Your digestive system is a key factor in your health
- The Australian
Although I’m a lapsed healthy person, a few years ago I had a diet that was immaculate by any standard. For breakfast I would have a shake with raw foods including: bee pollen, almonds, pea protein, unhulled sesame seeds (for calcium), fresh fruit, banana, raw cacao powder (high in vitamins and enzymes) and on it goes. It covered many necessary nutrients, hormone stimulants and antioxidants in wholefood form. The rest were covered in my diet through the day.
When needed I would take a supplement or an injection of B12 for vegetarians or aquatarians like me. But I felt and looked deficient in many natural vitamins. I was tired and pale with dry skin, and tests showed me lacking a lot of nutrients. Why? I asked myself.
At the time I was studying Ayurvedic medicine with visiting world-renowned professor Robert Svoboda, and also a subject called Food as Medicine as part of an intensive yoga teacher training course. And what I discovered shocked me and changed the way I live.
My digestive system was stuffed. Indian Ayurvedic medicine — which has been around thousands of years — teaches that you can eat great food, but if your digestion is bad then nothing will be assimilated into your system. Hence, I might as well have not bothered.
Tests showed I had a gut parasite, Blastocystis hominis, followed by Giardia — due to drinking rain water in Byron Bay off my roof (bird poo and god knows what else was not being properly filtered out through the net). A bout of heavy antibiotics didn’t help the good bacteria in my gut either.
I started to do regular detoxes and took allopathic (traditional) medication when needed as well as natural. After cutting out certain foods such as yeast — to eliminate gut candida — I started to absorb my healthy food again and felt much better.
It is believed 73 per cent of us suffer some kind of digestive or gastric problem at any time, entailing gas, bloating, pain, weak or poor digestion, sluggish metabolism leading to weight gain, intolerance to certain foods (wheat, wine, sugars). These smaller disorders can lead or be precursors to bigger ones.
According to Rob King, a Sydney-based men’s health expert specialising in gut-based disorders, malfunctioning intestines can lead to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. There are scientific studies linking bacteria overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome (intestinal permeability) to serious mental health issues, anxiety and depression, thyroid disease and autism, as well as general ill health, exhaustion, low libido, irritable bowel syndrome and even cardiac disease.
To better understand the process, the Mayo Clinic describes digestion as basically a process of breaking down big food particles into individual molecules, tiny enough to squeeze through the gastrointestinal lining into the bloodstream. The digestion process takes six to eight hours, via the stomach and small intestine. Then the food enters your large intestine (colon) for further digestion and absorption of fluids. The Mayo Clinic assesses average total transit time, from eating to elimination in stool, averages about 53 hours.
The general time spent in the stomach before leaving varies from 20 to 30 minutes for water and juices to three hours-plus for animal flesh. Certain heavier foods such as meat can ferment and rot in the gut if digestion isn’t optimal.
The more chewed (or pulverised) the food is, and lighter, the easier it is on the digestion process, which takes a huge amount of energy resources from the body (which is why I vitamised my breakfast).
By the way, Mamma was right. Eating slowly, sitting down and not jumping up from the table are very important for digestive juices to function properly.
Says Farida Irani, Ayurvedic practitioner and founder of the Subtle Energies clinic in Sydney: “For thousands of years we’ve said digestion is everything. The key word is absorption — getting nutrition passed to each tissue through the processes of extraction and transformation.”
She says digestion involves assimilation: first into our blood, then muscle tissue and bone, then bone marrow, and finally reproductive tissue.
“It’s a complex system. It’s not what you eat but what you can absorb and use that matters. How you digest can result in health or illness. We look at the functioning of the gut and liver primarily and try to heal any toxicity first.”
Ayurveda advocates keeping the digestive fire in the tummy burning (in contrast with the trend for extreme “alkaline”); and not drinking cold water with food. Different herbs and spices are added to stimulate the delicate internal ecosystem.
Now, Western research validates eons of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine wisdom. Award-winning German microbiologist and researcher Giulia Enders says: “For too long the gut has been the body’s most ignored and least appreciated part.” Her book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ has become a worldwide sensation and is on The New York Times bestseller list.
