Glad to see you back for another week of exploring the GI tract. This week will be particularly interesting for many readers since the vast majority of simple medical issues I see can be corrected with improving the health of your GI tract.
It is unfortunate for all of us that conventional medical training does not actually teach us how to improve GI function. The system is more suited to diagnose diseased tracts and powerfully modulate the sickest ones.
Most of us have mild to moderate dysfunction which, despite what you may hear, is often easy to fix.
The basics of digestion
The basics of digestion will be quickly summarized so we can get to more important action items.
The process of digestion starts when we eat a piece of food. We have digestive enzymes in the mouth (saliva), stomach (acid), pancreas (pancreatic enzymes), and gall bladder (bile). They slowly break down the food into ‘digestible’ parts.
This phase MUST BE SLOW, since involves a rhythmic churning action from the stomach. The digested parts are then moved through the small intestine, which absorbs all nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, sugars, amino acids (protein building blocks), and fats.
The residual unusable stuff is pushed into the colon (large intestine), where it sucks most of the water out of the residue, and leaves you with your once or twice daily stool.
Major Point: Anyone having less than a once daily stool is constipated.
The four biggest reasons digestion ‘goes down the tube’
Now that we have some basics out of the way, let’s cut straight to the chase and tell you the most common reasons the system goes wrong and a simple action point you can start to work with.
- We eat too fast, and we ‘eat on the run’. Digestion is under the sole command of the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. When activated, this nervous system will move the tract at the correct speed and mobilize the digestive juices and other digestive machinery to get to work. If we do not slow down before and during meals, our digestion will not work well.
- Action point: Take more time to prepare and appreciate your meals.
- We are putting too many foreign compounds in our bodies. With this statement, I am not just picking on pharma drugs and bad foods. I am also including excessive supplements, hormones, gmo foods, pesticides – the list can go on and on. All of these foreign compounds are harsh to the inner lining of our intestines, and over time will contribute to intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Intestinal permeability (this is the term that physicians prefer) is linked to nearly every autoimmune condition and strongly contributes to chronic inflammation.
- Action point: To the best of your ability, always try to eat fresh and local foods. Prepare and enjoy the meals with your loved ones. This approach to living is more powerful than any drug or supplement on the market.
- Our diets do not have enough fiber. The recommended intake of fiber should be about 35-40 grams per day. The average Canadian eats less than half of that. Fiber is important because: a) It slows down the entire process of digestion by forcing you to chew more since it’s so darn fibrous and b) It is really really good food for your gut bacteria, which would live off the stuff if they could.
- Action point: Eat more vegetables. They have the biggest bang for your buck with ratio of fiber to sugar. Grains (our most common source of fiber) need to be highly processed to make them edible. In this process, they lose out big time on their fiber content.
- Our diets have too many fats and oils. The average Canadian consumes 25-35% of their diet from fats. The jury is out on this, but I prefer a diet that has about 20% fat. My biggest concern here is that the body only makes 400-600 mg of bile per day. With the amount of gall stones and indigestion of fats that I see in my practice, I have concluded that our fat intake is exceeding our body’s ability to deal with it.
- Action point: Eliminate all unhealthy fats from your diet (vegetable, canola, and peanut oil), and consume moderate amounts of health fats (coconut, avocado, flaxseed, fish, and olive oil).
Slow and steady wins the race
Clearly, our main concept is that we need to take measures to slow down our digestion if we want good health.
The solution is truly an enjoyable one. Eat colourful fresh foods that are prepared by you, enjoyed with your family, and respect the time for this process.
Stay tuned next week for a discussion on the autonomic nervous system – the accelerator and brake for our system.
Dr. Rishi Verma, MD
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