Too often we overlook the importance of taking care of this part of our body until something goes wrong with it. Conditions such as Heart Burn, Acid Reflux, GURD, Diarrhea, Constipation, IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, Leaky Gut Syndrome are getting out of control yet most of us don’t do a thing to “treat” or “prevent” them naturally. We focus on symptom relief instead of taking the bull by the horns and moving to the “cure” for our digestive woes.
Why is healthy digestion so important?
Let me put it this way: Without a healthy digestive system, you are making yourself vulnerable to developing almost ALL diseases. This may seem like a bold statement, but consider these bullets:
• An estimated 70 percent of your immune function lies in or begins in your digestive tract
• Poor digestion has a direct link to decreased energy
• Food allergies and sensitivities can be caused by poor digestion: Modern medicine realizes that disorders that impact ever system in your body have a potential link to this area.
• Many of the inflammatory disease have a connection to poor digestion and toxin buildup in the body. Not just Arthritis, but even cardiovascular, immune, ocular, structural (not just joints, but skin, bone and muscle) nervous system and more.
• Without proper digestion you will become deficient in key nutrients that are responsible for healthy cell function.
This last bullet alone is perhaps the most critical aspect of why we need to focus in on taking care of our digestive system daily and NOT when we have something wrong with it. Think about it, if you become deficient in any one nutrient it will lead to disease. I realize this is a bold statement, but it is true. We all understand that D deficiency lead to Rickets, but we now know that it leads to other conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and more. We learned about scurvy as children and how the sailors’ centuries ago would develop the condition from lack of Vitamin C. The same principle applies to every vitamin, mineral, amino acid, water, fat, protein and carbohydrate in our diet (or not in our diet). If you can’t break down the nutrients in your foods and/or your supplements, convert some of these nutrients into the usable or absorbable form and you can’t absorb these nutrients then you will develop one or more health challenge over time. This condition could be relatively benign to you (decreased vision, joint discomfort, etc.) or life threatening (Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, etc.)
As for the other bullets listed above, I am not going to give you the rational behind them. Suffice it to say that your digestive system is one of the more critical systems in your body that is often overlooked in most health care programs. I believe the digestive system is the foundation to getting healthy and staying healthy. You may have heard the saying, “Death begins in the Colon” which is true. But I would rather say…
“Life begins in the Digestive Tract”
What makes up your digestive System?
In keeping with my philosophy of being healthy doesn’t have to be complicated, here it is in a nutshell: Mouth (everything in it–tongue, teeth, salivary glands, etc.), Esophagus, Stomach, Small Intestine, Liver and Gallbladder (not usually considered parts of this system), Large intestine and rectum. Each one of these “parts” plays a role in your digestive system being healthy.
What negatively impacts your digestive system?
• Activity levels
• Fluids (good or bad and volumes)
• Other health conditions: Pregnancy, diabetes, etc.
• Hormone issues (mostly hypothyroidism)
• Food Allergies
This list is endless but these are the top areas to focus on. For simplicity, I will focus on the areas that I can help you change. Obviously if you are on a medication, have issues with stress, hormone imbalances, travel, etc. you may need to address those with your health care provider in addition to following my foundational health tips below.
Where do you begin?
This isn’t going to be rocket science just as I mentioned above. Keeping things foundational and fundamental is critical to achieving great. In fact, I believe that if you follow my suggestions below, no matter what digestive issue you might have will go away over time. Being healthy isn’t complicated; it just takes knowledge, will power and diligence to achieve.
Part 1: Diet
By now most of you know my feelings on how we should eat: Only whole foods! This means if it doesn’t look like it did when it left the plant or ground…don’t eat it. Focus on Fruits (not juices), Veggies, Nuts, Seeds, Legumes and sprinkle in your meats (poultry, beef, pork, chicken, fish and let’s throw eggs into this category too). The more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and legumes you can eat, the better your digestion will be over time. These foods are all high in fiber-a critical component for a healthy digestive system. The more processed a food is, the worse it is for your digestive system. We have become a nutrient starved society (this is why we tend to eat more of these foods…your body is trying to get the nutrients it needs from a nutrient deficient food).
Part 2: Fluid intake
This topic often causes rationalization and arguments. For now, please throw out the rationalization that any liquid counts. I believe that we should focus on healthy fluids only: Purified water, Herbal Teas, mineral water, and fluids that naturally occur in our foods (not processed out…like juices). Daily consumption of fluids will vary depending on where you live, climate and activity levels. I use the bottom intake as ½ your body weight in ounces of water per day. I weigh 175 pounds and therefore need to consume at least 88 ounces of healthy fluids per day. Is that enough for me? Not really considering that I live in a warm/hot climate and get at least 30 minutes of cardio in per day. If you have thick mucous, dry mouth, dry sinuses, cough periodically, get frequent headaches as the day goes on, feel fatigued, these are all good indicators that you need more healthy fluids. Soda, coffee, energy drinks, fruit juices, etc. do NOT count towards your total. Staying well hydrated will have an immediate impact on your digestive health.
