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Note: The therapies suggested below are not intended to replace medical advice from your naturopathic doctor. They are meant to be educational only.

There are seven ideas and/or therapies that I wish gastroenterologists (digestive system doctors) would recognize and recommend to their patients:

1) Food allergies most definitely can negatively impact the health of the digestive system, causing a variety of debilitating symptoms. A blood IgG food allergy test is much more helpful for patients with digestive problems than a conventional skin (or IgE) food allergy test, which is what most medical doctors order.

2) Natural therapies to enhance liver function. There are no conventional drugs that can improve liver function, at least not without side effects. Whereas, there are numerous natural medicines and therapies that can directly improve the function of this most precious organ. (Note: The word liver has the word “live” in it. If you want to live long, you need to take good care of your liver.)

3) Castor oil packs – the topical application of castor oil over the liver and intestines are extremely helpful in healing these organs.

4) Probiotics or friendly bacteria supplementation has been shown to be critical in improving intestinal health. Obtain your probiotics from a reputable source as most over-the-counter ones have been shown not to contain viable organisms.

5) The use of many other very safe, simple, and basic natural therapies (such as digestive/pancreatic enzymes, DGL or deglycyrrhized licorice, aloe vera juice, slippery elm, and marsh mellow root) would help heal mass numbers of digestive patients in the world.

6) Recommend females to stop the use of female hormones (i.e. birth control pills or hormonal IUD). Synthetic versions of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone (as opposed to the naturally occurring ones) are very difficult for the liver to process. This can cause digestive problems in many women.

7) Stop recommending acid neutralizers and/or acid blockers for just about any digestive disorder! Their use should be limited to cases only where there is proof that the person has excessive acid production in their stomach; that is all. Even in such cases, natural approaches often work sufficiently well.

I specialize in treating digestive disorders with the aid of natural therapeutic approaches. With extremely rare exceptions, I have treated hundreds and hundreds of patients with digestive problems very successfully, and therefore, feel passionate about helping fellow human beings whose lives are scarred, damaged, and even lost by digestive disorders. I have seen and heard testimonies from these patients who cry and complain in my office of abdominal aches and pains which I can often alleviate within hours/days with the aid of some simple natural medicines. Most of such patients have already visited at least one and sometimes several gastroenterologists without receiving any or very little help. Therefore, I have recently decided to write the following article sharing with you some of the basic therapies that we as naturopathic doctors offer to patients with digestive problems, and what our patients are not being told by gastroenterologists which could cost the patients their health. In this article, I make various recommendations/suggestions and offer constructive criticism to my dear colleagues, in hopes that we can help alleviate suffering in our fellow human beings.

Gastroenterologists focus on GI (gastrointestinal) diseases, NOT gastrointestinal health. In other words, they study and focus on diagnosing and treating GI diseases. They do not specialize in improving or supporting the health of the digestive organs. Most importantly, they definitely don’t offer any therapies to enhance liver function, and in my opinion, this is the SINGLE BIGGEST MISSING LINK in the field of gastroenterology.

Gastroenterologists are doctors who are educated in the science and art of performing invasive tests such as colonoscopy or endoscopy, as well as in treating digestive diseases. We clearly need conventional gastroenterology, but I wish naturopathic doctors (whom I call “in-closet gastroenterologists”) and “real” gastroenterologists would communicate freely and refer patients back and forth for the sake of their patients’ health. Fortunately, NDs (naturopathic doctors) definitely do refer their patients to GI doctors for various procedures/tests, and sometimes even therapy. For instance, I have had a few patients with advanced Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis who needed immune suppressive drugs; otherwise their health would be at serious risk. Unfortunately, the referrals are not the other way around. In nearly ten years of practice, I have never had a patient referred to me by a GI doctor! I believe this is due to the fact that, unfortunately, gastroenterologists are not truly aware of what naturopathic medicine is about. Below is a list of some of the main therapies/ideas that I wish GI doctors would employ, or at least recognize and validate the use of, in their practices:

