By Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN
Gut health begins at birth when the digestive system immediately fills with trillions of bacteria. The digestive system is among the most complex, intricate and important bodily systems. When working properly, it ensures that every cell receives the nutrients that sustain life. When the digestive system is not functioning properly, the body struggles to break down, absorb and utilize nutrients, which can quickly lead to nutritional deficiencies. When digestive issues are not addressed, syndromes and diseases can result. The American diet, which tends to be low in fiber and high in sugar and processed foods, is one major reason that our digestive systems can become imbalanced. Causes of digestive problems can include:
Stress and digestion are both controlled by the autonomic nervous system. When under physical, emotional or mental stress, energy, blood, enzymes and oxygen are diverted from the digestive system to other parts of the body, which can have a major impact on digestive efficiency. Stress reduces digestive activity as the body perceives digestion as a non-essential activity during a crisis or hard physical work. Being under stress can upset the delicate balance of microflora, killing off good flora and allowing harmful pathogens to flourish.
Antibiotics can destroy beneficial intestinal bacteria and upset the delicate balance of both pathogenic and helpful microflora. Opportunistic bacteria, fungi and yeasts can become dominant, where they can damage the gut wall, create toxins and negatively affect the immune system. Too much bad and not enough good flora is a major culprit when it comes to digestive disorders and can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Poor diet and poor eating habits including processed and junk foods, low fiber diets, improper chewing and food sensitivities can lead to slow transit times, mineral depletion, indigestion, gas or bloating and toxic build up. The stomach is the great communicator. If it’s gurgling and gassy, there’s a reason why. It may be signaling a problem that is linked to bacteria, stress or the foods you eat.
Medications including prescription, OTC and anti-inflammatory remedies can irritate the stomach lining and impair digestion. Some medications can cause nerve and muscle activity to slow down in the stomach, slowing the rate that the stomach is able to empty itself. Many medications simply mask symptoms and do not get to the root cause of digestive issues. Over use of medications can damage the gut and block normal digestive function.
Genetics can influence our ability to digest food, resist disease and withstand stress. Food sensitivities such as lactose or gluten intolerance interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients and can wreak havoc on the digestive tract when not properly addressed.
Environmental toxins including chemicals and food additives require the body to detoxify, taking energy away from proper digestive function.
What happens when the digestive system work doesn’t properly? Over time, continued digestive system abuses can affect the body’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid (HCI), which is critical to the good health and function of the digestive system. HCI aids in protein digestion, activates pepsin, encourages bile flow, facilitates mineral absorption and destroys parasites, harmful bacteria and viruses. Aging, stress and infections can lead to a decrease in digestive and metabolic enzymes that break down all foods into usable states. Without proper enzymes, food cannot be broken down, forcing undigested food through the digestive tract. Imbalanced intestinal pH can also lead to incomplete digestion.
Without a healthy and efficient digestive system, many health problems are almost unavoidable. Imbalance of gut flora, intestinal toxins, and low enzyme and HCI production can all lead to leaky gut syndrome, in which improperly digested food or bacteria makes its way into the bloodstream through a breach in the intestinal wall. Leaky gut can lead to major health consequences and life threatening metabolic disorders, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis and colon cancer. An unhealthy gut contributes to diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
To keep your digestive system running smoothly, eliminate offending foods, take steps to manage stress, stay well hydrated, slow down and relax during meals, feed your intestinal flora with fiber rich foods and eat fresh, natural unrefined foods. Consider taking a probiotic to rekindle and reboot your intestinal healthy micoflora. Remember, a healthy gut is central to your overall health. Supporting your intestinal health and restoring the integrity of your gut may be two of the most important steps you can take to achieve optimal wellness. Here are some products that might help.
Digest Gold by Enzymedica is one of the most potent digestive enzyme formulas available. It is designed to assist with the digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber and to decrease the amount of energy the body uses for digestion.
Berberine HCI by Biotics Research has a long history of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine in support of gastrointestinal function. Berberine has been shown to negatively impact a wide variety of pathogenic organisms including bacteria, yeasts, fungus and parasites.
Saccharomyces Boulardii by Ortho Molecular provides 5 billion CFU of probiotic per capsule. It has been well studied for use in supporting prevention of gastrointestinal disturbances often associated with antibiotic use. Saccharomyces boulardii is also known to support the GI system during times of travel and associated intestinal issues.
Vegyzyme by Progressive Labs is a safe and natural all-vegetable digestive that works in both the acidic stomach environment and the alkaline environment of the intestines. Vegyzyme contains biologically active enzymes to aid in the digestion of proteins, fats, starches and fibrous foods.
Digest, Q. by Quantum Nutrition provides full spectrum and highly effective digestive support with plant sourced enzymes necessary for digestion of all foods especially cooked foods.