A new treatment for gastrointestinal disorders involves introducing “normal gut bacteria” into the afflicted person’s system. (Courtesy photo)

A new treatment for gastrointestinal disorders involves introducing “normal gut bacteria” into the afflicted person’s system. (Courtesy photo)

Mind, body, gut

Gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free…all these variations of diets originally designed to address irritable bowels are exploding—apparently, because people’s bowels are now explosive. Celiac, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and their relatives are being diagnosed more frequently than ever. As a society, Americans are becoming both more mindful and more stressed. Could these be linked through the gut?

The gut is colonized by trillions of bacteria and other organisms, only a small percentage of which we have identified. We know that when we take an antibiotic to kill bacteria in one part of our body it acts as a nuclear bomb in the gut, wiping out populations of organisms living in precarious balance with other organisms.

When one group is wiped out, other populations of bacteria — and possibly viruses, fungi and prions that were previously suppressed—are free to grow. Some of these populations may not process gluten as well as others, leading to the shocking surge of gluten sensitivities. For some people, the newly dominant lifeforms create widespread havoc.

Havoc in the bowel produces a variety of disabling disorders, from prolific gas production to diarrhea to weight loss. The bowel becomes inflamed — either due directly to the new organisms, to their over-activity, or to the immune system’s response to the now dominant bacteria colonies. Thus, inflammatory bowel diseases are labeled, possibly often incorrectly, as autoimmune diseases: illness caused by the body rejecting itself.

But the far more likely explanation is that we simply have not yet identified the primary inflammatory agents. Newer DNA bowel diagnostic testing should help clarify these invaders. At present, possibly 60 percent of the DNA in the gut codes for organisms we have not yet identified.

There is a long way to go.

And it is not just the bowel that gets disordered. When we cannot process foods correctly, we naturally become stressed, hungry and irritable. Stress alone causes the release of cortisol and other hormones which increase bowel activity. In many cases, in fact, the initial insult to the bowel is stress from the mind. This stress-induced excess bowel activity leads to poor food processing and an inflamed bowel lining—leading to the selection of organisms that thrive in the newly swollen tissue.

In this circle game of our bowel’s life, the common denominators are stress and inflammation. The unknowns are the specific organisms that respond to stress and induce inflammation, and the therapies needed to reduce them.

The most novel approach to date includes reintroducing an overwhelming dose of the healthy microbiome that exists within a person’s family population. If four members of a family have normal bowels and one is afflicted with an inflammatory syndrome, it’s possible that introducing the fecal matter of a digestively healthy family member into the ill person may destroy the nasty bacteria and recolonize the bowel with a healthier population. This common-sense approach, called fecal therapy, is gaining acceptance as evidence of its success grows.

So, overpowering doses of normal gut bacteria—when combined with a program that includes stress reduction, mindfulness, visualizing a healthy bowel and world around you, and physical therapy that focuses on increased exercise and fitness—may be a safe, natural way of reversing the bowel disorder tsunami.

My grandmother once said that the definition of serendipity is falling in poop and coming out smelling like a rose. If the gut does control the mind, and the mind controls the gut, may we all experience serendipity when we need to the most.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.bowelgutKevin Stone

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Although The City has been shut down and largely empty, people have enjoyed gathering in places such as Dolores Park. <ins>(Al Saracevic/The Examiner)</ins>
Come back to San Francisco: The City needs you now

Time to get out of the house, people. The City’s been lonely… Continue reading

A surveillance camera outside Macy’s at Union Square on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Is the tide turning against surveillance cameras in SF?

Crime-fighting camera networks are springing up in commercial areas all around San… Continue reading

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott speaks alongside Mayor London Breed at a news conference about 2019 crime statistics at SFPD headquarters on Jan. 21, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What the media gets wrong about crime in San Francisco

By Lincoln Mitchell Special to The Examiner Seemingly every day now, you… Continue reading

Vice President Kamala Harris is under fire for her comments in Guatemala earlier this week. (Examiner file photo.)
SF immigration advocates slam Kamala Harris’ ‘betrayal’ to her past

Kamala Harris’ comments earlier this week discouraging Central Americans from traveling to… Continue reading

Youth activists with the Sunrise Movement march along a rural road during their two-week trek from Paradise to San Francisco to call attention to an increase in deadly wildfires as a result of climate change on June 2, 2021. (Photo by Brooke Anderson)
Weeks-long climate march culminates on the Golden Gate Bridge

Lola’s alarm goes off most mornings before dawn. The 17-year-old high school… Continue reading

Most Read