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Digestive Health:

Natural Support for E. Coli, H. Pylori and Other Digestive Concerns

By Kathy E. Acquistapace, DC, NHP, CNC

Chronic disease wreaks havoc on the American populace. One million Americans suffer from AIDS; eight million have cancer, and twelve million battle heart disease. However, there is one group of disorders that afflicts more individuals than the combined total of all of these other potentially deadly disorders, and, surprisingly, it receives considerably less attention. Thirty-eight million Americans are victims of digestive disorders, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, GERD, candida and food allergies.

If these staggering numbers of digestive disorders, along with the pain and discomfort that accompany them, were not enough, there is also the added burden of treatment costs. The economic impact of digestive disorders is $123 billion per year, compared to $17 billion for cancer, $58 billion for neurological disorders, and $88 billion for circulatory problems. Sufferers from IBS (the most common gastrointestinal disorder) incur an estimated $10 billion more in direct medical charges per year than a similar control group of people the same age and gender.1

Digestive Tract Mechanics

Digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing is an important first step in the digestive process, especially for fruits and vegetables, as it breaks down membranes of cellulose (indigestible for humans) and liberates the nutrients they surround. Chewing also breaks food into small pieces, creating a large amount of surface area—digestive enzymes can only work on the surface of food. When food is wolfed down, it takes much longer to digest.

After food is swallowed, it passes through the esophagus into the stomach where digestive enzymes transform the food into a relatively smooth and thick fluid mixture called chyme.

The mucous membrane of the stomach is densely packed with glands that secrete hydrochloric acid and pepsin, a protein-digesting enzyme. The role of hydrochloric acid is to create a sufficiently acid environment for pepsin to be activated. If we do not produce enough hydrochloric acid, then we cannot fully digest protein. The parietal cells that create hydrochloric acid also produce a large protein called the intrinsic factor, necessary for the assimilation of vitamin B12.

The pumping action of the stomach moves the partially digested food along into the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. It is in the first two sections of the small intestine that most digestion and assimilation occur. Absorption takes place via the villi, small projections in the mucous membrane. Each villus has a network of capillaries through which the broken-down components of the food are absorbed. The nutrients then pass through the epithelial cells in the inner lining of the villi, at which point they enter the capillaries.

Once again, muscular contractions move the digested food along through the ileocecal valve into the large intestine and ultimately, in the final stage of this incredible journey, out of the body.

A Living Environment

The digestive system is far more than a collection of pipes, wiring and membranes. It is actually an ecosystem, populated by billions of organisms that produce substances necessary for digestion to occur—enzymes, vitamins and beneficial bacteria. In the young, gut bacteria interact with intestinal cells, called paneth cells, to promote the development of blood vessels in the intestinal lining. In the large intestine, fermentation processes produce butyric acid and other short-chain fatty acids that nourish the intestinal wall.2

Like all ecosystems, the delicate balance of the digestive tract can be altered by various toxins including antibiotics and other drugs, chemicals like chlorine and fluoride in our water, food additives and preservatives, stimulants like coffee, and an overabundance of difficult-to-digest foods like improperly prepared whole grains.

When the intestinal ecosystem is healthy, beneficial bacteria keep yeasts and other fermentation microorganisms at bay in this part of the digestive tract. An imbalance of microorganisms, called dysbiosis, results in overgrowth of fungus and other pathogens, resulting in numerous digestive disorders.

Other lifestyle factors that lower immunity such as stress and sleep deprivation can also play a role in letting the bad bacteria win out over the good bacteria. Furthermore, stress also can disrupt the normal acidity of the stomach.

In one study, for example, in rats exposed to stress, the gastric acid concentration and levels of serum gastrin (a hormone responsible for gastric acid secretion) were significantly reduced compared to the non-stressed rats.3

Stomach acid is designed to protect the body from invasion by pathogenic organisms. When stress or other factors reduce the amount of gastric acid, the stomach is left vulnerable to invasion by Helicobacter pylori and E. Coli.

There are two main ways we can build up the health of our digestive tract. First, we must ensure that it is working properly by controlling lifestyle factors such as stress and diet and by ensuring the stomach has a plentiful supply of digestive enzymes. Second, we must protect against pathogens such as H. pylori and E. Coli by ensuring we are consuming adequate levels of proper nutrients and by consuming supplements that protect against these pathogens.

Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics

Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas are all signs that the digestive tract is not functioning at its optimal best and may be deficient in a healthful supply of digestive enzymes.

Each of the five main digestive enzymes has a different role to play.

Amylase digests starch. Due to amylase's role in breaking down carbohydrates, it's not surprising that researchers have found that type 1 diabetics may suffer from an amylase deficiency, although this same deficiency wasn't noted in type 2 diabetics.4 Vegetarians consuming low-tryptophan diets also may be deficient in this important enzyme.5

Protease breaks down the peptide bonds that join the amino acids in a protein, ensuring the amino acids are readily available to the body. In animals fed primarily grains and soy products, a combination of enzymes that included protease and cellulase improved nutrient utilization and growth performance.6

The enzyme lipase splits apart emulsified fats. In 100 subjects suffering from flatulence, pressure and pain in the stomach, nausea after meals, and belching, lipase and other proteolytic enzymes improved all of the above symptoms in 96 percent of the subjects.7 Lactase digests milk sugar, while cellulase helps break down plant and vegetable matter. These enzymes are secreted by the pancreas and are often referred to as pancreatic enzymes.

Without proper supplies of these enzymes, the body struggles to digest high-fat or high-starch meals. Pancreatic enzyme deficiencies also are associated with pancreatitis and Crohn's disease.

Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas also are signs that the balance between good and bad bacteria in the colon has been disrupted. Supplementing with probiotics such as Lactobacillus GG can replenish supplies of good bacteria within the intestinal tract. In a review of the literature, researchers evaluated studies investigating whether probiotics such as Lactobacillus GG can help alleviate antibiotic-caused diarrhea in children. They determined that treatment with probiotics compared with placebo reduced the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea from 28.5 percent to 11.9 percent.8

In another study, researchers concluded that Lactobacillus GG seems to be effective and safe for maintaining remission in patients with ulcerative colitis.9

H. Pylori

H. pylori is a common gastric bacterium associated with ulcers and an increased incidence of stomach cancer. Its presence is common in grocery store meat and seafood and is thought to be easily transmittable between family members.

Many in vitro studies have shown that various types of friendly bacteria, especially Lactobacillus GG, inhibit or kill H. pylori and prevent its adhesion to cells. In vivo models have demonstrated that pre-treatment with a probiotic can prevent H. pylori infections. Studies also have shown that administration of probiotics markedly reduces an existing infection.10

A review of human trials of adults and children colonized with H. pylori suggests that probiotics do not eradicate H. pylori but maintain lower levels of this pathogen in the stomach. The reviewers suggested that in combination with antibiotics, probiotics may increase the eradication rate and/or decrease adverse effects of H. pylori infection.11

Probiotics also can be used in conjunction with mastic gum (CeaseFire™). In vitro tests revealed that mastic was effective in killing 99.9 percent of H. pylori when tested against seven different strains, including three resistant to metronidazole. Of note was the finding that mastic was equally effective against the drug resistant strains of H. pylori, even at very low concentrations.12

E. Coli

As evidenced by the recent spinach scare, another bacterium that is especially menacing and damaging to the health of the digestive tract and the body as a whole is E. Coli. Although E. Coli is almost constantly present within the intestinal tract and usually remains nonpathogenic, outside the intestines it can pose a threat to health. Certain strains produce toxins that are pathogenic and can be fatal in the elderly and children who ingest them through contaminated food and water.

EpiCor™ has been shown to dramatically reduce the growth of E. Coli bacteria. At concentrations that continued all the way down to 1 part per billion, researchers noted total inhibition of E. Coli as well as Candida Tropicalis.

After conducting this study, it was concluded that EpiCor may provide protection against infection with coliform bacteria (a common cause of food poisoning) and candida. The study also indicated that EpiCor may support the growth of desirable mucosal flora in the intestinal tract.13

During in vitro studies, various strains of the probiotic Lactobacillus also inhibited E. Coli. One study showed that Lactobacillus could stop a pathogenic form of E. coli from adhering to colon cells and that it reduced E. Coli numbers.14

Conclusion

Wise men, poets and philosophers have long honored the process of digestion as the basis of good health, sound sleep and a happy attitude. Although the importance of the digestive tract is often overshadowed by the cardiovascular system, science supports the fact that a healthy digestive tract is just as important. Keeping the digestive tract free of pathogens and nourishing its health with digestive enzymes and probiotics is clearly one of the most crucial ways we can maintain our health.

References

1. Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. JHBMC: Motility and Digestive Disorders: Statistic. Available from: http://www.jhbmc.jhu.edu.

2. Fallon Sally, Enig Mary, Primer on Digestion. Weston A. Price Foundation. Wise Traditions. Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 2004.

3. Azlina MF, Nafeeza MI, Khalid BA. A comparison between tocopherol and tocotrienol effects on gastric parameters in rats exposed to stress. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2005;14(4):358-65.

4. Swislocki A, Noth R, Hallstone A, Kyger E, Triadafilopoulos G. Secretin-stimulated amylase release into blood is impaired in type 1 diabetes mellitus. Horm Metab Res. 2005 May;37(5):326-30.

5. Kushak RI, Drapeau C, Winter HS. Pancreatic and intestinal enzyme activities in rats in response to balanced and unbalanced plant diets. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2002 Fall;57(3-4):245-55.

6. Omogbenigun FO, Nyachoti CM, Slominski BA. Dietary supplementation with multienzyme preparations improves nutrient utilization and growth performance in weaned pigs. J Anim Sci. 2004 Apr;82(4):1053-61.

7. Carroccio A, Guarino A, Zuin G, Verghi F, Berni Canani R, Fontana M, Bruzzese E, Montalto G, Notarbartolo A. Efficacy of oral pancreatic enzyme therapy for the treatment of fat malabsorption in HIV-infected patients. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2001 Oct;15(10):1619-25.

8. Szajewska H, Ruszczynski M, Radzikowski A. Probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

J Pediatr. 2006 Sep;149(3):367-372.

9. Zocco MA, dal Verme LZ, Cremonini F, Piscaglia AC, Nista EC, Candelli M, Novi M, Rigante D, Cazzato IA, Ojetti V, Armuzzi A, Gasbarrini G, Gasbarrini A. Efficacy of Lactobacillus GG in maintaining remission of ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Jun 1;23(11):1567-74.

10. Hamilton-Miller JM. The role of probiotics in the treatment and prevention of Helicobacter pylori infection. Int J Antimicrob Agents 2003 Oct;22(4):360-6.

11. Gotteland M, Brunser O, Cruchet S. Systematic review: are probiotics useful in controlling gastric colonization by Helicobacter pylori? Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Apr 15;23(8):1077-86.

12. Huwez FU, Thirlwell D. Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter pylori. N Engl J Med 1998; 339:1946, Dec 24, 1998.

13. Chris D. Meletis, ND. EpiCor™ Novel Immune System Enhancer Strengthens Microbial and Mutagenic Defense. Vitamin Research News. June 2006;20(6):1-4

14. Horosova K, Bujnakova D, Kmet V. Effect of lactobacilli on E. coli adhesion to Caco-2 cells in vitro. Folia Microbiol (Praha). 2006;51(4):281-2.

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