The proper functioning of the digestive system is a foundational element of an overall healthy body. All nutrients are extracted from food and absorbed in the digestive tract. Here is where trillions of bacteria live and where over half of our immune cells can be found surveying all that passes through. The digestive wall is the primary barrier between the outside world and our bloodstream and its health plays a pivotal role for the health of the entire body.
Dr. Meli believes that a healthy digestive system is essential for optimal physiological functioning and for healing all chronic conditions. The naturopathic model perceives the body as a totality of interacting systems, each depending on several others. Understanding how the digestive system plays a central role in influencing nearly every other body system is critical to understanding how nearly all chronic diseases may be reversed.
Ensuring optimal digestive status is investigated in every patient with a chronic medical condition in keeping with the naturopathic goal of strengthening the body’s capacity to heal itself, from the inside out.
Common digestive conditions treated include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis
- Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity
- Candida / yeast overgrowth
- Food allergies
- Ulcers, H. pylori infection
- Acid reflux (heartburn) and GERD
- Gas, bloating, and poor digestion
- Gall bladder symptoms and gallstones
The major factors for optimal digestive function include:
- Digestive capacity: enzyme, hydrochloric acid, and bile production
- Transit: absence of diarrhea, constipation, and pain
- Intestinal permeability: breakdown of the digestive wall by chronic inflammation, infection, toxin exposure, food allergy/sensitivity
- Chronic Inflammation: consumption of allergic foods, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, IBS
- Microbiome (Microbial status): overgrowth of pathological bacteria or yeast, ova/parasites
- Diet: nutrient density of food, absence of pesticides and other toxins, adequate fiber, macronutrient balance
When each of the above factors are assessed and corrected, the healing process can begin.
Dr. Meli screens each of his patients for proper digestive function to assure that nutrients from food and supplements will reach the bloodstream. With any chronic medical concern, the primary goal is to ensure that the digestive system functions optimally.
Food Allergies and Sensitivities:
‘Sensitivities’ or ‘intolerances’ to food tend to occur gradually after eating larger amounts of an offending food. The effects are typically mild but can accumulate. By contrast, a food ‘allergy’ occurs when an immune response is triggered by the presence of a particular food. Over 50% of the white blood cells, which make up the immune system, are docked along the digestive tract, scanning the environment, ready to attack an invading microbe. In the case of a food allergy, white blood cells respond to food particles (typically a protein fragment) and an attack is launched.
Symptoms associated with chronic food allergy exposure can be very broad and may occur when no symptoms are felt within the gut. They include:
- Swelling/edema, irregular heart rhythm,
- Chronic diarrhea, colic in babies, constipation, gas/bloating, indigestion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), nausea, recurrent mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers, vomiting
- Chronic bladder infections, frequent urination
- Serous otitis media (middle ear infections)
- ADHD, anxiety, depression, seizures, memory loss, migraine headaches
- Joint pain, muscle pain, rheumatoid arthritis
- Asthma, chronic sinus infection, constant runny nose or congested nose
- Eczema, itchy skin, psoriasis, itchy eyes, hives, spontaneous bruising, canker sores
- Worsening of autoimmune disease symptoms
Understanding the Role of the Digestive System in Autoimmune Diseases
Patients with autoimmune diseases are often told ‘there is nothing that can be done.’ Otherwise, they are given immune-suppressing medications, which can have severe side-effects. It is often suggested that these diseases ‘have no cure’, or that the goal is to ‘manage the symptoms’. However, by addressing the underlying processes that promote the disease, it remains possible to reverse many autoimmune diseases.
What is an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmunity is the process where immune cells (white blood cells) attack the body’s own healthy cells instead of the foreign bacteria or viruses that they are designed to attack. Essentially, the problem is one of ‘mistaking’ a healthy human cell for a foreign one. The difference between one autoimmune disease and another is determined by which human cells are attacked. However, very importantly, the underlying factors that promote this ‘mistake’ remain the same.
Approximately 80 diseases are thought to be caused by an autoimmune process. The overall prevalence of these diseases is continually increasing. The more common autoimmune diseases include: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis, Psoriasis, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Meniere’s disease, Raynaud’s disease, Sjörgren’s Syndrome, Scleroderma, Type 1 Diabetes, Ulcerative colitis, Myasthenia Gravis, and Vitiligo.
How does Dr. Meli treat autoimmune diseases?
My goal in treating autoimmune diseases is to reverse the mistake that immune cells are making. Essentially, this involves improving the ability of white blood cells in differentiating healthy human cells from invading microbial cells. Reducing symptoms is not the primary goal but is a byproduct of correcting the underlying problem.
The research is clear that there is not one single contributor to autoimmunity. The following are the contributing mechanisms that synergize to promote the autoimmune process, which later manifests as one or more of the diseases listed above:
- Microbial dysbiosis in the gut and throughout the body
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Hormone imbalances
- Toxin exposure
- Poor dietary and lifestyle habits
Each of these factors is assessed using comprehensive lab testing and treated accordingly. The more common labs that are required are a comprehensive stool analysis, IgG food allergy panel, urine organic acids test, and a hormone panel. As always, treatments are customized to each patient’s particular needs.