How much does digestion affect health? The truth is, digestion has a profound impact on how well you feel and how everything in your body functions. Everything you consume will ultimately have an effect on your well-being. Throughout the history of time, knowledgeable practitioners and health professionals have understood that a healthy gut supports our entire foundation of wellness.
If we can’t digest our food and if our food isn’t real or recognizable by the body, the digestive tract function will eventually become impaired. As a result, all organ systems in our bodies will begin to malfunction.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride has done an extensive amount of research on this organ system and how it affects other organ systems. She has seen first hand in her clinical experiences for many years the link between what we consume and how it affects the performance of our digestive tracts. From personal experience in finding treatment for her own son who was diagnosed with autism many years ago, she made the connection that no body system functions in isolation and that everything is connected.
She also believes the connection between mood disorders / mental illness and digestive compromise is undeniable:
“Most psychiatric patients suffer from digestive problems. They have unhealthy inner ecosystems where there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast and fungus; they cannot digest food properly. This creates a large number of neurotoxins that can move from their intestines through the damaged intestinal lining into the blood stream where the toxins are carried to the brain.”
In her research, she discovered that most modern illnesses can be linked back to the state of health in the digestive tract.
“When a baby is born, it acquires the flora of the mother during its passage through the birth canal. If the mother has a history of antibiotic or contraceptive use and poor digestive health, her flora will likely be unhealthy. If she does not breast-feed her baby, the gut flora of the child will be further compromised. The infant will often develop digestive problems such as colic, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, feeding difficulties, intestinal damage and malnourishment very early in life and is typically afflicted by a host of allergies. The child usually has frequent ear infections treated with many rounds of antibiotics, which only make the situation worse.”
Genetic history, gender, the state of nutrition prior to conception in the parents, medication and drugs, and environmental factors also play a significant role in the development of disease. Without a doubt, the digestive tract is one of the primary mechanisms through which these factors can allow such developments to manifest themselves as symptoms and illness.
With high disease and illness levels present in the world, we are now understanding the connection to digestive health to many disorders – even though on the surface they may seem unrelated.
Here are some tips for successful digestive function and health:
Limit beverage intake while eating. Most overeating occurs because of dehydration, so hydrate before and after you eat – 1/2 hour before and 1 to 2 hours after eating. If you do drink with meals, try something warm that will aid digestion such as peppermint or ginger tea. Keep liquid intake to about 4 ounces during meal. Kombucha and bone broths are extremely healing to help optimize mineral levels, reduce dehydration and other health issues. Too much liquid dilutes hydrochloric acid production in the stomach and can diminish the digestive tract’s ability to properly digest food you eat. If your hydrochloric acid production is low due to poor dietary habits, consider taking a hydrochloric acid supplement such as Betaine from Premier Research Labs or Betaine HCI Pepsin by Pure Encapsulations.
Avoid processed, packaged, and prepared foods, including refined foods with sugar. Sugar weakens the digestive tract and lowers immune system function. If you tend not to engage in food preparation or cooking at home, consider doing this more in the future. Prepared and processed foods typically contain preservatives, chemicals, toxins, and have been altered in some way as to make nutrients dead and unavailable to the body. Real food prepared from scratch at home will support your digestive tract and health optimally.
Eliminate trans fats, hydrogenated and polyunsaturated oils that may be high-heat treated during processing including soybean, canola, cottonseed, corn, peanut, sunflower (unless cold-pressed and organic) or safflower. Replace with butter, lard, and tallow from healthy animals on pasture, coconut oil (for high heat cooking), and raw oils like pumpkin seed olive oil for raw consumption (great for salads).
Replace conventional and industrial sources of protein and meat with grass-fed meat and meat products. Instead of conventional eggs and poultry, switch to pasture-raised poultry and eggs. Meats, poultry, and eggs from healthy animals and birds on pasture are not treated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals. They are also from environments using organic and sustainable practices, and by their very growing methods contain more essential nutrients for health.
Eat raw dairy from healthy cows on pasture – milk, butter, cheese, cream, yogurt, buttermilk, buttermilk and sour cream.
Take an Omega 3 supplement daily – cod liver oil is best in winter. Try Green Pasture Products fermented cod liver oil. Fermented cod liver oil is also the most potent source of natural Vitamins A and D – critical nutrients in maintaining general health.
