new_health (2006-20)

Gut Feeling

Your are what (and how) you digest

by Wendy C. Smith

Digestion seems like such an ordinary part of a body’s functionality. Everybody eats, therefore everybody digests. Who worries about digestion unless something life-threatening comes up? As it turns out, digestion is a serious issue, and many Americans have some sort of digestive problem. Digestive health is very important because the health of the gut determines the health of the body. Our bodies run on food and the nutrients it contains. If all the nutrients cannot be absorbed, our bodies are running on empty.

The first part of digestion happens in the brain. We see and smell the food. The brain gets all worked up about it and tells the mouth to release saliva and the stomach to release digestive enzymes. If we immediately gulp our food, the digestive juices have not had time to flow into place for proper processing.

The second part of eating is mastication. It is very important to thoroughly chew food. Chewing allows the food to mix with the enzymes, and some foods require that breaking down to give up their nutrients. Chewing also helps the stomach dissolve and absorb the food, which is the third part of the digestive process.

A healthy gut needs bacteria and many things can throw off the intestinal microflora balance. Diarrhea, for example, flushes the gastrointestinal tract and leaves the body deficient in beneficial bacteria and open to other infections. Eating poorly is another culprit, as are certain foods and medicines. For example, both coffee and birth control pills (because of the connection to candida) kill good bacteria. Stress and the internal chemicals it causes the body to release are damaging to beneficial bacteria. And, of course, antibiotics (helpful as they can be) do major damage to the good bacteria and, even if someone is not taking antibiotics, he/she might be ingesting them through the consumption of meats and other foods. 

Cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, kim chee and sour kraut promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately, the average American does not eat a lot of cultured foods. Probiotics, which are ingestible colonies of helpful gut flora, can be taken to balance the body if the system is off from illness or poor eating. The term probiotic means supporting life, and probiotics replace the bacteria that occur naturally in the intestines and support the body.

The digestive system needs raw foods, such as uncooked fruits, nuts and vegetables. For one, they are very nutritious, but the fiber in raw foods also helps keep the intestinal tract clean. Americans in general don’t eat enough raw foods, and diseases like IBS and Crohn’s generally start in a situation where the person is getting too little fiber. Over time, this lack of fiber can progress to a chronic condition. Adding raw foods to the diet can give some relief to these illnesses. And eating enough raw fruits, vegetables and nuts to begin with can aid in keeping these ailments at bay.

Heartburn and acid reflux are other digestive issues that cause a lot of problems for some people. Both of those can be caused by poor digestion. Eating slower and chewing thoroughly can assist in lessening the symptoms. Antacids will reduce the hydrochloric acid in the stomach, but over time can become problematic. The stomach is designed to maintain a certain acidity, and throwing off the stomach pH can cause improper digestion due to lack of acidity.

Heartburn Free , a product made from orange-peel extract, is a natural supplement that eases heartburn without promoting a pH imbalance. Along those lines, eating a few slices of organic oranges can be useful as well. For the more serious problem of acid reflux, DGL licorice (diglyerized licorice) is a very important supplement to know about. A couple tablets taken before a meal can work wonders and can lower or end dependency on prescription acid reflux medicine.        

Additionally, there are foods and supplements that aid in digestion. Port, for example, is an elegant after-dinner drink that contains enzymes that aid in digestion. Bancha tea, sipped before a meal, helps the stomach prepare itself for food. Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, is very effective in the digestion of protein.

Lactose intolerance is a problem for many people and there are several products on the market that support digestion of dairy products. There are, in fact, specific supplements for every type of food.

Food is fuel. It is also one of the greatest pleasures in life. Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious, well-prepared meal, especially with friends or family? It’s just good to remember why we are eating; that we eat to live and therefore we should try to get the most out of what we ingest. Lower consumption of sugars and processed foods. Savor the food to start the brain. Eat slowly and chew well to engage and assist the stomach. Remember, you are only as healthy as your gut.