This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on Reversing Diabetes Naturally. Here’s a quick summary of the contents of this series:
- Part 1 – It Starts With Food
- Part 2 – Digestion and Diabetes
- Part 3 – Improving Immunity
- Part 4 – Taking Care of Toxins
So now, let’s talk about digestion and diabetes, and how digestive issues can cause and worsen blood sugar regulation problems, and lead to diabetes. And we’ll talk about how fixing digestive issues can help prevent and reverse diabetes.
Do you have digestive issues? These are unfortunately very common, and can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- gas & bloating
- indigestion/stomach upset
- heartburn/acid reflux/GERD
- loose stools & diarrhea
- food sensitivities
- abdominal pain
All of these symptoms indicate that the digestion is not working optimally, and needs some attention. And less than optimal digestion affects everything else in our bodies – including blood sugar regulation.
Digestion and Diabetes
There’s a number of ways that impaired digestion can cause or exacerbate blood sugar regulation problems.
One of the main ways is impaired production of digestive juices, including stomach acid (HCl), digestive enzymes, and bile. Another important one is an imbalance in the gut microbiome – this is when the balance between all the different types of micro-organisms that live in our digestive systems is off-kilter, with either not enough good gut bugs (ie. probiotics), or too many bad gut bugs (ie. pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites), or both.
Impaired digestion typically leads to three primary problems:
- Impaired digestive stimulation
- Impaired nutrient absorption
- Food sensitivities/reactivity
These issues then cause a whole cascade of other health challenges, including blood sugar dysregulation, and addressing these is crucial not only for fixing blood sugar problems, but for optimizing overall health.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Impaired Digestive Stimulation
There are many different aspects to healthy digestion, and one of them is proper sequencing, or stimulation. This means that, when the digestion is working as it should, there are various steps that happen in turn, with each step triggering the next step. An example of this is that an adequate level of stomach acid triggers the proper release of insulin from the pancreas, which helps regulate your blood sugar. In fact, having enough stomach acid is the domino that tips all the other digestive function dominos, stimulating all the digestive steps that are downstream of the stomach, and it is the foundation upon which healthy digestion rests. And anything that reduces stomach acid wreaks havoc on all those downstream steps.
What Does Stomach Acid Do?
Stomach acid has many important jobs. It begins the process of breaking down foods, helping you absorb all the nutrients in your foods. Stomach acid also kills pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi (yeasts and molds) and parasites that enter your digestive tract (mostly via foods and beverages), acting as a first line of defense in your body, and saving your immune system a fair bit of work. An adequate level of stomach acid also has the essential function of triggering the release of various digestive enzymes, which are necessary for you to fully break down foods and absorb nutrients. Without the proper breakdown of foods, your immune system is more likely to adversely react to more foods, since larger particles of foods (esp proteins) look a lot like pathogens to our immune systems. And, as mentioned in the example above, an adequate level of stomach acid is needed to trigger the proper release of insulin to regulate blood sugar.
In other words, without adequate stomach acid – a condition known as hypochlorhydria – you are more likely to have:
- Infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Increased reactivity to more foods, more often
- Blood sugar regulation problems
The good news is that hypochlorhydria can quickly and easily be identified with a simple, free test you can do in the comfort of your own home in just 10 minutes, and can be fixed naturally through a combination of:
- Digestion-boosting foods, herbs and supplements
- Intermittent fasting
- Reducing stress
- And avoiding things that reduce stomach acid, such as heartburn medications.
Take the at-home stomach acid test.
Impaired Nutrient Absorption
Another consequence of impaired digestion is that you don’t absorb nutrients properly, leading to nutrient deficiencies.
Impaired nutrient absorption can be caused by a gut microbiome imbalance, since our healthy gut microbes help us absorb nutrients, and help us clear gut-irritating toxins, whereas unhealthy gut microbes (ex. h. pylori, Candida) steal nutrients from us, and cause gut inflammation, which further impairs nutrient absorption.
Nutrient absorption can also be impaired by insufficient production of digestive juices, such as the enzymes that break down proteins, fats, and carbs. This is another factor that leads us to not break down our foods fully, which leads to more likelihood of nutrient deficiencies.
And then there’s digestive motility – when foods don’t move through our digestive tract like they’re supposed to (either too fast or too slow), the nutrients in our foods are not fully absorbed by our bodies. Too fast, and food flies through you before your body can grab all the goodies that those foods have to offer. Too slow, and food lingers where it shouldn’t, and causes digestive irritation and inflammation, which also interferes with nutrient absorption. Too slow digestive motility can also cause the re-absorption of toxins that your body is trying valiantly to get rid of, which then leads to more inflammation and nutrient deficiencies.
