G is for Gastrointestinal health!

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of a stomach ache, most of us have experienced the pain of crampy diarrhea or constipation and many experience acid reflux and indigestion.

poo

“Number 2” as I liked to call it when I was a child is one of the most important bodily functions. It eliminates a great deal of the waste we accumulate through-out the day but our digestive tract is certainly more than that finished product that exits the large intestine and the colon. Our digestion spans from mouth to anus and each part of the journey food takes throughout the body is complex and can lead to disease. Our intestines don’t just assure we get nutrients from our food, but also makes up 80-90% of our immune system and is the site where roughly 70-80% of our neurotransmitters are synthesized.

In this post I’ll touch on how the body digests and eliminates food and I’ll describe what I think are the most important supplements and interventions for a healthy digestive system, such as:

  1. Probiotics
  2. Prebiotics
  3. Fiber
  4. Essential fats
  5. Water/hydration
  6. Eliminating food intolerances and allergies
  7. Stress relief

forkOne of my favorite naturopathic quotes is “we dig our graves with our knives and forks”.

Digestion is a very important determinant of health and what we consume affcets the make-up, functioning and effectiveness of every organ and cell in our body.

The mouth

Food is first broken down with physical energy from our teeth, and our saliva which contains enzymes that start to break down carbohydrates and fats.  Chewing is a KEY part of digestion.  When the food is left in chunks that are bigger than desired, the stomach needs to work harder to break them down and the small intestine will have a very difficult time getting food into the molecular sizes needed for absorption.  Something as simple as not chewing can cause malabsorption, malnutrition, food sensitivities, inflammation of the intestinal tract and even cancer.  Once you’ve chewed your food (might I suggest a good 10 chews at least per bite) the swallowed food enters the esophagus and passes into the stomach.

Stomach:

The stomach is a strictly controlled environment with a very acidic/low ph.  This is necessary to breakdown the molecular structure of proteins and begin to digest them down into smaller absorbable peptides and amino acids.   I often see patients on ant-acids, proton pump inhibitors or h2 blockers, who are unable to digest their food. This leads to bloating, distention, malabsorption and a deficiency of several minerals and vitamins like iron, B12, magnesium and calcium.  What your medical doctor may not tell you is that the sphincter that keeps your stomach from pushing bits of acid food back up into your esophagus needs an acidic environment or low ph to function properly. Sometimes LOW, not elevated acid is the cause of heart burn! Although reflux needs to be managed to reduce risk of ulcers, consider seeing your naturopathic doctor for natural remedies that can alleviate the discomfort without having a massive tole on your digestion (I’ve had great success with this).

Small intestine-absorptionMajor_digestive_enzymes

Once the stomach has churned and burned our food it enters the small intestine where food is absorbed into our blood so that it can heal and nurture every cell in our body. The pancreas and the gall bladder are very important players in the further breakdown of food and secrete enzymes required to finish digestion. Unfortunately, many of us have intestinal damage from synthetic foods, food intolerances and stress, this causes a deficiency of enzymes. Taking a digestive enzyme with food can help relieve the burden of an inefficient digestive system and can even relieve symptoms of pain, bloating, gas and indigestion.

The colon

The colon, also known as the large intestine is the last leg of our journey. It’s an amazing environment that is very dependent on proper bacteria content.  Bacteria are a friend but also a foe. Naturopathic doctors talk a lot about natural healthy flora (bugs) vs. unhealthy ones, like candida.  It’s crucial to build up enough good healthy bacteria to allow proper hormone function, serotonin synthesis and immune function.

Probiotics are found in: Yogurt, Kombucha tea, Miso, Soy milk, Sauerkraut and Kimichi.  Whereas prebiotics can be found in :Raw chicory root, raw oats, raw dandelion greens and unrefined barley.

chicory

sugar-free-yogurt

Elimination, a.k.a poop: 

Numero deux is made up of fiber, un-digestible components of food and bacteria. Your body loves fiber! It uses it to bulk stool, which helps with elimination, and even uses fiber to regulate blood sugar control. Another crucial component to elimination is enough water. If you’re constipated the top things to try are:

  1. Water
  2. Fiber
  3. Activity, moderate activity helps with peristalsis and gets things moving!
  4. Food elimination
  5. Herbs that stimulate peristalsis (although this can lead to dependence and a decrease in natural movement)

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and are experiencing diarrhea or loose stools, see your Naturopathic doctor for food sensitivity testing (a blood or electrodermal test), make sure to replenish electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium and consider raspberry or black tea to help dry up the stool.

Some diseases associated with poor intestinal health:

That’s the end of journey down gastrointesinal way. Poor digestive health is linked to these and many other disease:

  1. Cancer
  2. Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis
  3. IBS and depresison
  4. Arthritis
  5. Low energy/chronic fatigue/anemia
  6. Poor immune health

If you have digestive complaints see your naturopathic doctor for a program tailored to your specific needs which is likely to include one or more of the following:

  1. Fish oil
  2. Betaine acid/Vinegar
  3. Food sensitivity testing
  4. Digestive enzymes
  5. Food hygiene advise
  6. Counseling
  7. Probiotics
  8. Fiber
  9. Botanicals/Herbs like fennel. slippery elm, ginger and chamomile
    • Stimulate digestion
    • Sooth irritation
    • Promote healing of the intestinal lining
    • Generate relaxation so the body can rest and digest
  10. Stress relief! The body must be in parasympathetic or a relaxed state for digestion to occur.
Rest & Digest vs. Stress

Rest & Digest vs. Stress

 

If you want to know more, or are suffering from digestive complaints send me a message or schedule an appointment!!

digestion

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F is for fatty acid part 3! EPA for the win!

