Digestive troubles —- from heartburn to constipation to simply feeling bloated or lethargic — plague millions on a daily basis. Britain has the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, one in five sufferers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and a new report reveals the country spends £250 million a year on digestive healthcare. Here are 10 tips on the dos and don’ts for a healthier digestive system.
Purify the System
When digestion isn’t working at an optimum rate, waste in the body builds up and, over time, a host of problems can result, including migraines, diabetes, chronic fatigue and carcinogenic substances that lead to cancer. A study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, found that women who have less than two to three bowel movements a week were four times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with one or more movement a day.
Professor David Peters, chairman of the British Holistic Medical Association, says that for generations a number of herbs have been used to help restore digestive health and modern medicine is now starting to identify the active ingredients in ancient remedies. For instance, American gastroenterologist, Dr Stephen Holt, spent much of the 1980s in clinical research into popular drugs to ease a range of digestive problems. He later admitted: “These quick-fix drugs don’t satisfy individuals with recurrent problems.” He now concentrates on finding more natural ways to help patients. Such remedies, he adds, are all gaining wider medical acceptance for their ability to effectively help IBS, and soothe and relax the bowel.
Fibre acts like a natural broom that sweeps away waste material, which can otherwise linger and be re-absorbed through the intestinal lining and go back to the liver. When the liver is overloaded, it distributes toxic substances to other cells and tissues in the body which, in turn, can lead chronic and serious illnesses. Fibre cuts the time food waste spends in the body, thus reducing the risk of carcinogens that are produced when some foods, particularly meat, begins to degrade. So, eat plenty of fibre.
- Limit overcooked, packaged and long-life foods.
- Avoid psyllium fibre. Often recommended to help constipation, psyllium absorbs 40 times its own weight in water, which can dehydrate the bowel and contribute to constipation.
- Avoid habitual use of stimulant laxatives that interfere with the normal defecation reflex and can lead to loss of potassium, calcium and muscle cramps.
- Flaxseeds, one of the richest sources of fibre, contain 100 times more lignans than wheat bran, though they need to be ground first to be absorbed properly.
- Green vegetables are an excellent source of fibre -— a report published in the journal Gastroenterology found that a daily serving of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and sprouts can reduce cancer risk by 46 per cent.
There are 20 times more bacteria than living cells in our body and the right bacteria play a crucial role in healthy digestion, including mineral absorption, providing the source material to nourish the cells of the colon wall and promote smooth transit of waste. Research at Yale Medical School has reported a “trend that shows probiotics decrease IBS symptoms”. Another study found that IBS sufferers have less good bacteria and a higher number of harmful bacteria that de-activate enzymes made in the pancreas. These enzymes are vital for digestion. The harmful bacteria also promote conditions for carcinogenic substances to flourish.
Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, director of the Cambridge Nutrition Centre, explains that most probiotic products, including popular yoghurt drinks, are not strong enough to have a therapeutic effect and are unable to survive passage through the acid environment of the stomach. Moreover, a report in Which magazine showed that many brands of probiotic foodstuff do not have the bacterial species listed on their label. Look for products that include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), as these help good bacteria multiply once inside you. Dr Campbell-McBride says probiotic formulas should contain at least 100-500 million viable organisms and soil-based organisms (SBOs), which work to ‘de-scale’ the intestinal tract of clinging putrefied matter and help ensure that the good bacteria make it through the stomach to the colon where 100 trillion bacteria reside.
- Avoid sugar which nourishes and feeds bad bacteria.
- Eat probiotic foods as these help create the best possible environment for good bacteria. They include asparagus, artichokes, onions, sauerkraut and naturally fermented yoghurt -— goat and sheep yoghurt have smaller molecules that are easier to break down.
- Nutritionist Patrick Holford recommends taking probiotics continuously or for a minimum of three months for anyone with a chronic digestive or bowel complaint.
Reduce fats and oils, and increase essential fats as these are needed to soften stools, metabolise fat and help nutrient absorption. Today, it is believed that the consumption of the essential fat, Omega-3, is less than half of what it was before the Second World War. Modern diets are full of hydrogenated fats that prohibit essential fats and digestive enzymes from doing their vital jobs.
- Avoid fried food, margarines and processed foods containing hydrogenated fat and trans-fat.
- Add hemp and linseed oil as these contain the richest sources of essential fats to the diet. Hemp oil and linseed oil are widely available in healthfood stores. Also try hemp pasta, pesto and ice cream.
- Add oily fish, nuts, pumpkin seeds and avacados to the diet. Supplement with a good quality essential fatty acid formula. Fish oils are the most easily absorbable but ocean pollution means pure oils are limited.
Superfoods is an umbrella term for the most powerful nutrient-dense foods on the planet —they have virtually no calories, no bad fats or harmful substances. They are most gentle on the digestive tract and are unlike carbohydrates, starchy sugary foods and fruit sugar, which produce gas and bloating. Nutritionist Vicki Edgson, author of "The Diet Doctors Inside & Out", explains that indigestion as a result of high stomach acid is usually caused by too much caffeine, alcohol, spicy and fatty foods, and stress. She also notes that in 70 per cent of cases of ongoing indigestion, people are afflicted by bacteria known as H pylori, which invades the mucous lining of the stomach wall and affects how the stomach protects itself from acid. She emphasises that stomach acid drops with age and 75 per cent of the population over 50 will have low stomach acid levels, so antacids will not help indigestion sufferers with low stomach acid. Foods that help restore a natural pH to the stomach and help restore the lining of the gut are most beneficial for indigestion and form the basics for digestive health. Plant foods rich in chlorophyll are one of the richest sources of nutrients that purify the blood and aid in digestive processes. Research at Ohio State University found that chlorophyll helps keep intestinal cells healthy and a study the Journal of the American Dietetic Association noted that plant foods rich in phytochemicls like chlorophyll could be regarded as guardians of our health.
