Dr. Carlotta Watson

Naturopathic Physician & Applied Kinesiologist

The Ileocecal Valve-An Overlooked Key to Good Health


Digestion is one very important factor to good heath. Without proper digestive function everything else in your body will not work properly. The digestive tract is where you absorb nutrients and the building blocks for the cells in your body. The digestive tract also makes most of the neurotransmitters in your body and there are as many nerves in the digestive system as there is in the central nervous system.

The Ileocecal valve (ICV) is located in the digestive tract in between the small intestine and the large intestine; this is right next to the appendix in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. The ICV opens and closes periodically to let food travel through the digestive tract. When it is closed, food sits in the small intestine where nutrients, vitamins and minerals are absorbed. When small intestine is done with that portion of food the ICV opens and lets it go into the large intestine where water is absorbed. The food that is in the large intestine has considerably more toxins in it than the food in the small intestine because of the amount of digestion and breakdown that has taken place over time. In the large intestine the digested food is prepared to be excreted out of the body through the rectum.

When the ICV is not functioning properly, either stuck closed or stuck open, there is an imbalance in the digestive system which leads to many problems in the body. One is malabsorption, a problem where nutrients, vitamins and minerals are not being absorbed. In the case of malabsorption, you may be eating the right types of food packed with important nutrition, vitamins and minerals but you are not absorbing them. The same would be true with the nutritional supplements you may be taking, they are literally going down the toilet. The old saying, “You are what you eat” is not true, it should be, “You are what you eat, chew, digest, absorb and assimilate.”

Another problem that can arise from the ICV not working properly is toxicity. If the valve is stuck closed, the food is sitting there too long and continues to break down and will eventually start to rot and putrefy. The toxins will then be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. Your liver is then overloaded as it tries to keep the intestines clean and handle the toxins. The ICV can also be stuck open so that the previously digested foods in the large intestine may back up into the small intestine and again you will have a toxicity problem. ICV problems can cause many symptoms such as shoulder pain, low back pain, pain around the heart, dizziness, flu symptoms, pseudo bursitis, pseudo sacroiliac pain, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), nausea, faintness, pseudo sinus infection, pseudo hypochlorhydria, headache, sudden thirst, pallor, dark circles under the eyes, bowel involvement and more.

So what causes these problems with the Ileocecal Valve?

The ICV is under digestive control, nervous system control, and hormonal control. You can eat foods that irritate the ICV and cause it not to work properly. These include food allergies and sensitivities such as WHEAT, CORN, MILK, and SOY. Certain roughage foods can cause problems also such as POPCORN, CHIPS (potato, corn, etc.), NUTS, SEEDS, and WHOLE GRAINS. There are also other irritants like CHOCOLATE (coco, cacao), ALCOHOL and CAFFEINE. To prevent any ICV problems or to help with healing of an existing problem these foods should be eliminated from the diet. Parasitic infections are another stress to the digestive system that can cause ICV dysfunction.

The autonomic nervous system tone also affects the ICV. If you are too tense or sympathetic dominant the ICV will tend to be closed more often. If the nervous system is too relaxed, parasympathetic dominant, then the ICV will tend to become stuck open. Some natural supplements and herbs that are taken by people when they do not need them can cause imbalances like these that will cause ICV dysfunction. These types of patients will have to be treated by an applied Kinesiologist for nervous system balance and they will have to adjust their lifestyle, exercise and diet accordingly.

The same goes for hormonal imbalances in the body which are linked to the nervous system through neuro-endocrine transducers such as the adrenal glands and pituitary gland. Our overall balance in our body has a lot to do with digestion and also emotions.

Since most of our neurotransmitters are made in our digestive tract, our digestion is greatly affected by our emotions and stress. In the philosophy of Chinese Medicine, the stomach is seen as the seat of emotions in the body and we can observe this in our modern society. People who work in corporate America and who have high stress jobs usually have digestive problems, ulcers, etc. As you can begin to see, we need to treat many things to achieve true heath and balance- the structure, biochemistry and emotions of the body.

But haven’t we been shown that some of these foods that affect the Ileocecal Valve are good for us?

Whole Grains are presently supposed to be a staple of our diet but they do cause health problems. Naturally these grains contain gluten and phytates that cause digestive problems. Anthropologists know this because they can see the evolution of our heath through the bones of our ancestors. When we get to the periods where agriculture and high consumption of grains started there are more bone problems in these people. These changes are a direct reflection of the health of the humans who ate large amounts of grains in their diet.

There are many good nutrients in Nuts and Seeds but eating these foods will cause problems similar to Whole Grains. They are very coarse when chewed up so they will physically irritate the intestinal lining and the ICV. There are also phytates in the nuts and seeds (also in grains and legumes) that will block digestion of important nutrients so eating these foods for nutritional purposes is not worth it in the end. Since the phytates can also cause a problem, this rules out the Nut Butters that may have a smooth consistency.

There is more and more Scientific Research about the health benefits of Chocolate coming out lately and I even hear of doctors who recommend and give Chocolate to their patients, ignorance is sweet! Chocolate/Cacao/Coco is an irritant to the intestinal lining and ICV. This precious and addictive substance may cause nervous system changes and make people feel good but your digestive system will get the negative end of the stick. There are usually a few other substances that commercially available chocolate contains that are not recommended to people who are trying to achieve balance in their body for optimal health; refined sugar, trans fats-partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, milk, low quality soy bean lecithin.

One of the greatest enemies of the Ileocecal Valve is an all American favorite-Popcorn. When you eat Popcorn, the little sharp pieces that get caught between your gums and teeth also cut up your intestinal walls like razor blades and cause leaky gut syndrome. Ouch! When the European settlers came to the new world and met the natives, one of the things that they were introduced to was Popcorn. The European settlers then took this new found food back to their home and it was a hit. The really funny thing is that the Native Americans showed the settlers how to pop the corn but they were smart enough to never eat it that way themselves.

The Ileocecal Valve is one very important key to true health and balance in the body along with eating right to prevent blood sugar problems, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. The patients who pay attentions to these factors and adjust their lifestyle accordingly will be on the road to good health.

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