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Issue 19: When You've Got Pain in the Gut

When You’ve Got Pain in the Gut
By Joseph Brasco, M.D.

I’m a board-certified physician in internal medicine and gastroenterology who’s co-authored several books with Jordan Rubin, and we’ve been a good team because Jordan has had life experiences and triumph in an area of medicine where we often didn’t come across successful outcomes. I try to add a perspective from the viewpoint of conventional medicine.

When it comes to digestive problems, most of our patients come into our offices feeling miserable. They didn’t have a serious disease like cancer or inflammatory bowel disease—just a bad case of bloating, periods of passing gas, alternating constipation, and diarrhea. They felt that life dealt them a raw hand.

All too often, little can be done in a 10-minute office visit. More often than not, we’ll listen to our patients describe the ailment, and then we’ll usually suggest a certain medication. That’s what medical physicians like myself have been trained to do: make the diagnosis, fill out the prescription form, and send patients on their way.

Except that they kept returning to our examination rooms, complaining about the same symptoms and wanting more than a bottle of pills. That’s when many of my colleagues prescribe an antispasmodic or make arrangements for an upper or lower GI test. When the patients return complaining of more abdominal pain, we can order a CT scan.

While good for our billing department, the patients (or the insurance company) spend several thousand dollars on tests that don’t help them feel any better than on the first day they walked into one of our clinics. Unfortunately, too few in my profession take into consideration that their patients’ lousy diets are causing their digestive distress.

I became fascinated by nutrition in med school, but my residency at a big city hospital was an eye-opener: the people walking into the emergency room lived in gritty neighborhoods dotted with fried chicken drive-thrus, chili hamburger stands, tacquerias, waffle shops, and every fast-food purveyor in the country. My patient load lived on junk food—and paid a high price with their health.

Over the years, I’ve tried to explain basic nutrition to my ailing patients. Stay away from fast food. Eat more vegetables. Snack on an apple a day. I believe that restricting carbohydrates may reduce bloating and other gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I’ve become an evangelist for the low-carbohydrate gospel with my patients. I wouldn’t say that I get in their faces, but I’ve been rather direct.

“Listen,” I would say after hearing a litany of symptoms, “I’m convinced that you have irritable bowel syndrome. We have two ways of looking at this. I can prescribe a medicine for you, which will help a little bit, but you’re going to be right back in this examination room one month from now complaining that your stomach hurts. Or, if you’re interested, we can change your diet, but you will have to work with me. I don’t want to waste my time or yours if you’re not interested in making a major lifestyle change in what you choose to eat.”

I would say that only a third of my patients are willing to say goodbye to deep-fried crispy chicken and hush puppies. The rest prefer to take their prescription in hand and wash down pills with water, even though prescription drugs rarely calm things down in the digestive tract. Those patients aren’t willing to make the hard choices that a lifestyle change involves.

I know what hard choices entail since I’ve had digestive issues of my own. I practice what I preach, though, by shopping at health food stores and eating a diet based on organic meats, fruits, and vegetables that Jordan recommends in his books, including his book, Perfect Weight America. My painful digestive ailments are in the past, for which I’m thankful.

If you have persistent digestive problems, are you willing to make big changes in what you eat? I believe you’ll have to, but I see nothing but upside. Aren’t you enormously interested in eating without experiencing excruciating pain? Haven’t there been times when you said you’d do anything to feel better?

Well, your chance has come. Jordan and I are in agreement that the most important thing you can do is make changes in your eating habits because a poor diet plays a huge role with digestive problems.

Making a List and Checking It Twice
I’m convinced that a diet based on consuming whole and natural foods gives you the best chance to overcome any digestive maladies. Yet too many of the so-called foods sold in our nation’s supermarkets are produced by employees in hairnets on an assembly line at some far-flung factory. Like sheep following the next one off a cliff, we fill our shopping carts with processed foods that do a number on our stomachs and provoke diarrhea and constipation problems.

Processed foods strain the gut because the digestive tract must toil harder to extract nutrients from foods whose nutritional ingredients were raided before and during the manufacturing process.

But Dr. Brasco, if you’re telling me to eat a bunch of natural foods for my digestive problems, it can’t be this simple. It’s not that simple because you must consume your foods carefully, especially carbohydrates.

In the coming weeks, we’ll go down the list of foods to consume. Until then, be good to your gut.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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