1) The connection between food (solid as well as liquid) and the health of the digestive system is definitely not emphasized sufficiently in conventional medicine. It’s extremely unfortunate that even gastroenterologists do not address the subject of diet in much depth. We are what we eat, and in fact, I’d say (physically) we are what we digest and assimilate! Eating poor quality food and drinking unhealthy beverages such as alcohol, soft drinks and coffee are most definitely at the root of many digestive ailments. Even if you eat “healthy”, you could still be eating some foods that you may be allergic to which could cause havoc in you digestive system. For instance, you may eat whole wheat, thinking it is better than wonder bread. What if your immune system is negatively reacting to the wheat you ate today but mounts a reaction two days from now, a delayed reaction? You would never know this unless you actually had a blood IgG food allergy test done which looks for delayed food allergies as opposed to an IgE food allergy test (which may be obtained by a blood draw or a conventional skin test). Most NDs (naturopathic doctors) perform the IgG food allergy test right in their office which takes less than five minutes and is one simple skin prick. In contrast, the conventional skin allergy test that an allergy doctor performs involves numerous painful pricks on your back which doesn’t actually help you very much with your digestive problems! (Note: IgE reactions can be life threatening, so avoiding them is critical. However, most people know their immediate or IgE food allergies since the reactions are indeed immediate. Furthermore, IgG food allergies seem to be more relevant for digestive problems. Therefore, it makes more sense to order a delayed food allergy test or an IgG test in order to help patients with digestive complaints.)

Based on experience, I have found that the most common IgG (or delayed) food allergies are: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn. These food allergies can most definitely negatively impact the health of the digestive system, causing symptoms ranging from acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, mal-digestion, mal-absorption, etc.

2) There are no pharmaceutical drugs that can actually improve liver function, at least not without negative side effects on the liver itself! Of course, there are some drugs that are intended to treat various liver diseases such as hepatitis or liver cancer. None of these drugs are actually designed to directly “improve” liver function, however.

On the other hand, there are numerous natural medicines and therapies that can improve liver function. The list of these therapies is very long. To mention a few – applying castor oil onto the liver and intestines, the herbs milk thistle and chelidoneum, the nutrients selenium and molybdenum, homeopathic remedies Lycopodium and hundreds of others, cell salts Natrum phosphoricum and Natrum sulphoricum, organotherapies (derived from either actual animal livers – ideally organic, or homeopathic preparations of the liver), hydrotherapy (application of alternating hot and cold towels over the liver area), acupuncture, chiropractic, reflexology, massage, visceral manipulation (very gentle and massage-like manipulation of the liver in those individuals whose liver is actually not in the “right” place), etc. (Note that the word liver has the word “live” in it. If you want to live long, you need to take good care of your liver.)

3) Application of castor oil onto the abdomen can significantly help with GI problems. I have been seeing patients for nearly 10 years now, and have seen a very large number of patients with digestive troubles. With few exceptions, I have never seen the persistent topical application of this oil not significantly improve the health of my patients’ digestive system. It certainly works wonders as a laxative in many cases of stubborn constipation. I would be very excited to see my fellow GI doctors recommend this very safe and effective therapy which has been around for several thousand years and recognized in many traditional systems of medicine. There are various thoughts as to how this therapy helps with the healing processes in the body. Castor oil, when applied topically over the body, seems to improve with lymphatic flow, thereby improving the flow of toxic byproducts of metabolism in the tissues back into the blood stream which will eventually be filtered out of the body. The end result of this therapy is the enhancement of waste elimination from our tissues, thereby improving the speed of recovery in injured areas in our body, including inflamed intestines and the liver as well as other body parts.

4) The use of probiotics has been scientifically shown to be extremely helpful in optimizing intestinal function. With one or two exceptions so far in my practice, I have yet to hear that a GI doctor recommends probiotics. The research on this subject is bullet proof, and yet this therapy is not mainstream (most likely because it is not a patented pharmaceutical drug). Keep in mind that most OTC (over-the-counter) probiotic supplements are questionable, so you should always purchase a high quality one from a reputable source.

5) There are numerous other very basic therapies (such as digestive/pancreatic enzymes, DGL, aloe vera juice, slippery elm, and marsh mellow root) that can help and in many cases cure digestive ailments. This list is actually very long, so I will just suffice with the above for now. To elaborate on one of these therapies, the use of digestive enzymes alone has helped hundreds and hundreds of digestive patients in my practice alone. Imagine the ramifications of just this one natural therapy worldwide!

