Diet, Intestine and Immune System. Reflections of a Chiropractor, Dr. U. Peter Christensson
By Elena Dalla Massara
"All disease begins in the intestine", said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine in the year 300 BC. He was right. Although not every disease is associated with an impaired intestine, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases certainly are. People suffering from chronic headache, gastritis, skin irritations, dermatitis, coeliac disease, food intolerances, allergies, anaemia, sleep disorders, arthritis, cystitis or fibromyalgia are most likely to have an inflamed or leaky intestine. They can recover from these conditions, if their digestive system becomes healthy again. What does it mean? How does the intestine relate to the head, the bones or the airways? Let us discuss it in detail.
When our intestine is healthy, our immune system is thankful
Our 10‑meter‑long intestine, with a surface area of 200 m², houses the so‑called microbiota, a diversified world of about 400 different species of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and mycetes that make up the bacterial flora and live mainly in the colon, where more than 70 % of this biomass is found. Approximately 70 trillions of microscopic living beings play a very specific and fundamental role for our entire body: they ferment undigested food, produce antibiotics and vitamins – including K and B12 – and protect the intestinal mucosa from the invasion of pathogenic bacteria. There is a balance between the macro‑ and microcosm (eubiosis), in which our body provides nutrients to the bacteria and the bacteria reciprocate the favour by producing digestive enzymes and protecting us from harmful agents that otherwise would enter systemic circulation. Thanks to the barrier effect, the immune system remains strong and is ready to respond effectively to unforeseen events. Infection, cold, and flu, autoimmune disease and inflammation of one or more organs occur less frequently or not at all. However, if they occur, they are mild or resolve in a few days without much discomfort, and do not relapse, because the body is ready to react according to nature and has in itself all the resources that are necessary to eliminate the problem.
If our intestine becomes leaky, we get sick more often and more severely
When the intestinal balance is disrupted (dysbiosis), the 'beneficial' bacteria decrease. Instead, there is a proliferation of 'harmful' bacteria, such as mycetes and mycotoxins, including deoxynivalenol or DON (that gives rise to toxic fungal strains such as Candida albicans). Due to its extreme stability and resistance to treatments and decontaminations, DON is among the most common, and consequently most feared, mycotoxins, which contaminate especially grains and their derivatives (flour, pasta, bread, bakery products, etc.). These bacteria cause abnormal fermentations and putrefactions that lead to an inflammation of the intestinal wall and alter the tight junctions. The tight junctions are protein‑protein complexes that connect adjacent cells, in order to seal the intercellular space and create a selective barrier that absorbs only the molecules and substances that we can accept, allows them to enter our body, and eliminates the materials that are harmful to our system. If the tight junctions are damaged, the intestinal wall becomes porous and allows the passage of unwanted materials that poison our body. This condition is known as leaky intestine syndrome (or increased intestinal permeability). It puts our immune system under stress. The immune system is too busy fighting excess bacteria in the intestines and fails to react effectively in the rest of the body. Apparently, nothing serious happens, but our defence system becomes increasingly weaker. The consequences are diverse, and are more or less serious depending on the material that has passed through the intestine and on the organs that have been impaired. They range from poor digestion with abdominal swelling, diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain, to chronic fatigue, colitis, vaginal, respiratory and tooth infections, diverticulitis, food allergies and intolerances, autoimmune diseases, Crohn's disease (chronic intestinal inflammation) and digestive tract cancer. In general, our body is more exposed to diseases and infections. Thus, a simple flu can develop into bronchitis or pneumonia. Chickenpox, measles or whooping cough can become very dangerous. Allergy can turn into chronic asthma. Also, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are linked to intestinal permeability. Under normal conditions, gliadin (the protein component of gluten) resists pancreatic and enzymatic digestion, and is eliminated. However, if the intestine is leaky, gliadin finds a passage through the tight junctions and triggers an immunologic reaction. In the case of celiac disease, it induces injury to the intestinal mucosa (villar atrophy and crypt hyperplasia) that is detectable at biopsy. In the case of gluten sensitivity, it causes a submucosal inflammation (inflammation of the intestinal mucous surfaces) with signs of infection but no lesions. However, acute or chronic disorders or inflammations are always possible and should not be underestimated.
