“To eat is human, to digest divine.”
I heard this quote during my studies at naturopathic college and it shows how common digestive issues are. It has been estimated that over 80% of people have digestive issues whether they realize it or not.
People without digestive symptoms often don’t see the need to address this area of health but how we digest impacts the bacteria in our intestinal tract (our microbiome).
The microbiome affects our immune system, mental health, hormones, metabolism, cardiovascular system and detoxification. To ignore our digestive health is a mistake.
The two digestive hot topics in recent years (while not new at all) are small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (a common cause of IBS) and leaky gut syndrome. Many practitioners jump right in with protocols to target these specific issues without looking for why they developed in the first place. This approach results in much slower progress and reliance supplements.
Poor gastrointestinal health is usually preceded by stress, and hormonal imbalances. A comprehensive program has to include all these areas for optimal results.
The 6 Rs
When I was in school nearly 20 years ago, I was taught the 4R’s for addressing digestive health. Since then I have added two more which are critical for optimal results.
Identify and remove toxins, food sensitivities and pathogens. These cause that local irritation or release of damaging chemicals into the general circulation affecting other tissues or organs.
Stomach acid and digestive enzymes help break down food, absorb nutrients and the eliminate waste.
Symptoms can often be enough to figure out if you are in need of digestive support, however, there are tests available which tell us how you are digesting fats, proteins, and carbs, the microbial environment and if there is inflammation present.
This means reestablishing a health microbiome in the bowel with the use of pre- and probiotics. A desirable balance of the GI microbiome is critical to intestinal tissue (mucosal) health, immune function, intestinal barrier function, digestion and overall health.
Healing the leaky gut with targeted nutrition.
Stress can result in increased cortisol levels (a stress hormone) which decreases our protective sIgA levels in the intestinal tract leading to an increased susceptibility to pathogens, inflammation and permeability. You need to take stress seriously and take steps to reduce and manage it.
Stress can lead to sex hormonal and thyroid hormonal disturbances which alter our microbiome and cause leaky gut. A comprehensive GI Health program looks to ensure hormonal balance as well as the other factors influencing GI Health.