Friday, January 14, 2011

Top 10 Steps Towards Digestive Wellness

Why should you care about your digestive wellness? Well for one the digestive system is the front-line defense against microbial invasion. It is the offensive line, the work-horse that gets no recognition for preventing illness, yet it is battling in the trenches daily. Responsible for all uptake of nutrients; the digestive system is like our fuel system. You do not want a rusty leaky fuel tank, nor a leaky beat up digestive tract. The health of your digestive system; we are talking from mouth to brown-eye, WILL determine your health.

Here are the TOP 10 Steps Towards Digestive Wellness

1. Avoid Grains, Especially Gluten!

What! Whole grains are bad? Yes, my friend, they are. I know, I know. Bagels are delicious, but if you are concerned about your health, it is best to avoid the grain products. Not all grains are created equal. All are problematic in one sense or other, but gluten containing grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt etc... are especially problematic. Previously thought to be problematic only in those with celiac disease, new light is being shed on the subject...

Gluten increases gut permeability, which allows unwanted materials (gliadin, bacteria, undigested food particles etc..) to enter the blood stream. Essentially this is poop in your blood stream (NOT GOOD!) The immune system then kicks into action in an inflammatory process to battle the unwanted molecules. Gluten has been shown to be inflammatory in studies to more than just those with celiac disease. Now, we also have a mechanism to this madness. Gluten increases the action of zonulin which is a protein that takes action of the tight-junctions in the intestines. The tight junctions now are known to be adaptive to the requests of zonulin which readily opens up the tight junctions in the presence of gluten in more than just celiacs. Anyone with an auto-immune problem or interested in reducing their chances of developing such problems would be best to avoid gluten and most grains for that matter. More on this later.

2. Avoid Eating When Stressed

When the body is stressed, blood flow is shunted away from the guts and vital organs and sent to the muscles. Stress elicits the fight or flight response which raises blood pressure, increases lung capacity, sharpens our brains and gets us ready to beat ass or haul ass, not help ass assimilate its meal. Stress essentially turns off digestion. Your body literally will eliminate all its colonic waste when stressed. (Ever heard of scaring the crap out of someone). I personally always have a BM pre-workout. My body has trained its self to anticipate the beatdown its about to take and has learned it is better to eliminate that waste rather than letting it rot down there while my digestive system is down regulated.
Chronic stress can contribute to poor food choices and/or skipping meals. Stress also makes for ineffective digestion. Practice stress reduction and allow adequate time for meals. Eat healthy foods to satiety or beyond so that you will not later binge on less healthy processed goodies.
Take time to enjoy the smell of your meal. Anticipation of food begins digestion. Digestive juices, enzymes, hormones and saliva begin to flow when we sense food coming our way. This is our bodies way of preparing for the work ahead. Take the time to chew your food adequately. Most folks tend to scarf food down which creates more work for our metabolically expensive digestive enzymes. Instead, take the time to enjoy your food and chew it THOROUGHLY! Saliva contains amylase, an enyzme that begins to break down carbohydrates. Additionally, the act of chewing stimulates the parotid glands in the jaw to release hormones that stimulate the thymus to produce T-cells, which help strengthen the immune system. Chewing thoroughly will also make for better assimilation of proteins and fats.

3. STOP Taking NSAID's (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

Inflammation is the bodies way of telling you something is wrong. It manifests as pain, redness and swelling. Most people will mask this pain with some sort of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) and go on with their lives, ignoring the true problem. NSAID's include Aspirin (especially hard on the stomach lining), Tylenol, Motrin, Advil and any generic Ibuprofen. Prolonged use of NSAID's not only ignore the acute problem it sets the stage for CHRONIC problems. Worse, in regards to digestive health NSAID's tear through the mucusal lining of our stomach allowing our flesh melting stomach acid to come in contact with the intestinal lining, creating a painful ulcer. Besides damaging the stomach and intestinal linings, NSAID's contribute to leaky gut-syndrome or intestinal permeability, food sensitivities and inflammatory problems such as arthritis and eczema. Moral of the story, AVOID NSAID's. Listen to your body. Eliminate the inflammatory stimulus instead of throwing NSAID's on the fire.

4. When you get the urge, let em surge. (Poop promptly)

Some folks may get embarrassed by the fact that they are human and have bowel movements. These folks that don't want their coworkers to smell their stool will have to deal with a host of negative health issues. The longer the waste sits in the colon, the more concentrated the bile acids become; this irritates the lining of the colon. More importantly, "old" hormones that have been sent to the grave for elimination sit in the colon too long and are reabsorbed into the bloodstream. These hormones then increase the risk for estrogen-dependent cancers. Lastly, not unloading can give the bad bugs too much of that nasty fuel to chew on and lead to dysbiosis (microbial imbalances) in the colon.

