Americans seem to accept that poor health is a normal consequence of aging. And many people experience poor health while still young. Meanwhile, researchers continue to gather evidence affirming the importance of the gut to overall health. As Americans, we have neglected gastrointestinal health far too long. More and more health professionals believe there is life and death in the long hollow tube called the gastrointestinal tract. Two out of three Americans suffer fatal health problems because of poor dietary choices. That means their problems are centered in their gut. What we eat affects our risk for several leading causes of death for Americans, notably:
- coronary heart disease
- and some types of cancer
Together, these disorders now account for more than two-thirds of all deaths in the United States.
Background on Dr. Rubin's Disease and Survival
In 1994 at 19 years of age and standing 6'1" tall, Jordan's weight fell from 180 lbs to a shocking 104 lbs in a matter of months. As his immune system began to break down, he suffered from a list of debilitating conditions, including intestinal parasites, severe candida (fungal infection), extreme anemia, food allergies, diabetes, excruciating abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, poor circulation, liver problems, chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis, insomnia, hair loss, prostate and bladder infections, irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation and chronic depression. After both conventional and alternative medicines failed him and 70 health professionals in seven countries put him through more than 500 different - and often bizarre - treatments, he was sent home in a wheelchair to die. Jordan fought his way back to vibrant health through determination and a refusal to "give in" to his disease. He believes his survival is a true testament to the power of his faith in God. In the seven years since his recovery, he has shown no symptoms of the disease that nearly took his life.
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"The Maker's Diet: The 40 Day Health Experience That Will Change Your Life Forever"
Life and Death in a Long Hollow Tube: The Importance of the GI Tract
AMERICANS SEEM TO ACCEPT POOR HEALTH AS A NORMAL consequence of aging, while many experience poor health while still young. Meanwhile, researchers continue to gather evidence affirming the importance of the gut to overall health. More and more health professionals believe there is life and death in the long hollow tube called the "gastrointestinal tract." Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General, indicated two out of three Americans suffer fatal health problems because of poor dietary choices. That means their problems are centered in their "gut": What we eat may affect our risk for several of the leading causes of death for Americans, notably, coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and some types of cancer. These disorders together now account for more than two-thirds of all deaths in the United States.'
As Americans, we have neglected gastrointestinal health far too long. Most nations and civilizations seem to understand what we have forgotten long ago regarding the critical role of digestive health. According to scriptures common to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the "bowels," or the "belly," are described as the seat of the emotions. For example, in the Song of Solomon, the Shulamite lover says of her betrothed (Solomon):
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
-SONG OF SOLOMON, KJV, EMPHASIS ADDED
What modern writer would consider using "bowels" in romantic prose? Surprisingly, the English word gut reflects a highly accurate view of the intestinal tract. One dictionary defines gut as "the basic visceral or emotional part of a person... the alimentary canal or part of it (as the intestine or stomach) ... [and] the inner essential parts:" Several factors linked to modern civilization threaten your internal health, including unsafe vaccinations, environmental toxins, pollutants, the overuse of antibiotics (all the foods they contaminate), and even chlorinated and fluoridated water. Add to the list the burgeoning consumption of alcohol and drugs (prescription and recreation) plus poor diets, and you have only a few of the modern-day enemies endangering your gastrointestinal health!
What Is That "Gut Feeling?"
People are taught from childhood to believe that the brain is essentially the "boss" of the body. While it is true that the brain is the centerpiece of our mental capacity and nervous system, it is also a fact that there are nearly one hundred million nerve cells in the gut alone-about the same number found in the spinal cord! Fully one-half of your nerve cells are located in the gut, so your capacity for feeling and for emotional expression depends primarily on the gut (and only to a lesser extent on your brain). By the time you add together the number of nerve cells in the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines, there are more nerve cells in the overall digestive system than there are in the peripheral nervous system. Most people would say the brain determines whether you are happy or sad, but they have their facts skewed. It seems the gut is more responsible than we ever imagined for mental well-being and how we feel.
You Have Two Brains
Award-winning science writer Sandra Blakeslee specializes in "cognitive neuroscience:" She captured the link between our gut and brain perfectly in this quote from one of her numerous New York Times articles:
Have you ever wondered why people get butterflies in their stomach before going on stage? Or why an impending job interview can cause an attack of intestinal cramps? And why do antidepressants targeted for the brain cause nausea or abdominal upset in millions of people who take such drugs? The reason for these common experiences is because each of us literally has two brains - the familiar one encased in our skulls and a lesser-known but vitally important one found in the human gut. Like Siamese twins, the two brains are interconnected; when one gets upset, the other does, too.
