Over 2000 years ago Hippocrates stated that “all disease begins in the gut.” Did you know that the health of your gut has a profound impact on your immune function and directly affects your mood? Poor digestion, leaky gut or underlying infections can actually be the root cause anxiety, depression, and neurological and psychological disorders?
Gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction is the most overlooked and undetected health problem in healthcare today. Many health complaints, mood disorders, cognitive dysfunction, weight loss resistance, and underlying root causes of disease can be attributed to an altered microbiome, gut dysbiosis, and poor digestive health.
Healthy digestion, good bacteria (flora), sufficient levels of stomach acid, healthy bile, and optimizing your microbiome are crucial in how you feel, think and your weight. Healthy digestion is crucial to healing autoimmune disease, depression, anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, gas, bloating, sugar and carb cravings, minimizing food sensitivities, and reducing risk of diabetes, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer.
The GI tract is connected to every major system in the body. Over 2/3 of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut and 70-80% of the immune system is located in the gut. It’s estimated that 90-95% of serotonin is in the gut, not the brain!
The GI tract has a very high metabolic function that influences hormone metabolism, cholesterol regulation, chemical and toxin elimination, brain function, energy production and absorption of nutrients.
The gut is considered the second brain also known as the enteric nervous system that is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Many GI disorders including colitis, leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome originate from problems within the gut’s brain.
The brain in the gut has a mind of its own that guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors and reactions, and plays a major role in human happiness and misery. Approximately 90-95% of serotonin made in the gut. When the gut’s inflamed, not functioning optimally or there’s a leaky gut, production of serotonin and other important neurotransmitters will be impaired leading to depression, anxiety, mood disorders and neurological manifestations because the gut has lost the ability to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these vital brain chemicals.
An inflamed gut or leaky gut equals an inflamed, leaky brain, and an inflamed, leaky brain increases risk of depression, anxiety, mood disorders and dementia.
The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food into tiny particles to be used for energy, maintenance and repair. The digestive process also involves healthy and daily elimination of wastes and toxins.
You can be eating the healthiest, organic foods, but if you’re not breaking down, absorbing or assimilating your food properly digestion will be compromised, which can negatively affect your weight and immune function, accelerate age-related disorders, brain dysfunction, and influence overall health and quality of life.
Prevent Heartburn, Acid Reflux, Indigestion and GERD
1. Food is Medicine! Avoid inflammatory foods that irritate and inflame the gut (soy, dairy products, gluten, grains, wheat, corn, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup and sugar, vegetable oils, conventionally-raised, factory-farmed meats and fish, GMOs, caffeine, alcohol). Eating foods you’re sensitive to creates inflammation in the intestinal tract by stimulating the immune system to attack your cells causing digestive dysfunction. The main culprits: dairy, soy, gluten, wheat, grains, corn, sugar and artificial sweeteners. Other items that your body does not recognize and cause digestive distress include processed vegetable oils and trans fats, GE foods, chemically-altered frankenfoods and processed, packaged foods. Even so called healthy items can be problematic for a specific individual if they eat the same foods day after day after day.
2. Rule out dysbiosis and chronic low-grade infections (yeast overgrowth, parasites, fungus, bacterial, Candida, C. difficile, SIBO and H.pylori) that are underlying factors than cause digestive distress and negatively impact your overall health, heart and brain function. These infections can flourish for years without causing any particular noticeable symptoms. Realize that oral contraceptives, antibiotics, PPIs, NSAIDs, wheat, sugar and fast food can cause damage to the GI tract, feed pathogens in the gut, increase risk of leaky gut, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, health problems and cause more severe gut dysfunction.
3. Restore beneficial bacteria with probiotics to re-establish a healthy balance of flora in the gut. Probiotics help reduce inflammation, improve digestion, ensure healthy gut flora, support immunity and help balance mood. Consume prebiotic-rich foods, a fuel source for probiotics: onions, garlic, leeks, dandelion, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, homemade kombucha and live-cultured, grass-fed yogurt can be beneficial to improve digestion for some (and problematic for others).
4. Stomach acid, bile production and a healthy gallbladder. Consider hydrochloric acid (HCL), digestive enzymes and bile support to improve digestion. Avoid antacids and PPIs at all costs. Instead supplement with HCL, bile support, digestive or pancreatic enzymes. Advertising suggests that heartburn and indigestion are caused by too much stomach acid. This is seldom, if ever the case. Actually, it’s just the opposite, not enough stomach acid. It’s unfortunate that many in the medical community fail to recognize how serious a health problem hypochlorhydria and achlorhydria are.
Hydrochloric acid is essential to protein digestion and the assimilation of vitamins and minerals. Overtime, low stomach acid can lead to serious health consequences. Those with low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) or no stomach acid (achlorhydria) often complain of bloating, belching, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating, loss of desire to eat meat or feeling full after eating only a small amount of food. And then, there are those with little or no stomach acid who experience absolutely no symptoms at all!
The main triggers of hypochlorhydria and achlorhydria: overly stressful lifestyles, eating too many chemicals and processed foods, and the normal aging process. Avoid HCL if you suspect you have an ulcer.
