Last week, yet another patient with refractory diarrhoea, up to 10 stools a day, Bristol type 5-7, for 3 decades following a diagnosis of Crohn’s at 16 years old. A range of specialists have thrown everything at ‘it’ – single & combination immunosuppressants, TNF alpha blockers, buckets of sulfasalazine and bathtubs of antibiotics – she’s been gluten and dairy free for years, trialled strict diets that are FODMAPs free, low histamine etc etc etc. She’s even had 50cm of her terminal ileum removed & the diarrhoea continues unabated – perhaps even worse than before…& therein lies a major clue.
1/2 patients with Crohn’s exhibit bile acid malabsorption –> diarrhoea but with terminal ileum resection this jumps to > 90%
This is Type I BAD (Bile Acid Diarrhoea) & is the easiest to spot, being the result of anatomical change. You remove the section of the small intestines responsible for 95% of the reabsorption of bile acids…a LOT of bile acids are going to be present in the colon where they act as potent osmotic laxatives, right? But there are 3 other types which are a little trickier to identify – including one that affects up to 50% of IBS-D patients.
Being a child of the 80s⚡🎹 (ok a teen of the 80s but who’s counting?!) and a personal fan of fat, I NEVER thought I would EVER be recommending a ‘low fat’ diet to ANYONE🤐
But hey, that’s another ‘absolute’ that needs challenging, right? I mean this is the primary, almost only, dietary change these patients need to make and as a stand-alone intervention, is highly effective for many. We’ve had several patient successes in the last year – a total game-changer for patients in similar situations where all kinds of ‘restriction’ had brought zero joy and reward for all their ‘good (dietary) behaviour’. While sequestrants (like cholestyramine) are recommended in BAD, and are certainly worth a trial at least, patients have very mixed results – for some, in combination with the low fat diet it’s a winner – for others these meds cause GIT upset all on their own and actually undo the good of the fat restriction. Being able to identify the true reason for their loose stools and stop them going down endless rabbit holes of ..is it? is it? is a great way to re-empower people who’ve been bossed and bullied by their bowel for far too long 🤓💪🧻
When is IBS BAD?
This is not a trick question. Up to 50% of all patients diagnosed with IBS-D actually have bile acid diarrhoea (BAD) underpinning their digestive complaints as well as some patients with non-resolving diarrhoea post-cholecystectomy and gastro. Knowing which ones do and how to manage this, which requires distinctly different approaches from our general management of IBS, is the key. As always, good lessons come from those we learn in the clinic and this story starts with a patient and how we came to recognise the BAD in her belly.
Something’s just come up today again and I think we need to talk about it. A positive result on a stool PCR microbiome test for H. pylori, understandably, might be heard as a clear call to action to go in guns blazing with an eradication approach. But is it? Trust me, I’ve had more than my fair share of battles with this bug & can understand being keen to have it be gone BUT first things first, let’s be clear about what the result speaks to.
Does it say, “Here! Look over here! Here’s the source of your patient’s GIT distress,” or even, “Here’s a pathogen that has taken up residence in their GIT and is a risk for future dx!”
No, not necessarily. It speaks to its presence.
And that may be only fleetingly, as it passes through. I’ve seen it before and so have many other experienced practitioners: a positive stool PCR that is at odds with the results of gold standard H.pylori testing, the UBT, faecal antigens or blood serology, all freely available through the GP. And the reality is, if you have a negative UBT, there’s no urease production, the trademark trouble-making of this bug. If you have negative blood serology, your immune system has never ‘met’ this bug or, in the minority of cases, you’ve tested in that brief early exposure window prior to antibody production (2wks) so you should retest within the month, to confirm or refute. And if you don’t have any faecal antigen…it ain’t in da’ house…so to speak 😅 If there’s something new here, then have a quick read of Medscape’s great work-up summary. So, clearly we need to confirm before we open fire.
We (me included) have been so single-minded about increasing the ‘sensitivity’ with our testing methods, we may have left ‘specificity’, in broader sense, behind & that creates a new problem.
This leads us and the patient down the garden path of false attribution and time and money wasted ‘treating’ a ghost gut issue. And no one wants to be put on a pylori protocol when they really didn’t need to. Trust me 🙄 But if someone does come back confirmed, well then…
For a bacteria identified just a few decades ago as being a cause of chronic gastritis, atrophic gastritis and gastric carcinoma, the escalation of number of antibiotics used to eradicate it (4 at last count + PPI) has been nothing short of breath-taking. A management approach more consistent with both integrative medicine and with an improved understanding of the delicate microbiome focuses on changing the gastric environment to ‘remove the welcome mat’. What do we know about how to do this successfully? It turns out…quite a lot.
