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: INTRODUCING DIGESTION
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 here are some of the most common culprits:
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 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 ACID
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.
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.
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 fueling 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 9am. 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!”
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?’
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.
Dr. Kazuk is a Naturopathic Doctor that works in our Neepawa Chiropractic Centre.