By: Dr. Natasha Turner ND
The digestive system is a set of organs responsible for food breakdown, nutrient absorption and elimination of waste. This intricate system is critical for hormonal balance because it controls its own functions via hormonal signals. Amazingly, over 30 hormone genes are currently known to be expressed in the stomach and the intestines, making your gut the largest endocrine organ in your body! The digestive system is also interesting because it involves both the nervous system and the cells and activities of the endocrine system.
Your nervous system, especially the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) and sympathetic (fight-or-flight), influences digestion. However, your digestive system has its own nervous system too. It’s huge, with just as many nerves as your spinal cord! So, when you get a gut instinct, go with it.
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation states that more than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders every year. Canada has one of the highest incidences and prevalence rates of inflammatory bowel disease in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of IBS in the world. In the United States, The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases indicates that 60 to 70 million people are affected by some kind of digestive disorder or disease. Therefore, gut health should never be downplayed or overlooked, and it starts by recognizing the symptoms.
The foods you chose and the function of your digestive tract both strongly influence your nervous system and your endocrine system. Their effects can in turn alter your hormones, inflammatory response and – you guessed it – affect your ability to lose weight by influencing your appetite or cravings, and your ability to burn fat.
Good digestion offers many benefits for your overall health and wellbeing:
- Optimal nutrient absorption
- Effective elimination of waste
- Healthy immunity
- Healthy mind, mood and memory
- Glowing skin
- Appetite control
- Protection from the harmful effects of stress
To function at its healthy best, your digestive system needs:
- Relief from inflammation, food allergies or poor food choices
- Relief from the negative effects of stress and tension
- The right bacterial balance for immunity and for ridding the body of excess estrogen
- Proper enzymes and acid levels for nutrient absorption
- Open communication with the nervous system and the brain to control appetite, metabolism and digestive functions
- The ability to “keep moving” so it can rid the body of hormonal waste, fat and toxins
Keys to Ridding Belly Bloat:
KEY 1: Reduce Inflammation by Removing Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities or intolerances usually involve a different set of immune system antibodies called IgG antibodies. Symptoms are less intense and typically do not appear immediately but rather within 12–48 hours after eating the offending foodstuff. Heartburn, headaches, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, looking tired even after enough sleep, an inability to lose weight, bloating and relentless water retention can all be related to food sensitivities or intolerances. Because the connection between the symptom and a specific food can be difficult to pinpoint, those who suffer these discomforts often go on feeling worse and worse as their immune system takes a constant beating.
Many of us with food sensitivities don’t even realize how bad we feel until the problematic foods are removed from our diet. Then suddenly getting out of bed becomes easier, our energy, mood and concentration improve and joint pain, headaches and sinus congestion disappear. During your anti-inflammatory detox, you will take these foods out of your diet for a specific period of time to give your body a break and a chance to calm down and detoxify. Slowly re-introducing each food after a 10-day break can allow you to connect particular symptoms with your food choices. With the proper guidance, you can identify your food sensitivities in just three weeks.
KEY 2: Reduce Bloating and Aid Nutrient Absorption by Replacing Enzymes or Acid Levels
Commonly known as stomach acid, hydrochloric acid (HCL) is essential for proper functioning of your digestive system because it activates digestive enzymes that break down your food for absorption. Many vitamins and minerals need stomach acid for optimal absorption, including magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, biotin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid. Proper absorption of vitamins and minerals indirectly influences your hormonal balance because these nutrients are necessary for the manufacture of your hormones and for the elimination of hormonal waste with the help of the liver. Normal stomach acid also works to keep your digestive system free of bacteria, yeasts and parasites.
An estimated 30% of North Americans have low stomach acidity. Natural aging, a poor diet and chronic use of certain medications such as corticosteroids, antibiotics and antacids can impair your stomach’s ability to produce acid. Certain medical conditions are also commonly associated with low stomach acid, including hypothyroidism, asthma, eczema, allergies, acne rosacea, adrenal dysfunction, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, psoriasis and chronic hives.
The signs and symptoms of low acidity in the stomach include:
Bloating, belching and gas, especially after meals
Heartburn or reflux
Multiple food allergies
Feeling nauseous after taking supplements
Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails
Redness or dilated blood vessels in the cheeks and nose
Hair loss in women
Undigested food in the stools
Chronic yeast infections
KEY 3: Re-establish Healthy Bacterial Balance
These days we are constantly bombarded by commercial messages urging us to fight germs and rid ourselves of bacteria. But in the right places and amounts, bacteria are actually very valuable to our health and wellness. These beneficial bacteria, also called probiotics, are found mostly in our digestive tract. They actually colonize our system just days after birth, especially when we are breastfed.
The maintenance and protection of our healthy bacteria through proper nutrition and, if necessary, supplementation, is very important to good health. Under normal circumstances, friendly bacteria found in our digestive system live with us in symbiotic harmony, but factors such as poor diet and medications such as birth control pills, antibiotics and corticosteroids, can upset this balance and lead to a host of difficulties.
We now know these live microorganisms are cancer-protective, immune-enhancing, and anti-inflammatory. Other documented benefits of probiotics include:
- Relief of digestive system upset – all types of digestive symptoms including diarrhea, adverse reactions to antibiotic therapy, constipation and food poisoning can be relieved by probiotics.
- Fat storage – research completed at the Department of Genomic Sciences at the University of Washington found increased fat storage in rats that lacked probiotics. The correct balance of intestinal flora seems to limit fat storage by repressing the expression of a protein called fasting-induced adipocyte factor (FIAF).
- Hormonal balance – bacteria in the digestive tract play a hugely important role in the breakdown of excess estrogen. If you are taking the birth control pill, be sure to use a probiotic supplement regularly.
- Vitamin production and nutrient absorption – probiotics improve digestive function and assist with the synthesis of several vitamins including vitamins K, B12, B5 and biotin.
- Prevention of yeast infections – if you are a woman with recurrent yeast infections, the bacterial balance in your large intestine is likely compromised. Probiotics can prevent infections and yeast overgrowth by blocking harmful bacteria from attaching to intestinal walls and by helping to maintain the appropriate intestinal pH.
- Bad breath – eating plain organic yogurt or taking probiotic supplements for six weeks or more can help fight certain chemicals in the mouth that contribute to bad breath and gingivitis.
- Inflammation control – probiotics are proven to be beneficial for relieving symptoms of inflammation including arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Allergy relief – allergy-based symptoms such as eczema, seasonal allergies, asthma and hives have been found to improve with probiotic supplements. Supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding may also prevent these types of symptoms in infants.
- Prevention of colds and flus – daycare- and school-age children who take supplements of acidophilus and bifidus are sick less often. What a plus! When they do come down with diarrhea, colds or flus, the duration of their symptoms is shorter. Supplementing the diet with beneficial bacteria also stimulates immunity in adults by increasing the activity of cells that consume invading organisms and by increasing the production of white blood cells and cytokines, which are produced by immune cells to boost our infection-fighting capability. These probiotic effects strengthen our resistance to bacterial and viral infections and also alleviate allergy symptoms. Even those suffering from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from the use of probiotics.
KEY 4: Eliminate The Bad Bugs In Belly
Antibiotics can disrupt our healthy bacterial balance by killing off our beneficial bacteria together with the bad, infection-causing bacteria, leaving the perfect environment for yeast and other harmful bacteria to grow and flourish. Harmful bacterial or yeast can also grow with use of the birth control pill, immune compromise, steroid medications, diabetes and excessive consumption of sugar, carbohydrates or alcohol. Symptoms of yeast or bacterial imbalance include:
- Depression and irritability
- Brain fog and poor concentration
- Bloating and gas
- Cravings for sugar and sweets
Less obvious symptoms of also include the following:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nasal congestion
- Rectal itching
- Recurrent sinus infections
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Recurrent vaginal infections
There are different strains of harmful yeast and bacteria, which means that not all cases will respond to the same treatment. Using a combination of anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents for at least four to six weeks is the best approach. Be sure to remove sugar, vinegar, fermented foods, mushrooms and any product containing yeast from your diet.
Key 5: The Relationship between Liver and Bowel Function
Fiber consumption and bowel function are essential for maintaining a healthy, happy liver. The liver, you will recall, is the major detoxification and fat-burning organ in the body through a complex set of biochemical pathways. The liver pumps excess fat and waste products into the small intestines through bile. If your diet is high in fiber, unwanted fat will be efficiently carried out of the body via the bowel. If your diet is lacking fiber, some of the fats (especially cholesterol), hormonal waste and toxins that have been pumped into the gut by the liver will circulate back to the liver. This process occurs via a circulatory system that basically absorbs fluids from your digestive system and sends them back to the liver. The liver recycles the entire bile pool back into the small intestine six to eight times a day.
Supporting the process of waste elimination is essential for maintaining heart health, especially if you are overweight or currently have high cholesterol. A compromised liver filtering system, damaged by toxins or clogged with excessive waste material, will be far less effective in removing fat and cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. Your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol produced by the liver, which scavenges the bad cholesterol (LDL) from the blood vessel walls, may also decrease with compromised liver function. Ultimately, poor liver function increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases and weight gain.
Classically, fiber is split into two categories based on its solubility in water:
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can be metabolized by the “good” bacteria in the gut. Soluble fibre is fantastic for lowering LDL cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar and preventing constipation. You can find it in oatmeal, flax seed, barley, dried peas, oranges, apples , and carrots. (Regular Girl, coconut fiber bar or Solufiber)
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibre helps to bulk up our stools, keep the bowels moving and speeds up transit time of food through the digestive tract. You can find it in seeds, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, and wheat bran. (Soluble and Insoluble Fibre –contains both soluble and insoluble fiber).
Now that you have an understanding behind the factors that influence the process of digestion and elimination, you can use the following dietary and supplement guidelines to ease your digestive discomfort and eliminate uncomfortable belly bloat symptoms for good! I have formulated a new kit called the Rid Your Belly Bloat & Digestive Reset Kit. This is a 10 to 12 day reset with dietary guidelines as well as daily supplements. To purchase click here and once purchased we will email you all the documents you need to get started on this RESET once your kit arrives.