Thursday, 28 May 2015

6 Tips For Perfect Digestive Health

1. Feed The Beneficial Gut Bacteria With Prebiotic Fibers


A diet rich in prebiotic fibers is one of the most important factors for maintaining optimal digestive health and balance of the gut flora.
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers such as inulin, which help to increase the growth and stimulate the activity of the beneficial gut bacteria.

Prebiotics are the preferred food source that the good bacteria in our gut use, so it makes sense to supply a diet rich in these fibers to promote healthy gut flora balance.

Some foods rich in prebiotics include onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, sea vegetables, oat bran and rice bran.

2. Repopulate The Gut Flora With Probiotic Rich Fermented Foods


Fermented foods such as kefir, raw sauerkraut, kim chi, miso and cultured vegetables are amazing sources of beneficial lactic acid bacteria, which help to repopulate the gut flora.

Fermented foods hold many benefits over store bought probiotic drinks and the majority of the probiotic supplements on the market.  Fermented foods are cheap to produce and they contain significantly more viable live bacteria.

Fermented foods are another traditional food which is largely non-existant in the modern diet, other than yogurt of course.

The majority of store bought probiotic drinks and “live” yogurts are however useless when it comes to supporting gut health and they tend to contain very little to no viable live bacteria.

The reason we know that these probiotic drinks are “dead”, is because if they really were “live” then they would continue to expand due to the gas created during the fermentation process, as you will see when fermenting your own live foods at home.

Another issue with many store bought probiotic drinks is that they are often rich in sugar, which is counter-productive when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut flora balance.

Fermented foods are naturally acidic so they are good choices for those with poor digestion due to low stomach acid and individuals who are prone to opportunistic infections such as Candida Albicans overgrowth.

Fermented foods have powerful natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitical properties due to their rich beneficial lactic acid bacteria content.

Anti-biotic over-use is one of the most common factors when it comes to disturbing the delicate gut flora balance.  It is recommended to repopulate the gut flora with probiotics from fermented foods following a course of anti-biotics.

3. Bitter Herbs To Support Digestion & Low Stomach Acid(Hypochlorhydria)


Despite the gross over-prescribing of ant-acids and stomach acid inhibiting drugs by general practitioners, medical literature doesn’t actually support that hyperchlorhydria(excess stomach acid) is as common as we are led to believe.

In fact hypochlorhydria(low stomach acid) is a much more common digestive state, where the stomach cannot produce sufficient hydrochloric acid.   Part of the reason for hypochlorhydria being so common is that our stomach levels tend to naturally decline as we age.
 
In my opinion hypochlorhydria is a greatly over-looked factor, when it comes to the cause of many common digestive complaints.  

Stomach acid inhibiting drugs such as proton pump inhibitors only further exacerbate the problem by reducing hydrochloric acid levels further.  Some of the risks of using gastric-acid inhibiting drugs include lowered immunity, increased risk of developing opportunistic infections such as candida overgrowth, food allergies, certain cancers and many nutritional deficiencies.

Low stomach acid actually shares many of the common symptoms that we are told is the result of too much acid.  Symptoms of low stomach acid include frequent belching, gas, indigestion, heart burn, inability to digest protein and opportunistic infections such as candida albicans.

Adequate stomach acid is essential not only for proper digestion of protein and many other acid-dependant nutrients, but our stomach acid is also the first line of defense against food-borne pathogens.

The stomach acid is also an important factor which keeps opportunistic infections such as candida overgrowth, bad bacteria and parasites in check.  Without sufficient stomach acid candida morphs from its natural harmless yeast state into its aggressive tissue penetrating fungal form.

However there are many natural methods to support healthy stomach acid levels and digestion.  One of the best methods is with the use of digestive bitter herbs.

Bitter herbs are one of the best tonics for sluggish digestive function because they support the digestive process in a number of ways.

When bitter tasting foods and herbs come in contact with the back of the tongue(where the bitter receptors are located), this stimulates the vagus nerve to release stomach acid, pancreatic digestive enzymes and bile, all of which are vital for proper digestion.

