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Let’s face it. When your digestion isn’t working properly, it’s no fun. Do you suffer from cramping, bloating, irregularity, swelling or irritable bowel syndrome? You may be eating food that’s good for you, exercising, drinking lots of water, and your stomach is still uncomfortable and cramping after you eat.
What is going on?
To help explain, picture you have a long, tubular conveyor belt running all the way from your mouth to your other end, and there are a series of rings around that tube. When the tube works perfectly, the rings squeeze in order and push the food you’ve eaten along the conveyor belt. First, your mouth chews the food. You swallow it. It’s pushed into your stomach. You chemically break it down. Then, you physically absorb it in your small intestine. From there, you bring it into your bloodstream. Finally, your large intestine absorbs the fluid and electrolytes. Then, at the end of the conveyor belt, you eliminate the rest.
When it all works in sequence, all is well. However, when the sequence isn’t right, it creates bloating, gas and discomfort.
What can you do about it?
1) Improve your flora.
Creating healthier, more resilient bowel flora is critical because the flora is forming your nutrients. It is the backbone of your immune system. It’s also rebuilding your gut. When your flora isn’t healthy, the more your intestines don’t work right and things escalate.
When your flora is healthy, you are healthy.
What about probiotics?
Probiotics have their place. I’m actually a fan of the yeast-based probiotics. One is called saccharomyces boulardii, which is the main one in my probiotic. The most research has been done on this strain regarding its general use to make your intestinal tract healthier, stable and repair damage done by antibiotic use.
Many of the bacterial-based probiotics may be helpful, but they have pitfalls. In your body, these strains make up less than a fraction of a percent of your flora. They’re also difficult to manufacture and are pretty unstable. Quality control studies show they are hit-or-miss as to how well they survive the manufacturing and transporting process.
I’m also a fan of N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG), as it rebuilds the intestinal lining. It’s what your body uses to repair itself. Bone broths have been popularized lately because they contain NAG. I recommend purified NAG over bone broth since the broths contain high levels of lead. Lead is harmful to the brain, bones and kidneys. Purified NAG, however, is very effective and safe.
What else can you do to restore healthy flora?
The main thing affecting your flora health is your diet, specifically the indigestible fractions. These are the parts that make it down to the colon and influence the flora.
So, what are we really talking about? Fiber, pectin compounds and glutamine.
There are three types of fiber, and it’s good to get a mixture of all three in your diet:
Soluble: This type dissolves in water. It is abundantly found in fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens. Nuts and seeds are also good sources.
Insoluble: This type does not dissolve in water. The two main sources of insoluble fiber are beans and grains. (Many people with limited diets are lower in the types of flora insoluble fiber creates.)
Resistant: This type of fiber feeds the bacteria that make you lean and healthy. These contain bacteroides which are found in foods like boiled potatoes, beans and legumes. In my practice, we’ve also concentrated them in our Adrenal Reset Shake.
Remember: The more diversity you have in your diet, the more diversity you have in your flora. The more diverse your flora, the healthier and stronger it is.
Research shows both apple and citrus pectin have unique effects in not only offsetting a lot of harmful organisms, but also increasing the good. We all have harmful organisms in our intestinal tract that would hurt us if they became more prominent.
Picture it this way: There is a terrible riot, and the police are busy trying to get it under control. Because the law enforcers are preoccupied, the minor criminals get busy breaking windows and stealing televisions. This is what happens in the intestinal tract. When the good flora is weakened, there are some opportunists that can create problems. Pectin compounds prevent this from happening.
Glutamine works in the same way as pectin compounds. Glutamine can be found by itself or in other products. It feeds the cells that repair the junction between your individual colon cells. It makes the junctions tighter and stronger, raising your intestinal resiliency. This heals the nerves, so cramping is no longer a factor.
Focus on the mind-body connection
We have many metaphors linking digestion and the mind. We talk about having a “gut feeling” or hating something “in my guts”.
Actually, we’re learning there is a separate brain your intestinal tract is tied to, called the cognitive, unconscious mind.
What is the cognitive, unconscious mind?
This is the part of your mind you’re unaware of, like when you get a random, viral song stuck in your head.
There are things in our environment we are aware of unconsciously but not consciously. They can cue us in ways that we respond in our intestinal tract, but not in our conscious mind. When we speak of our “gut reactions” or “I just didn’t feel right about that situation”, this is our cognitive, unconscious mind at work.
Your conscious mind can process about twenty chunks of data per second. The cognitive, unconscious mind can process forty million chunks of data per second!
So, when considering healing your intestine, also consider your unconscious mind. Think quite a bit about things that may have been on the peripheral of your awareness, but you’ve been ignoring.
Ask yourself, “What are those little signals or inferences about things I should do more of, could do less of or change altogether?”
Try these exercises to help you get in touch with what those are:
Take time to journal.
Set aside time and write freely without judgment. Often, after some time passes, you work through some of the superficial thoughts on the top of your mind and get a clearer sense of some of your hidden motives and feelings. These motives and feelings can be powerful factors in your digestive health.
Harness the power of your dreams.
When dreaming, there is more unconscious activity and access. Here is a simple trick: Make a note at bedtime of a concept you want to implant in your mind. For instance, “I want to understand if there are things in my unconscious that are bothering my digestion.” Look at the note a couple of times and then, go to sleep. When you awaken in the morning, revisit the note. You may have some clear direction from your dreams, or a new spark of awareness regarding it.
Healing digestion is a huge factor in your happiness, health, contentment and immune function. Think about digestion in terms of both your diet and your mind. Use these simple strategies, and know your intestinal health can be restored!
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.