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You have heard of inflammation; perhaps in relation to a broken bone or a sprained ankle – these are short-lived forms of inflammation. However, there are more longer lasting, or ‘chronic’ types of inflammation, where it lingers, along with associated symptoms. In chronic inflammation, your immune system is often unbalanced and over time, it can damage your body in different areas. Some examples include eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, dementias, fibromyalgia, atherosclerosis, thyroid disease, etc. You may be surprised to know that many types of chronic inflammation start from problems in the digestive tract, so of all the types of chronic inflammation, you want to make sure that you avoid or resolve intestinal inflammation.

Colon Health and the Immune System

The lining of the intestinal tract is enormous – if you stretch it out completely flat, it would cover the area of two tennis courts! The intestines serve like an internal skin, providing a protective barrier against external threats. These threats include microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, parasites), toxins and undigested food particles. In order to protect yourself against these threats, numerous immune cells and lymph glands are located just within the intestinal lining, ready to react to any foreign invaders. If the intestinal lining is damaged itself and inflamed, then foreign invaders have easier access to affect the functioning of your immune system. A common reaction is that a damaged intestinal lining allows bacterial components into the body, where your body’s immune cells start to multiply to better fight the bacterial particles. If the immune system is a bit imbalanced (by poor nutrition, insufficient rest, etc.) or overwhelmed from dealing with other infections and toxins, then it starts to make mistakes and can react to fight your body’s own tissues… this is the process that may lead to auto-immune diseases.

Healing the Colon with Nutrition

By eating a balanced diet, your intestines can be healthy and your immune system can react properly. For instance, foods that contain inulin (a type of indigestible carbohydrate) including garlic, onions and Jerusalem artichoke are protective of the intestinal lining. Italian researchers published a study in 2014 showing that inulin prevents bacteria-associated damage to the intestines.

Other fibers are also very important for intestinal health since they help the body cleanse toxins and waste. 2012 research from the United Kingdom published in the PLoS One journal found that those who consume higher levels of dietary fiber (from fruits, vegetables and cereals) have a reduced risk of colorectal cancer – this study tracked thousands of people over the course of 11 years. Fiber supplements can also help you increase your total amount of daily fiber; common forms of supplementary fiber include apple pectin, flaxseed, guar gum and psyllium.

Another very useful herb which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory is turmeric. This Asian spice contains the pigment curcumin, which has excellent protective effects against inflammation in the colon. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention investigated the effects of turmeric extract on inflamed human intestinal cells. The study found that turmeric extract significantly reduced the potential for intestinal inflammation. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that turmeric extract may have potential as a therapeutic agent against intestinal inflammation. Lastly, I will mention the importance of vitamin D for intestinal healing. You may be surprised to know that the intestinal cells have receptors for the hormonal form of vitamin D; which means vitamin D has a specific and important role for these cells. This has been verified by recent research; a 2013 Australian study, published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, showed that vitamin D has immune regulating effects on the cells that line the intestines.

It is encouraging to know that you can use natural medicines to heal your body, including your bowels. As a naturopathic doctor, I have found that the digestive system is often at the root of many many chronic problems, so be sure to keep your bowels working well.

Dr. Rahim Habib ND
About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.