Most of us don’t want to talk about our digestion. After all, what’s your first thought when I say the word digestion? My guess is it’s probably poop. No wonder we don’t really want to discuss it! You may have seen articles about why you should watch the shape, frequency, etc. of your BMs, While those are helpful and informative sources, that’s not what I’m going to discuss.
Dr. Mark Hyman says, “more than 100 million Americans have digestive problems.” That’s a whole lot of suffering! So, here I highlight why we need to pay attention to our digestion, how it relates to our overall health and what can we do right now that will support this critical function for overall health.
Why Digestion is Critical
You’ve likely heard the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Today it’s more about, “You are what you absorb.” So even those of us who pay great attention to the foods we eat, investing in organic foods and quality supplements, can develop health challenges if we aren’t properly absorbing nutrients. This process to absorb starts with optimal digestion. If we aren’t absorbing it, we aren’t fueling our body and maintaining our immune system.
Digestion is the first place to consider with ALL health issues. Got a sinus problem? Look at your digestion. Having skin issues? Check out your digestive function. Chronic headaches? Start with digestion. Bloating and gas? It’s your digestion. The list goes on and on. When digestion goes awry, the domino effect starts. As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner I know that every CELL, that makes up every TISSUE, that makes up every ORGAN depends on digestion. So once digestive function is degraded it could bring on symptoms like allergies, autoimmune conditions and impact mood.
A clear indication of digestion’s importance is that healthy digestion is key to a healthy immune system. Our immune system protects us from invaders. And some 70-80% of our immune system is located in our gut. Not to mention the connection discovered between the gut and the brain. Furthermore, 90% of nutrients are absorbed in our small intestines. So if digestion is stressed and suffering we aren’t getting the nutrients our cells need and we aren’t going to be protected from invaders. Strong digestion equals a strong body, immune system and mind. If the immune system fails, we do too!
Warning Signs Your Digestion is at Risk
You’ve heard the phrase, “it’s not you, it’s me,” right? This applies to digestion as well. Let me assure you, it’s not them, it’s YOU. Your body’s function (or lack thereof) can cause painful symptoms. Certain digestive distress signals such as gas, bloat, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea are often thought of as fixable by pill. The problem with this mindset is that many bandaids do not equal solutions. Using this approach could set us up for an even bigger health challenge later.
Many of us tend to think these symptoms are due to certain foods, aging or that a certain food is now somehow “bad” for us. While it may be widely accepted, that doesn’t make it true. In fact, these signals are your body’s way of saying, “Hey, can you help me out here?! I need some extra support!” Many times symptoms can be corrected or eliminated completely, provided you are able to recognize and identify the root cause and ditch the bandaid approach.
Digestive disfunction is basically stress on the digestive system. One way it occurs is when we eat processed foods that get poorly assimilated, which can domino into the development of food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions and can even impact our mental well being.
Food sensitivities are often an early sign of digestive disfunction. They develop when microbes like candida damage the small intestine by putting roots into its lining, making the gut leak (food into the bloodstream). Once this occurs, the immune system thinks, “Invader!” and attacks. It also makes a note for the next time that food enters the body. This is how a food intolerance is born.
There are things we can do to increase our awareness around food sensitivities. One way is to use Coca’s Pulse Test to determine dietary stressors. Check out this article (http://www.eatnakednow.com/do-you-have-food-sensitivities-the-one-simple-test-you-can-do-anytime-anywhere-to-find-out/ ) on how to conduct this helpful self test. Of course, your specific situation is individual to you and only a qualified health professional can diagnose or treat any conditions. But by doing such a self test you’ll be equipped with informed insight.
How to Enhance Digestion for Optimal Health
We can all enhance our digestion. Living in a stressed-out, fast-paced, tightly-scheduled world alone can have it’s negative impacts on digestion. Add on top of that the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) so many eat and we definitely have room for improvement. So what does it take to have healthy digestion? Since digestion is the process which breaks down food into molecular-sized particles, then let’s support that.
While there are chemical components to digestion there are also equally important behavioral components. The whole process begins in the brain. Think of digestion as a top-down process. Starting in the brain, moving south through various organs before the (uh hum) exit. Therefore, when we try to optimize and improve our digestive process it’s important to approach it in a top-down fashion.
Eat with your eyes and nose first. Smell the food and take a moment of gratitude. This moves our body into a parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic is also known as the rest and digest state. And while digestion is chemical (using enzymes to break down food) it’s also mechanical (with chewing) and both are equally important to the process. Chew your food thoroughly! It’s recommended we chew 30 times per bite. If that sounds crazy then consider the food you are eating. You can chew a salad a lot, but fries might not need as much chewing. Change your food choices to those that require chewing!
As for the chemical components, consider and do your research about including the right probiotic for your body. Another big help are digestive enzymes. Hydrochloric acid (HCL) may also be something to research and consider. These are just suggestions to explore further for your body. As always, any changes you make to your diet are important to talk through with your doctor, especially if you are on any medications. As for behavioral actions, we can all likely benefit from the following.
Actions to Optimize Digestion:
- Eat with the eyes and nose first
- Breathe 3 times slowly before eating, relax
- Chew each bite 30 times (Yep, 30! Think molecular sized.)
- Drink most of your daily water outside of meals (not during)
- Eat without distractions (cut out the technology during meals)
- Try the Coca Pulse Test for potential food sensitivities
Superfoods to Optimize Digestion:
- Greens (organic)
- Fermented Foods (I.e. homemade sauerkraut)
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Blueberries (organic)
To Sum Up
In life, before we make any changes we first have to believe it’s worth the time and effort. If you are seeing any digestive stress in your body, pay attention now before it has a chance to get worse. Small signals we ignore can lead to big problems later. Taking the time while we can, and it’s within our control really comes down to valuing yourself enough for self care. If no time is taken now, a lot of time might be taken from us later. So, increase your awareness around your eating habits, take note of digestive function (even if it’s cause for the giggles), do your research, and get assistance early instead of waiting for increased severity. Your body will thank you for supporting optimal digestion by providing you with optimal health!
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