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 Integrative Medicine: Introduction to the Digestive System 

Parasite infections are much more common than one would think and conventional physicians often don’t think of the possibility and don’t order tests to check for them. Common parasitic infections include Amoeba Histolytic and Giardia lamblia. These can often be seen under a microscope when the stool is examined. If the stool is produced by a Purge, the likelihood of seeing the parasites is increased. Another excellent method of diagnosing parasites is to use a cotton swab in the rectum, as the parasites often hide in the lining of the intestine or rectum, rather than coming out in the stool.

Once the diagnosis of one or more of these infectious agents are made, the patient should be treated with herbs or medications for the affliction before taking the steps to repair the intestinal lining.

Other Causes of Impaired Intestinal Permeability
Any irritation to the gut lining can contribute to an increased permeability or a malabsorption of nutrients. Aside from infections, irritation may result from: (1) food allergies, (2) exposure to certain drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, some examples of which are ibuprofen, which is also known as Motrin or Advil, Naprosyn, or cancer drugs, (3) alcohol, (4) autoimmune disorders, (5) pancreatic or intestinal enzyme deficiencies, and (6) prolonged fasting.

Once a leaky gut or poor absorption is determined by the intestinal permeability test, one may be able to determine the cause by carrying out certain procedures or tests. To see if the problem is due to one or more medications, the possible offending agents may be eliminated for three weeks and the intestinal permeability test repeated. If there is improvement, then one would assume that the drugs had contributed to the abnormal test.

To determine if hypochlorhydria is contributing to abnormal intestinal permeability, a Heidelberg capsule test, as described in a previous Update, may be done. To see if lactose intolerance due to a deficiency of the intestinal enzyme lactase is a factor, a lactose tolerance test may be done. This test may be performed by having the patient drink a given amount of lactose solution. Over the next few hours, he breathes into a specially prepared tube, which is sent to the laboratory. There the amount of hydrogen gas and methane gas present in the tube is measured. If lactose is not broken down by the enzyme lactase in the intestine, the lactose is available for certain types of bacteria in the large intestine to produce the gases hydrogen and methane. These gases enter the bloodstream, circulate to the lungs and are given off by the lungs. If the amount of hydrogen and/or methane in the expired air is elevated, this indicates a lactase deficiency. Similar testing may be used to determine the presence of an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine or other types of enzyme deficiencies, simply by varying the substances ingested prior to the collection of expired air samples.

Treatment of the enzyme deficiencies would involve replacement of the enzymes orally or the avoidance of substances that cannot be broken down by the body, such as the elimination of dairy products if lactase deficiency is present. A small bowel overgrowth of bacteria may be treated by medications or herbs. To determine if food allergies are contributing to the abnormal intestinal permeability, certain blood tests or skin tests may be done.

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 About The Author
Michael Schachter MD, FACAM Director of the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine, Michael B. Schachter, M.D., is a 1965 graduate of Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. He is board certified in Psychiatry, a Certified Nutrition......more
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