by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
When I started my practice in the early 1980s, I was amazed at the number of women who suffered from constipation, diarrhea, increased gas, bloating after eating, fatigue and the many other symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
It wasn’t long before we realized this was a women’s health issue. Research indicates that gastrointestinal distress is twice as common in women as in men, that women have a greater incidence of complicating factors (like fibromyalgia, migraine, and heartburn) and that for some women, symptoms follow their menstrual cycle.
In the past I often referred patients to gastroenterologists. Frequently they came back to me with the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and the recommendation that they should make dietary changes, increase fiber in their diet and use Metamucil. Too often these changes brought them no relief. I was aware at that time that stress could play a part in their discomfort, and made suggestions accordingly. But this also did not seem to be very effective. This kind of distress is considered a non-serious “functional condition” (meaning not a disease) in the professional medical community. But as a veteran of visits to third-world countries, I knew from personal experience how uncomfortable and frustrating these symptoms can be.
It is now my belief that IBS is just the beginning of the story, not the conclusion. I think IBS is being used by doctors as a catch-all diagnosis for a complicated host of symptoms that need to be explored in depth before the root cause (such as yeast, parasites or food sensitivities) can be identified and treated. Because of my own experience with GI distress, I now test for parasites in every woman who comes into the clinic with a diagnosis of IBS or similar symptoms. You may be surprised to learn that 40% of these women prove to have parasites — even though many have never left the United States.
Let’s talk about how these symptoms arise and what you can do about them.
An unwelcome souvenir
In the mid 1980’s I went to Mexico and got what is known as “Montezuma’s Revenge.” I returned to the U.S. and realized I had all the symptoms that my patients had been complaining about. So I did a stool test which was sent to the hospital. I was surprised when the test indicated nothing abnormal.
Being the person that I am, I did not stop there, but began to explore within the alternative medical community what options were available. I found a chiropractor who recommended a lab in Arizona. Sure enough, this stool test came back indicating parasites. She then effectively treated me and also recommended staying away from particular foods to which I had become sensitive. My symptoms disappeared. So began my real awakening to the alternatives for women who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms that cannot be explained as irritable bowel syndrome or simply secondary to anxiety.
Role of the gastrointestinal tract
The major function of the gastrointestinal system is to break down food and establish a means by which the nutrients can be absorbed in the body. Nutrients that are liberated by this process allow the body to grow, heal and function on a day-to-day basis. In the mouth, the teeth break up the food and mix this with saliva. Salivary enzymes initiate the breakdown of food into usable forms, particularly with fat and starch digestion.