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Is your digestive system working properly?

Journal: Osteopathy Inc.
Date: 10 / 2009
Author: Cameron Moffatt D.O.(MP)

If one stops and thinks about it for a moment, the digestive system (DS) is really not given it due respect! Unless it's not working properly. It is the only system, besides the skin, that is exposed daily to the outside environment. It is bombarded with all kinds of material, from organic foods to over processed high sugar, nutrient dead food. Throw in some bacteria or parasites and you can see how hard your digestive system works for you. In this article let's look at some interesting aspects of it, as well; what are some things that can disturb it.

The surface area of the DS is about the size of a tennis court. 'Current research indicates that 70 percent of the immune system is located in the digestive system.' Digestive Wellness, Elizabeth Lipski, PhD., CCN. When someone wants to improve immune function, the best place to start is the DS. 'The mucosal lining (of the small and large intestine) is one cell thick. Underneath this is the gut-associated lymphatic tissue [GALT]. It must continually distinguish between friend [nutrients] and foe [pathogens and improperly digested food].' Digestive Wellness, Elizabeth Lipski, PhD.,CCN.

As Richard N. Ash M.D. says in his book 'What Your Doctor May Not Tell About IBS', Leaky gut syndrome can result from a number of factors including an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria, infection of the gastrointestinal tract, viral infection, poor nutrition or absorption of nutrients and genetic predisposition. Bacteria overgrowth can be caused by poor diet and the use of antibiotics. Another simpler way to envision a leaky gut is this. Imagine the holes in a sponge. The sponge is your intestinal wall and the holes allow molecules of a certain size to pass through. Now imagine the holes in that sponge are now enlarged. So of course, larger molecules and anything else that fit, can now pass through. And remember that 70 percent of the immune system is located in the digestive system. It lays behind the first layer, the mucosa. Your immune system is there to stop all unwanted material from entering into your blood stream. Leaking Gut Syndrome is a very serious challenge to not just your ability to digest foods but to your immune system as well. And when the immune system becomes fatigued all sorts of bad things happen, from the simplest such as a cold, to autoimmune diseases, to chronic illnesses.

What are some of the common causes I see in my clinic for Leaky Gut Syndrome?

  • Eating to quickly
  • Eating and drinking fluids in the same meal
  • Gluten- the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, some oats, spelt, kamut and red fife wheat
  • A ratio far too high of simple carbohydrates to proteins
  • Large coffee or alcohol intake
  • low water consumption
  • high stress levels that are not well attended to
  • any type of trauma to the abdominal region that has not been addresses- surgeries, past infections that may have altered the fascial integrity thereby displacing the various digestive organs

Here are some very simple ways to improve your digestion and if you have digestive concerns, these may start you on the road to better absorption and elimination.

Here are simple and cost-effective tools you can use at home(AND THEY WORK!)

  • Hydrate yourself first thing in the morning with 2 large glasses of water mixed with 1-2 tbsps of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
  • Stop drinking fluids one half an hour before meals and wait one hour before consuming any fluids. The exception for this is one glass of wine or beer. Both are fermented and do aid digestion. ( But just a glass!)
  • Chew all your food well, especially meats and green leaf vegetables. The parotid glands are in the cheeks of your mouth. The tastes of salty or bitter foods cause these glands to excrete saliva that contains amylase which converts starches into sugars that your body can digest. Saliva from the parotid gland also contains antibodies that help fight infection. The submandibular gland at the back of your throat is activated by sour or fatty foods and produces thick saliva that helps you swallow food. The sublingual glands are located below your tongue and produce saliva that helps dilute sugar.
  • Stop eating 3-4 hours before sleeping at night. Digestion requires gravity and muscle contraction to aid peristalsis [movement of chyme or food].
  • Do not mix coffee and food together. Coffee is a stimulant and will increase the movement of food to the point that absorption is compromised.
  • Keeping a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats will allow the body to maintain both physical and mental health. Two different approaches,“Eat right for your blood type.”and Berry Sear’s “The Zone diet”,are different.
  • Ayurvedic Medicine looks at food as medicine and teaches that food can be used to heal,if consumed at the appropriate times and amounts. Ayurvedic medicine is approximately 3000 years old. It recognizes that different types of constitutions or body types require different approaches to eating and digesting our food.Hence, unlike the Western approach where one way of eating is recommended to all, different people would eat a different diet. Many well trained yoga instructors here in Victoria may be able to help with this approach, my wife Stephanie being one.
  • A key component to digestive health is movement. Movement will cause either expansion or contraction of the body. For improved digestion, expansion is best. Tai-Chi, Qi-Kong and Yoga are just three examples of movement that enhances deep core expansion.

I hope you have found this article helpful. An excellent source of additional information are two books I recommend. One discusses the benefits of Probiotics and the other discusses an integrative approach to digestive health- its a bit of a read, but very informative. Both can be viewed in the section 'Cameron Recommends', in the upper right hand section of the home page.

Have a healthy and fun day!