The digestive system and ulcers can create issues for many patients.
Part of the Digestive System
The digestive system not only includes the GI, or gastrointestinal tract, but it involves the gallbladder, pancreas, and liver. The GI tract is made up of several hollow organs: the rectum, large and small intestines, stomach, esophagus, and mouth. Bacteria, also known as gut flora, aid in digestion. The circulatory and nervous systems are involved in the process as well. Hormones and blood also play important roles. Food is chewed in the mouth and saliva breaks down the starches. Food is swallowed and travels down the esophagus to the stomach where muscles mix the food with the digestive juices, and stomach acid breaks down proteins. The small intestine moves food via peristalsis, and its digestive juices work on protein, starches, and carbohydrates. The pancreas has a juice that breaks down fats, starches, and protein, while the liver uses bile acids to digest fats. Solid waste exits via the large intestine, where water is absorbed, and the rectum pushes out the stool. Digestion is important not only for the body to receive nutrients, but to eliminate waste and toxins.1
What is Colon Cleansing?
Some people engage in colon cleansing for a purpose other than medical procedure preparation. There are those who use colonic irrigation for detoxification. The process typically involves using large amounts of water (“up to 16 gallons”), and possibly coffee or herbs, that “are flushed through the colon…using a tube…inserted into the rectum”. Proponents of this procedure believe GI tract toxins cause health problems such as asthma, allergies, and arthritis. There is insufficient evidence that “colon cleansing improves health by removing toxins…and enhancing your immune system”. There are risks to colon cleansing. Coffee enemas can lead to death. Other side effects include vomiting, nausea, bloating, and cramping. There is also a risk of dehydration, bowel perforations, and infection, and people with heart and kidney diseases can encounter a dangerous situation with a change in electrolytes. If someone chooses to get a colonic, it is important for them to discuss colon cleansing with a healthcare professional first, stay hydrated, and make sure the equipment used is disposable and any ingredients involved are not dangerous.2
Digestion and the Immune System
The digestive system does play a role in the immune system. If it is dysfunctional, it can lead to malnourishment or poor absorption of nutrients. Irritable bowel disease, indigestion, and acid reflux could result, and mood, energy, behavior, and immunity could all be impacted. In fact, “gastrointestinal immune cells are a vital part of the lymphoid branch of immunity” which “attack harmful invaders”. The microflora (“good bacteria”) in the GI tract prevent harmful yeasts, parasites, and bacteria. These friendly bacteria are also known as “probiotics”. If someone does not have enough probiotics in their body, there are supplements that are available to take. Other supplements for digestive health include prebiotics, zinc, Chinese cardamom, cinnamon, ginger root, fish oils, and protolytic enzymes. Lifestyle changes that can improve the digestive system include eating fiber, avoiding trans-fats and processed foods, testing for food sensitivities and allergies, hydration, limiting alcohol, caffeine, and medications, and reducing stress (with meditation, yoga, and exercise, as examples).3
About Ulcers and Their Causes
Ulcers may be painful and a sign of a serious condition, but some could be treated naturally. Ulcers are sores in the first part of the small intestine or stomach, and they are either gastric or peptic. Peptic ulcers are actually “holes or breaks in the protective lining” of the duodenum or stomach, which are areas that are in contact with enzymes and acids. Stomach ulcers are less common than duodenal ulcers. Historically, it was thought that stress, excess stomach acid due to genetics, fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco caused ulcers by increasing the acid that eroded the lining. Since the 1980s, however, it is known that peptic ulcers are largely caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterial infection. OTC pain relievers such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, heavy alcohol use, and smoking can also promote and exacerbate ulcers. Smoking contributes to more duodenal ulcers, and aspirin may lead to more stomach ulcers. The elderly are also more prone to developing these sores, probably due to using pain relievers for arthritis pain, and the pylorus valve also relaxes with age. Esophageal ulcers are rare, but they can result from abusing alcohol. It is not known why, but people with the blood type A “are more likely to develop cancerous stomach ulcers”, and those with blood type O are more likely to have duodenal ulcers.4 Peptic ulcers that occur in the stomach are referred to as gastric ulcers. Symptoms of ulcers include abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, or even bloody vomit or stools. The pain may come and go, but that does not mean the problem has disappeared. If treated improperly, this condition can lead to abnormal bleeding, a gastric outlet obstruction, or a hole (perforation).5
Lifestyle, Medical, and Alternative Treatments for Ulcers
To diagnose ulcers, medical doctors may have the patient take an antacid to “see if symptoms improve”, and they may also order an upper endoscopy (inserting a lighted tube down the throat to the stomach). Patients will be told to stop drinking alcohol and smoking, and discontinue NSAID medications. In addition, they may be prescribed proton pump inhibitor medication (PPI), such as Nexium, Prevacid, or Prilosec. Patients may also be prescribed Pepto-Bismol. In the case of bacterial infection, patients will need to take antibiotics. If there is a perforation, surgery may
become necessary.6 Stress, spicy foods, smoking, and alcohol can worsen ulcers. After treatment, “most ulcers heal within two to six weeks”.7 In terms of natural remedies, cayenne pepper (1/4 tsp. in 1 c. hot water daily), cabbage and cabbage juice, plums, berries, parsley, onions, garlic, licorice, bilberry, and calendula might also reduce pain and speed healing.8 Avoiding dairy may also be useful. Some essential oils could provide relief as well. Some of the suggested oils are frankincense, lemon, lemongrass, geranium, ginger, fennel, peppermint, clove, basil, oregano, and Roman chamomile. It might be useful to mix some drops of a few of these together in water. Ginger is known for calming the digestive system. Peppermint has “anti-bacterial properties”.9 Reducing stress is also important. Massage, exercise, and meditation are some stress relievers.10 Chiropractic care may be a useful treatment option for ulcers as well. In one study, published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, two groups of patients ate the same foods, but one group was given traditional medications while the other group received chiropractic adjustments over a 22-day period. The chiropractic patients were found to have “experienced pain relief in an average of 3.8 days” with “remission…10 days earlier” than those who received medications. In this study, the results were said to be due to the misalignment in the spine being corrected, leaving the patients’ bodies “in a better position to heal the ulcers naturally”.11 It was thought, in this study, that the chiropractic care was also “normalizing the nerve supply to the stomach”. As a result, without “interference to the nerve supply to the stomach”, the patients were able to “heal the ulcers themselves”. In addition, these patients did not have to contend with medication side effects.12
Learn more about the importance of fiber and a healthy diet.