When it comes to health and wellness, digestive health is vitally important. Those that are proactive and take control of their digestive health will realize significant improvement in overall health and quality of life … and retailers can play a part.
That said, retailers must understand the digestive health basics to provide the very best direction to their customers. Optimal digestive health is the body’s ability to break down, absorb and use nutrients. It is also the body’s ability to effectively eliminate waste in a way that optimizes health. Those with good digestive health don’t normally experience certain digestive conditions including constipation, diarrhea and heartburn, among others. People can achieve ideal digestive health by eating a nutritionally sound diet, supplementing and exercising.
One statement that has always resonated with me was made by a health professional on my radio show, who said, “Health begins in the gut.” Better digestive health equals better overall health—period. The digestive tract is exposed to more than 60 tons of food during a lifetime, and its lining is one of the body’s first lines of defense against toxins and infections from harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. Moreover, the digestive tract is a crucial aspect of the immune system, and many fail to realize that poor digestion dramatically impacts quality of life.
As previously mentioned, eating a nutritionally sound diet will promote digestive health. Living in an age of processed foods and foods loaded with sugar, we don’t eat enough fiber, fruits and vegetables. Consuming a diet that is high in fiber and rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits will significantly improve digestive health. A high-fiber diet allows food to move more efficiently through the digestive tract, which helps with constipation. Also, a high-fiber diet will prevent unpleasant digestive conditions including diverticulosis, hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many fail to realize that a high-fiber diet can also help achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Another critical nutritional element to boost digestive health is to limit foods that are high in fat, as fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, which may promote constipation. However, it is very important to consume healthy fats, which when consumed with high-fiber foods, will have a positive impact on the digestive system.
Furthermore, protein is an essential part of a healthful diet and should be included for ideal digestive health. Be sure to eat lean meats, not fatty cuts of meat, which may lead to digestion problems. Lean meats include skinless turkey, fish and chicken, among others.
When a diet is lacking the right foods, supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes is a great place to start. And where better to find them than with a trusted retailer?
Probiotics: There are many foods that contain probiotic bacteria, all of which can be found in health food stores nationwide. Yogurt is perhaps the best-known food that contains probiotics; kefir, fermented vegetables and some cheeses are examples of other probiotic foods. The good bacteria contained in probiotic foods will help establish or maintain a population of “beneficial” bacteria in the gut that will keep the gut in balance.
There are also many probiotic supplements on the market that contain a different balance of good bacteria for both the large and small intestines. They include probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These microorganisms are found in large numbers in the normal healthy intestine. Retail staff should understand the different strains that are available, potency, etc., as all probiotics are not created equal.
Research on digestive health and its influence on overall human health is growing. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of the population suffers from significant gut symptoms, including problems with stool and abdominal pain and discomfort.1 Current research supports a number of health benefits of probiotics and fiber for improved gastrointestinal (GI) health, as well as for helping with immune function.2-4
Digestive Enzymes: While healthy foods provide the foundation for optimal health and vitality, even the healthiest foods are of little use if they are not properly digested. As we age, normal digestion slows down, inhibiting the ability to process vital nutrients for use throughout the body.5
If the body cannot extract all the nutrients from food, overall health will begin to falter and can result in a wide range of unwelcome digestive health maladies. These problems are often caused by the decreasing levels of digestive enzymes that facilitate the crucial breakdown of food in the digestive tract.6-8
People can only get the full benefit of food and nutritional supplements if the body has enough enzymes to properly digest and absorb the nutrients. However, many digestive enzymes are found only in raw foods. With processed foods being so prevalent, most of us will eat little, if any, raw food. People shop for enzymes in health food stores to increase digestive enzyme levels in the body, which dramatically improves digestive health. Understanding the competitive landscape will go a long way with your customers.
Exercise & Digestion: Allies in Health
Exercise and its profound benefits on health have been widely documented in the mainstream media for many years.However, how many people truly understand the impact that exercise has on gut health? Exercise and digestion truly are partners in health. The normal digestion process takes between 24 and 72 hours. That said, exercise will help improve the efficiency of the digestive process, as well as help to maintain a healthy weight. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James and Phyllis Balch, regular exercise improves digestion and elimination.9 Let’s take a closer look at this.
The digestive system is made up of organs that help the body change food into smaller molecules of nutrients. These nutrients are absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body.When the digestive system breaks down, it results in gastrointestinal distress.
For example, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, more than four million Americans suffer from constipation. This is most commonly caused by a lack of fiber in the diet and a lack of physical activity. That said, one can prevent this uncomfortable condition by incorporating simple lifestyle changes as follows:
• Consume 20-35 g of fiber daily (beans, fresh fruits, whole grain breads and vegetables). Also, limit foods with little fiber, including ice cream and cheese.
• Exercise two hours after a meal. Most people do resistance training to sculpt the body and stimulate metabolism. However, weight-bearing exercise has also been shown to impact bowel function. When one performs weightbearing exercise on their feet, the abdominals are forced to stabilize the spine, which creates pressure within the abdominal cavity. This abdominal pressure is responsible for simulating many internal organs, which aids in moving food through the digestive tract.
Another example of a widespread gastrointestinal disorder is heartburn. According to the National Heartburn Alliance, 60 million Americans suffer from this burning discomfort. The condition is closely related to the digestive system and the primary symptom of GERD. Certain exercises can reduce heartburn including:
• Using a Stairmaster or riding a stationary bike
• Yoga for flexibility and stress reduction
• Pilates for core strength When the topic of digestive health comes up, I often encounter a certain degree of ignorance. Before I truly became a health and wellness advocate, I didn’t have a clue about the importance of digestive health. The numbers are staggering.
Eighty million Americans suffer from daily digestive problems. Statistics show that more than $100 billion is spent annually on medical treatment for digestive problems including $10 billion for over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription antacids. Heartburn drugs have become the top-selling OTC and prescription medication in the U.S. While these medications may treat the symptoms, they fail to address the underlying and systemic issues plaguing the millions of Americans who seek relief. This is where natural products retailers can truly make a difference.
The very best retailers need to embrace a proactive approach to digestive health. Talk to customers about taking control of their digestive health. Your customers will see vast improvement in overall health and, more importantly, quality of life.
1 National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (NIH Publication 07-693). Bethesda, MD. 2007.
2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Health and nutritional properties of probiotics in food including powder milk with live lactic acid bacteria. 2001.
3 Macfarlane GT, Cummings JH. Probiotics, infection and immunity. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2002. 15(5):501-506.
4 Van Loo JA. Prebiotics promote good health. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2004. 38 (SuppI 2): S70-S75.
5 Brownie S. Why are elderly individuals at risk of nutritional deficiency? Int J Nurs Pract. 2006 Apr;12(2):110-18.
6 Pirlich M, Lochs H. Nutrition in the elderly. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2001 Dec;15(6):869-84.
7 Guslandi M, Pellegrini A, Sorghi M. Gastric mucosal defences in the elderly. Gerontology. 1999 Jul;45(4):206-8.
8 Hurwitz A, Brady DA, Schaal SE, et al. Gastric acidity in older adults. JAMA. 1997 Aug 27;278(8):659-62.
9 Prescription for Nutritional Healing. James F. Balch, Phyllis A. Balch; 1997.
Mark Becker has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. He has written more than 250 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive supplement regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Check out his website at www.energyatlast.com, “like” him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ marklbecker and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark.