Digestive Rebuilding

3 Phases to Recovery

The physical body is an amazing machine.  It's a work of art, really. All elements work together to bring about a common goal. Much like an old-fashioned pocket watch. Rather than keeping time, the body maintains health and vitality. However, the body is much more intelligent than a watch, as its quest for balance often results in compensation when one part is not functioning, where the ole pocket watch will just stop working.

We have talked about the digestion ad nauseum (pun intended).  It really is the center of the Universe....or at least of the body.  If the digestive system can extract the nutrients from food and present them to the cells, then the cells will function optimally. Optimal functioning cells produce health and vitality. Deprive the cell of nutrients and dysfunction ensues, which leads into symptoms and disease. 

When chronic disease is present, there is an underlying nutrient deficiency....period. In cases of chronic disease, one of three scenarios is present:

  • The food ingested is not adequate in nutrient density.
  • The body's assimilation of the nutrients is impaired and the body cannot extract the nutrients.
  • Both above scenarios are in play.

Sadly enough, with our modern companion dietary recommendations, category 1 is almost always true, thus most pets fall into category 3 due to the long term damage incurred by the poor food options.  

How do you, as a care-giver, know your pet has digestive insufficiency when no vomiting or diarrhea is present?  Take a lookcloser look at Sparky here. Sparky is a teenager, yet look at his nose, eye liner, lip liner and coat. Certainly you can tell he is a senior due to the greying on his head and face, but it isn't much.  His nose is deep black with a glossy finish.  The liners are dark and the color vibrant. This little guy has a healthy whole food diet and more than adequate assimilation of his food.

You might ask, "can the damage incurred be reversed and digestion restored?"  The answer is yes, but it is not a quick and simple process. The digestion is a compensating system, like the rest of the body. There are differing stages of digestive insufficiency, thus the treatment must be tailored to the level of deficiency. Digestive insufficiency takes a good bit of time to develop and consequently, it takes time to resolve....and dedication to the treatment path. 

If your pet has been on a whole food nutritional protocol and the nose hasn't quite filled in or the coat is better but not luxurious, chances are something is missing. Take a moment to review the phases below, as they may contain the information that may be the breakthrough your pet needs.  Read a single phase at a time and "digest it" (ah-hem) before moving forward.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Phase I: Gut Reconditioning Protocol

The upper digestive system is the first line of defense in the War on Digestive Insufficiency.  This system involves the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and upper intestine (duodenum).  All these organs are related and depend upon one another for optimal digestion of food that allows for extraction of nutrients necessary for cellular function. 

In humans, digestion begins in the mouth as the grinding teeth we possess break down the cellulose layer of plant matter and allows the inherent enzymes in the food to release and have action.  Humans also release enzymes into the mouth, like alpha-amylase, to initiate break down of foods.

Not so in our canine and feline friends.  Our furry counterparts do not have "grinding teeth', rather they are slashing and biting teeth; thus they turn their heads sideways to scissor off chunks of food before swallowing. In addition, cat and dog jaws are actually a hinge joint, which means they open and close in one direction and cannot move side to side like human jaws.  So for them, digestion truly begins in the stomach, which is where the Gut Reconditioning Program begins.

Let's briefly review the basic digestive cascade starting in the stomach. Keep in mind that digestion is much more complex and has more steps than this simplistic description. However, for purposes of this discussion, it will suffice.

  • Food is ingested and passes into the stomach
  • Stomach acids are released/activated until the acidity (pH) reaches ~2.0
  • Once the pH reaches 2.0, the acid release valves shut off and mucus is released to coat the stomach lining for protection.
  • Stomach churns the food + acids (called ingesta) to breakdown major components.
  • The ingesta (pH of 2.0) will pass into the lower stomach sphincter (pylorus) and triggers a cascade of events:
  1. Bicarbonate is release to reduce the acidity before arriving at the duodenum
  2. Bile is released from the gallbladder via the bile duct and emptying into the duodenum (via CCK)
  3. Pancreatic enzymes are released into the duodenum (via secretin)
  4. Ingesta is further broken down into absorbable nutrients that move through the remaining intestines for nutrient extraction, while the waste moves through and out of the body.

Notice how each step is dependent upon the previous step?

With modern diets and stressors (physical, environmental and mental), most pets suffer from hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid.  Why is this important?  The gastrointestinal sstem is pH driven, which means that the endless numbers of chemcial reactions which occur during the digestive process are triggered by a specific pH.  If the stomach acid is insufficient, then multiple things occur...

  • The pH of ingesta cannot make it down to 2.0, thus:
  1. The acid release valves do not shut down and the stores of acids are further depleted.
  2. The body recruits phosphoric acid to help digest, but it has poor digestive qualities and gives the bubbling up effect (acid reflux symptoms)
  3. Mucus is not released to coat the stomach lining for protection, making the pet susceptible to stomach erosion/ulceration.
  • The food in the stomach cannot break down adequately without acids, thus it sits in the stomach and ferments. This creates belching, smacking, licking +/- hard swallowing.
  • The acidity of the ingesta is not low enough to trigger the cascade of events a listed above and more.
  • And the dominos fall.....
  1. BILE is not released appropriately and it sludges, thus fat breakdown is diminished.
  2. PANCREATIC ENZYMES are not released, and production diminishes.
  3. FOOD is not adequately broken down into absorbable nutrients, thus the body cannot absorb adequate levels.
  4. NUTRIENTS like B vitamins, calcium, iron, fat-soluble vitamins (Vit A, D, E & K) cannot be absorbed as the normal, healthy digestive mechanisms have been impeded.
  5. GUT LINING becomes inflamed and the intestinal environment is altered dramatically setting the stage for intestinal dysbiois or Leaky Gut Disease.

