How’s Your Digestion?
By Dr. Jody Stanislaw Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. But how often do you actually think about the fact that the nutrients contained in the food you eat are what become your skin, your lungs, even your heart, and every other part of your body?! (You’ll think again the next time you reach for some chemical ridden processed food, won’t you?) And how can you make sure you’re absorbing the valuable nutrients contained in your food? By having great digestion! This means you have an easy and complete bowel movement first thing in the morning (and ideally after lunch and dinner as well…but if you at least have one every morning, you’re doing well), your belly feels comfortable after you eat without any bloating or pressure, and gas is a rare occurrence. So how do you rate? Digestive complaints (also referred to as GI complaints, which stands for gastrointestinal) are among the most common reasons Americans go to the doctor. Symptoms include constipation (no bowel movement for greater than 24 hours), bloating, gas, indigestion, persistent diarrhea, and/or irritable bowel syndrome. Chronic poor digestion and malabsorption of vital nutrients can contribute to degenerative diseases, compromised immune status, and nutritional deficiencies….not good things to have! So, how can you improve your digestion? Take a few of these simple steps:
- Chew! Chew! Chew!….until your food is the consistency of baby food. This makes the nutrients more absorbable. And savor each bite.
- Take a deep breath before you start your meal and throughout your meal. (If your body is in ‘action’ mode, it doesn’t make digestion a priority.)
- Eat calmly and without distractions. Same reasoning as above. Yes, that means turn the TV off! How about some nice music instead.
- Increase fresh fruits and vegetables. These gems from nature contain high amounts of fiber, a key component to assisting your body in removing toxins and ensuring you have easy and regular bowel movements. Eat a few prunes in the morning. Take an apple or fresh cut veggies to work for a snack. Eat more beans and lentils. Eat salads as often as you can. Always include a vegetable at dinnertime. Add fresh ground flax seeds to a smoothie, or sprinkle on yogurt, a salad, or any dish of your choice.
- Drink half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day…so if you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 oz of water/day. Insufficient water intake is a primary cause of constipation. Constipation then causes an imbalance in the needed bacteria in your gut, promotes inflammation of your intestines, and can even lead to the absorption of larger molecules that are meant to be excreted (a condition called ‘Leaky Gut syndrome’). Start your day with a large glass of warm water with lemon or lime juice (= a great cleansing for your gut), and drink the remainder ideally between meals.
- Exercise to stay in your optimal weight. The pressure on the digestive system of excess weight can cause that horrible pain of heartburn, which is a result of stomach acid being pushed up into your esophagus….yuk. (This can also be caused by rushing around at meal times and/or continuing to eat once you feel full….= time to put your fork down! Just say no to the ‘clean plate club.’ Listen to the actual needs of your body instead.)
- Identify if you eat foods that your body cannot digest well. Dairy products and wheat are the biggest culprits. Other common food issues can be found with corn, soy, eggs, nuts, seafood, and/or citrus. See Dr. Nicole’s article on Elimination Diets for how to identify if you have a particular food causing havoc on your digestion.
- Increase the healthy bacteria in your gut. ‘Probiotics’ are the healthy bacteria found in your gut which help to maintain intestinal health, and thus optimal digestion. Antibiotics in pill form, or which also can be found in meat and dairy products, kill these important bacteria. Good quality probiotics can be found at a reputable health food store and ideally are kept in the refrigerator. The bacteria Lactobacillus acidophillus and Bifidobacterium bifidum are two of the most beneficial strains. Eating a high quality, organic yoghurt is also effective (but make sure its not just any ole’ yogurt on the shelf because these are usually heat pasteurized which kills both the bad and good bacteria.)
So what happens if you try all of the above and are still having poor digestion? This is when I strongly recommend making an appointment with a naturopathic physician to inquiry about having a Comprehensive Stool Analysis. The one I recommend is by a lab that caters to clinics anywhere in the country, and can be found at: www.doctorsdata.com. For direct inquiries, you can email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org This test assesses the efficiency of your digestion and absorption of nutrients, the presence of inflammation in your intestines, measures the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, identifies parasites or other unwanted pathogens, and can even assess the health of your immune system. (Did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system cells are located in your gut?!) Poor digestion should be taken seriously. Less than optimal digestion and malabsorption of vital nutrients can contribute to degenerative diseases, compromised immune status, nutritional deficiencies, the development of food allergies, systemic illnesses, autoimmune disease, and toxic overload from substances that are meant to be kept in the confines of the bowel and end up in the toilet. This all makes sense if you think about if for a minute…if the nutrients you eat become the cells of your body, if what is being digested and absorbed is healthy stuff, you will likely have healthy cells. As one of the most reputable professors at my medical school always said: “The best insurance policy for good health is good digestion!”