This "second brain" in the gut is called the "enteric nervous system" (ENS). This "intestinal nervous system" consists of neurons, neurotransmitters, and messenger proteins embedded in the layers or coverings of tissue that line the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. (The word enteric is a Greek term for "intestine:") The enteric nervous system possesses a complex neural circuitry, and this "second brain" in your gut can act independently from the first brain in your body. Literally, it learns from experiences, remembers past actions and events, and produces an entire range of "gut feelings" that can influence your actions. Do you remember the gut sensation of what we call "butterflies in your stomach?" Has anyone ever advised you to "follow your gut instinct?" We regularly hear people say their stomach indigestion caused nightmares, and patients often tell their doctors that the antidepressants they take for mood swing also improved their gastrointestinal symptoms. Now you know why.
Two Nervous Systems Form During Fetal Development
Early in our embryogenesis, a collection of tissue called the "neural crest" appears and divides during fetal development. One part turns into the central nervous system, and the other migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Both "thinking machines" form simultaneously and independently of one another until a later stage of development. Then the two nervous systems link through a neural cable called the "vagus nerve;" the longest of all cranial nerves. (Its name comes from a Latin root meaning "wandering:") The vagus nerve "wanders" from the brain stem through organs in the neck and thorax and finally terminates in the abdomen. This is your vital brain-gut connection. I've coined the term gastro-neuro-immunology to describe the profound influence and importance of this link between our two brains and its affect on human immune function.
Never Underestimate Your Second Brain
The mass of gray matter between your ears is immensely important to your well-being, but you should never discount the vital importance of your "second brain"- the gut. Dr. Michael Gershon, professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, described the body's second nervous system in his book The Second Brain: The brain is not the only place in the body that's full of neurotransmitters. A hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, approximately the same number that is found in the brain .... The brain in the bowel has got to work right or no one will have the luxury to think at all."
Around 1899 two English physiologists at University College in London first discovered and described the interaction of hormones at the command of neural cells (ganglion) in the digestive tract. William M. Bayliss and Ernest H. Starling anesthetized dogs and applied pressure to the interior cavity of the intestine. The pressure caused contraction and relaxation followed by a propulsive wave. This propulsive wave or "peristaltic reflex" came to be called the "law of the intestine." It describes the way the intestine propels food through the digestive tract.
Experimental studies demonstrated that "the law of the intestine" operated and digestion continued even when all nerves connecting the bowel to the brain and spinal cord were severed. This convinced the scientists that the enteric nervous system (ENS) was independent from the central nervous system. A German scientist named Paul Trendelenburg confirmed the work of Bayliss and Starling eighteen years later, but the scientific community quickly refocused its interest on the more "exciting" discoveries of the day: chemical neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and acetylcholine.
Scientists Forgot the Second Brain for 100 Years
After a political conflict within the scientific community, disgruntled scientists at the Physiological Society arbitrarily reclassified the enteric nerves as simply part of the "parasympathetic nervous system" and essentially wrote off the discovery of this "second brain" for more than a century. Interest in the ENS revived between 1965 and 1967 when Dr. Michael Gershon proposed the existence of a third neurotransmitter, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT), that was both produced in and targeted to the enteric nervous system.
Dr. Gershon's proposition was confirmed, and we now know that this neurotransmitter is also found in the central nervous system. Serotonin makes you feel good. It is crucial for emotional health and balance, and it directly affects the well-being and function of your digestive system. We are still discovering ways the enteric nervous system mirrors the central nervous system. Nearly every substance that helps run and control the brain has turned up in the gut! Major neurotransmitters associated with the brain - including serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and nitric oxide - are found in plentiful amounts in the gut as well.
The Gut Manufactures Opiates and Mood-Controllers
About twenty-four small brain proteins called "neuropeptides" also appear in relatively high amounts in the gut, as well as major cells of the immune system. Researchers have even found plentiful amounts of enkephalins in the gut - a class of natural opiates in the body. The gut is also a rich source of benzodiazepines - psychoactive chemicals that include such popular mood-controlling drugs marketed as Valium and Xanax.
