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Thoughts to Digest
There is a lot more talk about our digestive systems these days. How many of us know someone who has a food sensitivity or has been told they have “irritable bowel syndrome” – that irritating condition where you know something isn’t quite right but no one seems to know exactly why that is? More research and understanding is being conducted in an effort to elucidate how our digestive system works and how it can affect our overall health. We used to think digestive problems only caused symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, bloating and stomach pain. We now know that poor digestion not only affects that system but can cause skin issues, fatigue, the dreaded ‘run down’ feeling, headaches and low energy. It seems our tummy problems have gotten a lot more complicated over the years, but there are simple things that we can do to keep everything on track and moving smoothly.
First off, let’s talk about what is going on after we chew and swallow. Proper digestion is like a good recipe; it needs the right mix of all the ingredients. That means your system needs enough enzymes to help break down your food, the right amount of stomach acid to help those enzymes work and good healthy bacteria to keep that process going and support our immune systems. Once that process is done, only the small broken down nutrients are able to be absorbed into our blood for us to use, while the rest of our food is kept in the intestines because the cells lining the intestinal tract are nice and tight. As we get older and go through life, the stress we put ourselves through, either from what we eat or the day to day grind, causes inflammation in the system. That inflammation can cause the cells to swell and so the spaces in between get larger, which lets larger food particles be absorbed and aggravates our immune system.
We live in a world of constant stimulation and are on the go a lot, which is how fast food and to-go packaging became standard issue. Now it is time to take it back. Mindful eating is helpful in so many ways. First it has been said that the digestive tract has more nerves than your brain! That means when you are stressed at work, in the car, at home watching the news etc. everything in your gut is tightening up. Stress causes the body to release adrenalin, which is great if you are running away from someone but not if you are trying to have a nice meal. Being relaxed while you eat and eating slowly helps to reset the body into a parasympathetic, or rest and digest mode, meaning better circulation to your stomach and better digestion.
We have all heard the basics of eating well – more vegetables, less junk food, smaller regular meals. That being said, everyone is just a little bit different so you need to eat well for your needs. Making sure you get enough of each nutrient is as important as making sure the food you like to eat likes you back. If you are eating certain foods and just not feeling quite right, it might be time to look into food allergy or food sensitivity testing.
Another aspect in eating well is making sure you eat when hungry and knowing when to stop. Overeating can stress the body and the stomach can only handle so much at one time. Knowing the signals of hunger – such as a growling stomach vs craving a food, will help you eat the right amount at the right times. Eating a diet that is high in fibre helps to keep things moving, and is very important for people who have cholesterol or heart problems. Foods with healthy omega 3 oils from fish, flax seeds and grass fed meats, are anti-inflammatory in the whole body and help with constipation. Finally, avoid drinking too much while you eat as lots of liquids dilute the enzymes and stomach acid that help with digestion.
Supplements & Therapies
Probiotics: use of antibiotics, other medications, too much sugar and stress can all cause an imbalance of the bacteria in our intestines. These bacteria help us digest our food and keep our immune system healthy. If you are low in the healthy bugs then supplementing with a quality probiotic can make a big difference in how you feel.
Enzymes: come in various strengths and combinations to help people digest various foods and break them down into the nutrients our bodies can use.
Herbs: there are many digestive herbs suited for any tummy trouble. The most common forms are in teas – like ginger, chamomile, fennel and mint to soothe upset tummies and nausea. Other herbs can be used as teas, tinctures or capsules to get rid of inflammation and heal the gut lining.
Acupuncture: can help to restore balance in the organ systems, increase circulation to the abdomen to get things moving and help reduce stress.
Bowen therapy: a gentle soft tissue manipulation therapy that helps to restore balance and resets the body to a parasympathetic mode, to rest and digest.
If you are having digestive symptoms, especially if the problem is brand new, the first step is to make an appointment with your health care practitioner so they can properly evaluate what is going on and make suggestions that are best for your unique situation.
Kyley Hunt, BKin, ND, practices at The Gaia Health Care Clinic and Bow Valley Club, in Calgary, Alberta. She is passionate about Global Health and helping people achieve their unique health goals. Visit: http://drkyleynd.wordpress.com