A properly functioning digestive system is critical to good health. In fact, problems with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can cause more than just stomach aches or diarrhea. GI issues may underlie several other chronic health problems that seem unrelated to digestive health including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, skin problems such as eczema and acne rosacea, and heart disease just to name a few. So in the bigger picture, how can we deal with all that can go wrong “down there?” In functional medicine we use a program that goes by the simple acronym of the ‘5Rs’: remove, replace, reinoculate, repair and rebalance. When applied to various chronic problems, the 4R program can cause dramatic improvement in symptoms, and sometimes even complete resolution of the problem. The elements of the 4R program are described briefly below.
Remove stressors: get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the GI tract including allergic foods, parasites or other bad bugs such as bacteria or yeast. This might involve using an allergy “elimination diet” to find out what foods are causing GI symptoms or it may involve taking drugs or herbs to eradicate a particular bug.
Replace digestive secretions: add back things like digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and bile acids that are required for proper digestion and that may be compromised by diet, drugs, diseases, aging, or other factors.
Help beneficial bacteria flourish by taking in probiotic foods or supplements that contain the so-called “good” bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species, and by consuming the high soluble fiber foods that good bugs like to eat, called “prebiotics.”
Help the lining of the GI tract repair itself by supplying key nutrients that can often be in short supply in a disease state.
There is a time and place when all you need is a little relief. Step 5 isn’t part of the restoration process but is considered when immediate relief if necessary on the path restoration.