Functional Medicine treating gut infections
Gut infections – Parasites and yeast overgrowth.
The gut is inhabited by a thriving ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes. In a healthy body this ecosystem exists in a balanced harmony. Beneficial types of bacteria predominate and they support the body by doing useful jobs like making vitamins and keeping the gut lining healthy. By living in the gut, taking up space, and producing certain chemicals these beneficial bacteria help to stop bad microbes from being able to infect the gut.
In addition the digestive system has a number of defences to protect against potential invaders. Stomach acid not only helps us digest food, it also kills the vast majority of microbes that we accidently ingest every day. This helps to protect us against food borne illness, parasites and other detrimental microbes. The intestines also has it’s own immune protein. A substance called secretory IgA which acts a bit like antiseptic paint, attacking anything it recognises as foreign.
Gut infections tend to occur when these defences are compromised. Low stomach acid can make it easier for nasty microbes to get into the gut. Stress can deplete levels of secretory IgA reducing our defences against foreign microbes, and antibiotics can wipe out our friendly bacteria leaving space in the gut for other microbes to over grow.
Two common types of gut infection are parasites and yeast over growth.
The most common types of parasites are worms and protozoa (single celled organisms).
Intestinal worms can range from the tiny pinworms children often pick up at nursery through to tapeworms that are metres long.
Common protozoan intestinal parasite include Giardia intestinalis, Entamoeba histolytica, Cyclospora cayetanenensis, and Cryptosporidium spp. Infection by these microbes causes diarrhoea
The most common causes of parasite infections are eating undercooked meat or fish, drinking contaminated water or ingesting food that’s been washed in water contaminated with human sewage, for example in developing countries.
If left untreated parasite infections can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and poor growth and development in children.
The symptoms of a parasite infection varying depending on the parasite, but commonly include:
· Gut disturbances, especially diarrhoea
· Abdominal pain
· Weight loss
· Loss of appetite
· Anaemia from intestinal blood loss
· Itching and irritation around the anus and genitals
· Sleep disturbance
If you suspect a parasite infection it’s important to do a stool test to identify which parasite is causing the problem. Treatment needs to be specific to the parasite.
A functional stool analysis can identify parasite infections as well as checking for digestive and bacterial imbalance that might be contributing to your symptoms. A personalised gut restoration programme can then be implemented to remove the parasite and restore digestive health. This is vital to help prevent reinfection. Your plan will also include steps to restore the levels of any nutrients that may have been depleted during the infection.
Yeast or candida is a natural resident of the gut. In a healthy gut it is only present in small numbers and it stays in round, non-pathogenic form.
But yeast is an opportunistic microbe. This means if there’s space and the conditions are favourable it will multiply and change form becoming a pathogen!
Events such as a course of antibiotics, a bout of diarrhoea or an extreme stress can reduce levels of friendly bacteria in the gut making space for yeast to flourish. Eating lots of sugar and processed carbohydrates also ensures there’s plenty for the yeast to eat, accelerating it’s growth. The problem is once the yeast has changed into it’s pathogenic form, it’s very difficult to oust.
Typical symptoms of an intestinal yeast overgrowth include:
· Constipation and/or diarrhoea
· Craving for sweet foods
· Bad breath
· White coating on tongue
· Brain fog
· Joint pain
· Weak immune system
The problem is these are all symptoms of other conditions too! Before attempting to address a yeast overgrowth it’s vital to get a proper diagnosis, otherwise you can waste a lot of time and money by following an incorrect therapy plan. Functional stool testing can identify yeast overgrowth and assess whether the yeast has turned into it’s detrimental pathogenic form.
Once a yeast overgrowth has been confirmed a functional medicine practitioner can create you a comprehensive diet and supplement plan to address the candida overgrowth and restore a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.
Conventional medicine focuses on just removing the problem microbe without restoring overall digestive health. This can leave the body more open to reinfection
The ultimate goal in functional medicine is to restore all aspects of digestive health. This means rebalancing stomach acid and other digestive juices, restoring levels of secretory IgA, ensuring the gut lining is healed and sealed and rebalanced the bacteria in the intestine as well as eliminating any parasites or pathogenic yeasts.