Digestion and Health: Understand the Connection and Take These Seven Easy Steps To Vibrant Health

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We have all heard the old saying “You are what you eat.” It would be more accurate – but a lot less catchy! – to say “You are only as healthy as what you eat, absorb, metabolize, and excrete.” Which means, essentially, that you can’t be optimally healthy with an unhealthy diet or with an unhealthy digestive tract.

Many people have difficulty understanding the connection between the digestive tract and overall health, and with other problems like allergies, asthma, autoimmune disease, headaches and migraine headaches, chronic inflammatory diseases, even high cholesterol.

Even gastroenterologists don’t specialize in the health of the gastrointestinal tract. They too focus on s that GI diseases of the digestive tract. The whole medical system considers only drugs and surgery to be “real treatments.” They’ve forgotten Hippocrates original command in medicine to “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine your food.”

UNDERSTANDING YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT
Your digestive tract is influenced not only by diet but also by stress, medications (which usually don’t make your gut healthier) and other factors that change how your GI tract works, as well as the levels of bacteria in your gut. The digestive tract is unique: of all the organ systems in your body, only the GI tract has its own separate and enormous immune system that is separate from, but interacts with, the immune system of the rest of the body; it has it’s own vast, separate nervous system; it interacts with the outside world (the food you eat); all the blood from the digestive tract is monitored and filtered by the liver before it enters the rest of your bloodstream; and the digestive tract is host to literally billions of bacteria that are essential to your health!

Because of the intimate relationship between the GI tract and the bloodstream, the state of the digestive is one of the most important influences on health. If the food you eat contains toxins (like hormones in meat, pesticides in produce, mold in leftovers, or if you ingest a poison) your liver has to deal with these – and if you are healthy, and these toxins occur in small amounts, it’s not too much of a problem. If the bacteria (called “flora”) in your gut are made up of too many “bad guys” (called “unfriendly GI flora”) and not enough “good guys” (called “friendly flora”), you can produce toxins from even the healthiest foods, and this can overwhelm your liver’s capacity to neutralize problem toxins. Unfortunately, many people wear out their liver by eating an unhealthy diet, relying too heavily on medication and not maintaining healthy GI flora (and, in more than a few cases, drinking too much.)

MAKING THE DIGESTION CONNECTION
There are many, many ways that improving the health of your digestive tract could help remove symptoms that appear to have nothing to do with the digestive tract. Let’s examine one.

Consider the case of someone who gets frequent headaches. Let’s say, also, that this person is constipated – they only have a BM a couple times per week. And, their diet is full of a lot of dairy and wheat (macaroni and cheese, pizza, cereal with milk) and probably meat too (hot dogs, hamburgers, and the like.)

The normal approach to this problem is to take aspirin or a pain-killer for the headaches. However, there are many ways that this person’s unhealthy digestive tract and their constipation might be contributing to, or causing, their headache problem.

Constipation is unhealthy, but feeling lousy is stressful too! The stress of feeling lousy and backed up could make headaches worse. Remember, the more time it takes for your food to pass through your digestive tract, the more toxins are absorbed and sent to your liver? Having a lot of these waste products in your bloodstream (if your liver can’t deal with them all at once) makes you feel awful, and tired, and sluggish. A normal number of BMs differs from person to person, but a healthy range is probably between once to twice per day. When your digestive tract is sluggish and things are just sitting there, it’s unhealthy. And those headaches could be a sign of an unhealthy gut.

SOLVING THE DIGESTION AND HEALTH PUZZLE

Instead of treating the headaches symptom with drugs, a more holistic approach should include a way to make sure that this person has more regular bowel function. This way, we can find out if there’s a relationship between the constipation problem and the headaches.

First, just because it’s healthy, and to try to help digestion, this person should cut way back on white flour, white rice, dairy, and meat, and eat a lot more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. What does this accomplish? Changing from a diet high in “binding” foods to a diet high in fiber and water helps keep you regular. As a side benefit, this diet will be higher in minerals and vitamins, and much lower in saturated fat, which will probably help control cholesterol levels. The increased fiber helps to feed the friendly flora (bacteria) in the gut, and the healthy bacteria then fight off the bad bacteria (and yeast.) All of this results in more frequent bowel movements, so the body eliminates more efficiently and those toxins don’t build up, and our friend with constipation and headaches probably now has a lot less of both!

If you’re wondering: “I thought you said digestion was important! This is just a change of diet.” You’re right – but, diet is one of the most important ways to help digestion. What are some others? Exercise, even small amounts, helps digestion. Some people choose to take supplemental fiber, which is fine as long as you also get it from your diet. Cutting back on excessive alcohol, salt, fatty and fried foods can help digestion work more smoothly. Magnesium, a mineral that many people don’t get enough of, can act as a natural laxative (and, if taken over a long period of time, can make your heart, nervous system, and musculoskeletal system more healthy.) Something as simple as chewing food more thoroughly, and eating more slowly, is one of the absolute best ways to improve digestion!

Improving the health of your digestive tract, however, does not require taking expensive or esoteric supplements. Here are the simplest, and most effective ways to improve your digestive health

:HEALTHY DIGESTION IN SIX EASY STEPS

1) Don’t eat when you are upset or under stress.

2) Don’t overeat: stop when you feel about 80% full.

3) Chew your food thoroughly and eat slowly. This will help you to avoid overeating, and helps break down your food before it even gets to your stomach. A minimum of 15 chews per mouthful is a place to start.

4) Make sure your diet contains plenty of foods that come from plants and are close to their original state (minimally processed): Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains, Beans, and Nuts. These foods contain essential fiber that help keep things moving and that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut (not to mention that it helps protect you from cancer and heart disease.) You can also supplement your diet with fiber – I think the best source is ground organic flax seed powder.

5.) Exercise! Even a little bit helps. Walking is an ideal exercise. Also, don’t try to do too much. If you’re not used to exercising, start with small steps. (On the other hand, you’ll probably have to push yourself. Don’t try to do too much, but too little won’t help either.)

6) Drink plenty of water. Drinking enough water allows fiber to work properly, and is another way to avoid overeating. Soda, coffee, tea, and alcohol do not count as water! Juice counts as half water. If you don’t like water, try seltzer (bubbly water.) And remember, your body is 70% water, so you should try to find a way to like it!

Remember, you can never go wrong making your digestive tract healthier!

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