Many people have digestive systems that give them grief. Whether it’s indigestion, ulcers, acid reflux, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, liver problems, IBS, colitis, Crohn’s, diverticulitis or colon cancer, digestive upset is one of the most common reasons that patients come to see me in my naturopathic medical clinic. Naturopathic physicians have many tools for helping people address digestive issues, such as nutritional advice, natural medicines and occasionally prescription medications. Prescription medications are limited in this arena, often just managing symptoms without dealing with the cause, and creating more problems the longer they are used.
In this article I’d like to explain how naturopathic doctors use testing to to help take the guesswork out of treating digestive issues.
Lactose intolerance testing: This breath test helps us determine if it is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk products, that is causing gas, bloating, and/or cramps and diarrhea after eating some dairy products.
Helicobacter pylori testing: This breath test detects the presence of the H. pylori bacteria, which can create ulcers.
Celiac screening: This blood test looks for an antibody called Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase, which is a marker of Celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten containing grains. Symptoms can include digestive distress, or can manifest as headaches, fatigue, anemia, autoimmune, and psychiatric or neurological conditions.
Bacterial and parasitic infections: Infections such as food poisoning or traveller’s diarrhea can be detected with a stool test.
Colon cancer screening: The FIT test can detect blood in the stool. Everyone should have this test done at least once every two years. Blood tests for anemia can also pick up blood loss, which may trigger an investigation of colon cancer.
Fecal calprotectin: I really like this test as it helps me get an idea of how much inflammation is in my patient’s colon. It helps differentiate Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) from Irritable Bowel Syndrome
All of the above tests can be run by an MD as well as an ND. Naturopathic physicians dig deep into the cause of digestive problems and sometimes need other, more subtle tests.
Food allergy/sensitivity testing: Food allergies can create a lot of grief in the gut. From inflammation to gas, bloating and diarrhea, I’ve seen hundreds of patient respond beautifully to a program of food elimination. There is no perfect test, but there are tests that can give us a starting point for an elimination / challenge process.
Intestinal permeability tests: If the intestines are too permeable, that “leaky gut” can allow toxins and large proteins into the blood and brain. Many inflammatory and immune conditions have been linked in scientific research to “leaky gut”.
GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile: This stool test gives us a lot of information about the ability of the digestive system to break down different types of food, the status of the microbiome (bacterial lining), and inflammation or infection in the bowel.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth test: This breath helps us see if excess gas, bloating, bowel issues and more are due to the wrong bacteria being in the small intestine. Treatments can be targeted to regain balance and restore proper function.
With the right tests, combined with a thorough discussion of the symptoms and history, plus a good abdominal exam, we can often get to the root of the problem and start to design a plan for getting relief.