We live in a sea of toxins and we all carry significant amounts of heavy metals and environmental toxins in our bodies. Even if you eat all organic foods, drink filtered water, and use non-toxic home and body products, you will still come in contact with numerous toxins as a part of daily modern life.
Thankfully, we can support our health and buffer the impact of these toxins on our bodies. Strategies include a diet that helps your body detoxify regularly and that minimizes toxic exposure, anti-inflammatory protocols to buffer the inflammatory effects of toxins on your body, supporting the pathways of elimination, and including binders in your regular protocol to “sponge up” toxins in your system.
Toxins are inflammatory to the body. One of the best things you can do is reduce your inflammatory load with an anti-inflammatory diet. Although even organic foods are shown to contain toxins these days due to air, water, and soil contamination, choosing foods that have not been produced with pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics will reduce your overall burden.
You also want to keep your blood sugar stable by avoiding sugars and foods that are high in processed carbohydrates. This means not letting yourself crash from low blood sugar and not overeating yourself into a food coma.
Especially important is to avoid the foods that trigger an inflammatory response in you. If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, eating a food that flares your immune system will keep it in a state of constant red alert, stoking inflammation throughout your body. The most common immune reactive foods are gluten, dairy, soy, egg, and corn.
In addition to minimizing your dietary sources of inflammation, certain supplements can also tame and reduce inflammation.
Studies show taking larger doses of the antioxidants resveratrol and curcumin can help protect the body from the damage of toxins, especially if you take them together in a liposomal form.
Glutathione that is liposomal or in another absorbable form is another way to lower inflammation and protect your body. In fact, insufficient glutathione increases your risk of developing chemical sensitivities. In addition to taking an absorbable glutathione you can also raise glutathione levels inside your cells with n-acetyl-cysteine, cordyceps, Gotu Kola, milk thistle, L-glutamine, and alpha lipoic acid.
Binding toxins in your body
Taking nutritional compounds on a regular basis that bind with toxins for easy removal is another way to buffer your body. Binders can help remove heavy metals, environmental toxins, mycotoxins from molds, infectious bacteria, and fungal infections from your body.
Here are some examples of effective binders:
Modified citrus pectin: This is derived from citrus peel and processed in a way that it allows it to enter the bloodstream and bind with toxins for safe elimination from the body. Modified citrus pectin also serves as a great “prebiotic,” or a nutrition source for your good gut bacteria. A healthy gut microbiome is critical to helping protect you from toxins. Look for a source that is free of fillers.
Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is a popular and affordable binder for toxins. It can also help soothe common digestive complaints.
Bentonite clay: Bentonite, montmorillonite, and illite (French clay) are used to bind toxins. When mixed with water, these clays develop a sponge like quality and take on an electrical charge to attract harmful compounds. Look for a quality product that does not have lead contamination.
Zeolite: Zeolite is formed from volcanic rock and ash and is a well-known binder for heavy metals and other toxins.
Chlorella: Chlorella is a blue-green algae that has an affinity for mercury and lead. It is also rich in B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You may need to avoid chlorella if you take blood thinners.
Silica: Most people think of silica to improve their hair, skin, and nails, but it’s also good at binding metals such as thallium that are harder to detox.
You must support your pathways of elimination when you detoxify
Binders work great at latching onto toxins, but if your body’s pathways of elimination are faulty, you could make yourself more toxic. You also want to ensure you are sufficiently mineralized — heavy metals can bind to cellular receptors in the absence of necessary minerals.
Ways to support the elimination of toxins include supporting healthy liver and gallbladder function, supporting healthy bowel elimination, and making sure you stay hydrated and take care of your kidneys and bladder. Eating 25–38 grams of fiber a day, staying well hydrated, eating foods that are good for the liver (like bitters and greens), exercising regularly to stimulate the lymphatic system, and sweating regularly are some examples of how to keep toxins flowing out of your body.
Avoiding chemical sensitivities
Although we want to minimize our overall toxic burden, we especially want to avoid developing chemical sensitivities. In the end, your overall toxic burden may not matter as much as whether you have an immune reaction to these toxins. You can react to a toxin the same you can react to gluten or dairy. This is problematic as it’s much harder to eliminate a toxin from your environment than a food from your diet, especially if that toxin is prevalent in the air, such as benzene, or in plastics, such as BPA.
