Problems with Digestion? This Type of Food May Be To Blame...

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Entire books
are written about the subject of digestion. The current science
of how your body breaks down and specifically utilizes nutrients
is still in its infancy.

This article
is meant as an overview, talking about the physical process at work
in the act of digestion, and some possible causes of why your digestive
system may become unbalanced, and what to do if it does become unbalanced.

Unless you
are dependent on a tube for nutrition, the reason you have survived
to this point in your life is because your body is able to extract
what it needs from the food you eat by properly digesting it.

So the short
definition of digestion – you put food or liquid into your
mouth, swallow it, and then your body breaks these molecules down
into a size it can absorb. What your body doesn’t use is excreted
as waste.

Fairly basic,
right?

Is Digestion
Really That Simple?

Digestion is
actually a complex combination of biological interactions and chemical
reactions taking place at every stop along the extensive digestive
tract, which is generally split into two halves – the upper
gastrointestinal tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum) and
the lower gastrointestinal track (small intestine, large intestine).

Your gastrointestinal
tract is also home to the largest part of your body’s immune system,
protecting you against foreign invaders by producing acids and housing
colonies of beneficial bacteria that act as a defensive army fighting
to protect you from pathogens that find their way inside your body.

So what exactly
makes up the digestive system and how does it work?

Everything
Starts With What You Put in Your Mouth

Once you select
something to eat, your mouth goes to work, using your tongue and
teeth to turn large pieces into smaller pieces (mastication) and
using enzymes from the salivary glands to begin chemically breaking
down food molecules into a size your body can absorb.

This is why
nutrition experts are always advising you to eat slowly, and chew
your food thoroughly (at least 20 chews per bite). Because your
digestion actually begins in your mouth! If you often find your
stomach feels like a big knot after you’ve eaten, you’re probably
swallowing your food whole.

There’s a reason
baby food is mashed into mush. They have no teeth to break the food
down themselves into smaller molecules.

And yes, taking
your time when eating and chewing your food properly has a number
of beneficial side effects.

For example,
chewing your food twice as long as you normally would will instantly
help you control your portion sizes, which naturally decreases calorie
consumption.

Another benefit
of chewing longer is that your food is digested better. The majority
of your digestive enzymes are actually in your mouth, not in your
stomach. Therefore, chewing your food longer allows the food to
be broken down better.

You’re also
likely to find that you actually enjoy the taste of the
food more if you eat slower.

In my opinion,
it’s also a good idea to swallow foods that are neither too hot
nor too cold. Foods and liquids are best taken into your body at
the temperature of your body, so it’s beneficial to let warm foods
cool in your mouth and let cold foods warm in your mouth –
as an aid to digestion.

The exception
to this would be water – which is most highly structured and
beneficial when cold – and seems to be far better at quenching
your thirst when cold.

Also, the first
major problem with digestion starts with what you choose
to put in your mouth!

In our modern
world, inexpensive processed foods, often loaded with sweeteners,
artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, cheaply processed
unhealthy fats and artificial colors are designed to be appealing
to all of your senses, including your tastebuds.

And the
advertising never betrays that this food can literally kill you
!

Processed foods
can lead to a whole host of health troubles, and many people today
are getting a majority of their calories from these highly processed,
low nutritional value foods.

If you are
one of these people getting a majority of your calories from fast
and processed foods you can face three major problems you may not
be aware of:

  • Processed
    foods may be broken down by your body into one or more toxic molecules
    (e.g., Aspartame, Splenda).
  • Processed
    foods may produce undesirable biological effects (ie. trans fats,
    high-fructose corn syrup).
  • Your body
    may treat processed foods as a foreign invader.

When your body
consumes processed foods you may be triggering the release of powerful
antibodies meant to fight off foreign invaders, which can actually
cause collateral damage to your body’s cells. In fact, eating a
diet rich in processed foods and junk foods can cause an ongoing
mistaken internal
attack on very necessary components of your digestive system
.

Everyone is
affected differently by this constant internal antibody attack,
otherwise we’d all have autoimmune diseases. But it is known that
macrophages, one of the more powerful tools your immune system uses
to fight foreign invaders can also do indiscriminate
damage to your body’s tissues
.

What Goes
on Inside Your Stomach

Back to the
digestive process. Once food makes it past your mouth and is swallowed
down past your esophagus, the acid wash inside the stomach begins,
and not surprisingly, another host of problems can start to occur.

