You may have heard already that our digestive health is our second brain and what goes on in the gut is responsible for 80% of our immunity. Small Intestine is where the majority of digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place. As our body is exposed to toxins in everyday life, such as smoking, alcohol, medications, stress, pollution, chlorine and many more, maintaining healthy digestion helps body eliminate them from the body. Without gut’s ability to neutralise and eliminate toxins from the body – weight loss is impaired and, as a result, we can experience a weight gain, as just one of the “side effects”.
One-third of the UK population regularly suffers from digestive illnesses such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), constipation, diarrhoea, stomach-aches, nausea and sickness and cancers of the digestive tract are the largest cancer killer, actually 23% of all UK cancer mortalities. So, with that in mind, our Digestive System does deserve special attention as it must be one of the most important parts of our entire body. Hippocrates famous quote still very much rings true today: “
“Death sits in the bowels. Bad digestion is the root of all evil!” (400 BC)
So, taking care of our digestion becomes an essential part of a healthy body and efficient weight management and here is why and how…
It is the finger like villi that line our small intestine that absorb nutrients from our food as it forces its way between them on its journey along the digestive tract. Unhealthy foods make villi unhealthy, flatten them out and decrease nutrient absorption, which is devastating for our immunity and general health.
As a result of the damage to the small intestine and villi, poor absorption can lead to iron deficiencies and anemia, just to name a couple. As iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to the rest of the body, now low oxygen levels in the blood can lead to other diseases including: Cancer, Elevated levels of Cholesterol, Heart Attack, Increased risk of Atherosclerosis, Slowed metabolism leading to stored body fat and weight gain, stroke and more…
A healthy diet supports healthy villi to keep them strong. And, strong, healthy “gatekeepers” means better nutrient absorption of the good nutrients and better overall health!
DIGESTIVE HEALTH – OUR SECOND BRAIN
Research has discovered for some time now that our digestive system could be our Second Brain as it controls our mood, health and much more. I am sure many of us are not alien to a feeling of stress or anxiety that has driven us to be glued to a toilet seat with diarrhea. Dr Michael Gershon, professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University was the first one to expound the existence of an independent nervous system that exists in the lining of the oesophagus, stomach and intestines, in the gastrointestinal tract, back in the late 1950s. Known as “enteric nervous system” – our gastrointestinal tract contains as many neurons as the spinal cord and about 40 neurotransmitters, as many as are found in the brain.
Our gut is also the only organ that can work independently from the brain as it controls the absorption of food and movement through the intestines without any input from the central nervous system. It even continues to function after brain death.
There is obviously a lot more to Gershon’s research but the bottom line is that digestive disorders are a bit like mental illness of the second brain. A significant number of very reputable studies both in animals as well as humans have proven that emotional stress in childhood can cause chronic GI diseases in adults. Emeran Mayer is a professor at the UCLA in the department of medicine, physiology, psychiatry and behavioural sciences who confirms that majority of his patients with digestive disorders have indeed suffered some emotional or physical trauma in childhood. Anxiety and gut reaction commonly go together, according do Dr Mayer.
The work coming out of the Mayer’s labs bears out the beliefs in ancient health systems such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda that includes the Buddhist monks theories of mindfulness-based stress-reduction techniques. The tradition of the cleansing diet, fasting and enema goes back thousand of years. Fundamentally, they are all about changing gut flora.
“The connections between the functioning of the gut and an individual’s psychological and physiological state are so numerous, one could easily argue that a huge number of the day-to-day health issue or symptoms that can be addressed through diet are about the mind-gut connection. The gut can secrete chemicals that make us do things. We are, to an extent, its slave…”, says Mayer. Meyer also believes that 80% of our well-being comes from a complicated relationship between our brain and our intestines.
While most of my clients come to me for an effective way to manage their weight, without them realising or not – it is their digestive health that I am most concerned with. Many come with an old-fashioned beliefs about managing weight through calorie management (counting calories and even allowing even some unhealthy foods as long as they are “within their calorie ceiling”), but our programmes are all geared towards the quality of those calories so that digestive health can get its big break; it can cleanse, detox and re-populate the gut with friendly flora, so we can reduce an inflammation in the body and have a lot better functioning digestion and, with that, our whole body.
HERE IS HOW TO KEEP YOUR SECOND BRAIN HAPPY:
Learn to manage stress
Stress is just bad news for your digestive track and your overall body. No wonder in the extreme stressful situations we complain to be “sick in our stomach”. Our gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotions and negative emotions of fear, anxiety, anger and others can trigger problems in the gut. I am very grateful to be able to say that my gut is working so well and bowels like clockwork, however, I do remember my years as a student and being very nervous around exam times to the point of developing stomach pain and diarrhea just before the exam. The stress is causing body not to process food efficiently, which, in turn has a physical manifestation, but main root is stress, rather than food itself.
Keep your digestive system relaxed by meditating
This is just follows from the previous point. Meditation is a great way to reduce stress. When we calm our mind, we calm our body as well and it helps healthy digestion to resume. Being mindful throughout the day is another way to add to our efforts to reduce stress. Sometimes, we just need to pause, take few deep breaths and calm our emotions. This will, no doubt have impact on relieving body from stress related digestion issues.
