Since battling a digestive disease for the last 6 years, healthy digestion has been a major focus in my journey towards optimal function. This is a subject that most folks fail to think about until a problem arises and then they just go the doctor and slap a band-aid on the gunshot wound and keep moving forward with eating the same detrimental regimen. So in this article, along with the help from an article by Dr David Foreman, I want to touch on a few points about healthy digestion and how it plays a major role in our entire existence.
Digestive Issues: Inside the numbers
- More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, about 25 million are daily suffers
- Chronic gastrointestinal disorders plague more than 95 million Americans
- Two of the top five most widely prescribed prescription drugs in this country are for digestive disorders
- Digestion-related problems cost Americans more than 100 billion dollars annually
- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths behind lung cancer.
I would hope that these numbers grab your attention, and that you can see why we should focus on our digestive process. Optimal nutrition begins and ends with healthy digestion. Instead of “death begins in the colon” we should say “life begins in the digestive tract.”
The 4 Functions of the Digestive System
- Digestion: breaks down food into micro-particles
- Absorption: Converts nutrients into absorbable forms
- Elimination: Removes waste / toxins
- Immunity: Protects from foreign microbes either in or on your foods
The Keys to Healthy Digestion
A healthy digestive system is built on 4 Pillars: Diet, Exercise, Spirituality, and Supplementation. We know that a diet high in fiber and water and low in bad fats and refined foods will lead to a healthier digestive system. We know that exercise will improve digestion (for multiple reasons). We know that spirituality (reduction of stressors, etc) will dramatically improve the digestive process. Supplements can and do play a critical role for all of us, whether or not we have a digestive disorder.
Risk Factors for Digestive Problems
Before we get into what supplements we need, let’s take a look at what factors can increase your risk of developing digestive problems.
- Poor diet
- High Stress
- Habitual eating on the go
- Dairy Consumption
- Use of antibiotics
- Use of OTC or prescription antacids
- Health issues (diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, arthritis, depression, eating disorders, etc.)
The bottom line is this, it is believed that more than 70% of your entire immune system is based in your gut. In other words, if your gut is healthy there is a good chance that you are healthy as well. So let’s fix our digestive system!! There are a few key areas to look at in the supplement section of your local vitamin store: probiotics, digestive enzymes, fiber, cleansing supplementation are some great areas to begin.
In short, probiotics are a friendly bacteria that are found in your digestive system. They serve two purposes: they complete the digestive process and help protect against pathogens (disease-causing bacteria, fungus, yeast, etc.) found in your food. Without enough of these beneficial bacteria, you will be unable fully digest your food particles into “micro” particles, or convert some of those nutrients in the absorbable or usable forms that the body needs. Probiotics are essential for the absorption of nutrients, and also help the body to synthesize Vitamin B and K, absorb minerals and digest proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber. Throw in the benefits to your immune system and we have a winner. Probiotics are depleted by stress, aging, high carbohydrate diets, antibiotic use and also by consuming non-purified water and non-organic foods. Lack of proper levels of probiotics can also lead to overgrowth of E.coli and H.pylori.
Digestive enzymes are used to help support the breakdown of your foods. I often estimate that 70+% of your body’s energy goes into digesting foods. Coming up short on enough digestive enzymes will lead to nutrient depletion, and having foods particles go through your system undigested. this can lead to problems such as toxin buildup, flatulence, odor issues, allergies, sensitivities and more. The primary digestive enzymes are: protease (for proteins), amylase (starches), lipase (fats), cellulase (plant cell membranes). There are also targeted enzymes available for specific needs, such as lactase for lactose intolerance.
Fiber should never be overlooked. The average diet contains around 20 grams of fiber each day yet we should be consuming 35+ grams per day. Fiber can help you manage your weight, balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol, keep your digestive tract clean, decrease constipation and diarrhea, and improve immune function, reduce your risk of heart attack and much more than is listed here. Fiber can be described as a toothbrush of the colon. Regardless, fiber is another critical component in digestive system health. If you cant get enough fiber from your diet (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.) then you need to supplement. The most popular fiber sources are psyllium and flax seeds. You can also find chia seeds, inulin and glucomannan at your local vitamin store. All of these are great fiber sources but I prefer flax and chia seeds.
Cleansing is something that often gets overlooked with regard to digestive maintenance and care. Colon cleansing and liver cleansing will help keep your colon, liver, and gallbladder clean and functional. We need to cleanse all systems, but for those with digestive issues, periodic colon and liver cleansing is even more important. Cleansing will help eliminate the buildup of environmental toxins, metals, airborne chemicals, water and foods we consume. Cleansing will help improve energy, digestive function, immune function, nervous system function, hormonal balance, sleep, skin and a whole lot more!!!
Finally, there are many other supplements that support healthy digestion. Many of these can be purchased separately (or in combination formula) to address your specific digestive issues. Here is a short list to get you started.
- Ginger: indigestion
- Slippery Elm: soothing
- DGL: heartburn and acid reflux
- Dandelion: constipation, indigestion
- Mastic Gum: heartburn and acid reflux
- Peppermint: indigestion, cramping, gas
- Magnesium: safe and effective for constipation
- Aloe: soothes inflammation and helps with constipation