This is why it’s so important to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. If you already have chemical sensitivities, ask my office about methods to lower your sensitivity so you can better tolerate everyday life.
In the world of functional medicine, it has long been known that gut health is paramount to the health of the rest of the body. For decades we didn’t fully understand why, although we knew the gut was the seat of the immune system and chronic inflammation. Now with the gut microbiome renaissance underway, we also understand how integral gut bacteria is to health.
As such, addressing gut health has always been one and continues to be one of the first steps in managing a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition. However, people tend to fall into the trap of thinking everyone needs to follow the same gut healing protocol, wondering why it works for some and not others.
As it turns out, repairing gut health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is not just one diet, one type of probiotic, or one gut healing powder that works for everyone. Although there are some basic foundations to gut healing — remove immune reactive foods, keep blood sugar stable, and create a healthy gut microbiome — the truth is you still need to know why your gut health deteriorated in order to address the root cause.
For example, a number of patients can come in with a complaint of constipation. While laxatives may help the patient, it is nevertheless important to understand why they are constipated in the first place. This goes for any digestive complaint and not just constipation.
Here are some different reasons why a person can develop a digestive complaint such as constipation:
A past brain injury has dampened activity of the vagus nerve, which carries communication back and forth between the gut and the brain. This slows down motility of the intestines and causes constipation.
The gut’s nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, has degenerated significantly due to chronic gut inflammation from immune reactive foods, too many sugars and junk foods, chronic stress, gut infections, or brain degeneration. Intestinal motility depends on a healthy enteric nervous system, and constipation develops.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) releases gases that shut down motility.
Medications impact intestinal motility and cause constipation.
Dysautonomia, a dysregulation of the central nervous system, prevents the body from getting into the “rest and digest” state that allows for healthy bowel function.
A one-size-fits-all gut protocol can completely heal one person, create improvement in another, do nothing at all for a third, and perhaps make another even worse.
It’s also important to screen for more serious conditions. These can include gastric ulcers from an h. pylori infection, intestinal permeability — or leaky gut — from damage to the microvilli of the small intestine, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. Knowing whether these conditions are an issue also impacts how you manage gut health.
Also vital is knowing whether gut autoimmunity is the root cause of your gut issues. You can test for this through Cryex Labs. If so, this changes your expectations of your outcomes and how you evaluate your progress. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys tissue in the body. Eventually this leads to symptoms and breakdown of function.
Although autoimmune disease cannot be cured, it often can be dampened or driven into remission for long periods of time. However, unpredictable flare ups also happen, and the person with gut autoimmunity must have realistic expectations in order not to feel demoralized if their symptoms flare and recede. Also, there is still much we don’t know about autoimmunity. For some people it’s easy to manage and for others it’s a constant battle. In these cases, the goal can be as simple as “more good days.”
This is an overview of why common gut-healing protocols work gangbusters for some people and little to not at all for others. Our digestive system is one of the most fascinating, complex, and influential systems in the body. The more scientists learn about it, the more apparent it becomes that gut health largely determines the health of the rest of the body, including the brain.
This is why we are seeing so many chronic health conditions in modernized societies that subsist largely on industrialized agriculture and food processing. The commercialization of cheap, processed, chemically laden, and highly sweetened “foods” largely void of produce has inflamed and damaged the digestive tract, decimated the gut microbiome (some researchers call it an extinction event), and ravaged the brain in today’s modern populations.
Fortunately, functional medicine excels when it comes to repairing and maintaining gut health. Ask our office how we can help you.
If you struggle with heartburn or acid reflux, you just pop some pills for that, right? Turns out regular use of drugs to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers can lead to an earlier death. These disorders are some of the easier to manage using functional medicine protocols, so it’s unnecessary to risk shortening your lifespan through chronic disease when you can enjoy improved health instead.
A recent study found that chronic use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) is linked to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and upper gastrointestinal cancer. The degree of risk increases with duration of use, even if you take low doses. Other studies have linked PPIs to dementia, bone fractures, and pneumonia.
Common brands of PPIs include Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix.
