Do you ever suffer from digestive difficulty?
Have you experienced digestive issues in the past?
Do you know someone who is presently looking for digestive help?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions please keep reading…………
People regularly report to me that they eat yogurt (or other fermented foods) and take, or are considering taking supplemental probiotics as a means to improve their digestive issues. In the past five to ten years it has become quite trendy for health enthusiasts and people with digestive issues, both minor and major to eat and take these as a means of seeking to balance their gut flora and improve their digestion. And they are on to something……..
According to recent medical research it appears that at least 90 percent of the genetic material in our body is not ours, but rather that of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms that live in our gut (1). These microorganisms play a large role in the function of our digestive system and immune system (2), (3); they are probably more important than stomach acid and digestive enzymes when it comes to our digestive power. The proportion of “beneficial” bacteria to “harmful” bacteria may be the most significant factor in our digestive health, and it may have profound influence in our overall health and wellness.
Recently, researchers have found connections between certain types of gut flora and irritable bowel syndrome and a few other digestive issues which lead me to believe that all digestive issues and many seemingly unconnected health issues have a connection the proportion of the type of gut flora one has (4), (5), (6). In a healthy person the majority of their gut flora appears to be beneficial which has led to some of these strains of bacteria being identified, isolated and then marketed as probiotics for someone seeking digestive help.
A prominent “natural” source of probiotics is fermented foods which been consumed for thousands of years, in recent times they have been considered to promote health due to their beneficial bacteria (8). The problem with supplemental probiotics and the fermented foods is that they contain a very small percentage of the known beneficial strains of bacteria in our guts, probably less than 10% (7). Therefore, eating fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha among others and taking probiotic supplements, even the soil based organisms which I professionally recommend, is only a small part of the process to improving digestion.
Above all I want you to know that I am not claiming that all digestive issues can be or will be “cured” or even controlled with the information and recommendations from this article. Serious digestive issues tend to have a lot of variability and generally require a great deal of experimentation and tweaking of the ideas and potential solutions presented here, but I am confident that most digestive issues, even more serious ones, can be controlled with more extreme measures like fecal transplant, low-dose naltrexone, a very strict dietary approach or this strict but effective diet.
The first step to seriously improving your digestion (and health in general) is to minimize the foods which directly compromise the healthy gut flora; it is pretty clear that refined carbohydrates are the primary source of stress to the beneficial gut flora (11). We also know that the harmful flora feed off and proliferate from sugars, alcohol, flour and even artificial sweeteners (10). So, by getting rid of refined carbohydrates, highly processed food and drink along with alcohol we can help the “good” bacteria and stop helping the “bad” bacteria.
I recommend that anyone seeking to improve their digestion initiates this process by taking a few weeks to minimize the sugar, wheat, bread, cereal, pasta, pastries, soda, fruit juice and any other source of added sugar, flour, artificial sweetener and alcohol in their life. If you already eat very little of this, if you are a health/fitness enthusiast than you probably eat relatively “clean”, then I highly recommend making a lifestyle journal where you record all meal times, foods, estimated sizes and your review of how you digested each meal. This may be somewhat meticulous but that is what it takes to control and overcome chronic health issues.
After the general reduction of eating bullshit and/or recording a lifestyle journal I suggest making a 28 day commitment of eating none of the shitty foods whatsoever. Removing these foods may require heightened levels of self-control and discipline; and you will likely have to make some sacrifices and become more psychologically resilient. If you need some assistance I recommend you consult a professional like myself, you can just follow my advice outlined here or you can read about similar approaches.
However, after eliminating the sugar, highly processed drinks/foods and flour crap from your diet you may have already taken the hardest step and you are already on the road to becoming a significantly more formidable human specimen.
Wait……..Do I Really Have to Cut All of These Foods Out?
Well, we know that specific types of harmful gut flora stimulate the immune system (as in irritable bowel and many other illnesses) and put the body in a state where it is permanently in ‘defense-mode’ (9), (12).When the immune system is constantly activated in the gut fighting off the harmful gut flora a multitude of noticeable side- effects form; bloating, constipation, gas and fatigue especially after meals. If you simply remove the sugar, wheat, flour, alcohol and artificial sweeteners you will decrease the likelihood that you will experience the preceding symptoms which are also known as ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ by the way. And, I would like to add that ‘IBS’ is the label given when people complain of digestive difficulties but have no observable structural malfunction (bacterial dysbiosis cannot be observed with a scope!); this means that it is highly likely that the majority of Americans have low-grade IBS on regular occasion.
