By Dr. Jeff Daniels with Dierdre Thornton

As a physician, I’ve seen many ways to approach any particular medical question or problem.

Having trained in traditional Western medicine, and having based my practice on these values for the past 35 years, it’s been hard for me to accept some of the alternative concepts, and I’ve kept a skeptical “distance” from them.

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of news about how alternative forms of medicine should be given a chance because some of these concepts have been proven scientifically beneficial.

I recently met an alternative practitioner who has changed some of my views.

Dierdre Thornton, a certified colon hydrotherapist, advocates the use of enzyme supplements and probiotics to keep the colon, and ultimately the patient, healthy.

I met her through a patient who had serious, long-term constipation. I’d offered this patient everything I could think of, short of surgery: medication for chronic constipation, manipulation of the diet, and bowel cleansing preps, all to no avail.

But since Thornton began working with this patient, she’s started feeling normal and has healthy colon physiology for the first time in many years.

Thornton believes in enzymes and quotes work by medical doctors and other researchers. I haven’t checked these references for scientific validity, and I wonder how many of those enzymes are digested in the stomach before they reach the colon. However, for my patient, Thornton’s help was right on the mark.

Most Americans eat high calorie, processed, and preserved foods that our enzyme supply struggles to break down, Thorton says.

“If a person is ill, no matter what is wrong, the first thing to understand is that something is out of order with his or her enzymes,” according to the book Enzymes the Fountain of Life by Doctors D.A. Lopes, R.M. Williams, and K. Miehlke.

For Thornton, this is valuable information. Enzymes could be the key to a healthy properly functioning colon.

If we’re able to digest and break down our food, Thornton says, it enters the small intestine in a useable, enzyme-rich state. This allows us to get more nutrition out of what we eat, and is the reason European scientists suggest that enzymes are important in disease prevention.

“Think about how food decomposes,” she says. “If you leave a sandwich out on the counter overnight, it starts to break down. Now think about if you add heat and water and bacteria to that sandwich and let it sit out overnight. The sandwich would rot a lot faster. This is what happens to food in the colon without the proper enzymes to digest it. It sits and becomes toxic.”

She believes probiotics are also very important to colon health. Probiotics are good bacteria that support healthy colon function by helping break down undigested food containing contaminants and bad bacteria. A human should have up to nine pounds of bacteria in the body, mostly residing in the intestine at a ratio of 85 percent good to 15 percent bad.

Since Thornton learned to administer digestive enzymes and probiotics, her clients have needed 90 percent fewer colonics to restore balance in the digestive tract, she says.

The most important thing to remember about digestive health, Thornton says, is that what goes in must come out in a timely fashion.

Dierdre Thornton is a certified colon hydrotherapist at Spruce Haven Wellness Center in Bozeman. Dr. Jeff Daniels is at the Medical Clinic of Big Sky.