Which factors are responsible for intestinal inflammation? Incorrect diet, medicine abuse and hectic lifestyle
The causes of intestinal inflammation are varied and often combined. They include an incorrect daily diet, a sedentary lifestyle, the abuse of medicinal products, the environmental pollution, the emotional and nervous system stress to which we are constantly subjected in our life (work, school, city traffic, family management, money worries, etc.).
First of all, it is important to specify that each individual has a unique intestinal flora that is affected by about seventy factors, including gender, age, health status, diet, medications, lifestyle, and living with pet animals. We inherit the first wealth of bacteria and viruses from our mother and from the environment in which we live in the early years of our life. Emotional peacefulness or conflicts, as well as the hygiene conditions at home can change the quality of the microbes of a newborn. Since the first massive colonization by germs begins with a contamination during the passage of the newborn baby through the vagina of his/her mother, a natural birth or a Caesarean section leave their mark on the intestinal microcosm of the adult subject. A person born by Caesarean section does not receive the bacterial heritage that nature has bestowed on him/her. Although this can be partly compensated for by the contamination of maternal skin in the first days of life, it is like losing an important opportunity to create a solid immune barrier. On the other hand, if the mother has a leaky intestine at the time of delivery, she can pass an unhealthy microbial environment on to her child. In turn, her child becomes predisposed to intestine inflammation or permeability. Consequently, the baby gets sick easier and more often than other children. In the future, he/she will develop one or more disorders that are not genetic, but depend on the same unidentified and untreated intestinal problem that the mother has passed to her child.
However, what has triggered the first maternal inflammation? First of all the diet. With the introduction of industrial foods, our body began to ingest chemical ingredients (preservatives, colouring matters, flavour enhancers, etc.), as well as elements with modified molecular structure such as modern wheat and grains that today are widespread on the tables all over the world in the form of pasta, bread, croissants, snacks, cakes, biscuits, and thickeners. These are not only GMOs, but also crosses and hybrids between different seeds and plants that were created by man over the last century, in order to increase the yield and production. They are characterized by molecular elements that our intestine does not recognize completely, because it has not been given enough time to adapt to the new structures. These uncoded molecules interact with the protein matrix of the intestinal junctions (tight junctions), and alter their conformation. This causes a dysbiosis, the formation of Candida spores, with the consequent occurrence of a leaky intestine syndrome. The doors of the intestinal barrier are opened in particular by lectins, a class of proteins found in wheat. Modern grain lectins appear incompatible with our recognition code. They activate an immune response that, even if minimal (Minimal Flogosis), in the long run induces a damage to the digestive system walls. The intestine permeability also increases the passage of pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and chemical additives (preservatives, thickeners, colouring matters, flavour enhancers, etc.) that are contained in the industrial foods, and enhance their harmful effects. Even cow's milk and dairy products are not real friends of the intestine, as they cause inflammation of the intestine walls. In fact, they consist of a molecular structure that is unsuitable and is not recognized by our digestive system. We are the only mammals that continue drinking milk during adulthood, although nature would want us to stop after weaning.
In addition, the abuse of medicinal products from an early age has detrimental consequences for the intestine. For example, excessive antibiotic use decreases (or even destroys) the "useful" bacterial flora that is present in the intestinal substrate, facilitates inflammation and permeability, and prevents us from reacting autonomously to the arrival of common bacteria and viruses.
Finally, if we add the pollution of the environment in which we live, the hectic lifestyles and the emotional stress, our intestine goes haywire, along with
the immune system and our body organs, such as head, bones, respiratory tract, etc., whose health depends for the most part on the health of our digestive system.
A leaky intestine can be healed
Good news: the leaky intestine syndrome can be cured. Consequently, the related disorders and diseases can resolve or halt, if the barrier function of the intestine can be restored. How? Each person has his/her own history. Therefore, a specific analysis should be made, and personalized care should be given. Treatment should consist of a phase of purification and healing of the intestinal substrate, followed by a phase of maintenance and prevention of possible future inflammations.
