Monday, December 29, 2014

How to improve your digestive health

A healthy digestive system is fundamental to a healthy body. Optimal digestion is the foundation of optimal energy. Digestion allows the body to get the nutrients and energy it needs from the food.  The digestive system is basically a tube of 25 and 30 feet long running through the body from mouth to anus. The digestive tract and the accessory organs of digestion make up the digestive system. The organs of the digestive system include the oral cavity (mouth), oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum and anus. The accessory organs of digestion include the salivary glands, teeth, liver, gall bladder and pancreas. Over a lifetime no less than 100 tons of food passes along the digestive tract and 300,000 litres of digestive juices are produced by the body to break it down. Digestive juices flow from the walls of the stomach and small intestines, pancreas and gall bladder. Enzymes, bile and bacteria break down the food.
Facts on digestion
Digestion is a function of an organ system which involves a series of processes.  There are 5 processes that are involved with digestion: eating, breaking down food into simpler chemical compounds, absorption, assimilation and elimination of waste. Digestive organs can become disturbed for a multiplicity of reasons: poor diet, irregular eating habits, physical and mental strain, viral or bacterial or fungal or parasitic infections, allergies, toxicity and drugs. Digestive discomfort can express in many forms: stomach pain, bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and foul smelling gas.
More than 80 million Americans live with and suffer from chronic digestive problems. It is estimated that 4 million Americans have constipation and 60 million Americans have acid reflux. Approximately 12 million people in the United States suffer from food allergy. One-third to one –half of all populations have digestive illness. It is estimated that 25 to 50% of all digestion- related ailments can be prevented and / or modified by proper eating, exercise, natural medicines and lifestyle modifications.


The digestive system comprises a group of organs that break down food and absorb the nutrients used by the body for fuel. The digestive system begins with the mouth and extends through the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine, ending with the rectum and anus. The most important roles of digestive system include ingestion, propulsion, mechanical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption and defecation. Gastroenterology is a branch of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.
Digestion refers to the breakdown of food into smaller molecules that can be absorbed and assimilated by the body. The process of digestion occurs as the food you eat travels through the digestive tract. The food is kept moving by muscular action called peristalis. The main work of our digestive system is processing the food we eat to obtain energy and nutrients.
Good digestive health is the ability to break down, absorb and use nutrients and to eliminate waste products from foods and beverages in a way that optimizes one’s health and vitality.

Importance of the digestive system

The digestive system represents not only the physical ‘engine’ of the body, but also the center of emotions and the seat of subconscious.  Two-thirds of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system. According to Dr. Michael Gershon in his book The second Brain (1998), all of the neurotransmitters that are found in the brain are also found in the digestive system –hence the term ‘second brain.’ The digestive system actually has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) and over 95% of serotonin is made in the gut (Gershon 1998). The enteric nervous system functions without the direction from the brain. The activity of the digestive system is regulated by the rich network of nerves found in the enteric nervous system (ENS).

Factors in good digestion

The factors that promote good digestion include timing, manner or eating, quantity of food, condition of the food, quality of the food and appropriateness of the food to your body.
·         Timing – when you eat;
·         Manner – how you eat;
·         Quantity – how much you eat;
·         Condition of the food –raw, cooked, warm or cold;
·         Quality of the food – fresh, clean and pure;
·         Appropriateness of the food – whether the food is compatible with your digestive capacity and relevant to your nutritional requirements.