Bile is necessary for the emulsification of fats, absorbing fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K and your body’s ability to detox and eliminate toxins. When the gallbladder is congested or the bile is sticky, your body will not break down or emulsify the fats that you eat, digestion is compromised, nutrient deficiencies increase, it’s difficult to lose fat, and toxins accumulate.
5. Eat s-l-o-w-l-y. Did you know that fast eaters have more belly fat, higher glucose and insulin levels, more nutrient deficiencies, and experience more digestive problems?
Your stomach does not have teeth! Chew your food thoroughly until it’s liquefied so it’s broken down, enzymes are activated, and nutrients can be absorbed. As a bonus, you’ll eat less and your brain will receive signals from digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract that you’re full and well nourished.
6. Pay attention to how you feel 30-90 minutes after eating. Do you feel energized? Bloated? Tired or fatigued? Keep a food journal to help identify foods that are stressing your digestive system. Consider food sensitivities and test to assess!
7. Be conscious of your mood and avoid eating under stressful conditions, when you’re feeling depressed, angry, bored or upset. The digestive process is impaired when you’re stressed out and when there are unresolved emotions in which the mind is improperly digesting life experiences.
8. Sit down during mealtime. Turn off the television and your cell phone, stay off the computer, do not drive and eat, avoid listening to loud chaotic music, and engaging in stressful, complicated conversations during meal time.
9. Eat organic food for what it doesn’t have in it! This is a must! Choose organic, locally-grown food that is in season as much as possible due to the exorbitant amounts of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, glyphosate, toxic chemicals and xenohormones conventional foods contain. At minimum, choose organic grass-fed meats, pastured-raised poultry, eggs and wild fish over conventionally-raised frankenmeat and frankenfish. Familiarize yourself with the highest pesticide “dirty dozen” vegetables and fruits and always buy those organic.
10. Practice mindfulness. Be mindful and fully present especially during mealtime with yourself, those at your table and your food! 35% of digestion comes from being aware of your food, the smell, and the taste. Strengthen vagal tone.
The digestive process is 30-40% less effective when you’re tuned out and eating mindlessly.
Before eating, take a few deep, full belly breaths and bless your food with a silent prayer of gratitude. Full, deep, diaphragmatic breathing activates the relax and digest response in the body and will improve digestion.
11. Diversity of soluble-rich fiber foods in your diet such as dandelion, kale, chard, fennel, raddichio, arugula, spinach, cauliflower, cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, and other leafy greens and veggies. Green smoothies are an easy way to increase your intake of nutrient-dense veggies and folate-rich leafy greens with the added benefit of cleansing your digestive system and helping to move things along while providing an extra dose of fiber and an abundance of nutrients.
12. Sip on tea away from mealtime. Cinnamon, peppermint, ginger, chamomile, pau ‘d arco, slippery elm, fennel and marshmallow root tea help to soothe, repair and heal the gut, and improve digestion.
13. Take a walk after mealtime to stimulate digestion. Practice parasympathetic activities such as yoga, Qi gong, deep breathing or meditation to help your organs function more effectively.
14. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdomen, which can encourage acid reflux.
15. OTC and prescription drugs are digestive hazards! These include (but are not limited to) acid-blocking drugs, antacids, proton pump inhibitors, aspirin, Tylenol and NSAIDs that tear up the gut lining, impair digestion, cause leaky gut, multiple nutrient deficiencies, GI stress, and extreme health complications.
A study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology reported that even low-dose aspirin (as low as 75mg daily and up to 325mg daily) increases the risk of GI bleeding. Taking aspirin regularly not only increases risk of GI bleeding, it increases risk of micro-bleeding in the brain by 70 percent. According to the American Journal of Medicine approximately 107,000 individuals are hospitalized every year for NSAID-related GI complications, and at least 16,500 deaths occur.
16. Stay hydrated! Drink 8-12 ounces of filtered water before meals. Add the juice from a fresh lemon or lime and a 1/4 teaspoon of Celtic sea salt. Drink this 5-10 minutes before meals will help to improve digestion, promote bile production and increase HCL production.
Avoid drinking water during mealtime as it weakens and impairs digestion, and dilutes natural levels of HCL and bile that are required to properly breakdown and digest food.
17. Stimulate the vagus nerve. Make sure vagal tone via the vagus nerve to the stomach is stimulated. The vagus nerve is the longest of all our cranial nerves and creates a direct connection between our brain and our gut. It provides vital information between the brain and the gut on how the body is digesting food.
The parasympathetic branch of the nervous system influences rest and digestion. Efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system relies on the health and stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve regulates breathing, heart rate and digestion. Those with low vagal tone are more sensitive to stress and disease, and tend to have challenges such as difficulty swallowing, increased heart rate, constipation and weaker digestion.
One of the best ways to naturally and effectively activate the vagus nerve is to gargle. Slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises, visit your chiropractor and get adjusted, acupuncture, humming, washing or splashing your face with cold water, hot/cold showers (5 sets of 20 second each; always end with cold), and various relaxation techniques also activate the vagus nerve.
18. Nutrients to improve digestion, heal and support intestinal health and function, which is specific to each individual and their unique biochemistry.
*** Note: if you take probiotics, take them at the end of your meal or bedtime (never at the same time as HCL or digestive enzymes).
19. Identify nutrient deficiencies through a functional Blood Chemistry Analysis can help to optimize gallbladder function and improve digestion.