to thwart entrance into the body by any foreign bacteria, virus, parasite or fungus. It also protects against toxins such as heavy metals (mercury, lead, etc.) and unwanted chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.  Again, it is necessary for you to live a healthy life.

If the paint on your gut barrier is not present you will not absorb nutrients from your food that you need to survive.  The problem with not absorbing is suddenly you can feel old, haggard, worn out without any energy or drive.  It’s like you have wilted as an overexposed piece of lettuce—not too good! I don’t know about you, but I like my lettuce crisp.

My point in telling you all of this is that this common problem is absolutely preventable. For the next few weeks, I’d like to share with you three reasonable ways in which you can prevent your gut from coming under attack. Next week, we’ll discuss the first: a simple saliva test that will tell any doctor if your “paint” is all there.

To your health,

Dr. Dana

Our Soup of Bugs: Promoting Good Gut Bugs Prebiotics and Probiotics

Source: flickr user BASF

Source: flickr user BASF

There is a lot of talk nowadays about probiotics. What the heck are they?  Well we learn a little about probiotics during a television commercial with a yogurt product called Activia which claims to help populate your gut with good bacteria. If it could be so simple!  Did anyone say our current diet could be eroding the good bacteria? No! Anyway, probiotics are the first step in being aware and empowered in our gut health and integrity.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that flourish in your digestive track but they require a balanced pH (potential hydrogen) environment to stick around. Some voices would argue they do not stick around but wash out.  They help your body digest nutrients, absorb vitamins, stop inflammation and stop the growth of bad bacteria. Bad bacteria are classified as anaerobic bacteria. If these bad bacteria are left unchecked your food will not digest like it should but will ferment and produce toxins. You will have discomfort, gas and bloating. After eating you will feel bad.  Yuck!

Maintaining the friendly bacteria in the GI tract is paramount to good health. In order for the small intestines to work properly, it is important to nourish this tissue with an ample supply of friendly bacteria called probiotics.  Probiotics are live microorganisms that when eaten in adequate amounts as part of food intake support the host’s health.  Some individuals call probiotics the “ultimate neighborhood watch” as they are continually keeping guard against harmful bacteria, parasites and other pathogens that want to rob our health.

Probiotics are the active participants in a wide range of health promoting mechanisms in the GI tract. Probiotics support health cell growth, maintain the gut barrier, build the cell wall, reduce inflammation, stop pathogen adhesion and enhance the immune system. Our diet profoundly affects the gut flora just as it affects the rest of our health.  A diet high in sugar and starches such as flour-containing foods limit probiotics’ growth.  However, a vast array of plants we can eat will encourage the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  While probiotics are the healthy bacteria, prebiotics are the foods that feed them.

A prebiotic is a nondigestable food ingredient that positively affects the growth and activity of bacteria in the colon and improves over all health13.   Examples of prebiotics are disaccharides, polysaccharides and oligiosaccharides.  These are complex carbohydrates that migrate to the colon where they are selectively fermented by specific bacteria. This fermentation process stimulates the growth and activities of other bacterial species that already reside in the colon.

The probiotic prebiotic phenomena creates a chain reaction whether in the small intestines or colon by releasing a vital short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid (butyrate) that improves gut function and promotes an anti-inflammatory response in the GI tract.  Short chain fatty acids are the ideal fuel for the epithelial cells that line the gut, nurturing them to ideal health and function.  Supplements nowadays can contain both probiotics and prebiotics called “Synbiotics.”

An ideal way to maintain proper gut flora is using a synbiotic that is from soil-based organisms.  When we talk about maintaining good gut flora over the long term for optimal function and graceful aging this combination shows promise.  Who would of thought we are made up of a soup of bugs and that we need to be proactive in maintaining the good gut bugs and not the bad?

To your health,

Dr. Dana

The Ecosystem That Thrives Inside

Small intestinal bacteria, Source: wikipedia.org

The human gut is home to over 100 trillion microbes which constitutes the ecosystem of the digestive tract.  An ecosystem is the balance of organisms that exist in an environment; in this instance we are talking about the ecosystem of the gut.  The gut or the digestive system is much like a pond. This ecosystem has an intrinsic balance of bacteria and flora that is mandatory for its existence and health. The healthy human gut has bacteria, viruses and fungus. These organisms can either help us or infect us depending on the balance in the ecosystem at any given time.  Biomedical research has shown that imbalances in gut flora can result in type 1 diabetes, allergies, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders and obesity.

The gut is the root of health and the key to well being which Hippocrates told us 2000 years ago.  The human gut is a lush vegetative environment carrying species that break down our food in ways that we cannot, processing certain vitamins and other nutrients beyond the bounds of our bodies.  These microbes are cooperative with one another to obtain the food they need and are critical for creating the conditions in which they can flourish.