Four R's gut healing program

Digestive problems are part and parcel of our life. There is a 4-R’s program with the following steps: Remove, Replace, Re-introduce and repair. In the first step, remove the things that are causing the problem such as bacteria, parasite, Candida or yeast overgrowth and potential food allergens and toxins. Then replace the diet with healthy food, dietary fiber and pure water for regular elimination. In the third step, re-introduce the gut with dietary probiotics or supplementary enzymes. Lastly repair the gut lining, so food and germs do not get through to the blood stream and cause a bad reaction called ‘leaky gut syndrome.’  It is reported that leaky gut syndrome is thought to cause all kinds of problems from food allergies to irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

Herbal and nutritional healing of digestive disorders

Traditional Chinese medications use concoctions of kiwifruit as  a tonic to find relief from indigestion. Kiwifruits have substantial amounts of prebiotics, phenolics, dietary fibers and vegetarian digestive enzymes. Chamomile is an all –around stomach soother. Bitter herbs like dandelion can help improve digestion. Bitter herbs are great helpers for optimal digestion. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root may reduce heartburn, acid reflux and gastritis. Licorice protects the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract against the damaging effects of stomach acid. This effect can be very helpful for those with heartburn. Slippery elm is another herb that acts as a barrier against stomach acid which again is important for those with heartburn. Aloe vera reduces mucosal inflammation, prevents acid reflex and improves gut healing. The herb milk thistle may be a useful supplement in the case of constipation caused by a lethargic liver. Digestive enzymes found in tropical fruits such as bromelain from pineapple (which reduces tissue irritation) and papain from papayas (which soothes the stomach) can provide help in digesting proteins as well. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhea. A healthy complement of intestinal flora (the digestive bacteria acidophilus, bifidus and lactobacillus) is essential to good digestive health. Dietary fibers help promote regular defecation and prevent constipation. Fiber –rich foods include berries, greens, beans, apples, pears, oats and flaxseeds. The daily recommended intake of dietary fibers is 20 to 35 grams per day.  Lubricant foods and herbs help the stool move through the digestive tract called demulcents. The demulcents include okra, flaxseed, oats, kelp, cactus, natto, toasted seasame oil,olive oil, acacia and chia seeds.

Digestive level of foods

Some foods are harder to digest than others. Proteins are the hardest to digest. Protein digestion requires an acid medium (hydrochloric acid) and the enzyme pepsin for its digestion. Starch digestion requires an alkaline medium and the enzyme ptyalin for its digestion. Starchy foods are easier to digest. The non-starchy vegetables are very easy to digest. The easiest food of all to digest is fruits.

Food combining for better digestion

Do not combine protein foods with acidic foods or fats or starch foods or sugars. Do not combine two concentrated protein foods at the same meal. Do not combine starches with sugars or starch foods with acidic foods. Eat one concentrated starch food at a meal. Do not eat acid fruits with proteins. Do not combine sweet fruits with proteins, starches or acid fruits. Acid fruits may be used with sub-acid fruits and sub-acid fruits may be used with sweet fruits. Combine fruits only with lettuce and celery. Salads combine very well with proteins or starches. Do not consume melons with any other foods.

Foods for healthy digestion

A healthy diet consists of a good balance of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates), prebiotics and probiotics, essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.  A healthy diet is one that helps to maintain or improve health by providing appropriate amounts of nutrients. Super foods for healthy digestion include yogurt, high fiber whole grain bread, rice, whole grain cereals, tofu, miso, tempeh, dandelion green, sunflower seeds, sea vegetables, flaxseed oil, papayas, garlic and sage leaves. Our food choices play a significant role in the quality of our digestion.

Tips to improve your digestive health

1. Eat a balanced and varied diet with fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. Eat four to six light meals per day. Eat more foods containing complex carbohydrates and fiber. Avoid over eating, only eat as much as you need.
2. Take small bites; Eat slowly and mindfully. Don’t eat before bed and walk after each meal.
3. Eat right type of fats and eat foods containing complete proteins, but in moderation.
4. Get enough fluids.
5. Give up caffeine; eliminate alcohol and nicotine.
6. Exercise is crucial to good bowel health.
7. Reduce depression and anxiety.
8. Listen to your body; be cautious about constipation, gas or upset stomach – it’s a sign you need to make changes in your dietary habits.
                           The digestive impulse is the life of your stomach


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