When we think of eating healthy, we think of choosing foods that are fresh, local and organic, perhaps even eating more vegetables and fruits, getting enough protein and other beneficial macro and micro nutrients. All these things are important in bringing us vital nutrients and optimal health; however, there is another step that is often overlooked. We can eat the best foods available but if we are not digesting and absorbing our food efficiently and completely we are doing our body a disservice. Some simple steps can help improve the quality of your digestion, one bite at a time. Try introducing some of these ideas:
Abdominal bloating, pain, and acid reflux are some of the most common concerns that bring patients to a Naturopath’s office. The most common question I receive from patients experiencing regular digestive discomfort, is: “What food am I allergic to?” Well… What if it’s not about the food?
Digestive disorders are prevalent conditions. The most common digestive disorders include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, and even gall stone disease and hemorrhoids. According to the National Health Interview Survey, digestive disorders affect 60-70 million Americans.
In traditional Chinese medical theory, the two main organs involved with digestion are the spleen and stomach. The spleen is the main organ involved in gastro-intestinal disorders. Spleen governs transport and transformation of food in the body, including the excretion of waste. Spleen-Stomach transforms food into nutrients, which are the sources of Qi (energy) and blood. If there is an imbalance in the spleen or stomach, then a huge variety of associated problems can arise ranging from pain, to chronic fatigue, anxiety to insomnia.
The gut microbiota are microorganisms or bacteria that reside in our intestinal tract. Everyone has approximately 100 trillion microorganisms within their digestive system! Each person has a unique collection and assortment of these bacteria which are unique as our fingerprints. These gut bacteria play a fundamental role in shaping our metabolism, neuronal, and hormonal (endocrine) systems.
Microorganisms also impact our immune function and if dysfunctional, can contribute to problems such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease or depression. There are many research articles that show that the administration of certain strains of gut bacteria to rodents, results in decreased anxiety and depression.
What is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist?
In simple terms, a holistic nutritionist solves problems with food. We help access the body’s natural ability to recover and restore itself to a thriving and nourished state. When we prioritize nutrition and eat according to what the body needs at a cellular level, we start to see tremendous improvements in our energy levels and quality of life. A holistic nutritionist is a professional who has been educated in the subject of Natural Nutrition and complementary practices. They specialize in supporting the body through whole foods, balanced lifestyle, environment and a positive mind-body connection.
The digestive tract contains more than 70% of our immune system function and directly interacts with our nervous system. Poor digestion will impact our entire body and quality of life.
(an excerpt from her book “Eat Life”, due out in 2017, by Sarah Knight)
Each day we have experiences that affect us in different ways. Some experiences do little more than wash over the surface of our being, but others are ingested and go deeper inside us, creating emotional responses such as joy, despair, anger, frustration, and many others besides. When felt emotions are realized, appreciated, and allowed to live for their moment, we have the opportunity to learn from our experiences, and to grow and evolve.
This process, of digesting experiences and expressing the resultant emotions, can be likened to how the food we eat should be digested. Food enters our gastrointestinal systems, is broken down, and nutrients are assimilated and waste released. If our gastrointestinal system isn’t properly digesting food then we do not receive the goodness nor adequately release the toxins. A double whammy! We don’t get enough nourishment and toxic material builds up. In the same way, when we take in an experience, in order to be properly nourished by it and to ensure it doesn’t create stagnation and blockages in our systems, we need to digest it – which includes taking in the good stuff and eliminating any emotional byproducts.
~ Jianmin (Jamie) Xu, Registered Acupuncturist
With Christmas approaching, it is the season of holiday cheer, family gatherings, parties, travel, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Many people cope with digestive disorders caused by holiday stress, not getting enough sleep, and overeating. Acupuncture is extremely effective at treating a vast array of digestive disorders such as acid reflux (GERD), distended belly, gas and bloating. Below are some tips on how to do acupressure on yourself to improve your digestive function.
By Holly WhiteKnight, ND
A cute and very accurate bumper sticker from one of the Naturopathic Medical Schools reads: “The road to health is paved with good intestines”. The overall health of our body is in fact, intimately linked to the health of our intestines.
With an abundance of research connecting chronic health issues to the gastrointestinal tract (gut), we as naturopaths have a lot that we can offer to help heal your gut and get you on the road to healing your life. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity/intolerance, food allergies; these are all situations where there is significant inflammation somewhere in the gut. Such hostile conditions in the gut will eventually affect other parts of the body overtime and further weaken the immune system.
A large portion of our immune system lives in the gut. The body needs a positive balance of healthy bacteria (flora) in order to remain in good health and to prevent inflammatory states. The immune system in the gut must be strong enough to properly identify harmful bacteria and stimulate the body’s immune response to fight off infections and to keep the negative bacteria at bay and from multiplying to numbers that lead to a subsequent infection.
We all know that stress affects our mood.
Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
Though integrative medicine professionals have educated patients about the bacteria in their digestive tract for decades, a recent explosion of research and media attention is bringing this medical game-changing understanding to public light: Our lives depend on these bacteria. We’re neglecting to care for them and now our healthcare system is overwhelmed by epidemics of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity, and cancer, all of which are scientifically linked to unhealthy gut bacteria. We’ve acknowledged that this “gut microbiome” is directly linked to our immune system, thereby triggering autoimmune diseases, allergies, and asthma, when unbalanced. It’s also linked to our brain, thereby influencing our behaviour and possibly even triggering mood disorders. Though this science remains a few years ahead of current conventional medical practice, traditional medical systems such as Asian medicine, adapted by Western Integrative Medicine practitioners, have much experience and wisdom to share with us about protecting our gut bacteria, and our health.
