Health digestion - the cornerstone to good health?
I remember one of my lecturers quoting this every time he gave us talks on digestive health. This is his subject specialism so you would expect some bias in this opinion, but does it really have a bigger impact that purely breaking down food and allowing it to be absorbed in to the body?
How does good or bad digestion affect our bodies and health? Many of us suffer with reflux, bloating, indigestion, constipation. These are signs that our digestive system isn't working as it should. What is happening in these situations and what effect might this be having on our bodies?
There are a number of possible causes to digestive problems. Poor diet and inadequate water intake, low or high stomach acid, insufficient digestive enzymes or bile acids, parasites or dysbiosis (too much bad bacteria or a yeast overgrowth), food intolerances, sluggish bowel and stress to name a few. Each of these can be assessed and addressed, but if you ignore them what effects can these digestive problem have on the body?
Digestion is linked with immune function! The gut is one of the main points where external influences - food and pathogens taken in by the mouth make contact with the internal circulatory systems. It therefore has a big role to protect us from harmful substances. Our immune system is highly concentrated withing our digestive system and to some extent controlled by it.
One key influence on the gut and it's immune system is level of inflammation which arises from overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast or a pathogen. Normally the symbiotic, or good, bacteria control our digestive tract, but high sugar diets, lack of fibre and regular anti-biotics can all cause an imbalance of bad over good bacteria, a situation called dysbiosis.
Inflammation with the gut has been linked to inflammatory states elsewhere in the body, such as joints and skin. Inflammation, as mentioned above, is an immune response where many immune chemicals are released. These do not stay in the same position, but can move around the body, exerting their influence in different place. It's to the idea that gum disease, and inflammatory condition in the mouth, can increase your risk of heart disease.
Another affect of inflammation is that the digestive tract can become impaired. Normally it forms a nice barrier, allowing only digested food particles in, but the inflammation can cause it to let different types of molecules in, a condition called Leaky Gut. Our bodies then have to process and manage molecule that would not normally be there - more stress on our immune system!
Constipation may be uncomfortable, but it may also be affecting your body's ability to excrete toxins. One of the liver's jobs is to get rid of toxins and used chemicals. These are pushed out via the digestive system. When this becomes blocked, as in the case of constipation, these toxins can become reabsorbed back in to the blood stream. This applies to used hormones and cholesterol so may be problematic if there are cardiovascular or menstrual issues.
Healthy digestion is therefore an important starting point in trying to improve your health. Symptoms are your body's way of telling you something needs attention. Often the fix can be quick and easy, sometime you may need to put in a bit more effort but the benefits might be felt and seen in more areas than just your digestive tract.
What can we do to manage these problems? The first place to start is with a good diet - high in whole grains, fruit and veg for fibre, whilst cutting down on sugars. Exercise is good for healthy bowel function and taking probiotics should ensure a balance of good bacteria. If problems still persist, investigate any deficiencies in digestive secretions, possible dysbiosis or maybe food sensitivities.
Could Vitamin D help manage glucose levels for Type 2 Diabetics?
A recent study looked at the effect of vitamin D, calcium and plain yoghurt on glucose management of Type 2 Diabetics. The patients were split in to 3 groups, one of which had plain yoghurt, the next a yoghurt fortified with vitamin D, the last group had both vitamin D and calcium added. Apart from this, all followed similar diets.
Measurements of fasting serum glucose and insulin resistance were both significantly lowered in the group that had the yoghurt with vitamin D, with glucose levels dropping on average from 7.7 to 6.5. In the plain yoghurt group, this measurement increased from 7.7 to 10.8. This suggests a benefit of additional vitamin D intake to help manage glucose and insulin levels.
Can this be put in to practice? The levels of vitamin D in this study were 1,000 IU/day across 2 portions. During the winter months when we are deficient due to lack of UV light, this is a reasonable amount to supplement. Vitamin D is not widely fortified in yoghurts, but to give you an idea - you would need to eat 20 Petit Filous, or 30 Alpro soya yoghurts per day for this vitamin D intake, the sugar in which would counter any benefit of the vitamin D . Probably better to just add a few drop of Vitamin D3 available from many manufacturers to a natural, probiotic yoghurt for healthy, nutrient boost to help manage blood glucose.
Daily consumption of vitamin D– or vitamin D + calcium–fortified yogurt drink improved glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized clinical trial Am J Clin Nutr 2011 93: 4 764-771;
Reducing weight may help lower your chance of developing bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the UK. There are many factors that may increase the risk of developing this disease such as genes, weight, diet and even height. Whilst there's not much that we can do to change our genes, we can make lifestyle changes that will help to reduce risk.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that reducing body fat may help lower risk of bowel cancer. Fat cells produce chemicals that cause inflammation in the bowel and so people who are obese have significantly raised levels of these inflammatory chemicals. This chronic, or long-term, inflammation induces bowel cancer so any measures that help to reduce levels of fat and inflammation will also help maintain a healthy bowel. So, if you're overweight or obese, a 10% reduction in your weight will significantly reduce these cancer-causing chemicals.
Other lifestyle measures to help reduce bowel cancer include maintaining good fibre intake each day. Not only will this help you manage your weight, but it will also ensure regular bowel habits. Chronic constiptaion and a high red meat diet can both create an environment in the bowel where toxic, cancerous chemicals are formed.
Finally, exercise is important. It improves your digestive transit, helps to manage weight and has been shown to lower the risk of bowel cancer.