The study looked through the medical records of more than 200,000 people over 10 years. They found those who took PPIs had an almost 20 percent increased rate of death over people who took other types of acid-suppressing drugs (unfortunately, they did not compare death rates to people who took no acid-suppressing drugs). This applied to both prescription and over-the-counter PPIs.
What’s even more alarming is that researchers found more than half the people taking PP!s had no medical need for the drugs and PPI-related deaths were more common in this group.
Why you should address the root cause of your acid reflux or heartburn instead of taking acid-suppressing drugs
It’s assumed overly high stomach acid causes heartburn and acid reflux, but in most cases it’s due to low stomach acid. Stomach acid is vital to the health of the body in its role of digesting foods, in particular meats. When stomach acid is too low your stomach is unable to properly digest foods. Your small intestine does not want to accept improperly undigested food — this will damage its lining and contribute to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. The low pH of the stomach acid prevents the valve to the small intestine from opening and, as a result, the contents of the stomach shoot back up into the esophagus.
Although the food is not acidic enough to gain entry into the small intestine in a timely manner, it is too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus, which it burns as it shoots back up toward your throat. The extra time the food spends in your stomach also causes it to putrefy, causing that acid stomach sensation, or the feeling of having a brick in your stomach. Some people quit eating meat not because they want to be vegetarians, but because eating meat makes them feel sick.
Low stomach acid contributes to digestive issues throughout the rest of the digestive tract. As undigested food travels into the intestines, it causes inflammation and damages the lining of the intestines. This leads to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed and leaky. Leaky gut allows undigested foods into the bloodstream, yet prevents micronutrients from passing through because of the inflammation. Undigested foods in the bloodstream trigger inflammation throughout the body.
Stomach acid serves another useful purpose in that it kills bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that may be in your food, preventing them from getting into the digestive tract and the bloodstream. When stomach acid is low, you lose this additional layer of protection.
Sufficient stomach acid also prevents food sensitivities. Undigested food particles trigger the gut’s immune system to become over burdened and over reactive. This causes the immune system to start reacting to more of the foods you eat, creating immune reactions that become food sensitivities. This is called losing oral tolerance, and it can be a primary cause of food sensitivities and other health issues.
Symptoms of low stomach acid
Stomach ulcers (low stomach acid raises the risk of an pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers)
Belching after meals
Hiccups after eating
Undigested food in stools
What to do for low stomach acid
You can help support your stomach acid by taking betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) capsules. Take HCL after you begin eating a meal with meat or protein. How much do you take? Keep increasing your dose until you feel warmth in your stomach, then cut back down to the previous dose. You may need quite a bit in the beginning but then find you need to gradually lower your dose over time.
If you feel intense gastric burning with even one capsule, it means you may have ulcers and an H. pylori infection that can be treated with nutritional compounds.
Although the produce section at the grocery store may look vast, it only represents a fraction of edible, nutritious, and tasty plant foods. It’s estimated there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants, and that we only eat about 20 to 50 of them. As a result, this may be playing a significant role in the rapidly declining health of westerners. Our gut bacteria, or gut microbiome, is a foundation to our health, and healthy gut bacteria depend on a diverse and ample array of vegetables.
Ancient humans harvested wild fruits, nuts, and seeds that varied with the seasons. They also dug up underground roots and stems. Studies of the Hadza people, in Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer populations left on the planet, gives us additional insight into the human microbiome and health.
The Hadza have one of the most diverse gut microbiomes on the planet; Americans have the worst. The Hadza gut microbiome diversity is about 40 percent higher than that of the average person in the United States.
Americans consume an average of 15 grams of fiber a day, most of it coming from grains. The American Heart Association recommends eating 25 to 35 grams a day. Some microbiome authors suggest even higher amounts — at least 40 grams of fiber a day.
In contrast, the Hadza consume about 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day, with the average Hadza person eating almost 600 species of plants that vary with the seasons. They suffer almost none of the same diseases that have come to characterize the average American — obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
If you would like help understanding Integrating ancient fiber to modern diet, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Studies show fiber also lowers heart disease risk by binding with “bad” cholesterol to remove from your body. A high-fiber diet also lowers high blood pressure and thus the risk of stroke.
They type of fiber you eat matters too. What gut bacteria need for optimal function are “prebiotic” fibers mixed in with a diverse array of produce.