Part 3: Exercise
I realize by now that I may sound (or write in this case) like a broken record, but the 4-Pillars of Health I preach work! With regards to digestion, the more active lifestyle you have, the less likely you are to have digestive system issues. 30 minutes of brisk walking per day will go a long way in ridding or preventing many of your digestive concerns.
Part 4: Supplements
When discussing supplements for healthy digestion, there are obviously numerous supplements that can address your specific needs i.e. IBS, Constipation, Acid Reflux etc. In this article though, I am focusing on the foundational approach to your digestion not treating specifically the symptoms you might be having at this time. Remember that I started off saying that following this fundamental program would “in time” rid your body of most if not all-digestive related problems.
The following are the supplements I would use on a daily basis (I do) to move your body into having the healthiest digestive system possible:
Fiber– I believe that we can get the fiber we need from our diet, but since most reading this article do not get the 35-40 grams of fiber they need from their diet, we need to supplement. My personal favorites are Chia seeds and Flax seeds. Sprinkle this in or on your foods to get the added fiber you need. These are also high in Omega-3s and other health nutrients (Chia-Calcium, Antioxidants, Protein and Flax-lignans). If using these doesn’t float your boat, try using one of the many fiber-bars available. You can easily add 10-15 grams of fiber to your daily intake with just one bar in most cases. One word of caution here: If you are not used to consuming 35-40 grams of fiber per day, increase your intake slowly. Add in 4-5 grams extra per day per week until you daily intake reaches the range. Going from 18 grams of fiber per day up to the 35-40 all in one week may lead to gas, bloating, constipation and a bunch of discomfort you don’t want or need. Go slow and steady for the best results.
Probiotics– Probiotics are essential for what I like to call ULTIMATE Digestion. (Want to learn more about probiotics in detail? Check out my recent blog) Probiotics are friendly bacteria that play an important role in finishing off the digestive process. These friendly bacteria break your food and supplements down into the micro-particles they need to be in to be absorbed. In some cases these same bacteria will help convert the nutrients in your food/supplements into the absorbable form or the form you body will need it in to be utilized. If you don’t have enough good bacteria, you could eat the best diet and take the best supplements and still not get the results you are looking for. My analogy is that adding probiotics to your digestive system is like adding a fuel additive to your gas tank….You will get more miles per gallon and a cleaner burning engine. In a nutshell, probiotics are more important to your health than taking a multivitamin.
Remember to seek probiotics that will bypass stomach acid and are “still alive”. I recently became a fan of what I am calling a second generation of probiotics that are plant-based. One of the reasons plant-based probiotics are more stable is due to the harsh environment they usually originate. Unlike animal sourced probiotics, plant-based are exposed to wide ranges of temperature and moisture which has allowed them to adapt to their environment more easily. This exposure over time has made them more resistant to temperature, acid other environmental factors. One I recently became knowledgeable of is PA5051, which is a new and patented plant based second generation of friendly bacteria.
Enzymes– For this part of our discussion, enzymes equal digestive enzymes. The 3 critical enzymes are: Protease, which breaks down proteins, Amylase, which breaks down starches, Lipase which breaks down fats. Yes, your body does produce these enzymes naturally, but with time and poor lifestyle, we just don’t seem to produce what we need and therefore need to supplement with these at each meal and snack. You may even wish to look for a combination enzyme formula that contains a 4th and 5th component of Betaine HCL and Cellulase. Betaine helps with stomach acid content and Cellulase helps break down plant cell membranes. There are even more complex formulations available at your local Vitamin Shoppe so it wouldn’t hurt to consult with one of their store associates for the enzyme formula that is right for you.
Please keep in mind that this article is designed to help you set up a good/sound foundational program to help you achieve optimal digestive abilities. Digestion is more than chewing, swallowing, having gas, bloating and eventually a bowel movement. It is about achieving optimal health from all areas of your body and life. It will take effort to eat right, get your activity and focus on the other healthful tips listed above. You should also consider speaking with your health care provider about the other areas that might be impacting your digestive system too. One main area is to get tested for food sensitivities. This will require a blood test and not a skin prick test. Identifying the root of your health issues is critical these days in order to address them head-on. If you do have one of the many digestive health issues mentioned above, you could still start my foundational program and utilize the many supplements that target your symptoms OR help heal your ailing body. Combining my foundational approach to your current digestive care program will only enhance the effects and speed your way to feeling better.