Gut health and proper digestion more often than not is an after thought for a lot of people. Not only is proper digestion and digestive health crucial to our body’s overall well being, due to roughly two/thirds of our body’s immune system residing in the digestive tract, our body’s overall nourishment and ability to absorb energy is dictated by our ability to properly digest food.
Digestion is the process in which food is broken down into its simpler components that can be absorbed into the blood stream and then carried to cells in the body to be used for various bodily processes. I’m not going to go into detail about the process in which food enters/exits the body (I’ll save that for another article), but I will say that if any part of the digestive process is faulty and prevents the body from digesting and absorbing key nutrients, all other health functions can be affected in a negative way.
What affects digestion?
The body’s inability to digest food can come from a few different outlets. These outlets can include a deficiency of stomach acid and specific digestive enzymes. High stress levels and poor eating habits are often the causes of this to occur. A lack of digestive enzymes will cause the body to pull enzymes from other parts of the body into the digestive tract to aid in the breakdown of food.
These enzymes are taken from their important jobs in other areas of the body to pick up the slack of ones that are not present. Think of it like a coworker does not show up for work and your boss makes you leave your station and section to take over for your absent coworker. Now you have to pull double the amount of work, which causes increased stress and leaves you more fatigued. This is your immune system that is left fatigued and all cellular processes slow down as a result. Improving this digestive function can be critical to improving your overall health.
How do you know if you have poor digestion?
Now you’re probably wondering, how do I know if I have poor digestion? Here are a few common signs of poor digestion that can often go undetected.
✗ Chronic Bad Breath
This is often caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the your gut. The smell can become worse after eating something high in sugar due to bacteria feeding off of the sugar.
✗ Body Odor
Poor digestion can cause the production of chemicals in the gut that can give off a foul odor. These chemicals are then absorbed back into the body and are eliminated through the skin as sweat. The body has a hard time digesting meats and other protein rich foods, which can contribute to the intense odor due to the lack of proper enzymes.
✗ Fatigue after eating
If you feel more tired an hour or so after eating rather than energized, than you may be suffering from an improperly working digestive system. When the body is under stress, particularly the digestive system, the body needs to direct all of its energy there to help aid in digestion and breaking down of food. This can leave you feeling drained.
✗ Nutrient Deficiency
When the body cannot properly digest and extract nutrients from food, the body is left with no micronutrients to absorb to use for other processes. This can include vital vitamins and minerals that aid in collagen formation, eye health, hair health, muscle repair, etc. For instance, brittle hair and nails can be a sign of a deficiency in calcium and zinc.
✗ Chronic Inflammation
This can be caused from digestive issues. Due to inflammation being due to an immune response primarily, if food products and other toxins are able to breakthrough the intestinal tract, they may agitate the body into producing an unfavorable immune response. Inflammation that is not controlled can lead to diseases such as cancer, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc.
How can you improve digestion?
Now, there are several ways to help improve our body’s digestion. These include increased water intake, increasing fiber and vegetable intake, and trying to lead a stress free life. One that I want to discuss further is the use of supplementation, particularly in the form of probiotics. Probiotics are not only essential for better health and a stronger immune system, but also for mental health illness and neurological disorders.
Probiotics are bacteria that line our digestive tract and provide support for the body in its ability to absorb nutrients and fight off infection within the body. There are both good and bad bacteria in our bodies at all times. The body wants to maintain a balance of 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. If this ratio becomes out of balance, a condition known as dysbiosis occurs
This means that an imbalance of too much of a certain type of fungus, bacteria, or yeast is affecting the body in a negative way. Consuming more probiotic rich foods and good bacteria, this ratio can once again become in balance. Probiotics are useful in producing vitamin B-12, which helps in the process of breaking down food for energy. They are also useful for creating enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria, absorbing glucose and fatty acids, and function as a gatekeeper to what is allowed into the blood stream.
Probiotics are often needed by a majority of people due to a few different factors, including the use of prescription medication (antibiotics), high carbohydrate diets, consumption of chlorinated and fluoridated water, and conventional meats and dairy that contain antibiotic residues. These chemicals kill off the probiotics in our body and can damage our digestive tract over time. Avoiding some of these factors can help improve the guts flora balance. Just like anything, moderation is key to balance. It is very difficult to eliminate these foods, toxins, and stressors completely, but identifying them and not letting them get out of hand or chronic can help in their balance. If you are suffering from a gut related issue, eliminating these foods and stressors until you heal, is a good place to start. Also, incorporating probiotic rich foods and supplements can help with this process.
Fermented foods are one of the most common places where you will find a high amount of probiotics and beneficial bacteria. You can supplement with probiotics, but fermented foods will give you a significantly higher amount of good bacteria than a supplement ever will. The process of fermentation is a very natural process. It is mainly a preservation process of the food done by the bacteria naturally residing on the vegetables or other foods.
Bacteria multiply and produce acid over time, which, depending on the type of acid, can be a very powerful antiseptic. The process of fermentation does more than just preserve food however; it also makes nutrients more bioavailable. These fermented foods also kill off bad bacteria in the gut. The probiotics live longer than the unhealthy ones can create a decrease in bad bacteria. This can benefit the body by reducing illness, diseases, and inflammation in the body.
Some of the most popular fermented foods would include Kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto (fermented soybeans), yogurt, miso, kombucha, and raw cheese.
Take Home Message
In conclusion, if gut health is something that you are experiencing, try incorporating a probiotic or probiotic rich foods into your diet. The health of your body should be the number one priority and you want to make sure that your body can utilize all of the food that you are giving it on a day-to-day basis to do what it needs to do to keep you running smoothly and performing at your best.