Gastrointestinal issues are like fingerprints: commonplace, but very individualized. Symptoms, diet, levels of stress, and medical history all play a significant role in determining not only what a patient’s GI concerns are, but also how to treat the issues they’re experiencing.
The standard American diet can include too many cheeseburger-and-a-beer evenings—not great for digestive health. Fortunately, though, recently we have been hearing a lot about the significance of diet and of what we’ve learned to call “gut health.” The buzz around gut health, however, can also bring skepticism. Not all treatment innovations fulfill their promises, and the subject of personal health pulls promotional attention like a magnet pulls in iron filings. For example, a British Medical Journal study of more than 800 news articles about gut health and probiotics in the popular press found lots of rah-rah, but very little discussion of the limits of what we know on this subject. Careful considerations such as which treatments don’t really work were also quite rare.
Approaching Gut Health Holistically
New, holistic approaches that reach beyond traditional medicine do build credibility in the research literature and in medical practice over time. Gut health has earned some of the popular attention it’s receiving—this relatively new field has already yielded substantial and helpful research findings. The mix of thousands of different species of bacteria, viruses, and other microbiota really can generate greater or lesser digestive health—and they can be a regulator of inflammation throughout the body.
A recent overview of research in the science journal Nutrients concludes, “The gut microbiome plays an important role in human health and inﬂuences the development of chronic diseases ranging from metabolic disease to gastrointestinal disorders and colorectal cancer. The health of this complex gut ecosystem has implications for various conditions including obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inﬂammatory bowel disease, depression, and cardiovascular disease,” the authors summarize.
Wait—depression? There is a surprising link between gut health and psychological balance that anyone who has experienced stress-connected stomach issues can testify to. The nervous system that lines your digestive tract, sometimes called your “second brain,” can play a role in your psychological outlook as well as your physical health.
Good Bacteria in Fermented Foods
In the last few months, a research report from the Stanford Medical School, published in the journal Cell, points to dietary changes that can have strong positive impacts. The focus of the study was fermented foods. Eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings, the authors state.
Four kinds of immune cells showed less activation in the group that ate and drank fermented foods. Nineteen inflammatory blood proteins also diminished, of which one protein, interleukin 6, has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress. “This is a stunning finding,” one of the authors, the microbiologist-immunologist Justin Sonnenburg, proclaimed. (Although the verdict of “stunning” should perhaps await more evidence, the test results were strong and confirm other, similar work.)
Looking for Guidance on Making Healthy Choices?
Most patients seeking help appreciate that finding the source of a problem such as diarrhea or constipation may take some sleuthing. Often, I may recommend food allergy tests, a stool sample, a food diary, or tests for gluten or lactose intolerance. At WellcomeMD, we also use genomic testing to help optimize diet and nutrition recommendations. In almost every patient there is a need for high-quality prebiotics and probiotics.
When a patient comes to me at WellcomeMD/Naples with GI concerns I ask a lot of questions about diet, stress, symptoms, and medical history—including other treatments that have already been tried—so that I can better understand the patient as an individual. The answers help guide me in developing the best personalized plan of treatment and prevention. And because membership at WellcomeMD/Naples is restricted so that each patient has far more access to my time, I have more opportunities to discuss new research and healthy lifestyle changes with my patients.
When evaluating membership medicine, also known as “concierge” medicine, consider the value of early detection of serious health problems and the savings in avoiding preventable disease. I’m able to have unhurried, 30-minute consultations or video conferences, or just a quick call, as needed. Our members even have my cell phone number for emergencies.
Whether you’re dealing with gut health or other issues now or looking for a comprehensive health plan to avoid problems in the future, ready access to a doctor who knows you well can be a rare bargain.
Melissa MacVenn, MD, is a board-certified family concierge medical physician with over 10 years of experience treating patients with complex medical conditions. She and her team offer complimentary consultations to answer any questions you may have on how Dr. MacVenn can help you achieve your optimal health.