Digestive System

Digestive problems have been linked to other health issues from heart trouble to depression. How can something that goes on in the gut relate to cardiac illness or mental imbalance? This has been a topic of considerable scientific study and the medical field can now explain this strange connection. Doctors and natural health practitioners also recommend considering digestive health while pursuing answers to many conditions.

What Conditions?

Digestive imbalance has been linked to depression, anxiety, and eczema; ADHD, schizophrenia, and autism; heart problems, Dementia, and fibromyalgia. Actually, every system in your body relies on the proper absorption of nutrition to work effectively.

If some part is missing, the entire system is at risk. While digestive health is only one piece of the puzzle, it is an area which many people can address without going to the doctor.

In fact, your doctor will probably recommend the following approach before prescribing drugs, exams, or surgery unless there is blood in your feces, obstruction, or other severe pain. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if symptoms are severe.

Approaches to Digestive Maladies

You start digesting food long before you excrete waste products. The stomach is just below your sternum and from there, miles of intestines wind their way through your body. That is a long way to go and many things can interfere with the process.

Too Little Water

One is not drinking enough water. The first question homeopathic, holistic, and naturopathic practitioners ask patients will be how much water they drink. Many problems can be cleared up with better hydration to help the body break down and dissolve fiber so it can do its job of helping your body utilize nutrients and create regular bowel movements.

Insufficient Fiber

Another question relates to fiber: how much of it is in your diet? The best sources of fiber are found in foods such as pears, blueberries, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains. Avocados even contain a lot of fiber. You don’t need a supplement or fortified foods if your diet is rich in this important product.

Probiotics

What about probiotics: are you eating any? These can be found in fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut. You eat them if you like miso soup and yogurt is the traditional source. A high-quality plain yogurt made with whole milk is an excellent source of probiotics. These health bacteria eat the bad bacteria which are introduced to your stomach via illness, food, and poor hygiene. They thrive in a gut full of sugar and other refined foods which the body struggles to get rid of. Eating a cup of yogurt every day can restore the balance.

Refined Foods

Do you eat a lot baked and processed products? They often contain more sugar than you realize while most commercial baking is unsurprisingly full of heavily refined flour. If you like to bake, try to work with whole grains and stone-ground flour more often. Consider cutting back on bread and cookies. Even so-called “whole-wheat” bread is unlikely to be doing you much good.

Bad Fat

A lot of people feel cramped and uncomfortable after eating a fried meal. Cut back on your fat. It is probably causing some of these cramps. While some fat is good for you, stick to avocado, nuts, and naturally fatty fish. Cut out greasy burgers, chips, and fries.

Food Intolerance

Your practitioner might recommend starting a journal in which you record all the food and drink you consume. Keep a record of what and how much you eat and drink. A pattern will emerge in which certain common offenders appear. Cut out one at a time for at least a couple of weeks. Start with dairy, which often causes cramps, constipation, or diarrhea. If that’s not the culprit, try wheat. Modern wheat is not as wholesome as the wheat our forefathers grew and baked or cooked with, so it could be causing symptoms of bloating, brain fog, or pain. Next, try caffeine: is your stomach reacting to the acid in your coffee or tea? Consider eggs, sulfates, and soy. Many people’s ill health coincides with consumption of one or several foods. You might have to cut out a number of items to feel comfortable.

Supplements Can Be Helpful

Your diet might lack certain foods because you are unable to process them, dislike them, or they are hard to come by. Fresh fish is a good example. Stay away from farmed fish and GMO produce. That latter could be introducing chemicals into your body as crops are often protected by pesticides. Take a vitamin or very specific supplement to restore nutrients your body is lacking through an insufficient diet or owing to an ailment out of your control.

Read labels on multi-vitamins carefully and choose those which don’t contain allergens you are trying to avoid. Stay away from artificial sweeteners; dyes aren’t even necessary, artificial or not. You’ll find there are plenty of good vitamins for men, women, children, and mothers-to-be. There are vitamins for seniors, active individuals, and specific conditions. Several products address ADHD, autism, and mental health and probably contain either probiotics or digestive enzymes.

Put the horse before the cart by making sure your gut is feeling better before introducing vitamins. They won’t be absorbed in an inhospitable environment. Add a probiotic supplement to the shopping list if you don’t like the foods mentioned above. Given just a few weeks they should set the stage for better nutrient uptake and even promote weight loss in overweight individuals.

Digestive System
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Jana Evans

Janet Evans is our resident Health Nut and aspiring chef. She can shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with her eyes closed.