The down side of these microbes is when they do not cooperate, instead competing for themselves and not for the good of the community. They can hijack our entire immune system and undermine our health in ways that you may not even be aware of. Rogue organisms occur when the digestive system is out of balance.  Bad gut bugs create havoc in your immune system and can spiral one’s health down fast.

Elie Metchnikoff, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in his work on the intestinal barrier, said “Death begins in the colon,” which is true. A variety of organisms in the mucous layer of your gut’s first defense is both benign and potentially pathogenic. Research has validated that failure to maintain the balance between an individual’s gut microorganisms has negative consequences for your gut health and your overall body.

The gut has a sensitive teeter-totter balance that is dynamic at any given time. For example, the small intestine replaces itself every 3 to 5 days.  This high tissue turnover is rich in protection as long as the right building blocks are provided to nourish and to repair.

Tune in next week to learn how to nourish and repair your gut.

To your health

Dr. Dana

Health Begins with the Pathway of Digestion

CaptureEvery cell in the body requires energy to function.

Food that is ingested is the energetic material necessary for cellular function.   However, most food cannot directly enter the blood stream and be used by the cells of the body until it is broken down into simple molecules.  The digestive system’s role is to alter ingested food by mechanical and chemical processes so food can cross the gastrointestinal barrier and enter the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems for cellular distribution throughout the body.  Digested food is then able to provide energy to fuel body activity and incorporate into the body structure.

So let’s get acquainted with the digestive system.  The digestive system is comprised of a tube called the alimentary canal that extends from the lips to the anus.  Below the diaphragm the digestive tract is called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The alimentary canal is a long muscular tube lined with mucous membrane for a total length of about 27 feet with 1 ½ feet above the diaphragm. Each part of the tube is called by a different name, for example, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.  Each classified part has its own special anatomic characteristics and performs its own particular functions with the overall purpose of making food available to the cells of the body.

The whole time food remains in the canal it is considered “outside” of the body and has not “entered” the body. Think of the alimentary canal as the hole in a doughnut. In order for food to enter the body it must cross the epithelium that lines the wall of the digestive tract.  A number of glands and organs assist in the digestion of food in the alimentary canal including secretions from salivary, gastric and intestinal glands, the liver/gallbladder and pancreas.  The digestion of food is a complex interplay of many players we take for granted but relay on one another to accomplish a very important task, fueling the human body.

The activities of the digestive system are divided into six basic processes beginning at the mouth and ending at the anus—it’s a journey.  This hidden passage of physiological processes is your body’s ability to feed itself through sustained nourishment.  The alimentary tract is like a root system deep in your body that anchors your health and provides the foundation for your longevity.

To ensure our health and vitality it is imperative we pay attention to what we eat and how we feel. Good and natural foods may be inflammatory in some people’s gastrointestinal tract.  Paying attention is critical so gut problems do not take hold and alter the sensitive balance of good flora or erode your immune status.

Be mindful of what you eat.

To your health,

Dr. Dana

Ignite Health Awareness for Vital Living

I’m here to stimulate an “ah ha” moment in your life.  To reveal an area of your life that can be tweaked for improved quality and function on every level. I intend to peak your interest, create curiosity and uncover areas of your life that may not be working as well as you’d like.
The changes and health decisions you make now will impact you for years to come.

Don’t you want to be the best you can be? Awareness is the first step. Let’s take this journey together.

My focus for the next 3 months is going to be in the area of great passion for me– gut health.  Your inside tract or your gastrointestinal system is the the entrance to the interior of your body.  If this highway is not fully functioning your entire body can be compromised. By this I mean you could be letting pathogens or organisms that are foreign into your body and you may not have any gut symptoms. That is scary!

In many ways, your health is like a tree.

In many ways, your health is like a tree.

When I speak of health I picture a tree.  Your foliage needs to be full, green and lush. Your trunk thick, protective and craggy from the wear of life and its ongoing exposure.  But for some folks their tree is sparse with branches and few leaves, their leave color is more yellow or brown.  The tree trunk may even have holes in it and moss growing on it.

The physical manifestation of your health behaviors is shown in how you look and how well you function daily. Is your skin color pale or just right?  Is your hair dull and thinning? How is your short term memory? Are you able to meet the stressors and tasks that present themselves with grace and still have energy left? Do you rebound from a busy week or need to hunker in to rest and recharge your batteries over the weekend? These questions are posed so you begin to take a personal look at how well you are doing honestly.  We can pretend and fool ourselves!

Your foundation of health is your root system, the continual lifestyle patterns and behaviors that make up your day. Each of us were trained in a way of being by our parents for health and longevity, however, that foundation was not ours but their own. Now is the time to look at what you want your health root system to be so the foundation you build, nurture and grow will provide a platform for optimal functioning and vital living.

To your health!

Dr. Dana

Looking for more information? Check out ‘The Root of Health,” a website devoted to healthy living.