Your Digestive System and Health: What You Must Know Good digestion is vital to overall well being and good health. Health care professionals agree; the health of your digestive system is the root of good health. Body cells need specific nutrients to function properly, without them, quality of life is compromised. Digestion is essential in this process. Food must be broken down into molecules small enough to enter our bloodstream and cells. When food is inadequately digested, absorption is incomplete and we are robbed of life giving nutrients. If food isn’t digested, the body breaks it down by fermentation. The fermenting food becomes toxic. Toxins are released into the bloodstream and to the cells and organs of our body. This process leads to sickness and disease. Proper digestion is important to conserve energy too. Digestion uses more energy than any other body process. When the digestive system works harder, precious energy is lost. This is often the result of poor digestion. Digestive Disorders Are On the Rise The typical Western diet is loaded with fats, sugars and processed foods. Add in stress and rushed meals it’s no surprise digestive problems are on the rise. Acid reflux, heartburn (GERD), indigestion, flatulence, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease have become an everyday part of life for millions of people. In fact, about 60 to 70 million people are affected by digestive disorders each year. It’s estimated that more than $107,000 billion dollars a year are spent on treatments, many ineffective (National Center for Health Statistics). Most OTC (over the counter) and allopathic (M.D.) prescribed treatments don’t cure the problem. Digestive problems can be painful, embarrassing, debilitating and very often lead to other serious health problems. A Working Knowledge of Digestion Since good digestion is the foundation for optimal health, it’s important to gain a basic understanding of the digestive process. Many people think that digestion occurs only in the stomach. While the stomach is part of digestion, the process actually begins when food touches the tongue. Food on the tongue sends a message to the brain that food is on the way. The brain is able to differentiate between every mineral, fat, carbohydrate, protein, etc. that touches the tongue. The stomach releases hydrochloric acid (HCL) based on signals from the brain. The brain even determines how much should be released. HCL kills bacteria, virus, parasites, yeast, molds and fungus that come along with the food and works to digest minerals. The food digested in the stomach and the accompanying enzymes, now called ‘chyme’, leave the stomach and enter the small intestines or duodenum. Upon entry hormones are released that signal the pancreas and gall bladder to release alkaline enzymes. These alkaline enzymes digest fats and proteins. The acids from the stomach and the alkaline enzymes combine and become neutralized. The digested food then goes down the rest of the digestive tract. Vital nutrients are delivered and wastes are expelled. This is the way digestion should work. This process has become hindered in many. Stress, rushed meals, processed foods, overeating and drinking with meals are the main contributors to bad digestion. Bad Digestion Begins in the Mouth We’re all in a hurry. Bad digestion often begins with the first bite. Most Americans chew only 10% of their food. The brain senses just that 10%, releasing only enough enzymes to digest that amount. The other 90% ferments or in other words - rots. The rotting food releases organic acids that burn and damage the stomach lining causing heartburn, flatulence, belching, bloating. Continued occurrence can result in GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). The fermented food, full of acids, leaves the pH of the chime at 4.5-5.0 instead of the regular 1.0-1.2 in proper digestion. When the chyme enters the duodenum the acidity level doesn’t trigger the pancreas and gall bladder to release enzymes. Without enzymes, the chyme never neutralizes. The results are irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis. Without the release of the gall bladder and pancreatic enzymes the fats and proteins never become digested fully. The body doesn’t get the essential nutrients it needs; eventually health declines and you even gain weight. After weeks, months and years of suffering people turn to their doctors for help. Most conventional doctors prescribe treatments for the symptoms and not the cause. These treatments often make the condition worse. Conventional (Allopathic) Medicine and Digestion Problems Tums, Rolaids and Pepto-Bismol all work by absorbing acids in the stomach. Unfortunately they don’t discriminate between good and bad acids and absorb both. The good acids are already in short supply, with medications absorbing these acids the problem grows. Prevacid, Zantac, Prilosec, Protonix, Acifex and Nexium take it a step further and stop the production of essential enzymes. This further complicates the malfunctioning digestive system’s problems. Less enzymes and lower levels of good acids lead to incomplete digestion. Foods ferment and become toxic. Nutrients pass through the body without being absorbed. Although doctors (M.D.) may have the best intentions to help their patients, allopathic treatments clearly don’t work. The conventional medical approach treats the symptoms while ignoring the causes. Treatments suppress the body’s natural reactions to heal itself. For example, when a patient goes to a doctor and complains of a cough, they are often given cough medicine. A cough is the body’s natural reaction to a foreign substance in the lungs; the muscles spasm to force its removal. Cough medicine simply stops this essential reflex and the foreign substance remains. Another drawback of conventional medicine is the side effects. Side effects are inadequately researched. Dangerous side effects are often not known until it’s too late. Think no further back than the 1960’s and thalidomide. Thalidomide was prescribed to treat morning sickness. It was discovered, after the fact, use of this drug resulted in severe birth defects. These types of treatments deny our body’s natural efforts to heal itself and can cause further damage. Holistic Healing and Digestive Disorders Holistic healing methods offer effective alternatives in treatment of many health problems including digestive disorders. The benefits of holistic healing approaches are numerous. Holistic healing involves using the body’s own innate healing abilities to overcome health problems. Holistic or alternative medicines work with body to eliminate the root causes, not mask the symptoms. Holistic medicine works in harmony with the body. Holistic treatments are all natural, with low risk of any side effects. They are also non addictive. Holistic healing looks at the whole person. All aspects of a person’s life are taken into account in treating