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Addressing Digestive Disorders with Functional Medicine

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Digestive disorders involve symptoms that can range from discomforting to debilitating. People suffer with bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramping, constipation and diarrhea. If you have IBS or an inflammatory bowel disease such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's, you may feel like you live on a roller coaster ride.

Periods of flare-ups and remissions often seem impossible to predict or control. It's especially frustrating for patients who undergo surgery or take medication only to find themselves, once again facing unresolved symptoms.

Aside from medication or surgery, traditional medicine doesn't have much to offer in terms of therapy or support for digestive disorders. These are the means by which symptoms can hopefully be resolved, but they give little attention to what may be done to help the body help itself. A holistic approach to digestive disorders by contrast focuses on just that: restoring function as much as possible, correcting imbalances, and enabling the patient to achieve and sustain optimal health naturally.

4 Rs of Gut Repair

When you have issues with gut health, the ultimate goal is to optimize digestion and restore gut microbial balance, so that the immune system surrounding the gut can function optimally. This will reduce inflammation in the gut and allow for optimal absorption of nutrients, to support hormone balance. 


Eliminate inflammatory foods from your diet – wheat, dairy, soy, corn, gluten and refined sugar are the most common allergenic and inflammatory foods.  

Avoid gastric irritants – alcohol, antibiotics, birth control pills, and synthetic drugs, EMF waves unless they are absolutely necessary.

Treat any gut infections - like, candidasis, blastocystitis, tapeworms or roundworms. Removing the infections may require treatment with herbs, anti-parasite medication, anti-fungal medication, anti-fungal supplements or even antibiotics.


Introduce homemade bone broth – make your own bone broth or order it from a trusted provider. It is a digestive aid and helps rebuild the gut.  If you are vegetarian consume nourishing soups like seaweed soup or potassium broth.

Increase your Gelatin/collagen intake – Gelatin is an ingredient in the bone broth that can be consumed instead of bone broth or added to the bone broth for additional healing. Gelatin is derived from collagen; when collagen breaks down, it becomes gelatin. 

If you want a vegetarian collagen booster, then you can purchase the supplements to get a quicker load in a short time.

Use Supplements

  • L-Glutamine – is an amino acid that feeds the cells of your gut lining. It is your gut’s favorite food and helps to heal gut permeability issues. It is mostly found in capsule or powder form, it’s also found in bone broth. 

  • Turmeric – curcumin, an active ingredient in the spice turmeric, reduces overall inflammation and works wonders for pelvic pain, migraines, and joint pain. It is best to consume it with black pepper and coconut oil. Turmeric is not absorbed well by the body without the presence of fat and black pepper. 

  • Zinc Carnosine - is essential to repair damaged cells that line the intestines. Carnosine is both an amino acid and a powerful antioxidant. 

  • Quercetin - is a flavonoid found abundantly in onions, apples, and leafy greens. It helps to restore the leaky gut and prevents allergies and pain by avoiding a histamine release. 


This is basically balancing the bacteria in your gut

Start with probiotic-rich fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, or any kind of fermented vegetables have been found to improve the health of the microbiome. Add 1-2 tablespoons with each meal or consume probiotic-rich drinks.

Note: fermented and aged foods are high in histamines, which are compounds that trigger allergy-like symptoms in people who are histamine intolerant. Hives, headaches, and sneezing are common reactions. So, if you are sensitive to histamines then use a probiotic instead of fermented foods.  

Use Probiotic capsules – probiotic supplements are a great way to repopulate the gut with a healthy balance of good bacteria. The general recommended dosage for healthy individuals without contraindication is 15-50 billion CFUs per day. Make sure to read the label regarding whether to take with food or without food. Also, rotate your probiotics every three months.

Best probiotics effective for Gut healing will consist of soil based organism and contains many strains. The most important are Lactobacillus Plantarum, which has been shown to reduce wall permeability in patients with leaky gut syndrome.

Consume foods that contain prebiotic resistant starch – prebiotics wind up stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria (often called probiotics) that colonize our gut microflora. Since they act as food for probiotics, prebiotic compounds help balance harmful bacteria and toxins living in the digestive tract.  

There are a number of foods that contain resistant starch in them: legumes such as lentils, white beans, and chickpeas, along with cooked plantains. You can try unmodified potato starch (Bob's Red Mill), which is one of the best sources of RS. This can be added into smoothies or juices because it's best when not heated.