6) It is almost shocking to me that gastroenterologists do not seem to recognize the significant negative impact that synthetic female hormones (i.e. BCPs/birth control pills or hormonal IUDs) have on the health of the digestive system. OBGYNs who are the experts in the use of such hormones definitely don’t appear to acknowledge the horrible effects of synthetic female hormones on the liver probably because they do not typically concern themselves with GI (liver and intestinal) problems , and GI doctors don’t specialize in hormones! It’s no wonder females who are taking synthetic female hormones and are experiencing digestive problems are not being told by any of the above doctors (OBGYN or gastroenterologists) that they should STOP taking such medications! According to a textbook of pathology (which is the book doctors of all types study to learn about diseases), estrogens slow down the production of bile salts (necessary for digestion of fats) coming out of the liver, and progesterone inhibits the release of bile salts from the gall bladder into the small intestine where digestion of food takes place. Additionally, the liver has to eliminate these hormones, which is extra work on the liver. Clearly, synthetic female hormones are a load on the liver/gall bladder, and that’s why they negatively impact women’s digestive system. The liver is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions per second, and it can not afford to be burdened down by these powerful hormones/chemicals, most of which are derived from horse hormones which are totally incompatible with human beings’ chemistry! Some women are particularly sensitive to synthetic female hormones, and must avoid taking them if they want their digestive system (and often other parts of their body, including joints, head, etc.) to feel well. The women who are much more likely to be negatively impacted by synthetic female hormones are those who fit into any of the following homeopathic “constitutions”: Carcinosin, Lycopodium and Silica. Of course, other constitutions can and are indeed negatively impacted by these drugs as well, but the above particularly common constitutions are far too often very negatively impacted. I recently saw a young female patient for the first time who was at the “end of her rope”. She has pain and discomfort most of the day, every single day, to a point that she does not want to eat any more! She was crying about how her GI doctor had not been able to help her at all. Upon some probing, I found out that her problems became significantly worse once she had a hormonal IUD placed in her uterus three years ago. I suggested that she discontinue the use of such hormones, and have her hormonal IUD removed ASAP. Thankfully, she agreed. I am certain with the aid of some basic natural medicines and without the interference of these toxic chemicals her liver and ultimately her entire digestive system will slowly recover. (Note: Natural and bio-identical female hormones are likely difficult for the liver to process also, but in my experience most women have a significantly easier time processing these hormones as opposed to the synthetic female hormones that are derived from horses. Natural and bio-identical female hormones are identical to the hormones that females already have in their body, but these hormones cannot act as birth control, while the horse-derived ones can. Why? There is nothing natural about stopping the birth process, so nothing “natural” is going to do the job. The healthiest options for birth control are the use of mechanical means, such as condoms and/or diaphragm, as opposed to hormones which are chemicals.

It’s noteworthy that women’s liver is already smaller than men’s, yet women’s liver has to work much harder for a few reasons: 1) To balance their naturally occurring female hormones which are constantly fluctuating, thereby stressing their liver 2) To process any additional synthetic, or even natural, female hormones they take in orally, vaginally or through the skin 3) To eliminate all the toxins coming from cosmetic products they are exposed to (refer to the book called “Toxic Beauty” by Dr. Samuel S. Epstein) 4) To be able to put up with their husband’s numerous demands! (This last reason was meant to be a joke initially, and I wasn’t going to actually write it, but when I thought about it, it’s most likely true!) So, no wonder, most of my digestive patients by far are females. (Coincidentally, it seems like most women have disorders of their female system, too, which stem from poor liver function.)

7) One of the most commonly prescribed drugs is acid-blockers (such as Zantac) and/or PPIs/proton pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec or Prevacid). Unfortunately, these drugs either neutralize or block the production of your own God-given hydrochloric acid which is naturally secreted by the stomach lining. We clearly need the acid, that’s why our bodies naturally make it! I have found that many of my patients with digestive complaints receive these drugs even if their problem has nothing to do with excess production of hydrochloric acid in their stomach. (As stated above, there are not many drugs that can improve the health of the digestive system as opposed to hundreds of natural therapies that indeed can improve the health of the digestive system). The use of these drugs should be limited only to cases where there is proof that the person has excessive acid production in their stomach, that is all. In fact, in my experience of nearly 10 years of treating digestive problems (including ulcers and/or GERD, where too much acid would not be indicated), I have never had a case that the patient needed these drugs unless they came in already on them and thus their body was dependent on them. Even then, with their full cooperation, patients are always able to go off of such drugs, although sometimes it can take months to go through the weaning off process (more of a reason to not start taking them to begin with).

Recommending acid blockers and/or PPIs for just about any digestive disorder simply does not make any sense. I wish our respectable gastroenterologist community would refer patients to naturopathic doctors much more frequently as we have numerous natural medicines and therapies that are highly effective in treating digestive diseases/disorders. Meanwhile, naturopathic doctors will continue to refer to gastroenterologists for performing advanced procedures such as colonoscopy or endoscopy as well as for the treatment of cases that are not responding to natural therapies.

Dr. Sharif

P.S. Refer to my other blogs on digestive complaints such as the one on constipation and another one on flatulence. Additionally, I have written a rather extensive blog on menopause which you may want to read in case you are wondering what to do in place of birth control pills or synthetic hormones that are meant to treat your menopausal symptoms. (Although often not necessary, natural bio-identical female hormones are always sufficient in treating menopausal symptoms, and are by far safer for you than the synthetic kinds.) Lastly, I would like to recommend that you read my blog titled “some over-the-counter supplements can pose health risks”. You can also read or view the video testimonials of many of our digestive patients on the clinic website.