By Jayson Kroner
If you were to ask ten different people what the most important system in the body is, you would most likely get ten different answers. Sadly, few would tell you that it was the digestive system. Truth be told, the digestive system is no less important than your heart, brain, or lungs. In fact, many experts will waste little time in telling you that this complex network of tubes, tunnels and digestive juices can make or break good health faster than any other system in the body.
Under the best of conditions, food is consumed, digested, and travels in uninterrupted fashion throughout the body, receiving all the nutrition it needs to stay energized, healthy and strong. The reality is much different, however. Today’s fast paced, on the go lifestyle has made it difficult for many to eat fresh, healthy, well-balanced meals. We’re more stressed. We sleep less. We don’t drink enough water, and are exposed to more toxins than at any time in recorded history. These factors, coupled with the intense complexity of the digestive system can take a huge toll on virtually every aspect of digestion. And when even one stage in the process becomes compromised, things have a way of snowballing in a manner that can impact the functional integrity of other systems throughout the body.
Of course, this is not to imply that we’re all gastrointestinally doomed. There are measures that can be taken to restore and support a healthy digestive tract, beginning with making the necessary diet and lifestyle adjustments. To help complement the process, there are a number of dietary supplements available today to help support healthy digestion. Let’s take a look at seven of the most important.
Digestive enzymes are specialized proteins that help break down the solid foods we consume into chyme – the nutrient rich, gel-like liquid that nourishes the body as it passes through the small intestine. Easy enough, right? Not really, and there’s a reason for this. While the body can produce many of the enzymes it needs, it is also bound by what’s known as enzyme potential. By this, we’re actually limited in the number of enzymes that can be manufactured over a lifetime.1 This makes it ultra important to acquire them from the foods we consume. But as too many of us have found out, this is often much easier said than done. Fortunately, there are many effective digestive enzyme formulas available today.
If you’re like most people, you probably cringe at the mention of the word bacteria. But you might be shocked to learn that your gastrointestinal tract is host to billions of microbes, bacterium and parasitic dwellers. Some are friendly, and some are, well...let’s just say not so friendly. The trick to maintaining a healthy gut microflora (population) is to ensure that the total number of not-so-friendly microbes does not outnumber those that are beneficial to your health. Because when this is allowed to happen, things can take an ugly turn for the worst. Eating undercooked meats, fast and processed meals, exposure to toxins and contaminants, poor lifestyle choices and regular use of antibiotics are all stepping stones to an unhealthy gut flora, and can lead to infection, ulcers, yeast overgrowth and other conditions.3 One of the easiest ways to keep things in proper balance is to get in the habit of supplementing with a quality probiotic formula every day.
The stomach is essentially the factory region of the digestive system. It churns and twists and teams up with digestive juices to break down solids into a consistency that can pass easily through the small and large intestines. From a structural perspective, it is lined with a thin mucous membrane (the mucosa) that is highly delicate and vulnerable to the presence of NSAIDS and bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori. Over time, these compounds can create erosions in the stomach mucosa that have been linked to several types of ulcers.4 Keeping in mind that digestion could not occur without the stomach, it is vitally important to keep its fragile mucous membrane protected. Ulcetrol™ contains a unique form of Zinc Carnosine called PepZinGI™ along with other synergistic catalysts that help safeguard the lining of the stomach.
The production of excess acid can be devastating to not only the lining of the stomach, but the esophagus and duodenum (upper most portion of the small intestine) as well. Consuming foods and beverages that are highly acidic such as red meats, carbonated soda, certain juices and others can all increase the acid content of the stomach. Over time, this can lead to reflux conditions that allow acid to overflow back into the esophagus, or acid reflux as it’s more commonly known today.5 Clearly, avoiding or reducing the amount of highly acidic foods is an excellent starting point when trying to prevent this from occurring. To help further control excess acid, you may want to try supplementing with Acid Redux™ - an innovative blend of Calcium carbonate, Magnesium hydroxide and Potassium hydroxide. Together, they can help neutralize acids in a manner that is much more natural than many of today’s most popular OTC antacids.