The environment
inside your stomach is highly acidic (pH 4) and this acid acts as
the next defense mechanism against harmful pathogens that might
have slipped past your first line of defense. A protective mucous
lining protects your stomach from all this acid.

When I talk
about acids in your stomach I am referring to hydrochloric acid
and pepsin. When you are young your body usually will produce enough
acid to properly digest your food, but as you age, reduced stomach
acid comes along with the territory. Many people begin experiencing
stomach acid problems in their 30′s and 40′s when stomach acid starts
to drop off from youthful levels.

Compromised
stomach acidity is a common hindrance to optimum digestion, and
can frequently be aided by supplementing with hydrochloric acid
(Betaine HCL) or digestive enzymes. But HCL or enzyme supplementation
requires following some basic rules of chemistry.

Your entire
digestive tract ranges from strongly acidic (pH4 in your stomach)
to slightly acidic (5.7–6.7 pH in your small intestine, and
pH7 in your colon). If HCL or enzymes are used as an aid to digestion,
it is imperative to not add any unnecessary alkaline disturbances
to the acidic environment.

This includes
water and especially alkaline water.

So as you age,
it is common to experience heartburn, indigestion and GERD-type
diseases, and contrary to what you may think, these diseases are
almost typically caused by a reduction in stomach acid,
not the overproduction of stomach acid.

This is news
to many, because the drug companies spend loads of marketing money
to convince you that heartburn and acid reflux are caused by too
much stomach acid.

Digestive aids,
natural or man-made chemicals that affect digestion, generally fall
into two categories:

  • Help produce
    more stomach acid, more enzymes and more beneficial bacteria
  • Help produce
    less stomach acid

Digestive aids
like hydrochloric acid (HCL), enzymes and probiotics can actually
be powerful tools to maintain a more acidic and beneficial environment
in your stomach and intestines that will help your digestive system
work optimally.

Dangers of
Anti-Ulcer Drugs

The other so-called
digestive aids, including the class of drugs called proton pump
inhibitors, and H2 blockers (Pepsid AC, Prilosec, Zantac, etc) will
actually take you in the opposite direction of optimal
health because they shut down acid production, making your problem
worse.

So if the drug
industry has fooled you into thinking drugs like Pepcid AC and Zantac
are addressing the problems in your stomach, or even if you’re taking
the common calcium tablets to reduce stomach acid, you’re doing
your body three huge disservices:

  • You are
    reducing stomach acid even further, the opposite direction that
    your body actually needs to move.
  • You are
    worsening your already malfunctioning digestive system.
  • You are
    compromising your absorption of the vitamin B-12.

Also, the FDA
recommends taking these stomach-acid-reducing drugs for only THREE
14-day periods each year! Taking these drugs longer than that is
dangerous, because long-term effects are not well understood and
longer-term use is not recommended. So these acid reducing drugs
aren’t even meant to be a real solution for your chronic poor digestion
in the first place! 

On top of all
this, short-term use of acid reducing drugs like Prilosec has a
long list of possible side effects, including:

  • Insufficient
    elimination of pathogenic organisms
  • Decreased
    bone density
  • Severe abdominal
    pain
  • Rash
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Liver disease
  • Chest pain
  • Dark urine
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Swelling
    of the hands, ankles, or feet
  • Unusual
    bruising or bleeding
  • Unusual
    tiredness; vision changes
  • Yellowing
    of the eyes or skin

So clearly
it’s in your best interest to address the cause of digestive
imbalances by properly increasing the acid in your stomach, not
decreasing it.

For more in-depth
information, I highly recommend reading Dr. Jonathan Wright’s excellent
book Your
Stomach: What is Really Making You Miserable and What to Do About
It
.

Make Sure
Your Vitamin B12 Levels are Good

B-12 is a vitamin
that can only be digested by your body through high stomach acid
content, because it takes a lot of acid to break down this essential
B vitamin. If you are shutting down your stomach acid production,
your body is not going to get the B-12 it needs from the food you
eat.

And oral B-12
supplementation will not address this issue as they will not break
down in your stomach if acid production is low.

In fact, if
you are one of the people taking these proton pump inhibitors or
H2 blockers, the primary way your body can effectively absorb the
B-12 that it needs is through inter-muscular injections.

So why is getting
B-12 so important?

