You and Your Health - Your gut and you: Why optimizing digestive function is foundational for your overall wellness

By Dr. Jill Kazuk

Submitted

Time and again people have been told “you are what you eat” and, to a degree, this is true. I’d like to build upon that notion and argue that…You are more than what you eat.

Instead, you are what you digest, absorb and what you do not eliminate. What I’m referring to is the quality of your digestive function and, thus, the health of your gastrointestinal tract. You may be making optimal food choices, but if you’re not properly absorbing and utilizing those vital nutrients all your good intentions become lacklustre.

Some health concerns are undeniably gastrointestinal in origin – gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, reflux, nausea, and vomiting. Crohn’s, colitis, gastritis, ulcers if you want to get more specific. Other conditions/symptoms are less-often discussed in correlation to the digestive tract despite their direct relation. These include, but are not limited to, brain fog, fatigue, disrupted sleep, hormonal imbalance, mood imbalances, impaired immune function, muscle aches and pains, skin issues, autoimmune disease, and the list goes on.

We don’t absorb food, we absorb nutrients

Digestion begins before food even touches our mouth – it starts with thinking about, smelling, preparing, and cooking food. The enzymatic cascade that takes place while we eat is an intricate process that is very susceptible to being derailed and one which, unfortunately, we are all guilty of taking for granted.

What disrupts digestion

Many things can disrupt digestion, however her are some of the most common culprits:

•Food intolerances

Removing food intolerances is integral to healthy gastrointestinal function. Food intolerances are not the same as food sensitivities/allergies which are immune-mediated responses (think IgG, IgE testing) which can occur as a result of consuming one’s food intolerances. Food intolerances can disrupt the tight junctions of the gastrointestinal lining, causing gut permeability or “leaky gut,” and chronic low-grade inflammation in the body.

•Poor diet choices

Processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars, hydrogenated oils (margarine), high fructose corn syrup, low-fat dairy products, powdered eggs, soda, juice, condiments, genetically-modified seafood and conventionally-raised meat...this list goes on.  

These are not real foods and your body does not know what to do with them. Although they trigger real physiological and hormonal responses in the body, rather than nourish the system they cause disruption.

•Infections

Infections can originate from multiple sources - bacterial, fungal, viral or parasitic – and can exist sub-clinically for decades, wreaking havoc on healthy gut flora and function, increasing intestinal permeability, and elevating inflammation levels.  

•Low stomach acids

Hydrochloric acid is released in our stomach upon ingestion of food and is integral to creating an environment conducive to breaking down food and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. When stomach acid is decreased, food stagnates causing poor absorption awhile fostering breeding grounds for undesirable organisms.

•Heavy metal toxicity

Heavy metals are toxic to the human body and easily damage the delicate mucosal layer that surrounds the inner lining of the intestines (in addition to a milieu of other problems). Without the presence of a healthy mucosal layer, good bacteria cannot colonize properly, immune function decreases, and susceptibility to further intestinal insults rises.  

•Pharmaceuticals

Corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids (TUMS, proton-pump inhibitors), non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen) degrade the intestinal wall, wipe out beneficial gut flora, decrease stomach acid, down-regulate normal inflammatory responses, and cause chronic digestive imbalances.

•Chronic stress

This is by far the most common reason for digestive dysfunction. What is intriguing about this process is that when we are under high levels of stress, our body isn’t concerned with digesting and the entire process is diminished. This makes sense when we are in the midst of a soccer game – we want all our focus and energy to go towards fuelling our muscles and brain. The problem is, our body perceives all stress as just that, stress. Rushing to work, talking on the phone while driving, all while downing your breakfast smoothie = stress. Imagine no lysing enzymes, no rhythmic churning, no slow and methodical breakdown, little absorption, and even less energy even though you technically “had” breakfast…and it’s only 9:00 a.m. Instead, think inflammation, bloating, heartburn, abdominal pain, burping, fatigue, and…mid-morning sugar cravings!

“Paleo, corn-free, egg-free, nut-free, I’ve tried Keto, I’m reactive to everything…Nothing works for me!”

Sound familiar?

Just as there are countless reasons how digestion can go wrong, there are countless reasons why one diet does not work for everyone.

So this is all fine and dandy, what do you do?

The big looming question is ‘what can you do?’

•Dial in your diet. Prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods, regular meal times, frequency and proportions.  

•Practice food hygiene: allocate time for menu planning and food preparation. Sit down for your meals (not in the car, not at your desk, not at your children’s soccer game). Sit down at a table intended to do one and only one thing: eat. Be present with your food and mindful of what you’re eating. Chew. Enjoy relaxing company. Allow yourself time to rest and digest. Take more than 3 minutes to eat so that you learn to recognize when your body is getting full. Start taking proportions that mirror this newfound knowing-ness

•Drink clean water. This is the most affordable medicine available to you – stay hydrated.  

•Support your own natural detoxification process by dry skin brushing, sweating and deep breathing daily.

•Get outside and move - breathe fresh air.  

•Allow enough time for adequate sleep at night.

•Have fun, laugh, play. As we get older we can often forget this simple self-care practice. Find things that bring you joy and do them regularly.

If you have all of these basic treatment guidelines in place and you are still experiencing suboptimal health, it’s likely time to seek professional help. There IS a doctor who can help you with this, takes the time to understand your health history and current concerns. Most people don’t understand naturopathic doctors exist so take a minute this week to share this with someone you know.

Looking Back - 1998 : Teachers enjoy reunion

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Photo courtesy of the Neepawa Banner & Press archives

Seated left to right are Dorothy (Osborne) McFayden, Edith (Larsen) Dunsmore, Eleanor (Wareham) Stewart, Dorothy (Ellis) Forsythe and Mary (Campbell) McLaughlin.

By Cassandra Wehrhahn

Neepawa Banner & Press

80 years ago,

Tuesday,

July 26, 1938

A shipment of made-in-Winnipeg shoes is going to a firm in Toronto this week for the first time in the history of the west.

Read more: Looking Back - 1998 : Teachers enjoy reunion

Out of Helen's Kitchen - Thai curry chicken

By Helen Drysdale

Neepawa Banner & Press

Thai food is one of my favourites!  While visiting friends we made a flavorful Thai recipe that was simple and tasty.

Read more: Out of Helen's Kitchen - Thai curry chicken

Corrections - July 27

In the July 13 edition of the Banner & Press, in the photo essay ‘Fashionable appearances at Clear Lake’, it was suggested that the Cove Fashion Show took place on Saturday, July 7. The event actually occured on Saturday, June 23, during Wasagaming Moonlight Madness.

As well, in the July 20 edition, the name of Neepawa’s fire chief was misspelt. The correct spelling is Yves Guillas.

Letters - Be a donor

Submitted

Neepawa Banner & Press

Only 3.7 per cent of Canadians are blood donors yet 100 percent are potential recipients. What motivates people to be a blood donor?

Read more: Letters - Be a donor