Prebiotic fibers best feed the healthy bacteria in our guts, thus improving overall health. Good sources of prebiotics include all vegetables but especially:
Not only do prebiotic fibers help with bowel regularity, they also change the composition of the gut microbiome in a favorable direction. They help strengthen intestinal walls, improve absorption of important nutrients, produce hormones that control appetite, reduce anxiety, and help protect you against chronic disease.
If you’re not used to eating high amounts of plant foods loaded with fiber, don’t double or triple your intake overnight. Your gut may rebel with constipation, diarrhea, pain, bloating, and gas. It takes your digestive system and gut microbiome some time to adapt and be able to adequately digest large amounts of fiber. Gradually increase the amount of fiber you eat by 1 to 2 grams a day over several weeks to give your system time to adjust.
Also, you may have noticed legumes, or beans, are especially high in fiber. It’s tempting to make those a staple in your diet as a result, and if they don’t disturb your health then go for it. However, many people cannot tolerate the lectins in legumes — they trigger inflammation or autoimmune flare-ups. For people with SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, they also cause intense digestive issues and inflammatory responses.
Also, some people need to avoid nightshade vegetables because they trigger inflammation, particularly in relation to arthritis. These include eggplant, potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams), peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot pepper products (cayenne, Tabasco, etc.), and pepper-based spices. Simply removing nightshades from the diet has brought relief from joint pain for many, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Lastly, some people have gut or immune disorders that make a high-fiber diet inappropriate until they resolve those. Ask me for more information if eating fiber makes you miserable.
What does a high fiber paleo diet look like?
Most people with chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorders fare best on a paleo diet that eliminates grains and legumes. As grains and legumes are sources of high fiber, what does a high-fiber paleo diet look like?
The recommended produce consumption is seven to 10 servings a day. That may sound like a lot, but one serving is a half-cup of chopped produce, or a cup of leafy greens. Because sugary foods can be inflammatory, aim for veggies and fruits that are low in sugar and unlikely to destabilize your blood sugar.
Therefore, shoot for at least three to four servings of produce per meal – that’s 1.5 to 2 cups of chopped veggies or 3 cups of leafy greens. Or break that up into five meals if you eat more frequently to stabilize low blood sugar.
Ask my office for more ways to support your gut microbiome.
When we go to the doctor with symptoms of acid reflux, gas, bloating and heartburn, typically the diagnosis of high stomach acid is based purely on symptoms — not a lab test for stomach acid levels — resulting in a prescription for antacids, histamine type 2 receptor agonists (H2 blockers), Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), or even surgery.
For many people, these drugs only worsen the problem.
Antacids reduce stomach acid temporarily, then more acid is automatically produced to bring the stomach back to its intended pH level. This only treats the temporary symptoms and does nothing to fix the actual problem.
H2 blockers block a substance in the body that encourages acid production in the stomach. They work more slowly than antacids and are intended to last for longer periods of time. On the down side, they stop production of pepsin, a digestive enzyme necessary for breaking down protein.
Proton pump inhibitors permanently block an enzyme that tells your stomach to produce acid.
All of these methods are linked to serious side effects and can even contribute to the root causes of continued chronic low stomach acid and other serious health conditions.
5 Ways to test stomach acid levels
Because hypochlorhydria isn’t well known to most patients, many never trace it back to their chronic health condition and they continue to suffer.
The good news is multiple options exist for testing stomach acid levels, which will help you create a clear game plan for remedying the situation at its foundation.
1. Gastric acid secretion test. Highly invasive and expensive, this test is typically done if a patient is diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. It can be helpful to track if anti-ulcer medication is working and to see if material from the intestines is coming back into the stomach.
2. The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test. Considered the gold standard test for hypochlorhydria, a small capsule with a radio transmitter is ingested to measure the pH of the stomach as you drink a solution with baking soda (reduces acidity). The baking soda will naturally neutralize the HCL in the stomach. If the body does not return it to normal, it’s a sign of hypochlorhydria.
This test provides a graph showing your specific stomach response to the baking soda challenge, and can help determine if you have hypochlorhydria, hyperchlorhydria (high acid), or achlorhydria (complete lack of acid). At a cost of about $350, this test is not covered by most insurance plans.