Here are some
common symptoms of B-12 deficiency:

Neurological
Symptoms

  • Mental confusion
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Impulse
    control
  • Pins and
    needles in the extremities
  • Balance
    issues

Gastrointestinal
Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Loss of
    appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Other
Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Paleness
  • Shortness
    of breath that results from only very light exertion
  • White spots
    on the skin (typically the forearm) due to decreased melatonin

Clearly, keeping
your body’s natural B-12 absorption mechanism functioning well is
vitally critical for optimal health. Without proper B-12 absorption,
a whole host of seemingly inexplicable health problems can result,
which a conventionally trained doctor will have trouble linking
to low levels of B-12.

The Importance
of Good Bacteria

Now, moving
a little bit further down your digestive tract to the small intestine,
there are about 100 trillion microorganisms living in your gut.
That’s 10 times more than the total number of cells in your body
(about 10 trillion). These tiny creatures make up between 3–5
pounds of your body weight!

Your body receives
help breaking down foods into their component parts from the organisms
that live in your gut (intestinal flora). These bacteria, yeasts
and fungi can produce beneficial waste products as they feast on
your digesting food, such as B and K vitamins that your body needs.
They also function to break down some foods that your body cannot
absorb by itself (they change carbs into simple sugars and proteins
into the component amino acids).

But when you
eat too many grains, sugars and processed foods, these foods serve
as fertilizer for the bad bacteria and yeast and will cause them
to rapidly multiply.

One of the
best things you can do for your health, including your digestive
health, is eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible!

In fact, millions
of people currently suffer from yeast overgrowth and a host of maladies
related to the rapid spread of the bad bacteria in your intestines.
And most conventional doctors will not be able to identify the cause
of your symptoms if you suffer from bad bacteria or yeast overgrowth.

Estimates are
that as many as 80 million people, mostly women, are currently suffering
from harmful yeast overgrowth.

Symptoms of
this yeast overgrowth include:

  • Irritable
    bowel syndrome
  • Migraines
  • PMS
  • Cancer
  • Vaginitis
  • Asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Weight gain
  • Food allergies
  • Chronic
    fatigue
  • Yeast infections
  • Depression

As you can
see the list is long and varied, and the symptoms mimic those caused
by many other diseases. If you think you may be suffering from yeast
overgrowth, see
my free report here
.

So the key
to good intestinal health, especially in your small intestine, is
keeping an optimum balance of the helpful and harmful microorganisms.
This is why probiotics (for life) supplements are so important,
because they increase the ratio of “good” bacteria in your gut,
and why antibiotics
(against life) can interfere with the delicate balance in your gut
.

In fact, contrary
to what you might have heard about probiotics not surviving in the
highly acidic wash of your stomach, the helpful bacteria like acidophilus
thrive in an acidic environment and not only survive the stomach
environment, but acidophilus will actually also create lactic acid
to maintain a more acidic condition in your small intestine.

Some examples
of health problems that you may face if your gut microorganisms
stay out of balance for long periods of time include:

  • bad breath
  • foul gas
  • toxemia
  • Candida
    yeast overrun
  • chronic
    fatigue
  • brain fogginess
  • lowered
    immunity
  • impaired
    digestion and absorption

This is why
it pays dividends to eat some fermented foods like:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Black garlic
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Kefir
  • Lassi
  • Tempeh

If you are
unable to find quality fermented foods, then supplementing
with a high-quality probiotic product will also serve the function
of multiplying the “good” bacteria found in your digestive tract.

When searching
for probiotic supplements, be sure to buy the highest quality you
can find, because when it comes to feeding your beneficial bacteria,
not all products are created equally.

The Truth
about Soy

Another food
I want to talk about in relation to good digestion is soy. More
specifically, I advise you to avoid all unfermented soy products.

Soy is widely
touted today as a health food, mostly through slick food company
advertising and marketing. The soy industry’s propaganda likes to
point to the high levels of health in Japan, where soy is claimed
to be a main component of the diet. But the truth is a little more
complicated.

The types of
soy popular in Japan are mostly variations of fermented soy, including
tempeh, soy sauce, miso and natto, which are better but still have
isoflavones which can act as powerful goitrogenic or thyroid harming
influences. So if you have issues with your thyroid you should not
consume large quantities of these.

Non-fermented
soy products, including tofu, soy milk, soy oil, soy protein powder
and soybeans present a more complicated picture, and in my opinion
non-fermented soy is definitely not a health food and should be
avoided.

Unfermented
soy contains natural toxins known as “anti-nutrients.” Soy
also contains other anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, soyatoxin,
protease inhibitors, and oxalates.