Avoid or reduce alcohol
Alcohol is a poison. There is no way I will tip toe around this. I am not saying:”Do not drink!” because what you do is none of my business – I am just saying exactly how it is, especially if alcohol plays a big part in your life. Occasionally drinking glass or two will not make a big dent in your health, however, alcohol consumption plays part in damaging digestive tract and increases the risk of developing alcohol related cancer and liver disease. It has the highest carcinogen rating, equal to tobacco smoke and asbestos. Alcohol damages the organs it comes in contact with: mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach. And, once it reaches the blood stream, it also can damage liver and large intestines. Because it is regarded as a poison by the body – body prioritises its elimination ahead of other nutrients from foods, including fats (it increases fat production in the liver which causes fatty liver). It is absorbed directly into our blood stream and it can damage DNA and stop its cells from repairing the damage, which can cause cancer. Alcohol also reduces stomach’s ability to destroy bacteria that enter stomach, single binge drink can damage mucous in the stomach cells, which induces inflammation and lesions, etc. Research suggests that even moderate drinkers have 21% increased risk of alcohol related bowel damage compared to non drinkers or occasional drinkers.
Believe it or not, but even without improving what you eat, increasing exercise can help with digestion. Muscle tone helps to move food through our digestive system, so developing a healthy muscle tone around the abdominal area can help digestion. I would not recommend only to take up on exercise to improve digestion, but if you have taken all steps to improve your digestion, however, you do not exercise and do not have strong core muscles around your abdomen – this may be the missing link.
Water literally comes at the top when talking about the nutrients needed for healthy digestion. Lack of water can result in indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, memory loss, constipation, just to name a few. It is needed for absorption of nutrients from food, for proper digestion and the mucosal lining which supports bacteria in the small intestine. Read more regarding Benefits Of Water.
Include Digestive Enzymes
Enzymes are essential for breaking down foods and we need three different enzymes for healthy digestion: Lipase for breakdown of fats (pineapple, papaya, avocado, Sauerkraut), amylases for carbohydrate breakdown (raw fruit and veg, sprouted seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, royal jelly, supplements) and protease for breakdown of protein (raw papaya, pineapple). Other foods that are rich in digestive enzymes are kefir, bananas, soy sauce, bee pollen, kiwi, tempeh. Supplementing is also recommended with digestive enzymes if digestion continues to be impaired.
Take a daily probiotic
Good bacteria are absolutely essential at strengthening our immune system, reducing inflammation, helping with leaky gut and many more ailments and processes of digestive tract. Foods like Sauerkraut and Kefir both contain probiotics. I personally like to supplement too.
Eliminate Processed Foods
Foods with added Sugar, delicatessen meats, deep-fried foods do not supply our bodies with any nutrients worth talking about. Body actually needs to use its own energy and nutrients in order to metabolise those foods, therefore, they are robbing our bodies of essential nutrients without supplying any. Think pizza, salamis, cakes, biscuits, ice creams, etc. Bad news in the long run. I know many who abused their bodies in their 20s and 30s thinking they could get away with it and then being forced in their 40s to change their diet; whilst they remain healthy in their 40s, their digestion is never the same and at an even occasional lapse of eating take aways and processed foods, they immediately have reactions in the digestive system whether it is a diarrhea, stomach pains or gas. Most intolerances and allergies are developed over time.
Eat more Fibre
Fibre rich foods keep your colon happy and healthy. We need both soluble fibre, which absorbs toxins and excess cholesterol (oats, lentils, apples, strawberries, nuts, flaxseed, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, celery, avocados, butternut, dried prunes, pumpkin, artichoke, sweet potatoes, carrots) and insoluble fibre, which speeds waste elimination process (wheat, whole grains, barley, cous cous, brown rice, bulgur, broccoli, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, apples with skins, root vegetables with skins, berries, cucumber, green beans, cabbage, dates…) fibre in our diet. Whilst UK government’s official recommendation is 18 grams per day, Institute of Medicine’s guidelines are 38 grams of fibre per day for men and 25 grams for women. These are minimal amounts. Fibre makes stools soft and bulky, speeds transit time through the colon, helps to remove any bacteria from the colon, lowers the effects of any toxic compounds. One big note regarding fibre is to listen to your body as someone’s medicine could be some someone else’s poison – some people handle heavy roughage such as wheat bran very well, whilst some are better with soluble fibre coming from oats.
Overeating adds a lot of pressure on digestive system, making it work extra hard. It is just an additional stress forcing body to try to use many nutrients at the same time. It can cause discomfort and pain. Mindfulness plays a big part. Eat slowly, chew your foods. It takes 20 minutes for message to get to your brain that you are actually full, so, allow time to chew your food properly because digestion process starts in your mouth as saliva has many enzymes that break down the food, so digestion system does not need to work extra hard.
Boost Stomach Acid
If you are having issues such as heart burn, belching or gas, headaches, fatigue – it may come from low stomach acid. Try to boost it with plenty of water with some freshly squeezed lemon or by adding one tablespoon of raw fermented apple cider vinegar. I personally use both lemon and aloe in my morning water. Aloe has many cleansing and detoxing properties as well as enzymes that help digestion. I highly recommend Herbalife’s Herbal Aloe Concentrate, mango flavoured one is my absolute favourite.
Please comment below, especially if you are suffering from any form of digestive issue and would like to share what works for you. If you have any questions or would like some support, I am here to help. Also, Free Online Wellness Test is a great way to test how healthy your current lifestyle and diet are and to get recommendations on how to improve it…
Until next time, happy, healthy digestion!