If removing the most offending foods from your diet has not completely “worked” then you can take step to also remove the foods thought to directly initiate or contribute to ‘leaky gut syndrome’. Leaky gut is a term describing the condition where the walls of the small intestine (the powerhouse of the digestive system) have been permeated by various substances in popular foods. The lectin in peanuts, the prolamin proteins like gluten and gliadin in wheat have been shown to compromise the tight junctions in the walls of the small bowel (13), (14), (15).
The casein protein found in milk and many dairy products may also contribute to leaky gut cases because they, like gluten break down into peptides that readily pass through small openings in the intestinal barrier leading to immune stimulation (16). The studies on these substances and their ability to permeate the lining of the small intestine are somewhat open for scrutiny, but if you are serious about improving your digestion what do you have to lose by minimizing these low-nutritious foods in you diet? Gluten-free, peanut-free and milk/cheese-free diets are rather common these days, and I’m sure that you can go 28 days without these potentially offending foods.
For a 28 period you can replace sugar, wheat, milk and dairy products, peanuts and all sources of flour with the most nutritious foods know to man like vegetables, fruit and meat. An eating pattern comprised only of nutritious foods is a very strong way to improve your digestion and overall health, although there is more to health than just eating good (more on that to come).
Vegetables, like green leafs (spinach and kale) and especially roots and tubers like sweet potatoes, carrots and yams tend to be solid sources of dietary fiber, which is shown to be extremely beneficial in a number way when it is derived from whole food sources, not necessarily when it is consumed in general (17), (18). Soluble fiber from whole plant sources is considered to be necessary food for the beneficial bacteria residing in the gut, therefore it makes sense to make these types of real food a significant part of your dietary regimen.
Fruit is also a solid source of fiber, especially avocados, apples and berries. Quality meats like grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, free range chicken, turkey and seafood are just nutritional powerhouses (essential nutrients:calorie or weight) that when consumed in reasonable quantities with other real foods (not a double quarter pounder with cheese) are extremely helpful to regulating digestion and can become the leading source of calories in your 28 day process of improving your digestion.
During this 28 day period you should consider consuming the previously mentioned fermented foods, in addition to kimchi and quality sauerkraut I prefer goat/sheep yogurt in comparison to cow derived yogurts. I also recommend soil-based organism probiotics which would ideally be complemented by gut cleansing substance like aloe vera which has great anecdotal data coming back reporting its benefits. In my practice, and in many others, we have seen so many people help themselves by supplementing with baking soda to facilitate digestion even in those who have not reported GERD, Heartburn, etc.
Additionally I feel that you can derive a great benefit by adding coconut oil, olive oil and especially pastured butter (a dairy product without casein!) which can help you replace your previous fat sources and promote the beneficial bacteria as well (19). Prior to moving on I have to mention what I purposely not mentioned: nuts, seeds and their butters.
A lot of people who do the 28-day elimination and move forward eating real food-based diets eat some beans and tend to snack on nuts and seeds, a lot of them by the way, and they experience relief from their digestive symptoms but still experience them regularly. This may be due to the phytates and various lectins found in beans, nuts and seeds therefore I highly recommend that anyone seeking to improve their digestive power also remove these for quite some time and then re-introduce them in an educated manner so as to observe the digestive impact they have on you.
I also have to mention that anyone who routinely experiences digestive difficulty should pay close attention to how they chew their food. Are you eating mindfully and somewhat slowly and under control? Are you chewing your food thoroughly? I’m just like you so I have been to all types of restaurants and gatherings/events and it is amazing how fast people “eat”. I’m not sure if these people experience digestive issues, but if they are American then the chances are they experience digestive problems regularly (41).
Finally there is a psychosomatic side to every health issue, illness and chronic debilitating disease. The brain is a real organ that has the ability to influence the amount of energy given to any area of the human body through its control over the nervous system. The brain is directly connected to the gut by the vagus nerve; the stomach, the intestines and the gut immune system all rely on this nerve for energy. All it takes is for the brain to decrease output in specific areas (some say related to rational thinking) by just a few percent to inhibit the amount of energy provided to the gut and it’s powerful immune component. Addressing this goes well beyond the scope of this article, but if all else has failed then this is the way to go (42).
There are tens of thousands of people who have employed a similar approach or protocol for improving their digestion and overall health with the following blogs designed for the masses (20), (21), (22), (23), (39). If you are looking for a more intellectual approach there are thousands of people who have employed the scientific information from these more intellectual blogs (24), (25), (26), (27), (28), (29), (30), (31), (32), (33) among others.