Foundational Digestive Health

Foundational Digestive Health

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A few years ago I wrote a series of articles entitled 4-Steps to building a healthier you. In those steps, I covered; how to build your own personalized supplement program, the importance of cleansing/detoxification, using Superfoods as part of your everyday diet/supplement regimen and following my 4-Pillars of health. Looking back on this series, there could have been either a huge subcategory or an additional step added-Digestive Support. Having a healthy digestive system is critical for ALL of us-regardless of age. The digestive system is responsible for these critical functions in your body:

1. Digestion- Breaking down food into micro-particles
2. Absorption- Convert nutrients into absorbable forms
3. Elimination- Remove what’s left over/toxins
4. Immunity- Protect from foreign microbes either in or on your foods

Inside the numbers
• More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and about 25 million are daily sufferers
• Gastrointestinal disorders chronically plague more than 95 million Americans
• Two of the top five most widely prescribed prescription drugs in this country are for digestive disorders
• Digestive related problems cost Americans more than $100 billion dollars annually
• Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths behind lung cancer

So, do those numbers get your attention? They definitely grab mine. Considering these numbers and what digestion does for the body, you can see why we need to focus on either fixing our messed up digestive system or keeping it fine tuned. Optimal nutrition begins and ends with healthy digestion. Instead of “death begins in the colon” we should say “life begins in the digestive tract”.

What’s Missing?
Good question! We need to change our lifestyle and set a goal of achieving optimal digestion. When we get to this point, we won’t have issues such as: IBS, Constipation, Diarrhea, Crohn’s Disease, Colorectal Cancer, Acid Reflux, gas, bloating, etc. Yes, my 4-Pillars of health are critical for digestion. We know that a diet high in fiber and water and low in bad fats, refined foods will lead to a healthier digestive system. We know that exercise will significantly improve digestion (for multiple reasons). We know that spirituality (reduction of stressors, etc.) will dramatically improve digestion. BUT, supplements can and will play a critical role for all of us whether or not we have a digestive disorder.

Before I get into what supplements you need, let’s take a look at what will increase your risk of developing digestive problems:

1. use or have used antibiotics
2. use OTC or Prescription antacids
3. poor diet
4. dehydrated
5. eat too much dairy
6. eat on the run
7. high stress
8. use of steroids (not necessarily the ones athletes use)
9. use of NSAIDS
10. use of Hormones (even bio-identical)
11. overweight
12. Pregnancy
13. health issues (diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, arthritis, depression, eating disorders, etc.)

Who else should be interested?
In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that this could have been part of my 4-Steps to building a healthier you. Let’s say that I am eating the best possible diet and taking the best possible supplements and my digestive system is functioning at 100%. Then I will get everything possible out of my foods and supplements to aid my body. But, if my digestive system is only operating at 75%, my digestion and absorption of the nutrients in those awesome foods and supplements will be decreased. I would guess that most Americans are functioning at 50-60% “digestively” speaking. This would be like using the best possible fuel for your car and having a clogged up fuel line or filter. The car (your body) won’t function the way it was designed to function. Now, take that same person with poor digestion and give them a poor diet (typical American Diet)-this is a freight train headed out of control. If you ever wonder why you can’t get better or achieve better health, just take a look at your digestion and diet.

Your poor digestion will lead to nutrient depletions that will end up causing other health related issues. Even modern medicine understands that prolonged depletions of different nutrients can and will lead to serious health problems. Whether it is Vitamin D and the increased risk of certain cancers or magnesium, vanadium and chromium in Type II Diabetics, they both have pretty significant effects on your long-term health. And these are just two of hundreds and even thousands of possible depletions linked to life threatening diseases.

So, let’s fix our digestive system! There are a few key areas to look at in the supplement section of your local health food store; Probiotics, Prebiotics, Enzymes, Fiber, Cleansing are some great areas to start.

Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that are found in your digestive system. Probiotics were placed there by God to serve 2 purposes: Finish off the digestive process and help protect against pathogens (disease causing bacteria, fungus, yeast, etc.) found in or on your food. Without enough of these beneficial bacteria, you won’t be able to fully digest your food particles into “micro” particles or convert some of those nutrients into the absorbable or usable forms the body needs. Probiotics are essential for absorption of nutrients, synthesize Vitamin B and K, improve absorption of minerals and help with the digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber. Throw in the benefits to your immune system and we have a winner. Consuming non-purified water, non-organic foods, stress, aging, high carb diets, antibiotic use, etc depletes Probiotics. Lack of proper levels of probiotics will lead to E. Coli and H. Pylori overgrowth too. There are numerous probiotics on the market. I always look for probiotics that bypass my stomach acid (acid kills bacteria). The best technology is found in the product I use called InSync. InSync uses GI Guard to keep the friendly bacteria protected until they reach your small intestine.

Prebiotics are often overlooked. A prebiotic is considered food for your probiotics. A probiotic that contains a prebiotic is like using buying grass seed with a starter fertilizer added. If you don’t have enough food for your good bacteria (probiotics) they will die off prematurely. You can find either Inulin or FOS (two most common supplement prebiotics) either by themselves or added to your probiotic formula.

Digestive enzymes are used to help support the breakdown of your foods. Yes, the Lord created us to have enzymes that assist in the digestion of your foods, but as with most conditions, digestive weakness increases with aging and many other health related issues. I often estimate that 70+ percent of your body’s energy goes into digesting your foods. Coming up short on enough digestive enzymes will lead to nutrient depletions and having undigested food particles slide on through. Undigested food particles are not only a waste of money, but will lead to problems such as toxin buildup, flatulence, odor issues, allergies, sensitivities and more. The primary digestive enzymes are; Protease (for proteins), Amylase (starches), Lipase (Fats), Cellulase (Plant cell membrane). There are also targeted enzymes available for specific needs like lactose intolerance (lactase), etc. Consult with a store health enthusiast for the product that best fits your needs.

Fiber should never be overlooked. The average diet contains around 20 grams of fiber each day yet we should be consuming 35+ grams per day. Fiber helps you lose weight, balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol, keep your digestive tract clean, decrease constipation and diarrhea, improve immune function, reduce your risk of heart attack and too much more than I can list here. I tell my children that fiber is the snowplow of the colon. (makes them laugh). A friend of mine described fiber as the toothbrush of the colon. Regardless, Fiber is another critical component in digestive system health. If you can’t get enough fiber from your diet (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.) then you need to supplement. The most popular fiber sources are Psyllium and Flax seeds. You can also find Chia seeds, Inulin and Glucomannan at most stores. All of these are great fiber sources, but I prefer Flax and Chia seeds to the other three. Flax and Chia are not only awesome sources of fiber, but can also provide your body with other healthy nutrients. (Why not get more bang for your buck?) If you have issues with fiber supplements, you can always cheat and buy fiber bars. These bars usually contain 10-15 grams of added fiber and taste great. Personally, I prefer you to get fiber from your diet, but I also understand that many will never change their eating habits.

Cleansing is something that often gets overlooked with regards to digestive maintenance and care. We need to cleanse all systems, but for those with digestive issues, periodic colon and liver cleansing is even more important. Cleansing will help eliminate the buildup of environmental toxins, metals, chemicals that are in the air, water and foods we consume. Remember, your skin is on the outside of your body what your colon is on the inside of your body. YUCK! Cleansing will improve energy; digestive function, immune function, nervous system function, hormonal balance, sleep, skin and a whole lot more!

Finally, there are many other supplements that support healthy digestion. Many of these can be purchased separately (or in a combination formula) to address your specific digestive issues. Here is a short list to get you started:

Aloe- soothes inflammation and helps with constipation
Magnesium- safe and effective for constipation
Ginger- indigestion
Peppermint- indigestion, cramping, gas
Slippery Elm- Soothing
DGL- heartburn and acid reflux
Mastic Gum- Same as above
Dandelion- constipation, indigestion