The low down on Gut Health-
We are what we absorb!
Having irregular bowels and digestive imbalances is such a huge problem that is becoming more common amongst Australians. I see and hear it almost every day, somebody discussing digestive disturbances or a symptom that is caused by an impaired digestive system. There are so many diseases & conditions that research is now linking back to gut health. The problem is, I don’t think the majority of people understand the importance of a healthy digestive system. Many individuals rely on laxatives & enemas, or think that bloating, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, heartburn and burping is ‘normal’. I was one of these individuals growing up.
At least 60% of our immune system is in our gut and approximately 80% of disease is caused by impaired digestive function. Every tissue in our bodies are fed by our blood, which is supplied by our intestinal system. If our intestines become dirty, the blood becomes dirty and then so does our organs, tissues and cells… Can you see where I am going with this one?
Some common causes of poor digestion-
1- Dehydration: We lose water from our bodies everyday through urination, sweat, body processes, bowel motions and cellular movement. It is crucial for us to replace this water. For normal physiological and digestive processes to occur, we need an adequate amount to be consumed every day. I recommend at LEAST half our body weight per day (kilograms x 0.033= how much WATER to drink in litres). This does not mean sugary, caffeinated beverages!
2- Toxicity: Another cause of sluggish digestion is due to a toxic bowel. Everything we put in our mouths affects our stomach, small intestine and colon. When these substances and their by-products are toxic, they go on to damage our intestinal walls and cells and intoxicate our blood streams. Toxicity can be caused by numerous amounts of culprits; processed refined food consumption, low fibre foods, tap water, food allergies, caffeine, drug use, environmental toxins and so on. The catch 22 is then how these toxins can initiate a whole other side of gastrointestinal disturbances such as; low production of hydrochloric acid and enzyme production, imbalanced intestinal pH, bacterial overgrowth and parasites, imbalance of gut flora and leaky gut syndrome. French researchers Jean Robert Rapin and Nicolas Wiernsperger sought to raise awareness of the significance of intestinal permeability in disease among the medical and scientific communities. Their 2010 research publication reviews published literature on intestinal permeability and identifies examples of pathological consequences of intestinal barrier function. It draws attention to the significant impact of increased intestinal permeability and disease.
3- Stress: Stress of all kinds, physical, emotional and mental are primary causes of poor digestion. Stress disrupts digestion by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response), which leads to a decrease in our digestive processes. Our survival mechanisms divert all energy, blood, oxygen and enzymes away from our digestive organs (its not a main priority in this moment), to other areas of the body. In addition to emotional stressors such as anxiety, anger, fear and physical stressors such as infections, trauma, injuries and surgery, these all have a significant effect on digestive efficacy.
4- Exercise & Eating Habits: Regular activity assists in keeping bowels healthy and flowing, aiding digestion and peristalsis. People who do not move enough tend to get constipated. Certain eating habits can impact our digestive systems and we may be totally unaware of the effects. It is important to take the time to sit and enjoy a meal without feeling rushed, stressed or having too many stimulants occurring, along with chewing your food properly; parasites and detrimental bacteria love undigested proteins and sugars. Food combining can also play a fundamental role on digestion. Fruits should be eaten alone since they are high in enzymes and only take a short period to travel through our systems. When eaten with a dense meal, that requires longer transit time, the fruit will ferment and cause gastric distress. Combining proteins, with high starches also has an impact.
Over time, digestion will become progressively challenged. It is important to start listening to your body and being mindful of what is entering one end and not being excreted at the other. We are what we eat….we are what we don’t excrete!
o Don’t watch the news or tv whilst you eat. Any excitement, emotion can shut down that digestive system!
o Chew your food until it is liquefied
o Drink 1-2 glasses of water 15 minutes before your meal (not with your meal), and avoid consuming too much liquid with meals. Stay hydrated during the day (at least half your body weight needs to be consumed of water remember?).
o Eat as much minimally processed whole foods as possible
o Eat smaller meals where possible, it takes the strain and overload off the digestive system
o Whenever possible, start your meal with live foods (for enzyme support) such as bitter leafy greens, fresh sprouts, sauerkraut or kefir.
o Avoid dehydrated, dead foods where possible.
o Avoid alcohol and sugary substances before and during meals. Elevating blood sugar levels can produce an insulin surge causing hormonal disturbances.
o Avoid processed foods and foods that are nutrient and enzyme deficient.
o Get moving, regular exercise at least 20 minutes per day