For thousands of years, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have relied on a potent combination of three fruits (Harada, Amla and Behada) to support many of the body’s most vital systems. The first is Harada – an extract known for its laxative, lubricating, antispasmodic, purifying properties. As the most laxative of all three fruits, Harada contains anthroquinones related to those in Cascara Sagrada and Senna. The second is Amla. Cooling, antipyretic, antiseptic and mild laxative in nature, Amla is highly stable and naturally rich in Vitamin C. It has been used throughout the ages to help support stomach, intestinal, and liver health. The third and final component is Behada. With strong astringent and digestive properties, Behada has been used to balance fluids while supporting healthy digestion and bile activity.6 Individually, each fruit offers a number of desirable health benefits ranging from bile production and gastrointestinal health, to free radical fighting and purification. Collectively, Triphala accounts for one of the most powerful digestive tonics ever introduced to Western civilization.
Flaxseeds and Flax Meal
Adding a tablespoon or two of flax to your daily regime is one of the best ways to maintain healthy regularity, while obtaining the essential fatty acids that your body relies on to function properly. It is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, and has been used for thousands of years to help promote wellness on many levels. From a digestive standpoint, flax acts as a bulking agent that helps move the contents of your GI tract along in an orderly fashion. It is rich in alpha linolenic acid – a highly versatile omega-3 essential fatty acid that has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that, aside from the role it plays in protecting cell membranes, it can also help support healthy digestive function.7
When you consider how many people neglect their daily fiber needs, and then factor in how many don’t drink enough water throughout the day, we begin to realize why millions of Americans are living with digestive disorders. Simply put, the body needs fiber – and lots of it, at that. Without it, especially in individuals with compromised digestive systems, contents that pass through the intestines lose their ability to retain water. This results in smaller, hardened, infrequent stools that are far more difficult to pass. The husks and seeds of the psyllium plant (Plantago psyllium and P. ovata) are like sponges to water and have remarkable bulking abilities that soften and add much needed volume to stools. This increases intestinal transit time – a process that is greatly hindered by fast foods, processed meals, and excessive consumption of soda and sugary treats. Studies have also shown that psyllium can also help support healthy cholesterol levels, glucose regulation, and promote a healthy body weight by encouraging feelings of fullness when taken with or in between meals.8
Summing it all up...
As we’ve discussed, digestion is a complicated, vulnerable process that can have an affect on the entire human system. Fortunately, there are plenty of actions that you can take right now to restore and support a healthy digestive system. Of course, this starts with developing an understanding and appreciation for the role that it plays in our lives every day. By paying close attention to the things that enter your body, and by making use of the natural compounds that we now have at our disposal, there is no longer an excuse or reason to suffer.
1 Redmon, GL, Ph.D. Energy for Life; How to Overcome Chronic Fatigue, Vital Health Publishing, 2000; 99-102
2 Medhekar, R., Ph.D. The First Quantitative Evidence Proving the Efficacy of Supplemental Enzymes, et al 2005; National Enzyme Company and TNO Nutrition and Food Research
3 Drisko J, Giles C, Bischoff. Probiotics in health maintenance and disease prevention Alternative Medicine Review 2003;8(2):143-155
4 Aiba Y, Suzuki N, Kabir AM, et al. Lactic acid-mediated suppression of Helicobacter pylori by the oral administration of Lactobacillus salivarius as a probiotic in a gnotobiotic murine model. Am J Gastroenterol. 1998 Nov;93(11):2097-2101
5 Pehl C, Waizenhoefer A, Wendl B, et al. Effect of low- and high-fat meals on lower esophageal sphincter motility and gastroesophageal reflux in healthy subjects. Am J Gastroenterol. 1999;94:1192–1196
6 Vani T, Rajani M, Sarkar S, and Shishoo CJ. Antioxidant Properties of the Ayurvedic Formulation Triphala and its Constituents. International Journal of Pharmacognosy Vol 35, No. 5, 1997:313-3
7 Tarpila S, Kivinen A. Ground flaxseed is an effective hypolipidemic bulk laxative [abstract]. Jour Gastroenterology. 1997;112:A836
8 Kritchevsky, D., S. A. Tepper, et al. (1995). Influence of psyllium preparations on plasma and liver lipids of cholesterol-fed rats. Artery 21(6): 303-311. Wistar Inst., Philadelphia, PA