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A Healthy Digestive System Benefits the Whole Body
by Brenda Watson, C.N.C.

We take antacids to relieve heartburn and indigestion. We suffer through gas and bloating after meals and even disregard the occasional bout of constipation. But do we ever really stop to think about how our actions are affecting our bodies? Your digestive system is more important than you may think, and poor nutrition may not only lead to discomfort, but it can also trigger a whole host of other issues that may put your digestive health in jeopardy.

Unhealthy habits, such as eating too quickly or consuming too many processed foods, can lead to a build-up of undigested food in our intestines. When this happens, the bacteria present in our gut will interact with the undigested food, releasing toxic chemicals and gases. These internal toxins—or endotoxins—may damage the mucosal lining in the gut, ultimately allowing them to enter the rest of the body through the bloodstream. This is known as leaky gut syndrome.

Over time, such endotoxins put increasing amounts of stress on the body, and organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi will then seize the opportunity to multiply and flourish. Their toxic waste begins to upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines, and as a result, organisms that normally inhabit the gastrointestinal tract in smaller numbers without causing harm (such as candida) can proliferate. This can result in problems such as gas and bloating, constipation, diarrhea, chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, skin disorders, and decreased mental clarity.

FIBER AND DIGESTION

Roughly 80 million Americans suffer from one kind of digestive disease or another. Fiber, in the proper form and amount, can help prevent and correct many of these. Clinical research has proven that people who consume a diet high in fiber are less likely to suffer from constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and a host of other digestive disorders. High-fiber diets can also help protect your gastrointestinal system from parasite infestation.

The fiber present in whole foods is a mixture of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber (found in many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) dissolves in water and leaves the digestive tract slowly, soaking up toxins and other material like a sponge as it moves through the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber (found in wheat bran, dried beans, whole grains, and seeds) does not dissolve in water. Instead, it passes through the digestive tract virtually intact, helping to "sweep" the colon free of debris by removing toxins from the intestinal wall.

The best way to provide a balance of soluble and insoluble fiber is to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods. Legumes and unrefined grains such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat are excellent sources of mixed fibers. Among fruits, apples, avocados, oranges, bananas, grapefruit, and berries provide the most fiber per serving, and high-fiber vegetables include spinach, endive, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. When choosing a fiber supplement to boost your daily fiber intake, opt for one that provides a balance of soluble and insoluble fiber.

CANDIDA

Candida albicans is a yeast germ that ordinarily exists in balance with the trillions of bacteria that inhabit a healthy digestive tract. However, when that balance is thrown off by poor nutrition or environmental toxins, an overgrowth of candida may occur in the intestines, causing the candida to mutate from its yeast state to a fungal form. Once it has mutated, candida can be severely damaging to the body.

Candidiasis is an acute infection that involves the invasion of the mucous membranes in the mouth (thrush) and the vagina (typically referred to as a yeast infection). While many physicians still treat a vaginal yeast infection as a localized problem, a growing number of medical practitioners are becoming aware that such an infection is invariably accompanied by an overgrowth of candida in the gut. To successfully resolve vaginal yeast problems and prevent their return, they have determined it necessary to restore healthy conditions within the intestinal tract. Natural candida cleansing formulas can effectively restore a healthy balance of yeast organisms. For best results, choose one that contains ingredients traditionally used to support the detoxification of candida, such as uva ursi, oregano leaf, and orange peel.

EATING HEALTHY IS ITS OWN REWARD

Despite our best efforts, the fast-paced world in which we live doesn't always leave us time to prepare and eat healthy meals and snacks. Our markets are filled with highly processed foods, laden with harmful trans fats and refined sugars. Much of this food is quick, convenient, and full of preservatives. Rarely are we encouraged to slow down, take our time, and choose things that are good for us, not simply good enough.

But healthy options do exist, and making a commitment to better nutrition is one that will benefit your whole body. Start by making a few simple changes in your routine—such as boosting your intake of essential fatty acids (EFAs). These "good fats" include omega-3s and omega-6s, which are found primarily in cold-water fish and flax seeds. In addition to their role in hormone production, EFAs perform a multitude of important functions: They are required for the structure and function of every cell in the body; they support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems; they help increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals; and they help lubricate the colon and promote gastrointestinal health.

Supplementing your diet with digestive enzymes can also help support good digestive health. Enzymes are an essential part of all chemical processes that take place in the body, including digestion, kidney and liver function, reproduction, elimination, and more. Although the best sources of enzymes are fresh fruits and vegetables, many Americans do not consume enough of these foods on a daily basis. When choosing an enzyme supplement, keep in mind that plant enzymes are best, as they are effective over a broader range of pH levels in the digestive system.

Remember that everything you put into your mouth will ultimately affect your body and your overall health. However, just a few simple changes in your diet can often provide significant benefits.


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