She says not to be terrified of bacteria: 95 per cent of bacteria around us and in the gut is good. It’s about dealing with the 5 per cent of bacteria (and parasites) that can make you sick and hinder digestion.
King says 70 per cent of his male clients have bacteria issues, for example overgrowth of Streptococcus or Enterococcus, and deficiency in good, helpful gut bacteria. Why? “The main cause is that the gut isn’t the same as it was after World War II,” he says. Nor are our foods the same, with the deterioration in soil quality and the advent of genetically modified products. Other contributors to digestion problems include: dietary indiscretion; drinking water with chlorine; exposure to chemicals; processed foods with added sugars (including fructose); alcohol imbalance; overuse of antibiotics; and overeating foods such as gluten and dairy proteins such as casein and whey.
Treatment includes cutting back on unhelpful foods. It is widely believed gluten is not an easily digestible protein and that we don’t have the molecular axe to break it down properly; the resulting leaky gut can lead to inflammation and increased risk of auto-immune diseases.
Cures include getting properly tested for the right flora and fauna. King says we need unique probiotics, tailored to each person’s gut, not all-rounders such as acidophilus (in yoghurt), which could worsen an individual’s problem.
He advises buying a home water filter system, which reduces chemicals and purifies water. Not being a big water drinker myself, I eat lots of high-water content foods to flush the system.
Genetics also can affect metabolism, says natural health practitioner Lucy Herron of the Lucy Rose Clinic chain. Herron, who specialises in thyroid health, says we have to test for genetic variations. For instance, those with the increasingly common MTHFR gene mutation have a defective enzyme that can severely affect how well the body converts and assimilates folic acid (B9) — critical to every bodily function including tissue growth, DNA and immunity. Supplements then can be given to help.
The bottom line is to be aware of what we are digesting and filter out what is toxic — not just in what we eat but from relationships and the world around us.
it seems that a lot of commentators dont wish to understand want contributes to good health and how simple it is. They prefer to go to their GP and receive prescriptions that deal with the sumptems and not deal with what causes the problems.
You are what you eat has never been more obvious and yet so true.
Just as long as tax payers keep funding you pills then everything is fine. Well you reap what you sow so enjoy a long lifetime of ill health and keep ignoring good advice on how you can turn you health around.
Not a helpful article.
King says 70 per cent of his male clients have bacteria issues, for example overgrowth of Streptococcus or Enterococcus, and deficiency in good, helpful gut bacteria. Why? “The main cause is that the gut isn’t the same as it was after World War II,” he says. Nor are our foods the same, with the deterioration in soil quality and the advent of genetically modified products.
A few things happened in the Second World War. Perhaps the author may wish to provide some form of context to the statement King made and its relevance.
Rather poor journalism.
Funny stuff that rain water at Byron Bay. I lived there for many years on a farm overlooking the Bay and my next door neighbor at 80 was out every day even in summer 8-10 hrs a day working outdoors building beautiful rock walls and drank unfiltered rain water all his life. He is now 95 and retired but still goes 2 days week to help in dune restoration working outdoors with young people. One of the healthiest people i have ever known yet drank this rain water that used to get all sorts of droppings in it. Folks rang up wanting to purify our water tanks and I said look at my neighbor, he has been drinking unpurified all his life, no thanks I want to be like him at that age.
@Mark I lived in Byron Bay as a kid and our only water supply was roof water stored in two tanks.
in saying that, I am a great believer in healthy gut healthy life
Gut health and the bacterial types and amounts do affect food absorption, general health and even mental health due to the Vagas nerves direct interaction with the gut…but please use scientific references and evidence to educate and point this out (of which there is plenty and it is growing), rather than just the sources you have used in this article, who by my reading are not medically or scientifically trained.
This is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever read in The Australian. Where is the scientific evidence that any of this is true? Completely biased and anecdotal work of fiction. Disappointed.
@Elizabeth I can attest that the headline is correct.
@Elizabeth Couldn’t agree more. The statement “Nor are our foods the same, with the deterioration in soil quality and the advent of genetically modified products. ” is completely fatuous. Bacteria is important in the gut, but according to the latest research, our gut bacteria is most influenced by the amount of fibre ingested. Reference ABC’s Catalyst program and articles in New Scientist.
@Elizabeth And gut bacteria can cause autism? Seems totally scientific to me…