This week I have the absolute pleasure of sharing some words of wisdom from Dr. John McGonigle, MD. He is a medical professional who uses both conventional and holistic strategies. He practices out of the Sage Healing Collaborative in East Providence, RI.
You have been practicing holistic medicine for 27 years, and been an MD for 17 years now. Gut health has become increasingly imperative as gut diseases and disorders are more and more prevalent. Food allergies and intolerances are rapidly on the rise.
1. In all of your experience with this topic, what do you believe are the biggest contributing factors to this uptick?
2. Do you see a connection between emotional and energetic dis-ease in relation to trusting your intuition and self-love and digestive disorder?
3. If someone reading this is struggling with Gut Health and Wellness, What if any are your words of advice? Is there anything you could recommend to get someone headed in the right direction?
I started studying with James Duke and at the New York School of Homeopathy in the mid-late '90s in NYC. I was (and still am) a poet before becoming a doctor, so seeing the world as manifestation both larger and smaller than merely the sum of its dissectable parts comes naturally to me, and is something I've long trained myself to dwell within. I went to medical school at SUNY-Stony Brook on Long Island, and it's a medical school well-known for research, and its intensive hard-core science based training. As such, it was a great education for me as I had to learn to digest and then apply very scientific principles to my understanding of illness and healing, and then - over the years - incorporate the lessons of molecular biology, genetics and epigenetics, and statistical analyses to a fundamentally holistic world-view. Science - true science - is a great doorway into the truly wondrous and miraculous manifestations of spirit into corporeal form.
"In answer to your question, Pam, as to the apparent rise in food intolerances/allergies, and gastrointestinal disorders in general, I would begin by taking it back to the scientific fundamentals. It's an approach I always enjoin my medical students, residents and fellows to begin with: what's the basic function of the gut? It's to absorb nutrients, and discharge waste. What is its role as an "organ system" within the whole function & structure of the body? It's the borderland between what is considered "nutritious" and what is considered "unnecessary or waste"... so, if a human body functions not only in relationship to its own individual wholeness but also functions within the larger "body" of interpersonal relationships and society, when confronted with the question of "intolerance" or "hypersensitivity" or "deficiency" or "excess inflammation" one needs to ask oneself: how am I absorbing what is presented to me? And how am I distinguishing between what is "nutritious" and what is "toxic"? It's an oversimplification to suggest the answers to these deep individual questions are easily arrived at, but when you consider how much "information" we are inundated with (the "food" of the spirit, the heart, the psyche), is it any wonder we see a rise in "intolerances" or "sensitivities"? And you can consider genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides - all of which interventions can be considered derangements of the simple "information" our diets are supposed to be... of course, these agricultural interventions are also in some ways necessary due to the needs of a hungry population, but I would further argue that what our current situation leads us to is a SIMULTANEOUS place of fear of scarcity AND excess... so then you take the question of "what should one do"? back to, again, spiritual-psychological fundamentals, and that line of reasoning leads one to the commitment to trying one's best to live in a state of simplicity, and faith. In relationship to what one "ingests", on as many levels as possible (of course it's an ongoing process: human lives are complex, and we are all works-in-progress!)."
"So, that's all well and good from an abstract or even metaphysical state but how about for the person who has IBS, or Crohn's, or just feels frequently bloated or "not right" in their belly? The most common place to start is food allergy testing and/or stool studies... one of the hallmarks of our society is its obsessive confidence in conflating measurable reality with the truth; in truth, finding numbers above or below a given threshold on a piece of paper only means something is statistically more or less likely to be correlated with lived experience. Allergy testing can be helpful in terms of giving one a general direction in which to look - foods to avoid, eat less of etc - but this is the whole crux of the matter, there is no more sensitive instrument known to science than a human being's direct reflection on its own experience. That is why I usually start with an elimination diet if someone suspects they have food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities; remove from your diet all foods introduced (basically) since the agricultural revolution of 5000 BC, for 4-8 weeks and then reintroduce the foods you miss most one at a time... feeling really good and then eat a slice of bread and feel lousy? It doesn't matter what the lab values are, if it makes you feel bad you should probably avoid it. The rationale behind the elimination diet is just cutting out the clutter or chatter within your own self-perception so you can more accurately and clearly "read" the signals your body is sending you."
"All that being said it should be clear that there is an amazing synchronistic relationship between one's sense of self and one's gut! Are you free to accept what the world is offering? Is the integrity of yourSELF coherent, cohesive, and accepting enough to integrate what comes in? These are deep emotional and spiritual levels to be working within, and it's a work that needs to go on simultaneously while working to address the material, physiological planes. One must also be very cautious, because there are actual molecular divergences that will cause the system to go haywire (celiac disease resulting in Crohn's, for example) and no amount of self awareness or self-exploration will allow the body to live in harmony with a food it is genetically predisposed to be in a "dis-eased" relationship with.... at least not for practical, day-in day-out purposes.... As one establishes a harmonious give-and-take with what one puts on one's body - what one's body is literally "made of" - so also one will be enabled to come closer to understanding and accepting that who one is is who one intended to be, and to trust that such a deep integrity of self will continue into the future. Just as our relationship with food is a paradigm of our relationship to the world, so also is our relationship to our guts paradigmatic of our relationship to ourselves. And it goes both ways. For years when discussing this topic with my patients I've often ended with this: the woman who eats at Wendy's every day and loves her food and is so happy she gets to eat at Wendy's everyday is deriving a higher nutritional value from her meal than the guy who's macrobiotic and hates eating that way but does it because it's right and he thinks he has to but wishes things were different."
"I could go on and on and I'm afraid I make it sound as if I think it's all so easy and you just get into right relationship w/ self and then everything else just magically is harmonious and I know personally and professionally (especially) how long and winding such a journey is."
I love the way Dr. McGonigle ended this. The way we FEEL about what we are eating can have as much of an impact as WHAT we are eating. We receive nourishment in so many avenues of life, not just the food on our plate. I love the connections made between our gut to our relationship with self. I will be taking that one in for a few days!
All the love,