One of the main causes of a multitude of stomach or gastrointestinal complaints is being ignored by most mainstream doctors – and especially gastroenterologists. It’s a hidden secret and one that I want to let you in on.
If you’ve got persistent and consistent ‘stomach’ problems, it might not all be down to having ‘a sensitive stomach’… an infection… or even a disease.
It might not even have anything to do with what you’re eating (or not eating).
From my experience, when I see patients with these problems, it most often boils down to one thing: a lack of motility.
The phrase ‘gastrointestinal motility’ describes the stomach and intestinal movements (officially called ‘peristalsis’) that occur to move food from the mouth to the stomach and then out of your body in the form of stool.
The gastrointestinal system in your body is supposed to be like a trickling and meandering stream – but a lot of people are stuck with stagnant ponds.
As you can imagine, if your entire gastrointestinal system is slow, then this ‘back up’ of food and stool can lead to a host of uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms.
Obviously, you might spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to band-aid each of these gastrointestinal complaints. But if you don’t address the root cause of those issues, then you’re just running around in circles.
These movements are actually controlled by the nervous system, which is notoriously finicky. This is something that both the integrative and conventional medical communities can agree on – both acknowledging that a slow nervous system can cause a ‘sleepy’ gastrointestinal system.
But judging by its flawed approach in diagnosing and treating this condition, I feel that mainstream medicine is actually turning a blind eye to this important issue.
It is of paramount importance to find and treat the root cause of the ‘slow’ nervous system to get the ‘flow’ going in your gut.
In one door… and not out the other
A stagnant and slow gastrointestinal system can have devastating consequences on the human body.
It can be the root cause of heartburn (acid reflux), postprandial fatigue (fatigue after eating), constipation, and recurring small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In addition, it can be the main culprit behind ‘leaky gut syndrome’.
Since your gastrointestinal system is one long continuous tube, once your digestive system is slow a comedy of errors begins to happen from the top down.
Starting from the top, a ‘sleepy stomach’ can lead to poor digestion of food… which can give you heartburn. Improperly-digested food ‘sits’ in your sleepy stomach (and if an antacid is used, it is even MORE undigested) and is left to ‘rot’ once it gets to the small intestine.
After all, if your stomach is slow, that means your entire gastrointestinal system is probably slow.
This ‘rotting’ of the food leads to gas and bloating, as the bad bacteria and yeast in the gut use it as fodder.
The action of the bad bacteria can also release gaseous by-products into the bloodstream, creating symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and brain fog.
All of these cascading events… the slow intestinal system… and resulting improper digestion of food that’s left to rot… and the proliferation of bad gut bacteria… can also damage the intestinal wall, thus creating a ‘leaky’ gut, which has a whole host of deleterious effects.
Finally, this slow march of food and peristalsis from the top down leads to a back-up of ‘trash’ at the end of the system, which is manifested as constipation.
Don’t let your doc oversimplify it
The main terms that mainstream doctors use to diagnose this phenomenon are gastroparesis and IBS-C (irritable bowel syndrome with a constipation component).
Gastroparesis basically means ‘paralysed’ stomach. Commonly seen with very poorly-controlled diabetes, it’s diagnosed by testing how long food stays in the stomach after its consumption, called a gastric emptying study. (For a do-it-yourself version of the test, see the February 2016 issue of Nutrition & Healing.)
IBS-C is basically pervasive constipation. There’s no medical test to diagnose it – but if you haven’t been going for quite some time, most mainstream doctors will assume that’s what you’ve got.
However, you can have a sleepy stomach and not have gastroparesis… and you can be constipated and not have IBS-C.
As an integrative medical doctor, it is infuriating that mainstream doctors take this ‘all-or-nothing’ approach.
The huge flaw I see in this approach is that these doctors are not putting two-and-two together – and, therefore, they don’t recognise that these conditions are obviously connected. In fact, they are part of a global issue with the nervous system.
The other amazing thing is that these doctors are only paying attention to the stomach and the colon, while ignoring 24 FEET of the small intestine!
This enormously crucial part of the human body is where all the ‘magic’ happens with the good and bad bacteria of the gut and food absorption. It’s also where a large percentage of your immune system is located.
Stay away from drugs that are scarier than the disease
Most people instinctively know that constipation is a ‘bad’ thing because this waste product of our bodies needs to be released and not left to fester in the colon.
As most integrative medical doctors profess, ‘Death begins and ends in the colon’. That’s why at least one daily bowel movement is an absolute necessity.
But if you ask me, the way the conventional community goes about making that happen is just making the problem worse.
For instance, the two approved drugs for gastroparesis are so dangerous that they’re rarely used. The most popular drug, called Reglan, can cause a permanent neurological ‘twitch’ in the body1, which is enough to stop doctors from prescribing it The other treatment option is to take an antibiotic (erythromycin) before eating every meal for the rest of your life. But the disruption of the flora and fauna in the gut is not worth the benefits of this drug – even conventional doctors understand this.
On the other hand, the conventional treatments for constipation (or IBS-C) –including two relatively new (and quite strong) prescription medications, called Amitiza and Linzess – are more varied and not as dangerous as the drugs for gastroparesis.
However, like the other conventional treatments, these drugs don’t get to the bottom of the root cause.
As I’ve shared with you many times before, the main goal of an integrative medical doctor is to find the root cause of a disease and to not band-aid the symptoms with drugs.
Your new secret weapon
A discussion about gastrointestinal motility would also not be complete without a mention of magnesium. As I shared with you in a recent issue of Nutrition & Healing, this mineral has so many amazing effects – including gastric and intestinal motility.
Magnesium is so effective in alleviating constipation – with almost no harmful side effects – that I rarely have to recommend other prescription medications or laxatives.
While there are a few theories as to why it works, I think it’s because it relaxes muscles in the entire body – including the smooth muscles in the intestinal walls that move the food along the gastrointestinal tract. Relaxing them causes the food and stool to move more efficiently and quickly.
Finally, one of my secret weapons for fighting (and reversing) reduced gastrointestinal motility is a product called Iberogast, a blend of nine herbs that was developed in Germany in 1961.
The main active herb in this liquid blend is Iberis amara (the ‘bitter candytuft’), but the others include peppermint, caraway, chamomile, liquorice, milk thistle, and lemon balm – all known to promote digestion by relieving gas, bloating, cramping, and pain.2
I’ve found Iberogast to be an invaluable tool when I want to treat a patient’s entire gastrointestinal system, especially when it’s obvious that there’s a lack of motility with some very bothersome gastrointestinal symptoms.
It can be used for heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastroparesis. Compared to most herbal blends, it’s been studied extensively – and, as a result, it’s shown effectiveness in a few different gastrointestinal conditions.
In fact, in studies it’s had a similar level of efficacy compared to Reglan for gastroparesis – but with minimal to no side effects.3,4
When it comes down to it, messing with the brain and the nervous system is both dangerous and difficult. But Iberogast is so genius because it only works specifically on the gastrointestinal system – and not the nervous system of the rest of the body.
The manufacturer recommends adding 20 drops of Iberogast to a small glass of water (or other liquid) up to three times daily, before or during a meal. You’ll need to get it from a doctor – ideally one who’s well-versed in integrative medicine.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.