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Digestion & the Gut – Keep it Clean

Digestion and the Gut

Nothing impacts your overall health more than what you put in your body. The health of your gut has a huge impact on your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

The gut is the starting point for inflammation and disease, or for good health, depending on what you eat and drink. There are approximately 100 times as many microorganisms within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract (about 100 trillion) as there are cells in your body.

Interestingly, the stomach is the starting point of major digestive activity, but nothing except alcohol is actually absorbed there.  The small intestine is where virtually all nutrient absorption happens. The less your body has of a specific nutrient, the more readily it will be absorbed.

Consumption of animal products and processed foods and beverages is associated with increased levels of C-Reactive Protein (aptly abbreviated as CRP). CRP is produced by the liver and is a reliable marker of inflammation. The level of CRP rises when there is inflammation throughout the body.

Animal foods and processed foods are acidic and inflammatory vs. plant foods which are alkaline and anti-inflammatory.  In other words – animal products, sugar, caffeine and alcohol start the fire, while fruits, vegetables and water put it out.

Every time you consume acidic foods and beverages, they leach calcium from your bones to help alkalize your system.  This is what eventually leads to osteoporosis, hip replacement, and knee replacement later in life, as well as arthritis and muscle inflammation and pain earlier in life.

Intestinal Bacteria / Microbiome

Your body is a complex ecosystem made up of more than 100 trillion microbes (bacteria). Your intestinal bacteria outnumber your body’s cells by 100 to 1.  Dietary choices can rapidly alter gut bacteria. Your microbiome is continuously affected by your diet and lifestyle choices, in turn affecting your physical and mental health.  If your gut bacteria are thrown out of balance, all sorts of illnesses can result, both acute and chronic.

Soluble fiber from vegetables and fruits feeds good bacteria in the gut and insoluble fiber helps move things through your system.  The gut’s good bacteria helps the body digest food, absorb nutrients and facilitate the elimination process.

Meat, eggs, and dairy contain no fiber, but they do contain viruses, pathogens and bad bacteria as well as feeding bad bacteria in your gut. When toxic byproducts accumulate in the intestines all kinds of unpleasant things can occur. Toxins can be absorbed through the intestine wall and will end up in the blood stream, and when these toxins enter the blood stream they will come into contact with all the cells throughout the body causing inflammation and disease.

Your gut bacteria can influence your food cravings by releasing chemical signals through the vagus nerve which connects your gut to your brain. Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good, according to an article by the University of California San Francisco entitled “Do Gut Bacteria Rule Our Minds?”.

Factors that negatively affect gut microbiome include:

  • Any foods that don’t contain fiber, namely meat, eggs, dairy, sugar, oils and processed foods
  • Artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, preservatives
  • Refined sugars feed bad bacteria
  • Genetically engineered foods (GMOs) – Agricultural chemicals, glyphosate (Roundup) can kill beneficial gut microbes if you eat foods contaminated with Roundup. Most foods in the U.S. are now contaminated unless labeled “Organic.” Glyphosate is a carcinogen.
  • Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water
  • Antibiotics
  • Antibacterial products
  • NSAIDs can damage cell membranes raising cancer risk
  • Antacids – products and drugs that block production of acid in your stomach
  • Alcohol damages the lining of the stomach and small intestines, altering and reducing vitamin and mineral absorption.

The best way to optimize your gut flora is with a whole foods, plant-based diet with as many organic and raw plant foods as possible.  Drink water or unsweetened herbal teas instead of other beverages as often as possible. (If you’re feeling way out of whack, this detoxing may cause some uncomfortable bloating for a period of time until your system is balanced and healthy again.)

Constipation

Over 60 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation.  That’s about 1 in 5 people!  Constipation is caused by a low-fiber diet.  The SAD Standard American Diet of meat, dairy and processed foods is devoid of fiber. Caffeinated, alcoholic, and sugary beverages exacerbate the situation by dehydrating the body even further.

Plant foods – vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, starches and whole grains – are full of fiber and water that move easily through intestines.  A well-functioning digestive system will have excellent elimination to make you feel so much better.

Natural Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria that keep your digestive system healthy by controlling overgrowth of bad bacteria. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body and are food for probiotic bacteria. Plant foods naturally contain these to help you maintain a healthy digestive system. Probiotic supplements are useless if you continue otherwise unhealthy eating habits, and they are not needed if you’re consuming a healthy diet.

Article by Christine & Sonny Gray

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