|As we set out on a new year of abundant health and vitality, it's vital to ensure our digestive system is working well, says naturopath Lyn Craven.
In our quest for optimum health, nothing is more important than a digestive system that is working efficiently. This is the foundation of health.
So many symptoms involving allergies, reflux, ulceration and a variety of bowel disorders can result from an inefficient digestive system.
The old herbalists always referred to the stomach as being the "Seat of Disease". If the food you eat is not being efficiently assimilated and digested, then you will experience a myriad of disorders over time.
Essentially, keeping to a diet consisting of fresh healthy foods whether you are vegetarian or a meat eater is a good start. Quality and preparation of food is always important, but even organic food that is not digested and assimilated fully will fail to benefit optimally if the digestive system is malfunctioning.
Stress can have an enormous impact on the efficiency of the digestive process. People who rush their meals, eat on the run, work and read while eating, gulp their food down and drink constantly during and immediately after food consumption or eat fatty take away foods, are prime subjects for a disturbed digestive system. This habitual pattern can continue over months and years, eventually producing discomfort, varied symptoms and other health issues.
I come across many people who say they simply don't have time to eat lunch at work, or that they must eat while they work. They will eventually pay the price for this, since eating is something that should be enjoyed in pleasant surroundings, ideally quiet and relaxing. Obviously some work environments may not provide such situations, but the best you can do is switch off from your work mentally for at least 20 - 30 minutes and simply focus on enjoying your food.
Skipping meals through the day because you are "too busy" or you simply can't be bothered to eat is also detrimental to your health. People who are concerned about their weight and appearance often skip breakfast and skimp on lunch, perhaps just having one piece of fruit. This is inadequate nutrition for the entire body. You will not only create disturbance with the digestion and bowels, but your energy resources will be depleted and your adrenaline output will be diminished with your blood sugar levels plummeting. Basically, there is a complete break down in the body resulting in malnutrition.
Eating is paramount to good health, energy and weight loss! Yes, you can lose weight more efficiently by eating! You need to continually stoke the "internal fire" (your digestive system) in order for it to work efficiently. Liken it to a fire requiring constant fuel in order to burn. But by the same token you mustn't overload the fire, but wait for the embers to burn down; otherwise stagnation results.
Our emotional nature and how we "digest" our emotions and thoughts also plays an enormous part in what occurs in the stomach. The mind-body connection is constantly active by way of the enteric nervous system (ENS), a system many people are not aware of. Basically, your emotions will affect your digestive process. Your brain and stomach continually communicate with each other during your entire lifetime via this ENS. This network of nerves, neurotransmitters and hormonal substances is interactive throughout this entire communication. All the neurotransmitters found in our brain can also be found in the ENS and the stomach.
So, your emotions can have a huge affect on your physiological functioning. People may even experience mood swings and depression after over indulging in rich foods, particularly those laden with fat and sugar. Constipation, another unfortunate side effect, can make people irritable, impatient and even angry. This is all a reflection of the initial digestive process.
Emotional stimuli will affect your nervous system and, in turn, have a negative impact on your stomach and bowel function. A good example would be feeling tense and anxious prior to a meeting, yet you are about to eat. The anxiety and perhaps nervousness will be "digested" along with the food you eat. Every emotion is assimilated, thereby affecting the physiology of the body.
Research has indicated that autoimmune disorders can manifest through a malfunctioning digestive system. Crohn's disease and coeliac disease are both examples of where leaky gut syndrome could have been present for some time prior to such disorders manifesting. Many people simply put up with early signs such as bloating, wind, frequent flatulence, reflux and minor allergies. Oesophageal reflux is now being referred to as GORD or gastro oesophageal reflux disorder. All these signs are indicating that you need to make changes with diet and lifestyle. Eating foods you like too often can create allergy triggers; some foods are potentially allergy producing and need to be eliminated, such as wheat and dairy products from cows. It requires you to check all food labels since wheat, in particular, is included in so many products. But once you get used to alternative grains that are now available, such as chia, kamut, rye, amaranth and quinoa, you will notice improvement in your gastrointestinal function.
Anyone wishing to lose weight will experience more success if they relax during meal times. Putting your focus 100% on your food at that time will allow the digestive enzymes to work more efficiently while your mind stays calm and more centred. You will find you eat less when you are relaxed.
Adrenal exhaustion can also occur with people who literally burn the candle at both ends. Insufficient sleep (anything less than seven hours a day), poor quality sleep (continually waking through the night and inability to get to sleep), and the need to be constantly on the go will not only deplete your body of adrenalin, but also over tax your entire nervous system. This also applies when life presents stressful and traumatic situations that are long term in your life. The adrenals are greatly affected here and herbal tonics to restore optimum function are required to ensure you feel energetic, motivated and happy again.
When adrenal fatigue is present, you lack zest and have no get up and go. Your thyroid can be affected in such situations creating further health issues and weight gain due to hormonal imbalance.
Often people blame hormones for weight gain and other health issues, but it is not necessarily your hormones that are to blame! It really goes back to good solid nutrition. If your glands in the endocrine system are not receiving appropriate balanced nutrition all the time, then naturally they will not function adequately and this will affect the hormones those glands produce.
