If we have learned anything about good health over the past 50 years, it is that optimal health begins in the gut. It is projected that 70 percent of your immune system cells reside in the digestive tract and that many chronic conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, may be directly linked to poor digestion.
Lifestyle factors can play a significant role in how healthy or unhealthy your gastrointestinal tract is. Such things as stress eating, too many processed foods, fried foods, and excess sugar all contribute to an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria, which ultimately leads to digestive disorders and eventually disease.
You can take nutritional supplements, exercise, eat well, and get adequate rest, but without optimal digestion, you cannot be healthy. The digestive system is not like a mailbox where the food dropped in automatically reaches its destination. It has to be well-nourished and free of the assaults of an unhealthy diet. It must produce a series of well-coordinated secretions. And very importantly, it requires the right balance of bacteria. Only then will it be able to absorb the nutrients you need to achieve optimal health.
It is easy to weaken the digestive system. Americans have proven this. The statistics don’t lie, gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders continue to be one of the leading reasons why people go to see a family doctor or gastroenterologist. If you have been insulting your digestive tract with overeating, inadequate chewing of food, alcohol, coffee, smoking, sugar, white flour, a lack of fiber, antibiotics, or eating under stress, you may have already significantly weakened your digestive ability. Many people think they have a “cast-iron stomach” and eat as they please. The stomach and the rest of the GI tract do not respond well to repeated insults. Many ailments can be caused or worsened by poor digestive function: these can include diverticulosis, osteoporosis, poor immune function with frequent infections, asthma, ulcers, heart disease, arthritis, and food allergies, to name a few. Today there are physicians and other natural health professionals who are educated in lifestyle or functional medicine and fully understand and appreciate that optimal health begins in the digestive tract.
Food goes through many steps before you digest and absorb it:
- You chew it adequately.
- Your digestive system secretes the right substances in the right amounts (stomach acid, buffers, enzymes from your pancreas, bile from your liver/gallbladder).
- The wall of your small intestine facilitates the absorption of nutrients while keeping out pathogens.
- The liver and GI intestinal lining transfer and metabolize nutrients so your body can use them.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CONSTIPATION AND LACK OF FIBER IN YOUR DIET
Being constipated means your bowel movements are difficult or happen less often than usual. Almost everyone goes through it at some point. However, constipation can have causes that are not due to underlying disease. Examples include dehydration, lack of dietary fiber, physical inactivity, or prescription medication side effects. There is an increased incidence of constipation in aging adults who have poor gastrointestinal peristalsis movement, which can increase the risk for bowel obstruction or other serious complications. Constipation can be easily solved in most cases by avoiding refined white flours and increasing whole grain, vegetables, fruits, nut, and seed consumption. Do not use laxatives regularly. Overuse causes the bowel to get accustomed to it, and this can cause long term issues as the bowel will become weaker and create dependency. Increasing fiber in the diet, drinking more water, consuming flax oil, increasing magnesium intake, exercising, and checking for low thyroid function are the best ways to solve and prevent this problem.
THE RIGHT BACTERIA
You have one hundred trillion bacteria in your GI tract, more than the number of cells in your body. The kind of bacteria you house plays a large part in determining how healthy you are. Friendly bacteria keep the immune system strong and the digestive system functioning smoothly. The wrong bacteria or bad bacteria set the stage for disease. Friendly bacteria are always in the minority in the GI tract, but enough of them will keep the less beneficial forms that are still present from causing problems. Beneficial good bacteria from high-quality pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements with the proper intestinal strains and in therapeutic amounts of acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and lactobacillus can help the body absorb all of the nutrients in food and supplements, help eliminate overgrowth of the small bowel or candida yeast or fungal forms, decrease cancer risk, lower cholesterol, boost the immune system, reduce constipation, gas and bloating, relieve skin problems and allergies, and even help prevent travelers diarrhea.
ANTIBIOTICS AND THE DIGESTIVE TRACT
Antibiotics are considered to be overprescribed in standard medical practice across the country. Antibiotics are very effective when you have an acute bacterial infection, but totally ineffective when you have a virus or viral syndrome. Antibiotics upset the population of the bacteria in the GI tract. They also thin the wall or lining of the intestinal tract, which can result in decreased integrity and function of the small intestine. Always combine antibiotic therapy with a high-quality pharmaceutical grade probiotic formulation to keep the ideal balance of good bacteria in the gut.
NUTRIENTS FOR THE HEALTH OF THE DIGESTIVE TRACT
By making necessary lifestyle changes and adding in targeted nutritional supplements, the digestive system will respond by decreasing or eliminating symptoms and improving your health. A wide selection of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements are needed for a healthy GI tract. Interestingly enough, many of the cells of the digestive tract live only seven days! They need many of the right nutrients at the right time to reproduce quickly and without an error in cell reproduction that can lead to serious diseases like cancer, for example. Besides probiotics, other highly touted supplements have proven to be very effective at healing the digestive system without side effects commonly seen with prescription drugs.
Here are a few you may want to consider trying:
- Digestive enzymes – this supplement combines protease, lipase, and amylase, which break down protein, fats, and carbohydrates into fine particles, so the body can absorb what it needs.
- Ginger – this well- known herb has many properties for healing but can be very helpful for improved digestion. It can also reduce inflammation.
- Zinc – this trace mineral is vital for the health of the entire GI system. It is needed by ulcer sufferers, especially those who have been taking histamine blocking agents like Zantac, Pepcid, or Tagamet. These meds reduce stomach acid levels, which in turn limits zinc absorption. Without zinc, ulcers cannot generally heal.
- Glutamine – this is an amino acid that is one of the most essential nutrients for healing the digestive tract. It has been proven to help with ulcers, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases like chron’s and ulcerative colitis, and all forms of intestinal repair.
- Pyloricil – The key ingredient in this product is called mastica or mastic gum, derived from a pistachio nut. This ingredient has been highly endorsed by Dr. Leo Galland M.D., a well-known leader in holistic medicine and best selling author of the book “ The 4 Pillars of Healing”. This product has proven to help support those diagnosed with GERD, IBS, and peptic ulcers.
- Gut Restorative PRP – this unique formulation includes bovine colostrum with immunoglobulins, proline-rich polypeptides, and lactoferrin, which together help to rebuild the digestive tract for optimal absorption of nutrients.
When it comes to how best to manage digestive disorders and their associated symptoms, you have many therapeutic choices. Sometimes, standard medications are best, but, many times, changes in behavior and taking supplements can be equally effective in improving digestion for optimal health without the long-term side effects.