Are you suffering from heartburn or headaches? Just can’t get out of bed in the morning? Do you look as though you are never rested no matter how much sleep you get, or feel as bloated as the Pillsbury doughboy because of relentless water retention? All of these symptoms can be caused by the foods you are eating.
Many of us tend to consume the same foods day after day with little variety. This may lead to our bodies becoming “sensitized” to the foods (food sensitivities are also sometimes called food allergies, although they may not be true allergies like those that may induce an anaphylactic reaction). This may result in a myriad of symptoms that are surprisingly not always digestive in nature. The trouble is we tend to go on, gradually feeling worse and worse, chronically fatigued or under-functioning. Usually it is difficult to realize how badly you are feeling until the offending foods are removed and you begin to notice improvements in subtle ways such as improvements in energy levels, moods, concentration and focus, joint pain, headaches or sinus congestion. This is why removal of the most commonly allergenic food groups is the essential first step in a wellness plan.
Through this process of removing certain foods from your diet will you realize that your digestive tract isn’t just about the process of digestion. There are less commonly recognized processes linked to your gastrointestinal tract and, ultimately, your foundation of health. These include:
Immunity. Approximately 60% of your immune system is clustered around your digestive tract. This makes sense because if you eat something rotten, your immune system is close by to protect you. However, because of the close association of the two, if your digestive tract is not healthy or the integrity of the gut wall is poor, your immune system may become compromised. Over time, many individuals experiencing digestive complaints tend to develop signs of weakened immunity such as allergies or frequent colds and the flu. In the same line of thinking, consuming certain foods may aggravate your allergy symptoms.
Serotonin levels, which influences food cravings, mood and sleep patterns. Our digestive system also affects our mood, memory and concentration. Ever wonder why you tend to crave sweet foods or carbohydrates if you are down? Physiologically, it is not surprising, as two-thirds of the serotonin — your “happy hormone,” governing mood, anxiety, sleep and food cravings — actually come from cells around your digestive tract and not your brain. This may be the theory behind some of the new medications used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, many of which affect serotonin levels. People who are experiencing anxiety, depression or sleep irregularities may benefit from the removal of certain foods causing allergies as they may be affecting serotonin levels involved in these conditions.
Detoxification and nutrient absorption. If your bowels are not moving, waste will create toxicity and impede health, especially estrogen by-products since estrogen is metabolized in the liver and excreted into the digestive system in the bile. The bacteria in the large bowel further the breakdown of estrogen. Liver function, bile secretion, bacterial balance and frequency of bowel movements are essential processes for ridding the body of excess estrogen which has been known to can increase cancer risks. A bowel movement after each meal is perfect bowel function. Cleansing your digestive system will clear your complexion and improve your energy levels as you gain a sense of well-being. Improving intestinal wall competency will also aid absorption of nutrients and water, while preventing absorption of unhealthy bacteria and incompletely digested food or toxins.
Vitamin B12 status. If the digestive system is compromised, or the small intestine is inflamed, mal-absorption of vitamin B12 can easily occur. Vitamin B12 is important for healthy red blood cell production, mood, health of the nervous system, carbohydrate metabolism and fertility. On blood tests, your B12 should measure 600 or above to be considered optimal. The stomach cells produce intrinsic factor, a compound necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12. If the stomach does not produce sufficient intrinsic factor, or if stomach acid levels are low, a deficiency of vitamin B12 may occur. Due to these factors involved in B12 absorption, it is often best to take supplements by injection or in forms that are absorbed under the tongue if your levels need to be topped up. Beyond its involvement in metabolism, vitamin B12 is also essential for establishing healthy sleep patterns. Healthy sleep patterns are important for optimizing hormonal balance for fat loss.
Cellulite, inflammation and future risk of disease. The immune response to food proteins may indirectly contribute to increased amounts of cellulite. Delayed pattern food allergy may occur within blood vessels causing inflammation in the vessel walls and subsequently triggering clotting mechanisms. The increase in inflammation in the arteries and capillaries may contribute to poor circulation, a known cause of cellulite, as well as reduced lymphatic drainage.
Heart disease. Slightly more concerning is the possible link of food allergies with heart disease and stroke through this same inflammatory mechanism. Studies involving the measurement of highly sensitive C-reactive protein in the blood have found that this inflammatory marker is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This clearly supports the strong connection between inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Hence, the removal of all factors which contribute to inflammation is beneficial including the consumption of unhealthy fats such as trans-fatty acids and saturated fats (in dairy products and red meats).
Optimizing your digestion is simple:
- Remove the allergenic foods: Eliminate the most common allergenic foods from your diet for a trial period of time (2 weeks) including sugar, dairy, yeast, peanuts, corn, alcohol, red meats, bad oils (saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils, cottonseed oils), gluten containing grains (spelt, wheat, rye, kamut), citrus and caffeine. For a complete outline and sample menu plan, review The Hormone Diet.
- Include the following health-promoting foods in your diet: green tea, vegetables (except corn), fruits (except grapefruits and oranges), olive oil, butter, canola oil, all nuts except peanuts, eggs, beans, organic chicken and turkey, fish and whole-grain products such as buckwheat, brown rice, millet and quinoa.
- Acidophilus supplements should be part of any program to restore healthy digestion because they assist with a bowel cleanse and prevent constipation. Acidophilus supplements also aid allergies, immunity and skin health. Simply put, a proper bacterial balance in the digestive system must be present to establish a basic foundation of health. Take 1-2 in the morning on an empty stomach.
- Fish oils are highly anti-inflammatory and assist with hormonal balance. They also moisten the skin from the inside out and have been proven to aid weight loss and good digestion. Consume 2 – 4 extra strength fish oil capsules daily, with food.