It’s been ages, I know, but I’ve finally written…
Digestion and it’s Impact on Lyme: Part 2
I’m going to provide some real solutions here.
I am also going to (try to) explain further why digestion is such a big deal.
In Part 1, I talked about the general mechanics and functions of the digestive system. Here, I want to talk specifically about why digestion matters when you are living with Lyme Disease like me!
I can think of 4 reasons why digestion matters when you have Lyme:
1. Digestion breaks things down that enter the body.
This is helpful if you want your food to be broken down into fuel, your drugs to be effective, or any microbes you eat to die in the tub of acid that is your stomach.
2. Digestion eliminates waste, toxins and molds.
If we lump the liver into the digestive system, then it also eliminates excess hormones, used up antibiotics (among other drugs), and damaged red blood cells.
3. The digestive system is home to a portion of the immune system.
So, if you can strengthen your gut, you can count of less colds and more Lyme fighting. Also, less allergic/autoimmune reactions to foods.
4. And the digestive system hosts very important guests (don’t be grossed out):
Gut bacteria that help break down whatever digestion missed.
I’m going to focus on point 1 – digestion breaks things down that enter the body – in this post.
By “things” I mean food, drugs, and microbes. Gum, though, not really.
Digestion breaks foods and drugs down into smaller parts. We can call these smaller parts nutrients.
Did you eat a burger? Well in your stomach it’s not longer a burger, but mushy carbs, proteins and fats, that are further broken down into amino acids, B vitamins, omega 6, and a bunch of other stuff.
Once your digestive system breaks your burger down into these micronutrients, they finally move out of the digestive system through vehicles (mainly your finger-like microvilli) that carry them into circulation.
The beauty in the breakdown is that our cells eat what’s left over for energy. Think of it like this: mini burgers are bite sized but if they were the size of fully grown cows, it would take many bites to eat them – in fact, you wouldn’t be able to finish, and the poor cow would go to waste.
Is that a bad analogy? In other words, digestive break-down makes ingested “things” bite-sized for cells.
Our cells host mitochondria, which are like engines used to produce energy by burning off nutrients. Amino acids, glucose, triglycerides, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, drugs; these act on our bodies by sacrificing themselves to our cells to be converted into usable energy, in their own unique ways. In metabolism, foods can be broken down to be used as energy right then and there, stored for later use, or used to build and repair tissue.
In other words, your metabolism is what turns food, water, vitamins, and minerals – previously broken down by a healthy digestive system – into energy for your cells. I can’t emphasize enough how far-reaching the outcome of this energy is: to not just get food into your gut, but to get the nutrients out of that food and into your cells. The body as a whole works better when our digestive systems can do their role in breaking down foods so that they can be absorbed into circulation. The digestive system gives the metabolism something to metabolise.
Nourishment on the cellular level makes your cells smarter; they communicate better, knowing when to signal the production of appropriate hormones, and how much of each hormone to make. For instance, an increase in the hormone gastrin makes it easier to digest foods, while an increase in endocrine hormones boosts mental clarity. A snowball effect occurs, where stomach engines work faster and have fewer problems, healing of the gut lining speeds up, and the immune system doesn’t sluggishly give up out of exhaustion; all because your cells are getting energy to do what needs doing.
There are a couple “stops” along the digestive-way that take up nutrients. Yet disturbances – sometimes mechanical, sometimes functional – can prevent the absorption of nutrients in digestive transit. The result: nutrient deficiencies. Sometimes doctors are clueless about how nutrient disturbances occur, other times the disturbances are easy to investigate and pinpoint.
For example, B12 deficiencies can easily be linked back to the use of antacids, since antacids lower stomach acid (and the stomach is where B12 in particular is absorbed into circulation). If eliminating antacids aligns with an increase in B12 levels, the culprit is clear. If, despite eating a nutritious diet, eliminating antacids does not fix the B12 deficiency, further investigation is necessary.