If you eat grains, consider eliminating these from your diet for a period of time. Wheat, which is normally the most processed and causes the most allergies/health problems. If you don’t plan to eliminate grains want to try wheat alternatives, consider whole, soaked and/or sprouted grains including amaranth, spelt, quinoa, millet, kamut or buckwheat. Try to keep to 1-2 servings or less per week, and consider eliminating altogether if you have a chronic problem. Elimination of grains for a period of time can help eliminate bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, candida syndrome, and other more serious problems like IBS or Crohn’s Disease.
Consume probiotic, fermented foods: kefir and real yogurt made from raw milk, cultured vegetables, and sauerkraut.
Consume bone broths made from home-made stock from healthy birds and animals on pasture. Bone broths are easily digestible and are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals that will heal your body.
Consume vegetables cooked and with traditional fats from healthy animals on pasture such as butter, ghee, lard, tallow, or bacon drippings. The fat-soluble vitamins present in healthy fats help to digest and assimilate vegetables into your body more efficiently.
Raw juicing with plenty of greens is a good way to detox and receive bio-available nutrients including enzymes, vitamins and minerals. When juicing, avoid high glycemic choices such as carrots and beets. For a good guide to juicing, read Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
Avoid soy unless fermented such as miso or tempeh. Do not eat soy cheese, milk, or soy proteins. These foods are all processed and soy contains phytic acid which inhibits the absorption of minerals and nutrients into the body. Soy also contains estrogen which can be harmful in excess and especially for men and boy’s reproductive systems.
Drink filtered water regularly. Another good way to stay hydrated is to add unsweetened, not-from-concentrate organic cranberry juice (and lemon juice) to your water. These are excellent detoxifiers and promote healing.
Create a relaxed and stress-free mealtime environment. If you are anxious or upset, avoid eating until you can take a step back and become calm.
Take a therapeutic probiotic daily. Recommended brands include MegaSporeBiotic, BioKult, Advanced Naturals and Complete Probiotics by Dr. Mercola. As you have trillions of cells in your body, you cannot overdose on these friendly bacteria which are one of the most critical keys to good health and proper digestion.
Avoid genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the foods you consume and other products you use. Read 4 Ways to Avoid Consuming GMOs.
If you have experienced a compromised immune system and digestion due to less-than optimal and other factors, here are some recommendations to help heal your gut:
One of the best ways to heal your gut from the effects of a lifetime of poor dietary habits is the GAPS diet as recommended by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. For more information, visit the GAPS web site.
You may want to consider taking a digestive enzyme for additional support for digestion. Some brands available from the health food store which are good include Enzorb by Sun Warrior and Digest by Premier Research Labs. For more specific and potent support, ask a qualified health professional who has access to professional line of digestive enzymes. Some practitioners can recommend powerful enzymes not available on the mainstream market, and depending on individual need, this type of product may be appropriate.
You may need additional fiber in your diet for a period of time to help overcome issues you are experiencing as a result of poor dietary habits. Recommended products include Colon Plus by Biotics Research or Gastro-Fiber by Standard Process. Or, consult a knowledgeable practitioner who can recommend the right product.
Use aloe vera daily. Drinking liquid aloe vera is very soothing and helps heal the digestive tract of a variety of disorders. Aloe vera encourages the bowels to move more efficiently and effectively, and is a great detoxifying agent. Recommended brands are George’s and Country Life. Drink 2-3 ounces of aloe vera in the morning at least a half an hour before breakfast and between meals (two hours after eating) for maximum benefit.
Foods that do not digest properly such as packaged and processed foods can cause digestive issues. As much as possible, avoid and eliminate.
- Ongoing or chronic stress can result in overgrowth of harmful bacteria and digestive disorders as well as lethargy, mood disorders, and other issues. Identify and eliminate stress as much as possible and find ways to engage in relaxation, meditation, prayer and rest regularly.
You may want to consider a detoxification protocol to help heal your gut. A knowledgeable practitioner who has experience in this area can help you determine which protocol is optimal for you.
Cover image by Billy Williams https://unsplash.com/photos/8wz1Q4Q_XAg