Karl Lashley, whom many consider the founder of neuropsychology, said in 1951, "I am coming more and more to the conviction that the rudiments of every human behavioral mechanism will be found represented even in primitive activities of the nervous system." This link between the brain and the gut is helping researchers understand why people act and feel the way they do.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep disturbances set up vicious cycles of pain, fatigue, and emotional distress that make sleep even more unlikely. Things don't improve much during waking hours either for people who do not sleep well. Inadequate sleep increases sensitivity to bowel, skin, and muscle stimuli, thus leading to more pain and distress. I know from personal experience that when I don't get sufficient sleep, my digestion suffers as a result. The brain and gut are much alike. Both have natural ninety-minute cycles. The slow wave sleep of the brain is interrupted by periods of "rapid eye movement," or REM sleep, in which dreams occur. Patients with bowel problems also tend to have abnormal REM sleep, and poor sleep has been reported by many if not most patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and nonulcer dyspepsia ("sour stomach").
Doctors often treat abnormal REM sleep with mild antidepressants, which may also be effective in treating IBS and nonulcer dyspepsia. However, some stronger antidepressants make digestive problems worse. Once again this points to a link between sleeping problems and stomach problems. Do the two brains influence each other? Probably. Sleep may very well be the single most important ingredient for digestive health. And it is important to get enough sleep at the right time. Some researchers believe that every minute you sleep before midnight is the equivalent of four minutes of sleep after midnight. Restful sleep will do wonders for your digestion and overall health.
Things Go Wrong When Serotonin Is Robbed From the Gut
Many prescription drugs that affect the brain also affect the gut. Some individuals who take Prozac or similar antidepressants may experience gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. These drugs "divert" serotonin from the body to the brain. Unfortunately, this leaves less serotonin for the cells of the gastrointestinal tract. Normally, the gut produces more serotonin than any other part of the body. This is important because serotonin is linked with initiation of peristalsis (the rhythmic movement of food through the digestive tract). When that supply of serotonin is reduced or stopped altogether, everything related to food digestion goes wrong.
Small doses of Prozac are often used to treat chronic constipation. However, if a little Prozac cures constipation, a lot of Prozac causes it! Opiates also have a powerful effect on the digestive tract because the gut has opiate receptors much like the brain. Dr. Michael Loes, a pain management specialist and author of The Healing Response, wrote, "Not surprisingly, drugs like morphine and heroin that are thought to act on the central nervous system also attach to the gut's opiate receptors, producing constipation. Both brains can be addicted to opiates." Many Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease patients suffer from constipation because these conditions impact the "second" brain in the gut as well as the "first" brain and central nervous system.
Anxious? Follow Your Gut Feeling
Fortunately, the Creator equipped the human gut with its own ways of coping with pain and stress. As I mentioned, the gut produces benzodiazepines, the same pain-alleviating chemicals found in anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium. It seems the gut is equipped to be your body's anxiety and pain reliever! If you overeat because you feel anxious, your body may be trying to use the extra food to produce more benzodiazepines. We are not sure whether the gut synthesizes benzodiazepine from chemicals in our foods, from bacterial actions, or from both. We do know that extreme pain appears to put the gut into overdrive in order to send benzodiazepine directly to the brain for immediate pain management.
Evidently, if you take care of your gut, it will take care of you. But what happens if you do not take care of your gut? Consider again what Dr. C. Everett Koop said in The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health in 1988: Food sustains us, it can be a source of considerable pleasure, it is a reflection of our rich social fabric and cultural heritage, it adds valued dimensions to our lives. Yet what we eat may affect our risk for several of the leading causes of death for Americans, notably, coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and some types of cancer. These disorders together now account for more than two-thirds of all deaths in the United States.
"Doc, Something's Wrong With My Gut!"
Digestive complaints including everything from hemorrhoids to duodenal ulcers result in more time lost at work, school, and play than any other health-related problem. Interestingly enough, according to epidemiological research done by Drs. Price, Schweitzer, and others, many of these digestive problems were rare or nonexistent less than a century ago! What did our ancestors know or do that we do not? How can we reclaim the health enjoyed by the ancients? For one thing, they ate a diet similar to the Maker's Diet and maintained physically vigorous lifestyles. We, on the other hand, tend to take our gut for granted, and it costs us dearly. We continually eat wrong foods that are rarely digested properly. The byproducts of incomplete digestion clog the gut with accumulated debris. This coating becomes a perfect breeding ground for dangerous forms of bacteria and other microorganisms.