Note: if you feel bloated, constipated or gassy after trying out prebiotic foods then they might not be for you, which is totally okay. 


Focus on chewing your food 20-30 times each mouthful – chewing your food properly is a mindful eating practice and it becomes a habit over time. After chewing properly, you will likely experience less bloating, burping and stomach pain (if you have these symptoms). 

Increase fiber – if your bowels are slow moving then you need to make sure you are getting at least 35-45 grams of fiber each day. Optimal transit time should be 12-24 hours for proper absorption of your food. This means that if you eat at 7 pm, you should ideally have a bowel movement the following morning.  

Also, make sure you are getting enough magnesium (lotion) or via supplement.

Increase digestive enzymes – one of the easiest, yet most beneficial digestion helpers. You’ll break down food better and up-level the entire digestion process and your gut health. Do not take them longer than needed; some research suggests the body can become dependent on them. 

People with low stomach acid typically experience frequent heartburn, acid reflux, burping, bloating, gas, and even nausea after eating. If you suspect you may have low stomach acid, the first step is to consult a medical doctor to be formally assessed for low acid.

If you have seen a doctor and tests positive for stomach acid deficiency, or if you frequently experience the symptoms above, the following set of suggestions may help to stimulate acid production in the stomach. They are ranked in order of good, better and best. 

3 ways to restore digestive enzymes


•    Start each morning out with a glass of warm water and fresh lemon or lime. Squeeze a tablespoon of lemon juice into the water.

•    Add 1 tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar to an 8-ounce glass of warm water and drink it about 15-30 minutes before meals. You can also drink this after meals if you experience heartburn.


Take bitter herbs or “digestive bitters” which have been used in traditional cultures for thousands of years to improve digestion. Look for digestive bitters that have some or all of the following ingredients commonly used in herbology:

•    Dandelion

•    Fennel

•    Ginger

•    Beetroot

•    Goldenseal Root

•    Milk thistle

•    Peppermint 

•    Wormwood 

•    Yellow dock 

Take a dose of bitters (according to the label or directions from an herbalist) before each meal to help get your digestive juices flowing! 


Supplement with Betaine HCL. This supplement should be taken once daily, and should always be taken with a meal that contains at least 15-20 grams of protein (about 4-6 ounces of meat). 

HCL should never be taken with a meal that doesn’t have animal protein, so if you eat a plant-based diet, you will want to avoid Betaine HCL supplementation and stick with the other options. 

You can find Betaine HCL at fullscript dispensary

IMPORTANT: People, who take any anti-inflammatory medicines, should not take Betaine HCL. Examples are corticosteroids, aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or other NSAIDs. These drugs can damage the GI lining and supplementing with HCL could aggravate it, increasing the risks of bleeding or ulcer. 

PLEASE NOTE: anyone who has any kind of stomach ulcer should not take Betaine HCL.

Functional medicine is a type of health care that takes a holistic approach, and it is an excellent choice for people struggling with digestive disorders. While you may have concluded there is no way to know what's causing your condition and that causes don't matter, this is not true. It is very possible to identify the triggers behind flare-ups, to understand exactly what is going on in your body related to your digestive health, and to minimize and even eliminate the occurrence of very stubborn symptoms.

The final key to achieving results lies in knowledge gleaned through testing. In-depth testing enables a functional practitioner to be able to identify causes. Once you are thoroughly and properly evaluated, it is possible to design a customized therapeutic support plan that is safe and effective. There's no need to take a 'wait and see' approach with this type of plan. Results are measurable. You feel better as your health condition improves.

Working with a functional medicine practitioner is likely to be a unique experience if you've been receiving standard medical care for a digestive disorder. You aren't helpless in a holistic context; there is much you can and need to do to take charge of your own health. The practitioner functions more like a partner who gives you the tools, information and understanding you need to manage your condition.

Functional medicine modalities have helped patients with IBS, Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's regain their quality of life through the 4 Rs of Gut healing that I explained above. Therapeutic support addresses not only the obvious distressing symptoms involved in digestive disorders but ones you may not have realized were related at all. Joint pain, fatigue, skin conditions, sleep disturbances and depression may all result from problems related to the digestive system.

If you're committed to feeling better and wish to take an active role in your health, consult with my team at WellnessWits. It's likely you can achieve much better results with a collaborative care approach than you have with other health care options alone.

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