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July 23, 2014, 10:28 pm

Bad lifestyles block healthy digestion

If people in this country were actually eating the right foods in the right way, there would be no reason for us to rely on gallons of antacids or acid inhibitors, or enormous amount of laxatives.

We have come to a point where many of us actually need these chemicals to help us digest our food, assimilate its content and finally eliminate its waste byproducts. It is rather ironic that with the magnificent digestive system we’re equipped with (in my opinion, the most spectacular piece of machinery ever built), we still suffer from mechanical breakdowns like gas, cramping, constipation and generally feeling sluggish after eating. These “red flags” to pop up, yet many of us continue to ignore them, and remain oblivious to the potential problems they can lead to.

There is no question we are not eating the right foods. We consume an incredible amount of soda, caffeine, drugs and alcohol, which all interfere with the normal digestive processes so that when we do eat (and depending on what we eat), we suffer the consequences. Adding stress and eating on the run creates a combination of factors that can lead to heartburn and indigestion, and may develop into ulcers and colon disease.

Simply stated, the process of digestion includes chewing our food and combining it with saliva, which contains enzymes designed to break down starches. The food then travels to the stomach, which secretes hydrochloric acid to break down proteins. In the stomach, the food is broken down and passes on to the small intestine, where more digestion, assimilation and the transport of nutrients into the bloodstream begins to take place. “Juices” from pancreas and liver secretions (bile) are sent to the small intestine to support this process. At this point in the digestive process (still in the small intestine) that the majority of the nutrient absorption takes place.

Poor absorption takes place when part of the small intestine malfunctions due to disease, injury, or infection.

The large intestine (or colon) is responsible for the absorption of water and provides a “holding tank” for the storage of waste until you have a bowel movement. Needless to say, this reservoir of waste is the perfect environment for bacteria to breed (moist, warm, dark) and can either serve to enhance our health or be a contributing factor to its’ breakdown. This is because not all intestinal bacteria are bad. In fact, the “friendly” bacteria help to synthesize nutrients in the intestinal tract, prevent disease-causing organisms, and maintain a healthy environment. Chemicals and drugs, particularly antibiotics and chlorine, can destroy these friendly bacteria. For example, a single course of antibiotic treatment from your doctor can destroy most of the friendly bacteria. This can lead to candida and yeast infections. Many times these conditions occur from eating antibiotic-laden meats and dairy products.

Many skin disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, hepatitis and other intestinal disorders are associated with a deficiency of “friendly bacteria (lactobacillus).

As we all know, our low-fiber diets have created lifestyles for us where constipation is more the norm than the exception.

Unless you suffer from bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, in my opinion, you can’t get too much fiber in your diet.

You know, we might be able to get away with some of our horrible eating habits if we had as physically active a lifestyle as our ancestors. But the harsh reality is that we eat more fat, we smoke, and we drink more alcohol, drink more caffeine, and then sit at our desks all day long stressed-out.

While many of us have incorporated more exercise into our daily routines, the majority of us still belong to a sedentary society. In light of this our dietary goals should be:

  • Move away from animal-based to plant-based sources of protein.
  • Decrease the saturated fats and sugars while increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

These two points are simple and possible to achieve, if only we realize how important they are to our overall health.

Another way you can help relieve your digestive issues is to start your day off right. We’re all busy, busy, busy, but it’s important to make time for your digestive health.

Eat a solid breakfast – It’s crucial to feed your body in the morning and put your digestion to work.

Exercise – Doing a low-level activity in the morning will help clear your mind, lower your level of stress and help move your bowel.

Probiotics – These are living microorganisms which, when taken in adequate amounts, have a beneficial effect on the body.

If you can include these in your morning routine, you’re going to wake up your digestive system and get things moving. It’s a great way to get your day underway!

Hopefully, these tips will have you well on your way to telling your digestive issues, “Enough already!”

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

 

Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?” and is a health columnist, radio commentator and an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health-related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine,” was released in January. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.