Some of these
factors interfere with the enzymes you need to digest protein.

While a small
amount of anti-nutrients would not likely cause a problem, the amount
of soy that many Americans are now eating is extremely high.

Soy is also
one of the most widespread GMO foods in America, with over 91 percent
of all soy grown with GMO seeds. I consider eating GMO soy to be
like taking part in a giant laboratory experiment, and I
recommend you avoid unfermented soy
for the anti-nutrient reasons
and the GMO reasons if you want to be optimally healthy.

Chewing Gum
Fools Your Digestive System

Your body was
designed to activate your digestive process through chewing. This
is a good thing as your body needs the enzymes and acid to digest
your food. However chewing without eating food can be counterproductive.

When you chew
gum, you send your body physical signals that food is about to enter
your body. The enzymes and acids that are activated when you chew
gum can cause bloating and overproduction of stomach acid. Besides
this, chewing gum can cause jaw muscle imbalance (if you chew on
one side more than the other) and even TMJ in your jaw, which can
be a painful chronic condition.

The bottom
line is you shouldn’t chew gum or if you do use gum, use if very
rarely or right before a meal where the acid and enzyme stimulation
may actually be beneficial …

Gallbladder
Problems

Your gallbladder
stores bile produced by your liver, and releases it into the digestive
tract as needed. Sometimes, the gallbladder becomes diseased and
must be removed.

Rather than
lose the mechanism that regulates bile secretion into your digestive
tract, it is far better to address a malfunctioning gallbladder
by looking at dietary imbalances. Addressing digestive issues at
the source of the problem, the food you eat, is always a more direct
way to intervene in disruptions in your body’s digestive mechanisms.

However, if
the condition is advanced, gallbladder removal occasionally becomes
necessary. When this happens, or if you have previously had your
gallbladder removed, you can expect fats in particular, may have
trouble breaking down in your digestive tract, and diarrhea may
also become a problem. With the mechanism for bile regulation removed,
your GI tract may receive either too much bile, or too little. So,
adjust your diet before it’s necessary to remove your body’s bile
regulator.

But if you
do lose your gallbladder, you can combat poor digestion with HCL
and enzyme.

The best enzyme
to supplement would be an enzyme that breaks down fat or a lipase.
This is because you will not be producing much bile, which typically
aids in fat digestion.

One key thing
to keep in mind with gallbladder problems, and even after gallbladder
removal, is that your body still needs to take in “good” fats. So
getting a good source of omega three fat (like krill oil) is still
essential to good health, even though your body may have some trouble
processing all fats if you have gallbladder problems.

Some Final
Thoughts

Hopefully this
trip through your digestive system has helped you to a better understanding
of why it is vitally important to provide your body with the good
fuel and good digestive aids it needs, and why providing too much
of the wrong kinds of foods or the wrong kinds of digestive aids
can lead to problems.

You should
also understand why a diet too rich in simple sugars can lead to
a whole host of negative consequences from unhealthy yeast overgrowth
(which can lead to leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome,
poor absorption of nutrients, excess gas, weight gain and craving
carbs).

Also, a diet
rich in food-like substances containing man-made chemicals may also
be the cause of other digestive maladies, such as:

  • acid reflux
  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • abdominal
    pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Remember, your
digestive system is an extremely complex dynamic system that protects
you through a strong defense mechanism against harmful
invaders from the external environment.

Some proactive
steps you can take to aid in your digestion and help the beneficial
microorganisms to flourish and keep digestive disorders away include:

  • consume
    foods as close to their natural state as possible
  • consume
    raw foods regularly
  • consume
    fermented foods
  • consume
    a balance of different types of foods
  • avoid man-made
    chemicals
  • avoid pharmaceutical
    drugs
  • avoid a
    diet rich in simple sugars
  • avoid GMO
    foods

Every day you
are presented with a vast array of food choices, and our modern
world has found some truly innovative ways to present food to you
that appeals to all your senses (smells great, looks great, tastes
great). However, relying on your senses alone to choose the nutrients
your body needs can lead you down a slow path of self-destruction,
chronic diseases and shortened lifespan for not just yourself but
for future generations as well
.

Nowadays, it
truly does take an act of will to train your body to recognize whole
natural foods as delicious and nutritious, when the alternative
is food-like substances that have been processed, designed, crafted
and marketed to appeal to all of your senses and to your intellect.

January
7, 2011

The
Best of Joseph Mercola

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