- Dr Robert Gallacher, a gastro-intestinal research scientist at the Morrison Hospital in Swansea, says chlorella is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll, B12 and zinc, and is very important in balancing the pH of the stomach and repairing the lining of the gut, which is often caked with impacted waste in patients with IBS and diverticulitis.
- Sprouts are superfoods, because when a seed sprouts, the germination process effectively pre-digests the seed making digestion and assimilation of its many nutrients easy. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania reported an average vitamin increase of more than 500 per cent. When seeds are sprouted, protein and enzyme content also multiplies making sprouted seeds, such as alfalfa, sunflower and moong, one of the most complete forms nutrition available.
- Aloe Vera is recommended by most natural health experts to help with IBS, constipation, Candida, ulcers and Crohn’s Disease, since it heals the lining of the gut. But many juices are pasteurised concentrates and will do little to help. Good quality aloe vera juice should be kept in a dark glass bottle.
When undigested food stays in the small intestine, it feeds bad bacteria causing gas, bloating and digestive pain. Cells in the pancreas, which produce digestive enzymes, depend on vitamins and minerals to manufacture enzymes. If you’re not digesting your food properly, you won’t get the nutrients you need to make these enzymes. Therefore, indigestion is a common side effect if you are not producing enough digestive enzymes to break down your food properly.
- Chewing properly is necessary to release enzymes in saliva. Each mouthful should be chewed to the consistency of cream.
- Eat slowly -— a recent study showed that acid reflux occurred more often when a standard meal is rushed in five minutes compared with the same meal eaten slowly over 30 minutes.
- You can test a good digestive enzyme formula by crushing it on porridge; if the product works, the porridge will become liquid in 30 minutes.
It was recently discovered that gluten-sensitive people have a genetic ‘tag’ called DQ2/DQ8. It was also revealed that this tag is increasingly common in countries like Britain where grains were introduced relatively late in their history. According to the US National Institute of Health, approximately 75 per cent of people stop producing lactase, which is needed to digest milk, after weaning. Research is now showing that food intolerances play a major role in IBS and a three-month trial published in the journal Gut found that IBS sufferers experienced significant improvements after a blood test that highlighted foods they were sensitive to. Another study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that IBS patients are likely to be sensitive to common foods, such as wheat, milk, beef, pork and lamb.
- Eat safe foods —s ome of the safest, most nutrient-dense grains include quinoa, spelt and millet.
- Try an elimination diet — eliminate common allergy forming foods including wheat, dairy products, red meat and sugar, and gradually re-introduce them.
This involves inserting a plastic tube in the rectum and gradually introducing warm water, which massages and washes impacted waste from the colon wall. Waste material can become lodged in pockets of the intestine and stay there for years. This leads to a sluggish colon and diminishes space for good bacteria to flourish. Margie Finchall, a registered colonic hydrotherapist of 18 years, says that prescription laxatives do not provide a long-term solution to the growing problem of constipation. She says a treatment plan that includes colonics, quality probiotics, living foods, enzymes and essential fats is essential if people with chronic problems.
When we lead a sedentary life, peristalsis (the muscular action that moves waste matter through the bowel) is limited. Poor muscle tone of the gastro-intestinal tract is largely because of the lack of exercise and can cause waste to linger and shrivel into pellet-like stools. Research has shown that IBS sufferers benefit from regular exercise and the American Gastroenterological Association reports exercise is particularly helpful for stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea and IBS in obese people. Learning to breathe correctly can also help in relieving bloating and heartburn that may be caused by swallowing too much air and rapid upper-chest breathing.
- Yoga is recommended, especially classes that spend time on good breathing exercises to increase blood-flow to the gastro-intestinal tract.
- Other activities that emphasise good breathing practices include Tai Chi, Chi Gong and Pilates.
- Twenty minutes of walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or any form of cardiovascular exercise, is recommended.
The gut is the first area to lose its blood supply when under stress. If under permanent stress, the lining of our intestines -— which is being repaired and replaced on a constant basis -— will be starved of its blood supply and start to malfunction. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders reports that stress stimulates colon spasm in IBS sufferers, who are overly responsive to even slight conflict or stress. Stress also reduces levels of antibodies, which help to protect the gut wall from invaders, meaning the body becomes more susceptible to attack by bad bacteria, yeasts and other unwanted substances.
- Meditation, reflexology and massage all bring about a state of relaxation, which re-balances the autonomic nervous system that governs the body’s stress responses.
- Visit a psychology, neurology and immunology (PNI) consultant. PNI is an emerging field of medicine that combines the three clinical and works from the level of the brain to the cell to help with chronic conditions such as IBS and Crohn’s Disease.