Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Healthy Digestive Tract
“All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
Digestion impacts the way we feel, BIG TIME. As a result of poor digestion, we will feel uncomfortable which can translate into feeling bloated, constipated or just overall “icky.” It can impact our quality of life, for instance, not being able to fit into your favorite jeans or not wanting to attend an outing. But beyond the aesthetics and level of comfort that we may associate it with, research continues to point to digestion’s impact on overall health … just as Hippocrates alluded to.
What is most fascinating to many researchers and health professionals is the connection of our digestive tract to our brain, known as the gut-brain axis. It was previously thought that there was not a connection, but it turns out that the bacteria in our gut can access our lymphatic system. In fact, there is a complex feedback system where the gut can influence brain health and, vice versa, brain health can actually influence gut health. For instance, stress can have a negative impact on both gut and brain health by affecting brain neurotransmitters and our gut microbes. Also, a diet that contains processed foods can lead to disruptions in serotonin (our “feel good” neurotransmitter) and in turn, our gut microbiota.
Digestion is a complex topic. Some digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), have been poorly defined in the past. There are a variety of digestive symptoms that can overlap among digestive disorders, complicating the diagnosis process.
This blog post will serve as a general overview and discuss some strategies to maintain a healthy gut. Those who suspect a serious digestive disorder should consult a gastroenterologist and then work with a registered dietitian (RD) for an eating plan that suits their individual needs.
Here are two things most people can do right away for gastrointestinal health:
Take Prebiotics & Probiotics – Both good and bad bacteria reside in our gut. We need to make sure we keep the bad bacteria “in check” by promoting the beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are just that: beneficial bacteria. In order for them to thrive, they need nourishment just like humans do. That’s where prebiotics come in—they nourish the live, beneficial bacteria.
Fiber + Water – I put these two suggestions consecutively on purpose. While it’s pretty well recognized that adequate fiber promotes regularity, which by the way helps to eliminate toxins from the body, but, it is important to know that if one increases their fiber intake without subsequently increasing their water intake—it could actually worsen any existing constipation. In general, we need both soluble and insoluble fiber. Furthermore, some people may need different ratios of the two if they have an existing digestive disorder.
For more advanced support, consider these two health suggestions:
Take Digestive Enzymes – Enzymes help the body break down the food that we eat and make the nutrients from food available to our cells. Also, when food is not fully digested, it can reside in the colon and cause excess bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Support Metabolic Detoxification – Many people express interest in a “cleanse” of some sort. Did you know that there are nutrients found in food and in supplements that support our bodies’ natural detoxification process? Some examples include: cruciferous vegetables, calcium D-glucarate, chlorophyll/chlorophyllin, and milk thistle.
If you want to dig deeper into the state of your digestion, I would suggest some testing:
Screenings – Schedule a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or barium swallow study through your doctor.
Food Sensitivity Testing – Take a Food Safe Allergy test or go straight to an elimination diet.
Other diagnostic Testing – Check for celiac disease antibodies, check for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) antibodies, take a Heidelberg test for stomach acid.
About the author: Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N is a blogger & social media content specialist at Life Extension. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist residing in the South Florida area. Lapes believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease. You can see more of her blog posts by visiting http://blog.lifeextension.com and connect on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!