This year I heard a great quote that hit the spot for me: anyone who offers you a simple solution to a complex problem is lying or misguided, the solution to a complex problem will inherently be complex. Dang! I’m frequently reminded of this in relation to many different aspects of working in integrative health. Or even just answering work-related questions socially. Random-friend-I-haven’t-met- yet, upon finding out I work in nutrition, asks: Is [insert any given food, beverage, macronutrient, micronutrient] good for you? In spite of over 20 years of this happening, I confess, the poker face still requires concentration.
The poker face is necessary of course to
a) conceal my amusement at how predictable humans are and
b) to cushion the blow for them as I tear down the delusion that real nutritional science is simple and can be served up in a soundbyte or
c) lie and infer that it is, just to get out of there faster!
But recently, I’ve had another reminder of that ‘in here’ rather than ‘out there’, about how even as practitioners we long for things to be simpler than they are. This month in mentoring I’ve been talking about the dark side of both zinc and Akkermansia muciniphila (I know wash my mouth out right?!) in neurological issues. What, but we had them on the good guys list?! Remember the answer to a complex problem (and human health surely owns this territory) will inherently be complex, right? Similarly, I’ve been digging deep in research about beta-glucuronidase, that enzyme that undoes our phase 2 detoxification of oestrogen, bilirubin and a long list of nasty xenobiotics, earning it the informal title of ‘bad ass biomarker’…scoundrel! And well, I’ve found some really nice things to say about it…like actually it extends the half life of most of our flavonoids such as quercetin, isoflavones etc etc and that’s a great thing for increasing their positive punch given that their rapid detoxification limits how much we can benefit from them. Turns out, like everything else, even dear old beta-glucuronidase exhibits light and shade.
How I ended up losing a weekend to such papers was because I was trying to resolve some burning questions about Ca-D-glucurate (CDG) that I’ve had for as long as I’ve been recommending it to people who arguably could benefit from a little less beta-glucuronidase activity.
My two most pressing ones were: How much is required to be effective & Where’s the evidence?
And that’s when the fight broke out [just in my head] You see every review I’ve read, every piece of product information too, repeats the mantra CDG 500mg TID but turns out this is based on…not much. More uncomfortable still, is that even our assumption that we can convert CDG into its active form has been strongly challenged. The new research, which is not the work from the 1990s that everyone cites, is a must read…or if you actually have a life, and other ways to spend a weekend then maybe just spend 30 mins with me in my Update in Under 30 this month 😂 I wanted to keep it simple and neat and tidy. I tried I promise. But in the end…wouldn’t you know it…it’s complex.
So to bring everyone up to speed, including myself!, I recorded an UU30 on…
The ABC of CDG
We often identify patients who could do with a little glucuronidation first aid: marked dysbiosis, Gilbert’s syndrome, oestrogen excess, cancer risk (especially bowel, breast & prostate) and one of our nutritional go-to’s has typically been Calcium D Glucurate. While there is ample evidence that one of CDG’s metabolites : 1,4 GL – inhibits beta-glucuronidase, is an antioxidant, platelet activation inhibitor and generally all round good guy to have on board, new research strongly challenges that oral CDG will convert to this at levels sufficient to support our detoxification pathways. Sounds like we’re overdue for an update on this supplement and when and where it might be useful in addition to how to find the real deal in real food!
You can purchase The ABC of CDG here.
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While we’re on the topic…I tend to think, that as good as we are at asking a lot about a patient’s health, we can always do better. One of the classic pitfalls for practitioners is having to rely so much on patient self-reporting: Is your period heavy,moderate or light?; How would you rate your appetite?; Do you suffer from excess flatulence? When our patients answer these questions, who are they able to compare their own experiences with? Or do they only compare them with themselves at another time in their life, e.g. my periods are heavier/lighter than they were before? Either way, this may lead to unintentionally misleading information from our patients, producing erroneous conclusions for us as clinicians. Do you suffer from excess flatulence? Well do they?? How exactly would most of us know?! Unless we can define what ‘normal’ looks like…?
(But as many as 22 times a day – that’s almost one on the hour)
That’s the average number of ‘pop offs’, ‘air biscuits’, ‘bench-warmers’, ‘fluffs’, or whatever you want to call them, healthy humans do per day as cited in this great evidence based & entertaining article. Funnily enough I had exactly the same lecturing experience as the author: performing a snap poll on my students, asking for averages…and can I just say almost everyone was clearly under-reporting!! But the point is clear. How can our patients accurately rate the magnitude, severity or normality V abnormality of their bowels, menses, appetite, pain threshold etc – unless we provide some goalposts? And are we, in fact being lead to believe there is a problem when perhaps there isn’t? That certainly has been the conclusion of several studies into the matter of self-reported excessive flatulence. Hippocrates himself put in a good word for bottom trumpeting, saying “passing gas is necessary to well-being” and as a recent article in the Harvard Health Letter reads, “A little bit of extra flatulence, could be an indication that you’re eating the way you should!” Here here!