Remember, there are hormonal and neurological processes that play a role in digestion, which can also cause nutrient deficiencies. So here’s another example; the hormone gastrin increases stomach acidity and stimulates the gallbladder and pancreas to aid digestion. Gastrin depends largely on the thyroid, so expect low stomach acidity with low thyroid function. Consequentially, we can rule in hypothyroidism as a possible culprit for something as far-off as B12 deficiency. When it comes to the digestive system, the investigative process can never be too thorough.
Without a digestive system that is CAPABLE of digestive breakdown, the micronutrients that make up the burger cannot squeeze through circulation, and go to waste.
The cause of poor digestion is hard to pin-point. Of course, having Lyme Disease is exhausting and slows down every physiological process in the body including digestion. With most ailments, actually, poor digestion is one of the first symptoms that lets us know there is a problem to begin with. Consider the phenomenon of butterflies in your stomach: butterfly sensations occur when your nervous system appeals to your immune system to synthesize the substances needed to alarm your body of an immune threat. Given that half of the immune system lives within your gut, this alarm reaction hits you, quite literally, right in the gut. Subtle symptoms like heartburn, bloating, stomach pain, cramps, and food insensitivities you never had before can be your body’s way of telling you there is a bigger – immunological – problem.
Let’s take a moment to think about the units involved in digestion: hormones that release acids and enzymes, the liver, the spleen, the gallbladder, the brain, the metabolism. Now think about ways you can support these areas. Simply eating nutritiously won’t cut it if you are not producing the hormones, the acids, the enzymes, the acid neutralizers, the thyroid hormones, or the bile needed to digest a meal. Pinpointing what is affecting your digestion will require some investigation and some trial and error.
I’ve tried to elaborate on the complexities of digestion to demonstrate just how overwhelming yet vital investigation of this bodily system is. The solutions I can offer can be, at best, supportive to a weakened digestive system, however they may only scratch the surface of your digestive health issues. Nevertheless, trial and error is sometimes the best way to investigate, and here are some things you can start experimenting with immediately:
- Increase stomach acidity during meals using your pharmaceutical or herbal drug of choice, in order to encourage the production of digestive enzymes. This does not apply to those who have acid reflux.
- For extra enzymatic support, you can try supplemental pancreatic enzymes.
- Move around to increase circulation, which will move nutrients out of the lymph capillaries to places they can be of more use, and move toxins out of the lymph capillaries to places where they can be exported out of the body from.
- Move around (for real, exercise) to get your muscles hungry for sugars (the carbs you’ve eaten and morphed into glucose molecules), where they can be used to their finest abilities.
- Sleep well to get your brain sharp, since the brain manages many actions in metabolism and in the digestive system. Sleeping agents include melatonin and barbiturates, but these should not be taken without consulting a doctor and investigative research.
- Support your liver so that it is not backed up. The liver converts ammonia (from digested proteins) into urea, filters excess estrogens and toxins from drugs, and produces bile and acid neutralizers. If the liver is not producing or releasing enough bile, fats will not be emulsified, acids will not be neutralized, and conversions of certain amino acids, hormones and toxins will not take place. Liver health is KEY to digestion. Dandelion tea and coffee increase bile production; pressing on your right rib cage (the liver is located just underneath) may help with stagnation, at least according to an osteopath, and taking breaks from harsh, toxic drugs, gives the liver a chance to have “clean filters” and recover from processing days or months or years of toxic drugs.
Once foods are properly being broken down, your chances of getting energy out of them significantly increase. And from there your whole body as a unit functions better. Nutrients in the cells mean more energy to get your digestive engines running faster, to prevent your liver from being backed up, to produce endocrine hormones needed in future digestion and in metabolism, which further strengthens digestion. The stronger digestion is, the more likely that you will be able to eat a variety of foods and therefore metabolise a variety of nutrients. The stronger digestion is, the more stable the immune system is. The stronger digestion is, the stronger you are.