Good news! There are some very positive things we can do to reverse any damage that has already been done. After Crohn's disease all but decimated my body's digestive system, intestinal cleansing or "detoxification" was one of the keys to overcoming my illness. Even though I "visited the bathroom" nearly ten thousand times over the two years I was sick, I still needed to be cleansed. I went through a natural detoxification process by introducing beneficial microorganisms into my body that helped me regain the natural balance of microflora in my gut. A couple of years ago, while appearing on a series of television programs devoted to health issues, I took calls from interested viewers. One viewer sent me a medical textbook written in 1896, which examined the problems associated with "autointoxication."
Surprisingly, autointoxication or "self-poisoning" from the bowel was a recognized cause of disease in the early 1900s. Dr. H. H. Boeker stated in 1928, "It is now universally conceded that autointoxication is the underlying cause of an exceptionally large group of symptom complexes." Recent research seems to support these earlier conclusions about intestinal toxemia. Yet, many modern medical practitioners and researchers still dismiss intestinal toxemia as a concept that is "old and outdated."
The "gut" goes from your mouth all the way to the "other end." It is fully self-contained and yet intricately dependent and interlinked with every other major system of your body. It is becoming clearer that anything you consume or that otherwise exerts an influence on the body - i.e., swimming and showering in chlorinated water, swallowing fluoride toothpaste, wearing synthetic clothing, or even cleaning house with powerful chemicals - may indirectly or directly affect your gut and therefore your health. In fact, virtually every state of health is affected by the GI tract. Even if you break a bone or undergo a surgical procedure, the time required to heal is directly affected by how well your gut is able to process nutrients and detoxify toxins! And even if you are the most intelligent person in the world, if you fail to fuel your body properly, your brilliant intellect may be dimmed or extinguished through poor nutrition and poor lifestyle decisions.
Digestion: The Law of the Gut
We can accurately say that the digestive process is ruled by the "law of the gut:' Simply defined, digestion is:
- A carefully executed decomposition process.
- Carried out by an independent enteric nervous system.
- Supported by an intricate array of interactive enzymes.
The food you eat yields only a small proportion of substances usable by your body. The rest is eliminated as two fundamental kinds of waste: metabolic waste and digestive waste. Metabolic waste represents the cellular household waste and the breakdown of dead, discarded cells that are constantly being replaced in the body. Most of it is eliminated through the kidneys. (Less than 4 percent exits the body through the bowels.) Digestive waste comprises all the breakdown matter from the digestion process that is not absorbed.
If these waste products are not regularly eliminated, they begin to poison the body and blood. Unchecked, this autointoxication may ultimately lead to disease and even death.
Throughout history, people from virtually every nationality have preserved in their folklore an instinctive understanding about the importance of regular elimination in the form of daily, comfortable bowel movements. My Jewish grandmother told me her mother often used an old Yiddish expression to describe her day-to-day digestive health. It perfectly describes this universal understanding about digestion.
If someone asked her, "Mama, are you hungry?" she might reply, "No, dis bachala teet vay." (I've spelled the phrase phonetically.) The translation: "No, my stomach isn't clean:" My great-grandmother usually refused to eat until she had a bowel movement that day - she knew how important it was to detoxify the body and cleanse the colon.
Most modern Americans don't follow her criteria; they continue to eat large amounts of harmful foods and, if constipated, simply take a toxic, chemical-based laxative or visit the doctor's office. Unfortunately, disease may visit us quietly as we feast and live foolishly. It concerns me that we seem to be implanting unhealthy standards of digestion and elimination in our nation at a very young age. Some elementary school children are told in health classes that two bowel movements per week should be considered normal!
Dr. H. H. Boeker believed that over 90 percent of diseases are caused or complicated by toxins created in the intestinal tract by unhealthy foods that are not properly eliminated." Autointoxication occurs when, due to poor elimination, certain toxins escape from the bowel into the blood stream and poison the body, causing a silent form of self-poisoning.
Two Keys to Optimal Health
Guidelines for optimal health and nutrition can be reduced to two vital keys:
- Optimize the nutrition entering your body.
- Reduce the toxins in your body.
Virtually every disease can be related to those two guidelines in some way - and it all starts in the small and large intestines.
Caring for your colon
The colon is the number one repository for oxidative stress in the body. We hear a great deal in the media about antioxidants and the danger of free radicals, but very few of us realize most of the free radicals or oxidative damage is generated in the colon during the final stages of the digestion process! This explains why it is good to eliminate waste daily rather than have it languish for days in the digestive tract, generating potentially harmful toxins all the while.
