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Oct/Nov 2011 Issue
Nutrients, Probiotics, Enzymes
An old piece of wisdom from Chinese medicine says if you have a choice between a good diet and a good digestive system, choose the good digestive system. What’s absorbed may be more important than what’s eaten.
People with food allergies and sensitivities have digestive systems that aren’t functioning efficiently. Healthy digestion breaks down food into usable elements and screens out potential reactors. A poorly functioning digestive system will absorb partially digested food but will not necessarily take in all the essential nutrients. As a result, even the best, most balanced diets can end up being inadequate.
Nutrient deficits reduce the body’s healing capacity. If you take a tack out of your arm, you can heal but cleaning out the dirt and applying antiseptic increase chances of a good outcome. The same is true with food allergies. Removing the tack is equivalent to removing the problem food. Then you can either hope your body can clean up the mess and generate some version of an internal antiseptic or you can increase your chances of better healing by supplementing.
When not chronically irritated, the body has the capacity to heal itself—but it must have sufficient repair materials. These materials—nutrients, probiotics, enzymes—may be in short supply due to:
- Digestive problems, including diarrhea, gas, bloat, constipation, reflux, gastric irritation/inflammation.
- Avoidance of food groups that are the best sources of critical nutrients.
- Interference from medications, such as antibiotics and reflux drugs.
- Inadequate diet due to picky eating or poor dietary choices.
Help with Healing
Rachel’s story is all too common. Her first allergy (to dairy) was discovered when she was five months old. By age one, just touching a piece of cheese caused an immediate outbreak of hives. At 18 months, an allergist discovered she was allergic to nuts. She stopped eating the identified allergens (with no other intervention) for several years. When follow-up blood testing determined she was not reactive, her parents were told she had ‘outgrown’ food allergies and she happily started eating everything.
By age ten, she was not doing well again. There were skin rashes that did not improve despite aggressive treatment. Over the next two years, she became increasingly exhausted, had stomach problems, developed painfully cold hands and feet and started losing weight. Many specialists were consulted and food allergies were eventually pinpointed as the problem. But this time, no amount of dietary changes and food elimination helped. At age 14, Rachel was too weak and her concentration too poor to attend school.
Rachel’s mom kept looking for help. Eventually, Rachel was put on a supplement program to complement her limited diet and support her weak digestive system. Within a few weeks, she started to feel better. It took several months to find the right components, as she was also sensitive to some supplements, but a year later, Rachel is strong enough to return to school.
Without extra nutrients and digestive help, Rachel might have continued to become more reactive and less functional. Her allergic reactions were irritating the gut lining over a long period of time and the gut wasn’t absorbing nutrients well. Plus, there were fewer available nutrients due to dietary restrictions. Less nutrients meant less capacity to heal the gut lining, making her more reactive to more foods and continuing a destructive spiral.
Without extra nutritional help, people on special diets can limp along or even get worse. Taken according to your needs, supplements can help close the gap between what is eaten and what is absorbed. This can make the difference between feeling rotten or robust.
In future issues, this column will explore how to use a variety of supplements to help you feel better on your special diet.
Licensed nutritionist dietitian Kelly Dorfman has 29 years of clinical experience, developing nutrition and lifestyle strategies to address complex health problems. She is author of What’s Eating Your Child? The Hidden Connections between Food and Childhood Ailments.
Consult a qualified healthcare professional before taking supplements.