4. Inflammation & Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Balance


Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Leaky Gut Syndrome(Increased Intestinal Permeability) are steadily on the rise and we have our modern diet in part to thanks for the increase in these digestive disorders.

Chronic inflammation has been found to play a role in many serious diseases, not just those of the digestive system.  So maintaining a healthy inflammatory state in the body is extremely important for reducing the risk of developing many common health problems and diseases rooted in inflammation.

There are many dietary tips we can utilize to help bring chronic inflammation under control.

One method of promoting a healthy inflammatory state in the body is achieved by balancing the omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acid ratio, which research believes should be 1:1.

However the modern Western diet tends to be excessively rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and often low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats such as EPA and DHA by comparison.

Typical western diets often have a omega-6/omega-3(EFA) ratio of anywhere between 15/1-16.7/1.
One study on the importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids found that:
Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. [1]
Foods rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6(n-6) fatty acids such as vegetable oils should be eliminated from the diet or at the very least severely reduced.

Oily fish such as sardines are one of the best dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of long-chain EPA(Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(Docosahexaenoic acid).   Walnuts, Chia and Flax Seeds are also good sources of Omega-3 fats in the form of short chain ALA(Alpha-linolenic acid), which first has to convert to EPA then finally to DHA.

Studies show that ALA has a poor conversion rate, so its always wise to consume Omega-3 fatty acids in the pre-formed EPA and DHA long-chain forms, which are the forms that the scientific research attributes to the anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulatory and cardiovascular preventative benefits of Omega-3 fats.

Increased intestinal permeability also known as “Leaky Gut Syndrome” is another tricky and serious intestinal disorder that is caused by chronic intestinal inflammation.  There is some research which suggests that leaky gut syndrome may be a factor in the development of auto-immune, gum and even cardiovascular diseases.

5. The Stress, Brain & Gut Connection (Gut-Brain-Axis)


We have known for a long time anecdotally about the connection between our brain, stress levels and gut health.
Scientific research shows that chronic stress is an extremely common factor for disturbing gastrointestinal function and can alter our “gut-brain-axis” reducing our ability to deal with stress.

The effects that chronic stress can have on the gut can be severe and very difficult to treat.  The tips in this article will go a long way to shielding the body from the adverse effects that stress can have on the gut such as altering the balance of the gut flora, increased intestinal permeability(leaky gut) and inflammation.

There is now research which shows that stress-induced alterations of the gut flora can affect proper functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis, which further cements the theories of the connection between our gut health and emotional well-being.  Not only that but the study found that probiotics may help to correct the stress induced hpa-axis dysfunction. [2]

Mind-body techniques such as meditation and deep breathing are very powerful tools for reducing stress and activating the para-sympathetic(rest and digest) system.

Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, licorice root, schizandra berry, reishi mushroom for example are also helpful for increasing the bodies resistance to stress and having a non-specific normalizing action on the body in response to stressors.

6. Relax When Eating & Chew Thoroughly


Following on from the stress, brain and gut connection above, one of the most important factors when it comes to optimal digestion is being in a relaxed and rested state when eating.
Stress activates a part of the autonomic nervous system known as the sympathetic “fight or flight” system, which impairs digestion, detoxification and elimination.

In order to digest optimally one has to be in a rested para-sympathetic state, which is also known as the “rest and digest” system.

We talked about the mind-body techniques above such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, both of which activate the para-sympathetic nervous system and shut off the sympathetic “fight or flight” stress response.

Due to our often fast paced hectic lifestyles many individuals often eat on the move or rush eating.  Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and always have sit-down, relaxed meals.

Chewing food thoroughly is another extremely important factor, when it comes to optimal digestion and maintaining gut health.  Food should be chewed thoroughly until it has become the consistency of mushy paste.

References

1.  The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

2.  Role of probiotics in correcting abnormalities of colonic flora induced by stress
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095678/

Always consult a professional before making any significant lifestyle or dietary changes.

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