A certain (Dr) Gillian McKeith published a book a while ago entitled “You are what you eat”. Following an even more popular TV show of the same name, the phrase gained immense popularity but as it turns out, ‘The Poo Lady’ (as she also came to be known) was not quite right.
Obviously someone who has misled the public about her real qualifications and sold unlicenced herbal supplements for sexual function should not be the measure of truth, nevertheless her concepts influenced our ideas of nutrition and health. Actually, taking a closer look inside the toilet bowl can tell you a lot about your digestion but rummaging through your faeces should not be used as a diagnostic tool!
More accurately, the phrase should read “You are what you digest…absorb and metabolise”. Eating a healthy diet does not necessarily mean you are actually getting all the nutrients you need. In naturopathic nutrition and functional medicine we see a well-functioning digestive system as the foundation of health. After all, it is the site of food breakdown and nutrient absorption. Should digestion be compromised, every other organ in your body will receive a reduced supply of nutrients and can potentially be affected.
I sometimes get curious and confused looks when I suggest to a client who came to see me for arthritis that, actually, a digestive enzyme could be the answer. Even though many people who change their lifestyle and start following a nutrient dense diet experience better overall quality of life, some never seem to reach their full potential and might still be suffering from digestive upsets and other symptoms. It is possible to dramatically improve nutrient status without taking a supplement or manipulating your food intake but instead concentrating on improving digestive function.
Here are my top three suggestions to reignite your digestive fire and I promise you won’t turn into broccoli just because you eat it!
1. Acid attack
Adequate stomach acid levels are the cornerstone of successful digestion. We need a highly acidic environment to split minerals from their organic carriers and bind them to amino acids for transport and absorption. The same cells that produce stomach acid also produce a compound called intrinsic factor which is essential for vitamin B12 absorption. Symptoms like tiredness, fatigue, fractures or thinning of the bone may actually be related to low stomach acid levels! Boost your pool of acid by sipping a little apple cider vinegar with warm water before every meal and adding fresh lemon to your daily supply of water. You can also buy HCL (hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) in supplement form to raise acid levels very quickly and efficiently! You might even be able to alleviate complaints of indigestion and heartburn because both symptoms are associated with low stomach acid levels!
2. Your enzymatic powerhouse
Your digestive system produces close to 2 litres of digestive juices a day, much of it containing digestive enzymes. In the presence of food in the small intestine, your pancreas will release a hoard of different enzymes to break down proteins, carbohydrates and fat. The pancreas can easily be overwhelmed and symptoms of poor enzymatic digestion are bloating, wind, fullness, indigestion and undigested food particles in your stool (remember to peek into the loo). Bitter herbs such as rocket, dandelion leaves or gentian and goldenseal tea stimulate production of digestive juices and aid in the release of nutrients. Fruits like pineapple and papaya contain actual digestive enzymes called bromelain and papain. Opt to have them as a starter instead of dessert and your main course might become twice as nutritious! Digestive enzymes in capsule form are an excellent alternative. Taken 10 minutes before food, they will be ready and waiting to spring into action. When taken separately from food, digestive enzymes have the amazing ability to dissolve dead cells such as scar tissue!
3. Enlist the help of your private army
Your large intestine should be teeming with billions upon billions of friendly gut microbes. They are hard at work 24/7 to liberate as many nutrients from your food as possible! In addition, they produce certain nutrients themselves, such as B vitamins and vitamin K. Your beneficial microflora also regulate transit time and move food through your small and large intestine just slow enough to maximise absorption of nutrients and water and just fast enough to carry toxins and waste material out of your system. Supplementing with a good probiotic capsule of at least 10 billion bacteria in strength is almost always necessary. Unfortunately, 21st century life is toxic to your beneficial gut flora and downing a certain small bottle of overly sweet, milky yoghurt is not the answer. Once you have restored your little army to full strength, plain natural yoghurt and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and tempeh are ideal to maintain bacterial balance.