Enzymes also play key roles in a healthy gut. Our ancestors enjoyed exceptional health partly because they regularly consumed enzyme and probiotic-rich foods, vital nutrients that remain a mystery to most Americans. Digestive enzymes help us break down proteins, fats, sugars, starches, and other carbohydrates, Your body requires a steady supply of enzymes to digest food properly and maintain health. Thousands of different enzymes exist in nature, but they may be divided into two basic categories.
The first category, lytic enzymes, is designed and programmed to break down only specified substances. For example, proteolytic enzymes break down proteins only, without affecting fats or sugars. The second category of enzymes, synthetic enzymes, focuses exclusively on the process of synthesis in the body and is uniquely equipped to help create new substances or structures such as molecules and tissues. The human body produces most of the enzymes it needs, but certain key enzymes, such as cellulase (an enzyme that breaks down the fiber contained in plant foods), must be obtained from raw vegetables and fruits that enter the digestive system.
These enzymes and the complex processes of the digestive tract are vitally related to your health. If you fail to eat the proper foods or if you abuse your body with dangerous dietary choices, man-made chemicals, or a "burn-out" lifestyle, you could lose more than your "youthful appearance:" Enzyme deficiency may also impair your immune function, resulting in illness or disease. High-speed, high-volume lifestyles and toxic eating habits deprive us of the enzymes we need so desperately. Even worse - they deteriorate the organs that produce many of the body's most crucial enzymes. This progressive, overall depletion of enzymes leads to a no-win situation in which we can neither digest the food we eat nor synthesize the materials needed for cell repair and maintenance. Even a partial enzyme deficiency may lead to the onset of disease. As our enzyme deficiencies grow worse, it gets harder and harder for the body to digest proteins, fats, sugars, starches, and other carbohydrates. The resulting poor digestion can open the door to a great variety of health problems.
Enter the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is your body's front line of defense against infection and disease. Its primary job is to defend your body from foreign invasion by disease-causing agents such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi. The lymph system contains a network of vessels that help circulate and filter body fluids. Lymph nodes or glands dot the network of lymphatic vessels and provide meeting grounds for the immune system cells that defend against invaders. They also produce lymph, a pale fluid resembling blood plasma that contains white blood cells. (Lymph is a Greek term meaning "a pure, clear stream.") The lymphatic fluids bathe the tissues of the body and are collected by the lymphatic vessels and discharged into the blood stream. Serious problems arise when lymph glands are blocked and this vital service to the body's cells is eliminated. Lymphatic congestion is considered one of the foremost trigger factors for a great variety of serious diseases.
Sixty to 80 percent of the lymphatic system is in your small intestine. Called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), it is almost synonymous with the term immune system. The gigantic task of your GALT is to discriminate between nutritious components and possible antigens passing through your bowel. Since antigens signal the presence of something that threatens the healthy cells and systems of the body, your GALT alerts the immune system to respond appropriately. When your GALT fails to function properly, your immune health is compromised, and dangerous toxins may escape from the colon into your bloodstream. Numerous illnesses could be released to attack virtually any tissue or organ - even your entire body. That is why lymphomas (cancer of the lymphatic system) spread so rapidly. The lymphatic system literally goes throughout the length of your body. It has been said that death begins in the colon. And so does life.
While your GALT is the most important of all of the lymphatic systems, the lymphoid organs, or organs of the immune system, are positioned throughout the body. They include the spleen, located at the upper left of the abdomen, which is also a staging ground where immune system cells confront foreign microbes. Pockets of lymphoid tissue appear in many other locations throughout the body as well, such as in the bone marrow, thymus, tonsils, adenoids, Peyer's patches, and the appendix.
This brief description of your body's defense system can help you understand how important it is for you to care for your colon by providing proper nutrition for your body. Avert this deadly scenario of a compromised immune system by avoiding processed and devitalized foods, antibiotics, caffeine, alcohol, chlorine, and other toxins. Maintain a healthy gut, a free-flowing lymph system, and a healthy immune function by following a daily health program. Include plenty of natural foods from the Maker's Diet, which are rich in enzymes, along with probiotics and a lifestyle that includes movement and exercise.
As you may know, your health is vitally connected to a vast universe of microscopic organisms that thrive in and on every living thing. A wide array of antibiotics has been unleashed to kill and destroy virtually all microorganisms. You are about to learn more regarding the critical need to avoid this "micro-mayhem:" Many of these tiny microorganisms - the "good bacteria"- may be both the smallest and best friends you'll ever have.