But my favourite quote from this article has to be about the high tech solutions on offer – for those who do accurately fall into the excessive category:
“Such as carbon fiber odor-eating underwear (cost: $65), which were put to the test in an American Journal of Gastroenterology study that included such gems as “Utilising gas-tight Mylar pantaloons, the ability of a charcoal lined cushion to adsorb sulphur-containing gases instilled at the anus of eight subjects was assessed.” Assessed, that is, by a panel of fart-sniffing judges. And the name of the charcoal lined cushion? The “Toot Trapper.”
How different that scene in Bridge Jones’ Diary would have been had these been her undergarment of choice instead of the control briefs!
Of course, if there is associated pain or an odour (which the article discusses as well) that makes the family dog leave the room…well, that’s another matter…;)
A Gut full of Glutamine?!
Is Glutamine your go-to prescription for patients with gut problems? Do you look for good levels of it when you’re choosing your gut repair formulas? Most of us do this because we’ve heard that a deficiency negatively impacts the gut tight junctions , villi structure and immunity etc. but how long has it been since you’ve reviewed the latest human studies on the digestive effects of Glutamine supplementation? The time is now. This previous UU30 installment cuts to the chase on the big research findings that warrant our urgent attention and necessitate big adjustments in how we use glutamine for guts.
How long? How long must we sing this song? I’m feeling a bit 80s anthemic and righteous. It turns out that patients’ bowel movements could be improved by using a foot stool?!! Who said that??
Only every naturopath, ever. Right?
But now medical researchers are singing the praises of the Stool Stool too…sorry, I mean the ‘defaecation postural modification device’…because lo and behold a new study of over 1000 bowel movements revealed using a stool to elevate your feet while on the toilet improved the speed and ease, improved full emptying, reduced the strain etc of laxation, >70% of the time, even in ‘healthy, non-constipated patients’. There’s a quick video you can watch to get across this groundbreaking research, or you can read the full article here. I’ve been educating patients about this for about 20 years and it never fails to revolutionise their world!
It would seem that elevating your feet results in straightening “the unnatural bend in the rectum that occurs when sitting on the toilet by placing the body in the squatting position nature intended”…hang on a second…who’s calling what unnatural???…I think the highfalutin anti-anatomical bathroom contraption, we westerners call a toilet, wins the ‘unnatural’ crown!
Next thing you know there’ll be a study that tells us squatting to have babies makes more sense that lying on your back…right?! 🙂
Love talking all-things Stool?
Fabulous Farty Fibre is a previous UU30 recording. Rachel at her warmest and funniest reminds us that fibre is a critical component to good nutrition and is often overlooked, partly due to the popularity of paleolithic and no grain diets. This UU30 details the important functions of different types of fibre and therefore the importance and therapeutic applications for fibre diversity.
I was lucky enough to hear Jason Hawrelak’s excellent presentation at the Australian Naturopathic Summit last weekend, titled: A Case of Blastocystis Infection – Or Is It? Timely, highly valuable, immediately usable, provocative education (just how I like it 😉 ) on how perhaps often Blasto is playing the scapegoat for another condition/cause of patients’ GIT symptoms. During this case study, Jason detailed the shonky diagnostic work-up of his current patient by a naturopath 12 years prior…that naturopath was him.
There was so much to love about his telling of this case study and the discourse around it but here are my Top 3 Takes:
- None of us know everything or practice perfectly but rather we do what we do, until we know to do differently…even Jason 😉
- As there are 9 strains of B.hominis found in humans and many of these are in fact benign commensals, even perhaps important ‘apex predators’ for the microbiome, attributing someone’s health problems (digestive or otherwise) to the presence of this parasite should in fact be a diagnosis of exclusion…always asking yourself first, what else could it be?? e.g. coeliac, SIBO, food reactions etc etc
- The cost of being a ‘premature evaluator’, to your patients and to yourself, can be very high…
These little blighters are getting a lot of airplay this month and rightly so…..! Oh Em Geeeeeeeee….so much misinformation out there!! It’s time to set the record straight
Worm infestations never conjure up a pretty picture in our minds although a video of humans trying to bum slide across the floor like some dogs we know would get a fair few laughs (…will share that vid later)
Despite much talk of the potential therapeutic activity of helminths for things like autoimmune diseases and allergies due to their immuosuppressive effects, there’s nothing nice, friendly or ‘good for us’ about a chronic Enterobius vermicularis (threadworm) infestation in a child or adult (YES! You heard me). Oh and don’t forget the possible link with your D.fragilis patients…you just might need to treat these guys instead.