Adrenal stress will also have an impact on the gastrointestinal system. The gastrointestinal system consists of your digestive system and your bowel. When I ask people how their digestion or stomach is feeling or working, many think I am talking about the bowel function. The colon (large intestine) is what is commonly referred to as the bowels. The digestive system is a part of the small intestine.
These facts are important when you come to select any live bacteria. There are many sorts of live bacteria on the market and you need to select correctly to obtain optimum results. Some cater purely for the small intestine, others for the large intestine. There are also live bacteria specifically formulated for what is commonly referred to as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). This title has been overused I feel and many people say they have this problem when in fact they simply have a malfunctioning bowel due to poor diet, inadequate fluids, eating in a hurry, insufficient sleep and so on.
Stress plays an enormous part in producing IBS or IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease/Disorder). Either way, the problem can be greatly helped with dietary and lifestyle changes along with specific homoeopathic and herbal remedies that strengthen the mucosa (intestinal lining) in the entire gastrointestinal tract. Changing the diet in a chronic case of IBS is not always adequate; one must look to strengthen and heal the gastrointestinal mucosa and ensure that healthy bacterial flora is present; only the appropriate herbal/homoeopathic/mineral/vitamin remedies will help you achieve this. A poorly functioning bowel is a perfect breeding ground for parasites.
Resolving gastrointestinal problems can be achieved over time with ease if the person is compliant and consistent with remedies and dietary/lifestyle changes. Seeing a qualified naturopath is recommended to ensure you obtain the right remedies for you. No two people need the same remedies for the same problem; we are all unique and poor health will manifest in each individual for a number of different reasons. These underlying factors and emotional triggers need to be assessed by an experienced practitioner or GP trained in natural therapies.
Sleep is a great healer and is paramount in achieving optimum health in all situations. Many people are not obtaining a good 7-8 hours sleep a night and this is why many health disorders are beginning to manifest, along with other stress-induced illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, hypo/hyperthyroidism, migraines and many more. Busy lifestyles, like those of high achievers or others constantly on the treadmill climbing the corporate ladder, can lead to poor health eventually.
Having goals and wanting to excel in life is excellent, but we must establish a balance and ensure we get quality sleep, rest, and leisure time. Spending time with family and friends is important for our nurturing as human beings. Having that interaction and time out from work will enable you to create a balance in your life and set a platform for achieving success in your work environment while maintaining optimum health.
Let's face it you are nothing without your health! There's no point being successful and wealthy if you create serious health disorders that limit your energy and ability to enjoy life. We do create these health disorders - they don't just "happen". We are responsible for our body and our health. There is no quick fix, though many people like the idea of a quick fix for pain relief or to lose weight. This is not how it is.
We must begin to take back full responsibility for our own health and use basic common sense when it comes to food selections and quantities. This also includes methods of preparation, eliminating all poor quality oils and saturated fats. The only fats/oils I recommend are pure virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, small amounts of ghee and unsalted butter.
The mistake many women make is complete avoidance of oil/fat, a quirk that manifested with low fat diets. We do need the right healthy fats/oils in our diet to ensure we have good nerve and brain function, and to support reproductive health, including healthy liver and gall bladder function. In fact, the right oils/fats can also help with weight loss since they help you feel more satisfied after a meal and contribute to balancing blood sugar levels.
Some things to consider changing or to bring into your life:
- Fresh healthy foods that you prepare yourself
- Eliminate all processed foods and anything containing sugar/sucrose or artificial sweeteners, caffeine and additives, including added vitamins and minerals!
- Eat slowly, chew well, take time out for meals, and avoid liquids while eating
- Adequate sleep of 7-8 hours
- Time out for leisure
- Meditation/yoga to calm and centre the mind and maintain a positive outlook
- Exercise - choose what you enjoy and do it daily. Walking is excellent for most people.
- Receive a naturopathic consultation to assess your diet/lifestyle with a view to making some positive and constructive changes for your future health. Stay committed to your goals and achieve optimum health by following through on the health regime/plan the practitioner presents to you.
Hair analysis can ascertain if you have an imbalance of minerals in your system. Your calcium could be very high, yet magnesium low, or your potassium and sodium levels could be too high/low. The test shows you the ratios between all minerals in your body including any toxic heavy metals. This is an easy and pain-free way to discover how effectively your body is assimilating minerals from the food you are eating. Appropriate mineral formulas can then be taken to bring a complete balance to the system, levelling out your hormones and gaining more energy.
Live blood analysis and a clot retraction test can give you a deeper insight than conventional blood tests with a view to inflammatory conditions, liver function and much more. These tests are normally carried out by naturopaths.
Experience the benefits of vital energy, physical and emotional health and wellbeing, and that feeling of "can't wait to get up in the morning", full of excitement and optimism for the new day ahead!
Sydney-based Lyn Craven is a practitioner of naturopathy, nutrition, medical herbalism, Bowen therapy, Reiki energy healing, meditation, and is a corporate health presenter/consultant with 16 years experience in natural therapies