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.
“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:
- Essential fats
- Eliminating food intolerances and allergies
- Stress relief
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.
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.
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).
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, 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.
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:
- Activity, moderate activity helps with peristalsis and gets things moving!
- Food elimination
- 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:
- Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis
- IBS and depresison
- Low energy/chronic fatigue/anemia
- 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:
- Fish oil
- Betaine acid/Vinegar
- Food sensitivity testing
- Digestive enzymes
- Food hygiene advise
- 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
- Stress relief! The body must be in parasympathetic or a relaxed state for digestion to occur.
If you want to know more, or are suffering from digestive complaints send me a message or schedule an appointment!!