No matter the cause, nutrient deficiencies typically lead to mitochondrial* dysfunction, which affects every aspect of your physiology, including your body’s ability to properly regulate your blood sugar. And, nutrient deficiencies, impaired mitochondrial function and blood sugar dysregulation can all cause cravings for more food, especially higher carb foods, as your well-meaning body tries its best to take care of you and keep you functioning by steering you toward quick easy fuel sources. Those higher carb foods then lead to more blood sugar regulation problems, more gut irritation and nutrient deficiencies, and more cravings… It’s a vicious cycle, but one that you can break out of!
*Mitochondria are the power-generators of our cells, using our food to create all the energy needed to fuel every function in our bodies.
Optimizing your nutrient absorption – by balancing your gut microbiome, boosting your digestive enzymes, and getting your digestion moving at the ideal speed – is essential for improving your blood sugar regulation and reversing (and preventing) diabetes. And it’s also great for optimizing your digestion and overall health!
The third issue that typically results from impaired digestion is increased food sensitivity, which often aggravates blood sugar regulation issues, as it causes more gut inflammation, nutrient malabsorption, and carb cravings.
So what causes increased reactivity to foods?
Food sensitivities are often caused by something called Leaky Gut, aka Intestinal Permeability, which is caused by a variety of factors, the main ones being:
- consumption of gut-irritating foods (especially “vegetable” oils and grains)
- exposure to environmental toxins (which we all have, to varying degrees)
- and chronic elevated stress.
Because of the prevalence of these factors, most of us, unfortunately, have some amount of Leaky Gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
The lining of our intestinal tract (gut) is meant to be a protective barrier between our intestines and our blood, and, ideally, has only the tiniest of spaces – called tight junctions – between the cells in its lining. But with Leaky Gut, those “tight junctions” get not-so-tight, allowing larger food particles to leak out of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream.
Because larger food particles, especially proteins, look a lot like viruses and other pathogens, the immune system reacts to them, launching an attack, leading to increased inflammation and interrupting nutrient absorption.
Once it has reacted once to a food, the immune system will then remember that food as an “invader” going forward, and launch an attack on it each time it appears, with each attack coming faster and stronger than the last.
This immune system hyper-reactivity to certain foods then tends to create more reactivity to other, similar foods – this is called “cross-reactivity”. A common example of this is wheat reactivity, which very often leads, sooner or later, to corn reactivity, since the proteins in these are similar in structure to each other. (This is just one example. There are many foods that cause gluten-sensitive people – which is just about everyone nowadays – to have cross-reactivity, and there are many foods besides gluten that cause and aggravate food sensitivities).
And so, reactivity to foods tends to expand over time (if not addressed), leading to worse and worse sensitivity to more and more foods. And because this causes increased inflammation, impaired nutrient absorption, and increased carb cravings, food sensitivities typically lead to and worsen blood sugar regulation problems. So in order to naturally reverse and prevent diabetes, effectively addressing food sensitivities is another important key to success.
Are you experiencing increasing sensitivity to more and more foods as the years go by?
What Do We Do About It?
Fortunately, all of these underlying digestive issues than can cause and exacerbate blood sugar regulation troubles can be addressed in a few common ways, done in this order:
- consume an anti-inflammatory diet
- optimize your stomach acid level
- optimize your digestive enzyme production
- balance your gut microbiome
And once you have done that digestive healing work, not only will your blood sugar regulation likely be much improved, so will your overall health and well-being!
But how can you tell which of these steps are needed for you, personally, and how do you go about them?
First, fix your food. This is always the best place to start, for this or any other health issue. Once you’ve removed the inflammatory foods from your diet and given your system time to heal from them, you’ll have cleared up some of these issues automatically, and you’ll be able to see better what remains to be addressed. If you have trouble with this step, then let’s talk! I can help.
Then take the At-Home Stomach Acid Test.
A good next step after that – especially if the DIY stomach acid test shows hypochlorhydria – is to have me do a Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis (FBCA) on your bloodwork – this is a great way to begin to figure out what underlying issues you might be having with your digestion (and all your other bodily systems, too!), and what types of nutrients, enzymes and other digestive support you likely need, such as probiotics, natural anti-microbials, stomach acid boosters, and the like. I can tell all of that – and much more – from the FBCA.
Next, in Part 3 of this series, we’ll talk about the role of immunity and immune system challenges in the development of diabetes, how to tell if this is your issue, and what to do about it if it is.
Stay tuned! 😊