3. CBC and CMP. These are common factors on a metabolic blood panel, typically covered by insurance. A skilled clinician can diagnose hypochlorhydria by taking into account these lab results in combination with your symptoms.
4. Betaine HCl challenge. An at-home test considered to be quite reliable, however false positives are possible, so it’s recommended to repeat the test three times. The betaine HCl costs about $20. If you have low stomach acid, you can then take it to help restore your HCl levels.
Buy Betaine HCl with pepsin.
Eat a high-protein meal containing at least 6 ounces of meat (veggies are allowed with this).
In the middle of the meal (not the beginning) take one betaine HCl pill.
1. You notice no symptoms. This is likely a sign of low stomach acid.
2. Indigestion. Burning, heat, or heaviness in your chest likely indicate adequate stomach acid levels.
It is recommended to repeat the betaine HCl challenge two or three times to confirm your results. Three positive tests are a good indication of low stomach acid.
False positives are possible if:
You consume too little protein. A low protein meal doesn’t require much acid, so the betaine HCl can cause too much increase in acid.
You took the capsule before the meal, which can cause indigestion.
You have esophageal sphincter dysfunction. A hiatal hernia or poor esophageal sphincter tone can cause increased indigestion symptoms. Rule this out with a medical exam if you suspect it.
5. Baking soda stomach acid test. While not as accurate as the above tests, this is a free at-home test you can use to get an indication of your stomach acid levels. The results can vary from person to person depending on interpretation of the results. Some use it as a baseline measure and to track changes over time.
First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything:
Mix ¼ tsp baking soda in 4 to 6 ounces of cold water.
Drink the baking soda solution.
Time how long it takes for a burp to occur. Time it for up to 5 minutes
If you have not burped within five minutes, it may be a sign of insufficient stomach acid. Early and repeated burping may be due to too much stomach acid (do not to confuse this with small burps from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Any burping after 3 minutes is an indication of low stomach acid levels.
Low stomach acid can be associated with other health issues that have far-reaching consequences. If you suspect low stomach acid, ask our office about testing for the following:
B12 levels: Intrinsic factor is a glycoprotein in the stomach necessary for absorption of vitamin B12. When stomach acid is too low, intrinsic factor can’t do its job. This results in vitamin B12 deficiency, which is a serious health concern.
Homocysteine levels: Stomach acid is important for proper absorption of vitamin B12, a key factor in methylation that keeps inflammatory homocysteine at the right levels. When B12 is low, homocysteine elevates.
Supporting healthy stomach acid
Eat protein foods at the beginning of your meal to stimulate the digestive enzymes necessary for digesting protein.
Chew thoroughly. This is one of the most important parts of digestion. Food proteins need to be broken down to be properly digested.
Limit liquid intake during meals until at least 30 minutes after a meal to allow for proper stomach acid production, pathogen sterilization, and protein metabolism.
Stay hydrated between meals to support proper gut motility; this pushes the contents of the intestines out of the body instead of back into the stomach. This is very important for those who are prone to SIBO.
Betaine hydrochloride supplements help support healthy gut function and safely restore normal gastric acidity. (Do not confuse betaine HCl with anhydrous betaine, a methyl-donor nutrient taken to control homocysteine levels.)
Always take the betaine HCL either half-way through the meal or right at the end of the meal. Taking it before a meal may create a false experience of heartburn and can turn off stomach acid production for this meal. Caution: Do not take HCL if you are taking any NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, or aspirin.
HCl with pepsin. Add these to your diet when you consume protein. When you feel warmth in your stomach, that means you are taking enough. Then back it down a notch and monitor your response. Some people need one capsule, others need more as everyone is unique.
Pepsin. Typically used in conjunction with HCl, pepsin is considered very safe when administered to assist digestion.
Digestive enzymes help to break down food proteins. Make sure to get a high-quality blend.
Apple cider vinegar. One tablespoon in a bit of water right before a meal can help with digestion.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, pickled ginger, and water kefir contain organic acids, enzymes and probiotics to assist with proper digestion. They are also anti-microbial and fight H. pylori, arch enemy of stomach acid production.
Taking the time to improve your stomach acid levels will make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life. Please contact my office for more help.
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