Our bodies are composed of 10 times more bacteria than cells. The majority of these bacteria exist in our gut alongside where about 70% of our immune system function resides. They generate chemicals that teach our immune cells how to function and target harmful microbes. We’ve evolved with these bacteria so that disturbing them at critical points in our lives causes serious immune system shifts that we’re only beginning to understand. Therefore, immune imbalances such as asthma, allergies, or inflammation (e.g. some chronic pain conditions, heart disease, and some skin disorders), are a key sign that the gut microbiome may not be healthy. Gastrointestinal diseases or symptoms of poor digestive function (e.g. bloating, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea), are also common signs that the gut microbiome requires some extra protection.
Protecting your Gut Microbiome
Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
One of the most frustrating outcomes of an IBS diagnosis for many patients is the common judgement that “it’s all in your head”. If group hypnosis and “psycho-education” studies demonstrate positive benefits for people with IBS, then this must be true, right? Here’s a little bit of what “all in your head” means to me.
IBS is a “diagnosis of exclusion”, which means that to the best of our current medical knowledge, all causes of digestive pain have been ruled out, and there is no known cause for the pain. In fact, there are many additional causes of digestive pain involving seemingly unrelated systems in the body, including the nervous system (the gut makes more serotonin than the brain), endocrine system (there are many estrogen receptors on the gut, which is why many women experience symptoms only during certain times of their menstrual cycle), and immune system (which generates inflammation when “danger” is perceived).
This past decade has seen a substantial amount of scientific research about “the second brain”. The gut contains its own huge nerve network that can amazingly work independent of the brain. It connects to the brain largely through the part of the nervous system that works when a person is relaxed (i.e. the parasympathetic nervous system).
~ Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
Many of us would like to believe that our bodies are clean and sterile, but the truth is that we are made up of 10 times more bacteria than body cells. These bacteria manage our immune system, digest our food, and keep the ‘bad’ guys in-check. These friendly bacteria are not only crucial for our quality of life, but they keep us alive. When we change our balanced digestive environment, such as with acute use of antibiotics or chronic use of acid blocking medication like Nexium and Prevacid, susceptibility to damaging species like C. difficile and H. pylori increases, our risk for mineral deficiencies and associated diseases like osteoporosis increases, and our immune system function declines.
Tension, worry, mental fatigue, stress and physical ailments are all taxing on the digestive system. These depleting circumstances use the energy stores in our body, leaving less energy for digestion. Digestion requires a fair amount of energy to process food. Vegetables and fruit have digestive enzymes in them and require less energy to digest. Processed food and cooked food has fewer or no enzymes and require the most amount of energy to digest.
We have a finite amount of energy to use each day if we are not actively replenishing it. That means that in addition to digestion, any of the jobs performed by our body are using energy and are limited in effectiveness if our energy level is low – whether we are healing a chronic or acute pain or ailment, detoxifying, using brainpower, etc.
However, we don’t actually have a finite amount of energy to use each day. If that sounds contradictory,
Please view our entire June e-newsletter on Kids and Teens, here.
Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
Children are not born as the “clean slate” we once thought of them as. Our environment is over-burdened with toxic chemicals and babies are exposed to many of these while still in mom’s tummy. Even breast milk, which is the healthiest food for a newborn child, can be laden with fat-soluble toxins from mom’s body. The good news is that children are generally quite resilient and they often respond very well to healthcare approaches that promote healthy functioning of the entire body. This differs from some approaches that address uncomfortable symptoms by suppressing normal body processes, sometimes until a child “grows out of” their particular concern.
Many complementary and integrative medicines, such as Naturopathic Medicine, Osteopathy, and advanced forms of Reiki, treat conditions by identifying and treating where or how the body is having difficulty fixing itself. By gently supporting the body’s natural ability to heal, much of the guesswork in medicine is removed and optimal health, (rather than simply the absence of disease), is possible.
Comprehensive Stool Analysis
Everyday, practitioners at KIHC treat someone who experiences chronic digestive pain. Any digestive pain, including due to gas, constipation, heartburn, nausea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and Celiac disease, is an indication that digestive function is imbalanced, and this can be treated. Proper digestive function is necessary for optimal nutritional status, immune function, disease prevention, and indirectly all body functions.
Scientific laboratories in the United States provide answers through advanced stool testing that is not available through OHIP or your MD. These comprehensive tests more accurately identify harmful microbes including H. pylori, C. difficile, and parasites, and provide you with information that helps you optimize protective bacterial species in your gut and target problem areas of protein, carbohydrate, or fat metabolism. This testing can be requisitioned by your Naturopathic Doctor, and may be covered by private health insurance plans. Please see Doctor’s Data and Metametrix laboratories for more information.
Because digestive pain is sometimes a symptom of other health concerns, such as thyroid disorders, hormone imbalances, or immune dysfunction (e.g. food intolerances), discussing your overall health with a knowledgeable health practitioner will help you choose the kind of testing most likely to lead to the best treatment plan and resolution of digestive pain.