Friday, April 8, 2016

Digestive Health: Critical for Mental Health

Healthy digestion allows us to absorb nutrients from food properly, nourishing our bodies and our brains. When digestive function is compromised mental health symptoms can be exacerbated.  Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon.  Let’s talk about some basic nutrients that you can get from food and supplements that will support a healthy digestive tract.  

GI and immune support should include healthy bacteria, or probiotics, because 70% of your immune cells are in your gut.  When your GI tract is healthier seasonal allergies are often less severe because this system acts as a protective barrier from irritants.  Eating a whole foods diet including fermented foods (like yogurt, kefir, and refrigerated sauerkraut) with lots of vegetables and fiber, rather than packaged and a highly processed diet, contributes to bacterial diversity which is important for good health.  When purchasing a probiotic supplement note the potency (the number of live bacteria per pill). Retail products can range from a half billion to 100 billion in potency.  That seems like a lot, but we have 10x more bacteria than we do cells in our entire body.  Rotate probiotics when purchasing new bottles so you get a variety of healthy bacteria to repopulate your GI tract.  

Different types of bacteria live in the mouth, small intestine and colon.  There are two main families of healthy bacteria that live in your intestines.  This is a complex field, but basically supplements contain Lactobacillus strains, which are needed in the small intestine, and Bifido strains, which are needed in the colon.  

If someone has diarrhea, try a probiotic with more Lactobacillus strains.  Be cognizant of the risk of dehydration and losing electrolytes, especially in young children, the frail, and senior citizens.  See a doctor if necessary.  To stay hydrated drink more water, electrolyte mixes, use Himalayan or sea salt, coconut water or herbal teas including nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, red raspberry leaf and rosehips.  Ginger, chamomile, fennel, fresh basil and peppermint can reduce cramping.  Suggestions to slow GI transit time include Kudzu root dissolved in water or broth, unsweetened Carob powder or chips, or a homeopathic formula for diarrhea relief

For those prone to constipation, try a product with a higher ratio of Bifidobacterium. Feed colon cells with butyric acid from grass-fed butter or ghee.  Add fiber to your diet by eating more vegetables or using a fiber supplement.  Plenty of water is necessary in these circumstances.  A general rule for water intake is to consume half your body weight in ounces of water per day.  Drink most of your water between meals and keep a water bottle with you wherever you go. Always increase your water intake when adding fiber supplements.  Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating so additional water is necessary if you drink those. 

An irritated digestive tract can be soothed with bone broth, unsweetened dissolved gelatin, the inner filet of aloe vera juice, slippery elm, marshmallow root, DGL (deglycyrrihized licorice), L-glutamine, and zinc carnosine. Saccharomyces Boulardii is beneficial yeast that aids in gut repair and is available as a supplement.  

We secrete digestive enzymes to break down our food making the nutrients contained therein available for use by the body and brain.  There’s the possibility that your own enzymes have been knocked out during illness so supplementing these before meals can help you digest food more thoroughly.   Beware, however, of the possibility that digestive enzymes can speed the food through too fast when one is already experiencing rapid gut motility.  

These suggestions are the building blocks to improve your digestive health.  When beginning supplementation start slowly, begin only one new supplement at a time, and listen to your body and brain.  If the reaction is unfavorable, discontinue use.  Look for a practitioner who can individualize a plan for you such as an integrative medical doctor or a functional nutritionist. Always keep your doctor informed of supplement changes, especially if you are taking prescription or over the counter medications.  

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