Optimizing Health Part 7: Digestion (Lower)
Blown Away by Gas and Bloating?
In part 7 of this series I talked to you about optimizing upper digestion. In this article we travel "south" out of the mouth, esophagus and stomach, and down into the small and large intestine — to focus on optimizing the function of your lower digestive tract.
How can you pinpoint the source of your digestive upset? How can you tell if the problem is in your upper or your lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract?
If your symptoms are from your upper GI tract, they usually take the form of acid reflux, a burning sensation in your stomach (and/or solar plexus) and burping.
If they're from your lower GI tract, your symptoms will more likely be gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. And the discomfort is felt lower down in your body — more near the belly button than the solar plexus.
But there's one way lower and upper GI concerns are similar. They're both easy to solve if you know what's causing the problem — and we'll discuss those problems, and their easy solutions, in this article.
Keys to Optimizing Lower Digestive Health
There are several keys to maintaining optimal lower digestive health. Most importantly are:
- Getting adequate water and fiber.
- Optimizing thyroid function.
- Optimizing healthy growth of the bugs that live in the colon.
Getting enough fiber largely means getting plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Getting adequate water means checking your mouth to see if it is dry or if you are frequently thirsty. And if you are, then you should drink!
To learn about optimizing your thyroid, see part 4 of this series, Healthy Thyroid, Healthy You.
In this article, my focus will be on optimizing a healthy balance of "good for you" bacteria and other organisms in the colon.
Problem #1: Yeast Overgrowth
A yeast (fungus) called candida albicans lives in your gut. That's normal and not a problem — until there's too much of it, which then becomes a condition called "yeast overgrowth."
When there is an overgrowth of billions of unnecessary yeast, your gut turns into a churning fermentation tank. (Yeast, remember, is the organism that ferments beer and wine.) Needless to say, they generate plenty of excess gas and the bloating that goes along with it. They also play havoc with the production of normal stool, while pumping out toxins, weakening the immune system and generally causing problems. (One little-known sign of yeast overgrowth: chronic nasal congestion and sinus issues.)
Yeast overgrowth is typically triggered by one or more of the following factors:
- Taking antibiotics. They kill the friendly bacteria in the gut that keep candida in check.
- Taking high-dose anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, like prednisone, which suppress immune function.
- Eating a high-sugar diet. Sugar is yeast's favorite food.
Problem #2: Gut Infections
There are literally trillions of bacteria in your gut — so many that they outnumber the rest of the cells in your entire body! Once upon a time (basically, before the 20th century) people had a healthy balance of gut bacteria, with good bacteria keeping the bad guys in check.
But a diet loaded with sugar and other refined carbohydrates (antibiotic overuse) and too little bacteria-slaying stomach acid (from the overuse of acid-blocking drugs like Nexium) have allowed bad bacteria to run amok. The result? A condition called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is a condition in which bad bacteria overrun your intestines and produce the uncomfortable conditions that you experience as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
This flood of bad bacteria also damages the lining of the intestinal tract, leading to "leaky gut syndrome," where excessively permeable intestinal walls allow partially digested food proteins to enter the bloodstream. Those proteins can then trigger food sensitivities and food allergies, adding another set of ills.
1. Avoid Candida Overgrowth
There are many herbal formulas that help to this, such as my favorite, Anti-Y, from NutriElements.
2. Cut Back on (or Eliminate) Sugar
Don't feed the yeast beast! For great tips on getting sugar out of your diet, check out my book Stop Sugar Addiction NOW! Here are a couple of ideas:
Use non-sugar sweeteners: For a healthy sugar substitute, use stevia, made from the leaves of a sweet-tasting herb. I like two brands best: Body Ecology and SweetLeaf. Don't be afraid of saccharine (Sweet'N Low), an artificial sweetener that has a long record of safety. But stay away from aspartame, as some people experience severe reactions to it.
Try new sugar-free drinks: VitaminWater and Sobe (made by Coke and Pepsi, respectively) now have stevia-sweetened, sugar-free selections — and no poison. (I read their ingredient lists, looking for poison, and was amazed and pleased not to find any.)
3. Talk to Your Doctor About Diflucan (Flucanazole), an Anti-Yeast Medication
This safe medication can help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria and yeast.
4. Optimize Thyroid Function
As I discussed in my July 19, 2012 newsletter, "Healthy Thyroid, Healthy You," optimizing thyroid function is key to optimizing digestion.
5. Take a Probiotic
A probiotic supplement provides a daily dose of friendly gut bacteria, repopulating your intestines with the good guys. I recommend taking your probiotic in "pearl" form, because these encapsuled pearls are like tiny tanks that carry the bacteria safely past the stomach acid into the small intestines, where the outer coating dissolves and the bacteria are released. If your probiotic is not in a pearl form, 99.9% of the friendly bacteria end up as collateral damage in the stomach. My favorite brand is Pearls Elite from Enzymatic Therapy.
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