5. Drink Less! (booze not water)

Consuming alcohol has shown to increase intestinal permeability. Not only may alcohol contribute to the growing epidemic that is leaky gut syndrome, it is also shown to cause acute gastric (stomach) mucusal injury (Don't throw NSAID'S into the injured mucusal layer unless you want ulceration). How many people do you know who take NSAID's after a bender? Me too, not good.

· Infrequent and moderate consumption of alcohol stimulates gastric acid secretion, while higher doses inhibit it. Inhibited gastric acid secretion will result in poor digestion and lead to GERD amongst other problems. Chronic alcohol consumption also causes inflammation throughout the digestive tract, specifically to the gastric mucusal layer. Alcohol is a stressor, which as we discussed earlier can elicit a stress response that will decrease motility in the intestines. Decreased digestive motility equates to a longer transit time, allowing for bacterial overgrowth which may cause gas and abdominal discomfort.

Don't even get me started on beer. Beer is concentrated gluten in an alcoholic solution. Drink beer regularly if you want poop in your blood and a rotund estrogenic shape.

6. Eat your Fiber!

Fiber keeps things moving, feeds healthy bacteria, removes toxins and can lower cholesterol. Nuff Said.

7. Don't take Antacids

The stomach is designed to be an inhospitable place. It is our first (and often last) defense against mibrobial invasion. Normal stomach acidity is PH 2.0. This is acid enough to burn through your skin. Fortunately if your not abusing NSAID's and are otherwise healthy, the mucusal lining of the stomach will prevent the acid from ever burning into the stomach's endothelium (stomach skin if ya will). Adequate stomach acidity in the form of hydrochloric acid (HCL) helps to digest and make use of proteins, calcium, vitamin b12 and many other nutrients.
Antacids, like NSAID's are overused. The true problem is lack of stomach acid. A large meal placed into a hypochloritic (not enough stomach acid) stomach can cause reflux of acid up into the esophagus. This is rather unpleasant and the reason why people take antacids. Antacids cause a rebound acidity from the stomach's parietal cells, overproducing HCL. Overtime, they get burnt out from longterm antacid use and the stomach becomes hypochloritic. The lack of stomach acid negatively impacts digestion and immunity. If this is an issue for you, supplement with betaine HCL to regain the healthful acidic environment that is necessary in the stomach. Vinegar also works.

For more information on the importance of stomach acidity read this.

8. Exercise regularly

The movement associated with exercise massages the guts. It helps increase motility, or speeds the movement of food along the digestive tract. Smart exercise can also help reduce stress. Excessive stress decreases digestive efficiency and increases risk of numerous digestive problems.

9. Supplement with Probiotics

Antibiotics kill not just the bad bacteria but the good as well. Prophylactic and indiscriminant use of anti-biotics negatively impacts the healthy colonization of the good gut bacteria as well as producing more resiliant bacteria. Save the anti-biotic usage for the big bugs, never for a virus (flu/cold).

Probiotic supplementation helps ensure good digestion of foods. It does so by helping to displace "bad" bacteria in the gut by out competing them for the same real estate. This is a good thing as "bad" bacteria produce toxins that are poisonous to the cells around them and to the person they live in. Also, if there is intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome) they may be able to pass into the blood stream.

10. Eat prebiotic foods

Prebiotic foods like fruits, garlic, onions, artichokes, bananas, eggplant and other vegetables contain fiber that becomes fermented in the colon. They produce lactate and short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate, which is the main source of energy for colonic cells. Butyrate helps in cellular repair and is essential in protecting the mucus lining of the intestines, preventing leaky gut syndrome and translocation of bacteria to other organs.

These prebiotic foods, mostly fruits and vegetables are generally high in anti-0xidants known as polyphenols. Polyphenols increase the amount of beneficial bacteria while decreasing the amount of bad bacteria. Do not get your pre-biotic fiber from grains.


Lipski, Elizabeth. Digestive wellness . 3. ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Print.

Increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules and endotoxemia in patients with chronic alcohol abuse in different stages of alcohol-induced liver disease. Journal of Hepatology, Volume 32, Issue 5, May 2000 , Pages 742-747
Alexandr Parlesak, Christian Schäfer, Tatjana Schütz, J. Christian Bode and Christiane Bode

& Many others that I am too lazy to add properly but have either been linked or contributed minimally