I want to preface this by saying that no two people are alike. Each of us has varying levels of digestive health. And when we talk about digestive health, we’re really talking about a number of different components in the digestive process.
Chew Your Food
Digestion begins before we even put food in our mouth. It starts with the thought, smell or site of delicious food.
Our nervous system is so amazing, that if we even sense the possibility of eating something, especially something appetizing, it stimulates hormones, secretion of saliva and other stuff that aids in digestion before we even take the first bite.
As soon as you take a bite of food it starts to break down. A ton of research shows that people who are mindful of chewing their food and eating slowly, tend to feel satisfied, eat less, and maintain a healthier body fat level.
Without changing your food choices, you can change your appetite and reduce food intake, simply by eating slower.
Not only that, the food arrives in your stomach in a form that’s easier to digest and absorb.
Support Your Stomach Acid
From the mouth, food makes it trek to the stomach.
The stomach is super-important for breaking down protein and fat. Carbohydrates get broken down in the mouth.
A healthy stomach’s acidity level is about the same as battery acid.
It needs to be acidic, primarily, to break down protein. If protein is not broken down in the stomach, it can travel to the intestines intact and lead to food sensitivities and intolerances.
Stomach acid is an important factor in digestion and is often overlooked, even by doctors who write out prescriptions for acid reducing drugs daily.
In fact, antacid sales exceed $13 billion worldwide, even though heartburn and GERD are actually caused by not enough stomach acid, not too much.
Antacids raises the pH of the stomach and lowers acid levels. As a result, proteins may not be broken down, minerals may not be absorbed, and possibly even worse, the stomach can’t sterilize the food passing through.
The extreme acid level of a healthy stomach helps to kill of pathogens. When the acid level of the stomach falls, these pathogens live and can travel to the intestines, where they multiply and contribute to declining health and a compromised immune system.
H.pylori and candida infections are known to be a result of low stomach acid levels. Food sensitivities can result over time from low stomach acid as well.
Stomach acid levels fall as we age, and when we’re under high levels of stress. The stomach may also become less acidic from our dietary choices, more specifically a diet rich in excessive carbohydrates.
Some people find significant relief when they supplement their diet with a supplement containing HCl or hydrochloric acid.
Making the stomach more acidic can help improve digestion, kill of pathogens and even lessen the effect of reflux.
Reducing carbs in the diet helps too.
Supplement With Enzymes
In addition to a high stomach acid level, a healthy digestive system must also secrete a variety of enzymes to break down food.
Like many other systems in the body, our ability to secrete sufficient enzymes, changes as we age, when we’re exposed to stress, and with the medications we take.
As you might expect, enzymes work best in an acidic environment.
Some of the more commonly known enzymes are protease for proteins, lipase for fats, and amylase for carbohydrates.
This is where essential oils have had a profound effect on my digestive health. DiGize is an essential oil blend of tarragon, ginger, peppermint, juniper, fennel, lemongrass, anise, and patchouli, which act as natural enzymes to support normal digestion.
I supplement with DiGize before meals and no longer experience bloating or a distended stomach.
Help Your Healthy Bacteria Grow and Multiply
If stomach acid levels are not sufficient, it can directly affect the health of the intestines. When the intestines become unhealthy, they can let all kinds of bad stuff into our blood stream that should not be there.
It’s often said that 70% of our immune function depends on the health of the gut.
Stomach acid’s job is to kill off bad bacteria as food makes its way to the intestines. Whereas intestines support the growth of good bacteria.
We have more bacterial cells in our body than human cells. Nearly 10 times as many. About 40% of our genetics can be tied to the genetic bacteria that live in our bodies.
When we talk about good bacteria, we are talking about probiotics. Probiotics are a catch-all term for hundreds, if not thousands of different types of bacteria that live inside a human.
These bacteria help to increase nutrient absorption, ward off pathogens, and there’s sufficient evidence that the health of the bacteria in our intestines directly affects our mood and brain chemistry.
The sales of probiotics have exploded in recent years, as we’ve come to realize the value of healthy bacteria. Few would argue against the value of supplementing the diet with probiotics in addition to eating probiotic rich foods.
It’s also important to feed the health bacteria so it proliferates. And what do probiotics eat? Prebiotic fiber, which can be found in fibrous vegetables like garlic, onions, leeks and artichokes.
Bad bacteria also proliferates when you feed it excessive carbohydrates and sugar.
The perfect storm for bad bacteria to over-populate your intestines is to have low stomach acid and eat a high carbohydrate diet.
It’s also important to note, the quickest route to obliterating the good bacteria found in your gut, is a cycle of antibiotics — it can take years to recover. Check out the book, Beyond Antiobiotics, by my friend Dr. Michael Schmidt to learn more.
Value Personal Experimentation
As you can see, there are a lot of ways digestion can go wrong, and what works for one person may not always work for another. Essential oils and supplements support a healthy gut when they are combined with a healthy diet.