It was great to get down and dirty on worms with Andrew at FX Medicine. This podcast has us uncovering and debunking myths on these creepy critters that have more to answer for than you probably realise…
The outcry from the public is enormous, in terms of their need for help and the gaps that are there at the moment in terms of getting it. There is an online resource called thewormwhisperer.com.au, which is primarily there for the public to meet this need and practitioners can learn a lot by going on there as well.
Ever feel like you’re chasing your own tail trying to treat & find the source of GIT parasites in some patients?! Well guess what, you just might be!
We’re seeing more & more patients test positive for Dientamoeba fragilis and increasingly patients struggling to eradicate it and prevent relapse. And then there’s Blastocystis hominis affected patients… and then those lucky enough to have both.
Well, while we might have been grouping D.frag together with B.hominis, being the two most common GIT parasites in humans, looking for what they share in common, they are worlds apart (we think!) in terms of how they are transmitted to humans. (more…)
Standing at the podium, I looked down at my notes & slowly read out the title of my presentation to the hundreds of people attending, ‘Paediatric Digestive Issues & Neurocognitive Abnormalities’ and briefly froze thinking, Holy Heck (!) this is someone else’s presentation! Seriously. No, this is not one of my work stress dreams. This happened. I thought…oh my how am I going to deliver this, it sounds very complex and lofty and scary!!
Then I saw my scribbled hand notes on the page, the unofficial name I had affectionately given this presentation as I researched, compiled my case studies and brought it into being, months prior and I instantly relaxed…oh…Kids’ Guts Are Mental…now that I have some serious experience with and something to say about! (more…)
As we head rapidly towards the change over of our calendars we would like to offer you a special on the very best educational recordings from 2014 – buy 2 CDs before Jan 31st and receive one complimentary Premium Audio Recording of your choice OR purchase 4 CDs and receive a 3 month Premium Audio subscription for free.
It’s been a busy year during which Rachel has delivered 7 very successful new seminars in the area of mental health and beyond, most notably fortifying her role as a leader in the field of diagnostics and pathology interpretation. This has included collaborations with ACNEM, Biomedica, Health Masters Live, MINDD and Nutrition Care, however, each recording is classic Rachel – full of fresh perspectives on diagnosis & treatment, colourful analogies & humour. In case you missed some of these this year or want a copy for keeps – here’s a quick summary of the 2014 recordings included in this end of year offer: (more…)
“Two great speakers – inspirational in the first half and bang on in the second – I now know how much I don’t know”
Just out now in time for Christmas…no seriously though… this year I had the good fortune to team up with Biomedica and in particular Rachel McDonald and we delivered a 3 hour seminar called Mental Health in Holistic Practice. The intention behind this collaboration was to shift the education focus for practitioners from a prescription based approach, to one really about the clinical reality of managing mental health clients. Probably most of you will agree that the ‘treatment’ counts for only a portion of the positive outcomes in your patients and this is particularly true in clients challenged with mental health issues. After more than 20 years in practice working in this area, I’m keen to share what I’ve learned so other practitioners can get there much much faster! (more…)
Many of you would now be aware of the shift from culture (stool MCS) to gene-based stool testing (stool PCR) which has now become available under Medicare subsidy. While this has been an exciting development that promised greater accuracy for the detection of parasites in our patients, there remains limitations. One of the biggest is the fact that the PCR test is based on just one stool sample compared to the 3 day samples used in the culture test.
While this is rationalised, both by the pathology companies and some doctors, by higher test sensitivity and specificity, it flies in the face of our understanding about the irregular shedding of parasites i.e. the presence of the parasite in an infected individual’s stool can vary from nothing to severe, just day to day, therefore diagnosis must be based on several days of stool collection to account for this.
A practitioner I mentor, faced with several patients with negative PCR results but a clinical picture and other pathology results (raised eosinophils, impaired iron levels etc.) that strongly suggested the presence of parasites has been debating this with her shared care providers trying to encourage them to still refer patients for the stool PCR but performed over several samples.
She came across this article as a nice piece of supportive evidence Irregular shedding of Blastocystis hominis (Venilla et al 1999): ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9934969
While there are numerous other studies confirming the irregular shedding of most parasites this is a handy paper perhaps to use to strengthen the case for PCR stool tests performed over 3 days rather than 1. Let’s face it – it’s a big enough ask to get our patients to collect stool – we should really ensure we have optimised their chances of getting an accurate result!