disorders. Lifestyle, nutrition and stress levels are all important components in holistic healing treatments. There are a number of holistic methods. Following are several schools of holistic medicine approaches and treatments for disorders of the digestive system. Traditional Chinese Medicine Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the individual as a whole. All parts, processes, thoughts and emotions are considered when looking at illness. Disease and disorder are not isolated events but intimately connected to balance of the whole person. TCM utilizes acupuncture, massage, dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, stress reduction, exercise, herbal medicine and more in treating disorders. One condition is not given a standard treatment. The individual is treated and treatments vary between people. In treating digestive disorders acupuncture may be used and is helpful for anxiety related digestive issues. Herbs are commonly used for digestive problems. Herbs change the environment in the stomach and intestines to relieve digestive disorders. Diarrhea can be helped with Chinese Coptis Extract Pills. The active ingredient berberine, has strong antibiotic effects. Also look into atractylode pills (help move fluids through digestive canal), poria and codoniopsis for diarrhea. Patchouli pills are helpful for flu like symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Qi-Regulating pills aid with indigestion, diarrhea and flatulence. Six Gentlemen Tea pills contain ginseng, licorice root (found in most digestive formulas has antispasmodic properties and calms nervous disorders), citrus peel, atractylodes, poria and pinellia rhizome and are effective for digestive problems. Herbal treatments are specific to individuals and a certified practitioner should be consulted for optimal treatment. Herbology Herbology, aka botanical medicine or herbal medicine, is a traditional medicine or folk medicine based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbs commonly used in herbology to treat digestive disorders are caraway seeds, cumin seed, asafoefida, black pepper, dandelion root, rock salt, catnip and rhubarb. Herbology has been used effectively to treat numerous health problems since prehistoric times. Homeopathy The second most widely used medical system in the world; homeopathy uses all natural remedies in the minimal dosage necessary to treat patients. Mixing mineral, botanical and biological substances, homeopathy believes in treating like with like. Disorders are treated with substances that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person. Nuxvomica is used to treat heartburn, digestive spasms and nausea. Antimonium crudum for indigestion with nausea and belching. For bloating, headache, heartburn and acid reflux look into Lycopodium. Naturopathy Naturopathy is a holistic approach that emphasizes the body’s ability to heal and maintain itself with non toxic therapies. Looking at the whole individual acupuncture, nutrition, homeopath, counseling and more are used in treatments. Basic recommendations for digestive health are: Don’t overeat; eat plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetable. Eat slowly in a relaxed setting and chew thoroughly. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, sugars and tobacco. Eat lean proteins such as tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds. Keep hydrated drinking at least 2 liters of filtered water daily. Eat a yogurt with live probiotics daily. Herbal teas for digestive health are chamomile, peppermint, ginger and lemon, fennel and dandelion. To aid in digestion in the morning drink a warm glass of water with lemon juice. Before meals try apple cider vinegar, slippery elm or digestive enzymes. Increase bitter foods to produce more saliva and enzymes to help digestion. Osteopathy This philosophy emphasizes the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. Practitioners utilize the manipulation of joints and the reduction of muscle tension to improve blood and nerve supply to tissue so that the body can intuitively heal itself. Posture and exercise aid in recovery, promote health and prevent the return of symptoms. A practitioner in osteopathy or D.O is similar to medical doctors or M.D, at least in the United States. D.O. use adjustments to treat disorders, however many D.O. don’t do manipulations. When opting for a D.O., discuss manipulations; how many they do and experience in performing them. Ayurvedic Medicine The oldest surviving complete medical system in the world Ayurveda translates from Sanskrit to “life knowledge”. This medical system offers a comprehensive outlook to living a healthy life. Ayurvedic treatment emphasizes treating the root cause and not the symptoms of a disorder or disease. There are four main classifications of disease management: cleansing, palliation, rejuvenation and mental hygiene. Preparations (tablets, oils, powders, etc.) are made from natural herbs, plants and minerals. Diet, exercise and lifestyle are addressed as well. In treatment of constipation spices like cumin seeds, coriander, tumeric powder, fennel and asafetida are recommended. Drinking warm milk at bedtime is used to encourage elimination in the morning. Lemon juice and water taken several times a day also cleans the bowels. Triphala Churna/Triphala Tablets or Gandharva Haritaki Churna is recommended to take at bedtime with warm water or milk to aid digestion. Chiropractic Care Chiropractic care is based on the belief that improper alignment of the spine affects the nerves and the nervous system. The nervous system impacts all body functions. Correcting subluxations, chiropractors help numerous body systems to function at their optimal. The nerves in the digestive system are numerous and complex, they are sometimes referred to as the ‘second brain’. Nerves here speed up or slow down food passage; increase or decrease digestive juices and keep blood flowing or slow blood flow to digestive organs - all essential components in good digestive health. See a reputable chiropractor for an evaluation and adjustments. Educated Choices for Digestive Health A healthy digestive system is vital for overall wellbeing and good health. It makes sense to take the time to choose a method of treatment that gets to the cause of digestive problems and treats it. Money and time are wasted on conventional medical treatments that only address symptoms and make the problem worse. They have potentially nasty side effects that damage other body systems. There are many effective, safe and affordable options that will enable you to live life to its fullest with a healthy, digestive system and body that functions well everyday. With so many effective alternatives available you don’t have to compromise your health or pocketbook with ineffective treatments. When you improve your digestive health, you’ll see positive changes elsewhere.
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