Food Freedom Friday Edition 37

Digestive What's & How's

Digestive concerns and disorders are running rampant and those challenged with digestive concerns often have at least one area of their digestion that needs attention. Symptoms and areas of concern can also be inter-related, especially if problems have been present for a long time. The best interventions support all of these areas.

1.       What you eat.

Up to 40% of people with digestive distress have sensitivities to one or more foods they are eating. This differs from an allergy or an anaphylactic reaction, which is diagnosed using a skin prick test. Sensitivities can be a true sensitivity as in non-Celiac gluten sensitivity or issues with dairy, or they can be a result of other deficiencies or diagnoses for example, those with IBS and dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria) do better when avoiding high-FODMAP foods.

Finding and eliminating sensitivities along with eating for your diagnoses is imperative.

When what you eat is an issue, symptoms come rapidly after eating or only when you consume certain foods and can include fatigue, joint pain, rash, acne, headache/migraine and moodiness.

Eating the wrong foods over the long term can disrupt your gut bacteria, reduce your digestive ability and compromise the lining of your intestine, all while provoking the immune system.

In my opinion, the best way to find and eliminate food sensitivity is to do an elimination diet. You can tailor what foods you eliminate to you and your level of comfort.

2.       How you eat.

The way you eat your food can have a huge impact on its digestibility. I have noticed that eating quickly, not chewing well and over eating are major causes of digestive distress. So many of us eat one the run, standing up, wolfing down our food. We eat while we are on the phone, typing, working, surfing social media. We argue and have stressful and upsetting conversations while eating. We eat without giving any thought to the foods we are consuming.

This leads down a path to experiencing gas, bloating, overgrowth of bacteria and motility disruption.

I recommend always sitting when you eat. Put your phone/work away. Turn off the TV. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Chew your food until it is soft.

3.       How your body breaks down what you eat.

This is a direct reference to the ability of your body to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates into their readily absorbable building blocks of amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars through the use of enzymes, stomach acid and bile. If you cannot dismantle it and break it down, you will definitely not be able to absorb it.

Some signs and symptoms of an inability to break down your food include belching after eating, early satiety and undigested food in the stool. This can be further caused and/or irritated by a history of use of acid-blocking drugs

An inability to properly and efficiently break down your food can lead to a propensity for overgrowth and fermentation/gas as well as the potential for anemia and conditions related to malabsorption.

It might be wise to consider supplementation with a digestive enzyme with your meals, especially if you happen to be over 50. Use vinegars and bitter foods in cooking. Eat slowly to give your brain and your body a chance to understand food is arriving so it can begin to make the necessary elements to deal with it.

4.       What types of bacteria live in your gut.

Within the large intestine are colonies of beneficial bacteria that at least number the amount of human cells in your body. These colonies are responsible for a variety of digestive, immune and neurological functions and have been implicated in everything from the size of your jeans to your protection against chronic diseases. These colonies are collectively known as the microbiome and should be diverse, contain predominantly beneficial species and reside in the right place. 

An imbalance in your microbiome can present as dysbiosis, SIBO, thrush or any issues with overgrowth along with symptoms in the lower digestive tract (below your belly button) of gas and bloating and severely foul gas.

Dysbiosis perpetuates itself and will eventually impose on your motility either slowing things down or speeding you up.

If bacterial imbalance is of concern, get your microbiome evaluated via stool testing. Eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and other foods that are rich in prebiotics (the food that you eat also feeds your co-inhabitants) to your tolerance level. Use antibiotics very judiciously.

5.       How intact is your gut lining.

The integrity of your gut lining, top to bottom is crucial for optimal digestions as the lining of your GI tract is the interface between the inside of your body and your environment - the food that you eat and everything that passes your lips, intentional or not. It acts like a smart filter, letting some things in and keeping others out. 

Issues with the integrity of this lining present as accumulating food sensitivities, water retention after eating and a history of ulcer/gastritis. The lining can be further compromised with heavy NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) use.

A compromised gut lining can result in immune overstimulation and nutrient malabsorption.

It is important to incorporate gut-healing foods and nutrients like bone broth, gelatin, slippery foods, zinc carnosine, NAG (n-acetyl glucosamine) and glutamine in your daily diet.

6.       What goes on in your Second Brain

Yes, you have 2 brains! The Second Brain, the enteric nervous system (ENS) is responsible for monitoring and managing all aspects of digestion, including your digestive ability and motility. It can also become imbalanced or dysregulated after stress, trauma, childhood trauma, lack of sleep, travel and any combination of the previous 5 concerns.

Enteric nervous system dysfunctions result in long-standing, intractable motility issues (constipation and/or diarrhea), reflux/heartburn and feelings of nausea in the morning or around bowel movements.

When the ENS is compromised, it feeds back to your Central Nervous System and can self-perpetuate feelings of stress, anxiety and negativity. Often, symptom relief is negligible until the ENS is addressed.

Adequate, good quality sleep and moving your body are key for balancing your ENS. Go to sleep and include a daily, relaxing, outdoor walk in your routine. Consider mindfulness or meditation. Building blocks for serotonin, like 5-HTP can be used in conjunction with nutrients including magnesium to support a more balanced ENS.

Addressing any or all of these digestive concerns will go a long way to relieving your symptom and creating a happy healthy gut (which means a happy healthy YOU!)

Michal Ofer