Fresh off the super fun talk I gave this past Thursday to the lovely BC employees of wholefoods, on omega-3s; I shall as promised, finally deliver the 3rd part of our discussion about all things fatty acid.

get it in ya!

get it in ya!

One of the points I really wanted to emphasize with the whole foods crew is that there are specific instances when we want more EPA and those during which we need more DHA instead.  Just like we talked about omega-6s and omega-3s competing for cellular absorption in part 2 of F is for fatty acid, so too do EPA and DHA compete with each other for incorporation, metabolism and use through-out the body.

cellular_health

The clinical benefits of daily fish oil

Omega-3s are one of THE most researched topics in medicine.  Close to 2000 papers are published per year and currently there are about 20,000 research articles on the health benefits of omega-3s.

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Geeks love omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids biggest claim to fame is heart health and prevention of cardiovascular disease. It all started in Greenland, where eskimos paradoxically were living longer and had lower risks of heart disease despite consuming diets that were ridiculously high in fat.  Dr Dyerberg (considered by many to be the father of omega-3s) traveled to Greenland and discovered that their high fat diets weren’t made up of the usual fats, but were very high in omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and so the era of studying the health effects of omega-3s began.

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The health effects of omega-3s:

Fish oil modifies a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, blood clotting, triglyceride (blood fat) concentrations, irregular heart beats, heart rate and blood vessel health. Because of this,  increased intake of omega-3s is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and supplementation in at-risk patients also reduces mortality.

As mentioned in fatty acids part 2, omega-3s are awesomely anti-inflammatory. They are beneficial in any disease with an inflammatory component, such as pain, arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, eczema, lupus, asthma, and basically any condition that ends in “itis”, as that means inflammation. In fact I challenge you to google any condition, especially an inflammatory one + omega-3 or fish oil and I guarantee you’ll get multiple hits.

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Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids improve immune function,  boost metabolism and improve body composition, which can help overweight or obese people achieve weight loss.

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Omega-3s have been shown to help maintain bone mass and therefore help in the prevention of osteoporosis or loss of bone density and are very involved in visual development so they can help to improve eye health.

Because omega-3 fatty acids comprise a large part of the fats in the brain, they help to improve brain health and learning processes, which therefore make them valuable in infant and childhood learning, as well as behavioral or attention issues.  They also decrease the inflammation associated with an aging brain making them great for prevention of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory decline.

Finally, research suggests that omega-3s can help to stabilize mood imbalances, which is helpful in depression, anxiety, and hostility/aggression.

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Lets talk about each of these effects in more detail and specifically address which conditions EPA is of benefit, and which ones require DHA.

EPA

EPA is the best choice for any condition modulated by, or due to inflammation.  The anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3 fatty acids are mainly attributed to EPA.

When inflammation becomes chronic is destroys healthy cells and tissues in our bodies contributing to a great deal of diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • obesity 
  • arthritis and joint pain
  • ulcerative colitis
  • crohns disease and others

One of the conditions newly thought to be due to inflammation is depression.

  • In the past the etiology of depression was widely assumed to be due to serotonergic dysfunctions.  However, the current theories that rely solely on serotonin function and cortisol hypersecretion are insufficient. 
  • More then half of depressed individuals with depression relapse despite conventional management with anti-depressants. 

One of the new hypotheses for depression etiology is inflammation and several studies have been done to assess the inflammatory hypothesis of depression. 

  • Depressed patients have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and when exogenous inflammatory molecules are administered they induce a depressed state. 
  • Chronic inflammation generates what is known as sickness behavior and signs and symptoms match those of depression almost completely.
  • Depression has been described as the “brain on fire”
  • Research reveals that EPA is actually the main effective component in omega-3 treatment of depression
  • Several meta-analysis have discovered that a ratio of at least 3:1 of EPA to DHA is required for anti-depressant effectiveness.

Inflammation is also a common factor in brain disorders, including attention deficit disorder.

You can’t feel brain inflammation the way you can feel an inflamed finger from a splinter or an arthritic joint, however, brain inflammation when present can generate a foggymind, difficulty concentrating, and an inability to focus.

An excellent way to control inflammation in the brain is to maintain high levels of EPA in the blood through the consumption of a high EPA omega-3 product

Finally,

EPA is of GREAT benefit to athletes and those looking to loose weight. EPA improves body composition by accelerating fat loss and increasing muscle growth and strength; this can have important implications for athletic performance. When EPA is consumed it promotes recovery from exercise by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and soreness while also improving heart efficiency and lung function.

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Next week we’ll tackle the clinical indications of DHA and GLA 🙂

If you’d like to know specifically how omega-3s modulate joint pain and arthritis, how they can generate weight loss or how they reduce and improve symptoms of colitis, IBS or poor memory, comment on the post and I’ll reply!

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)