The digestive system is one of our major interfaces between the outer world and our body’s inner world, which makes it pretty darn important! Unfortunately, many people take it for granted or don’t pay much attention to it. The process of digestion is actually very complex, it begins in our mouth with the chewing of food, and continues until the food is excreted from our bowels. The primary key to health lies in healthy digestion, if we do not digested properly, disease will ensue. What food we are digesting, how we digest, and how we eliminate leftovers effects our energy, mental clarity, skin, and our general health! Bloating, abdominal pain and bowel movements less than once a day is not normal and should be addressed by your medical or naturopathic doctor.
The “Five F’s” are a general rule of thumb for happy and healthy digestion: Fluids, Fiber, Flora, Fitness, Food Sensitivities.
Fluids: In general, we do not drink enough water. Our diets are filled with dehydrating fluids (coffee, pop, sports drinks, juice) instead of hydrating fluids (water, herbal tea, coconut water). Not being well hydrated leads to constipation, painful bowel movements, and abdominal pain. TV tells us we need to have 8 glasses of water per day, but the truth is, we are all different and we all need different amounts of water. Men need more than women, physically active people need more than non physically active people, the more dehydrating fluids you consume, the more water you require. There are two easy ways to determine approximately how much water you need each day:
1. Divide your body weight (pounds) by 2. This gives you the number of ounces of water you should consume daily. There are 8 ounces in 1 cup (250ml) of water.
2. Inspect your pee. It should be light or straw yellow to clear. Any darker suggests you are insufficiently hydrated, and you should drink more water.
Fiber: Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that our body cannot digest, yet it is an incredibly important part of proper digestion and health. The recommended daily allowance of fiber is 20 and 30 grams per day. Most of us only consume half of that. There are two types of fiber, and both are necessary to prevent digestive and abdominal complaints. Fiber also helps with proper excretion of cholesterol, hormones and metabolized chemicals and drugs. It helps to regulate blood sugar by slowing the release of sugar from food into the blood stream and reduces the risk of colon cancer.
1. Soluble fiber absorbs water from the digestive tract to bulk up your stool and make it soft. Sources of soluble fiber include: oats, fruit, flax, lentils, psyllium.
2. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water. It’s job is to act like a broom along the walls of the intestines, sweeping up excess food so nothing is left behind. Sources of insoluble fiber include: whole grains and skins of veggies.
Flora: It is estimated that there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms composing more than 500 different species within our digestive tract. Which means, bacteria is incredibly important in proper functioning of our body. All mucosal membranes, including our digestive tract are colonized with healthy forms of bacteria. The bacteria in our gut actually help us breakdown food, they provide a protective barrier along the walls of the tract, boost our immune system, and can even change brain chemistry! The typical Canadian diet/lifestyle, stress, and antibiotic use does not favour healthy gut flora, which is why probiotics and fermented foods like tempeh, miso, kombucha and sauerkraut are beneficial for many health complaints. Yogurt is also a good source of probiotics, however many products contain lots of sugar, which can actually aggravate digestion.
Fitness: We all know the importance of physical activity for weight loss and cardiovascular health, but it is just as important for digestive health. Contraction of abdominal wall muscles during a workout actually stimulates contraction of muscles in the digestive tract and promotes movement of food through the digestive tract. Moderate physical activity on a regular basis is most effective at keeping digestive complaints at bay.
Food Sensitivities: Last, but not least, if the above 4 changes have not improved your digestion, it may be necessary to look in to other possible causes of reduced gastrointestinal functioning. Food sensitivities may cause digestive complaints (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, heart burn, abdominal pain) and even skin conditions, thyroid issues, and migraines. When a part of our immune system marks digested food as foreign, the immune system is triggered causing a cascade of events leading to inflammation. Quite frequently the inflammation presents itself as digestion issues. When we eat reactive foods on a regular basis, we have constant inflammation in the digestive tract which impedes digestion. A simple finger prick blood test can determine if you have food sensitivities. Once the offending foods are removed, digestion can improve.
Happy digesting Peterborough!
– Dr. Brenda Tapp
Doula and Naturopathic Doctor