What can that mean clinically?  Initially, your dog burps, smacks, passes gas or vomits on occasion.  You take him into the vet and they prescribe......acid blockers. Uh oh.  Doesn't that make the hypochlorhydria worse?  You better believe it!  Let's say he/she stabilizes, but you notice the coat color is dull and less vibrant.  Perhaps the nose, pads and liners lose pigment.  Maybe the energy is lessening.  Most chalk this up to AGING.  Okay, folks, aging is simply deficiency in action.  Hence, the reason some pets age more gracefully than others, like Sparky up there.  When you have nutrient deficiency, cellular function is impaired and the normal mechanisms of the body suffer...hence diseases emerge.  Oh my goodness, see how that came full circle?

The Gut Reconditioning Program addresses the four main areas of concern here by:

  1. Supplementing stomach acid
  2. Thinning the bile and improving liver/gallbladder function
  3. Supplementing pancreatic enzymes
  4. Healing the lining of the upper digestive lining

The program lasts 4-8 weeks, depending upon the specific pets issues.  As all furry kids are unique, doses and protocols are also adjusted to their individual needs.  Hence, good feedback is appreciated to "tweak" the protocol.  Once the function of the upper digestion is restored, then our focus turns to the lower gut.

Phase II:  Gut Flora Rebalancing

The term "balance" has gained popularity in the world's quest for finding a better life. We balance our work with home, our physical with mental health, or our chocolate with our peanut butter, for example. While it may be a little trendy, it is not a new concept. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has worked for over 5,000 years with balancing the yin with the yang, the mind with the body & spirit, and the foods to bring about the best possible health.  As science has expanded and our knowledge grows deeper, we find that the early concepts of TCM are supported.

When we talk about "gut rebalancing", most think of using probiotics to rebalance the gut.  In the scientific community, it is hypothesized that each individual person has a gut flora that is as unique to them as a fingerprint.  With poor diet, emotional stress, environmental toxin exposure, drug use, etc. the gut function and flora is impacted negatively.  The friendly bacteria are depleted and the unfriendlies take over. Certainly you can take probiotics, but if the environment is not healthy, how much good will probiotics do if they cannot survive the environment?

The gut lining is like a big organic farm.  There are multiple mechanisms that make the soil "fertile":

  • Acidity (pH) of soil  (correct pH in stomach and gut; see Phase I)
  • Nutrient load of soil (level of health & nutrient load of the existing intestinal lining)
  • Inherent protective mechanisms (intestinal mucus, immune tissue, etc.)
  • Fertilizer (additional nutrients extracted from incoming food and whole food supplements)

If the gut lining is much like an organic field, then all of these aspects must be present for the seeds to sprout, grow and flourish.  If the acidity of the soil is off and the soil is depleted, what do you think happens when you plant the seeds (i.e., probiotics)?  Following a short period, they die. So can you give probiotics?  Sure, but it won't likely restore the gut health because there is much more to it than the seed.

What do we do first?  If the garden is overrun with weeds, we must first pull weeds before we nourish the soil, otherwise we are just feeding the weeds.  Enter the Gut Flora Rebalancing Protocol or "Weed & Feed" Protocol.  This protocol alternately weeds out the unfriendlies and then enriches the environment.  The program is designed for each patient to address their individual environmental needs.

The two phases of treatment encompass a controlled restructuring of the gut flora on the weekends and an enrichment protocol during the weekdays that is tailored to the specific pet.  The program lasts 6 cycles or 6 weeks.  As the unfriendly bacteria die off, your pet may experience some gas production and bloating in the first 1-2 "weed" segments, but that improves following the "feed" cycle portion of the individual segment.  It simply means the protocol is doing its job. We strive to make as minimal of an impact as possible; and doses are adjusted to meet the specific needs of the pets.  Finally, after the completion of the 6 cycles, we move into the Enrichment & Maintenance Program.

Phase III: Enrichment & Maintenance Program

After completing the Gut Reconditioning Program and the Gut Flora Rebalancing Program, the focus moves to an Enrichment & Maintenance Program. This program has two distinct phases:

  • Repopulate the gut flora with probiotics (plant the seeds)
  • Maintenance of the healthy environment with healthy food & whole food supplements (continued soil enrichment)

Will a probiotic formula repopulate the entire gut?  Not even close.  There are over 250 different strains of bacteria in the gut.  A probiotic formula has typically 6-15 strains of "friendly" bacteria.  However, if the terrain has been restored, the normal mechanisms of growth will favor repopulation of the gut.  The probiotic will simply give it an initial boost.

The Maintenance Phase includes healthy, whole foods diets along with whole food support products that are tailored to the pets’ needs.  This differs in most animals based upon the special needs of that particular pet.  The key here is to avoid returning to a poor source of nutrition, or all the work that has been done will be lost. The healthy pet can conceivably return to simple supplementation of whole food vitamins, +/- enzymes if appropriate (depends upon the food choices), and a marine oil rotation with a health whole food diet.  Obviously, if the pet has specific health issues that require pharmaceutical medications, it is not advisable to alter the dosages without veterinary direction.  Furthermore, a tailored supplementation regimen will likely be necessary in those pets with ongoing health issues.

These protocols will improve the health and vitality of each pet and help to slow progression of disease states. Remember, when good nutrition is present and the digestive mechanisms are in place, then food is broken down into usable nutrients (in the form that Mother Nature intended) thus providing the cells with all the raw materials needed for optimal function.  A nourished cell is a functional cell

The information in this article series is to be used with the guidance and oversight of a health care provider. It is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian. As every patient has unique, individual needs, the protocols will differ between patients, thus a practitioner familiar with these concepts and products should administer/oversee these programs.