While taking all the precautions required for each individual patient, in general the harmful fungi and moulds that proliferated in the intestine over time can be eliminated using natural fungicides such as grapefruit seed extract, peel and pulp or garlic, in combination with remedies that clean the intestine walls such as cinnamon, flaxseed, psyllium (Plantago psyllium), artichoke and ginger, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and miso. In addition, it is necessary to restore the healthy bacterial flora, by taking probiotics (viable microorganisms that are capable of maintaining or improving the bacterial flora of the intestine) and prebiotics (molecules that travel undigested to the colon, where they are fermented by the intestinal flora, and produce metabolites that provide useful nutrients for the proliferation of beneficial bacteria). In both cases, it is preferable to choose dairy‑free products. There are also cases in which severe infections of the digestive system can be treated with a stool transplantation from a healthy to a sick person. Although this treatment may seem somewhat shocking, it is a recognized procedure, like tissue transplantation, and has become a coded treatment against the infection by Clostridium difficile (a harmful bacterium), which often occurs as a result of aggressive antibiotic treatments. Stool transplantation is also used experimentally against ulcerative colitis and early insulin‑resistant diabetes.
This being said, we should prevent new inflammations and keep our intestine and its microbiota healthy. To do this, it is necessary to limit the use of medicinal products (especially antibiotics), to live as relaxed as possible and at a slower pace, to reduce the pollution of our environment, and to keep good cooking habits. A good diet is the main form of prevention of intestine inflammation. But what does good diet mean? A good diet does not certainly include fast food, industrial foods, pre‑cooked or pre‑treated foods, as they are rich in chemical additives and preservatives that we know are damaging to the intestine walls. Cow's milk and dairy products should be also eliminated. The products based on goat's, sheep's or donkey's milk can be maintained because their molecular structure is more similar to that of maternal milk. Vegetable milk products such as rice, almond, oat and hazelnut drinks are permitted. However, make sure that they are organic, are produced locally and without preservatives. It is also advisable not to consume too many sugars, and to prefer raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, stevia or honey to white sugar. The consumption of foods rich in yeasts should be reduced to a minimum, because they promote and accelerate the proliferation of fungi, especially Candida albicans. As regards grains and flours, those containing molecules with inflammatory properties should be eliminated from the diet of patients with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity. In the other cases, it is always preferable to reduce the quantities of pasta and bread, and to avoid that they are always present on the breakfast, lunch and dinner table. It is advisable to look for flours produced from ancient grains that have not undergone any changes, such as the Senatore Cappelli variety, or Saragolla, Tumminia, Gentil Rosso, Verna, Rieti or einkorn wheat. They have a simpler structure and have not undergone genetic crossing or variation. Therefore, they create fewer problems to the intestine that recognizes and digests them properly. In reality, each variety of wheat should be tested on the individual patient. If an intestine has become leaky after years of consumption of modern cereals, it has absorbed an irritating component that is also present in ancient wheat, and disorders cannot be ruled out. Finally, a sufficient fibre intake should come from whole‑meal or semi‑integral flour, fresh, seasonal and untreated fruits and vegetables or from psyllium seeds, oat bran or pectin. These fibres can absorb and eliminate the toxins from the intestinal wall and maintain a good presence of butyrate (or butyric acid) in the intestine. Butyrate is produced by our good bacteria starting from the fibres that we ingest. This substance facilitates the renewal of the intestinal cells and allows our immune system to recognize 'friendly' bacteria and to distinguish them from the harmful bacteria that are the only ones to be destroyed. In a low‑fibre diet, butyrate is scarce and the immune system attacks both good and bad bacteria, causing a permanent inflammatory state.
Doctor Ulf Peter Christensson – Doctor in chiropractics, specializing in applied kinesiology and functional neurology. After graduating from scientific high school in 1970 in Hässleholm (Sweden), he went on to study chiropractics in Bournemouth (UK) and Chicago (USA), where he became doctor of chiropractics in 1975. In 1990 he received his professional registration from the Swedish Ministry of Health, and he was awarded a diploma in applied kinesiology in the United States, where he gained a postgraduate degree in functional neurology eight years later in 1998. After working as a chiropractor for ten years in Rome (Italy), he founded in 1986 the Elva Medica medical centre, that today has its headquarters in Campagnano di Roma.