Resetting Your Digestion

by nielskunze on July 16, 2015



Digestive issues are on the rise. ‘Gluten-free’ is more than just a thing; ‘lactose intolerance’ is more than prevalent; ‘food sensitivities’ and allergies are running rampant; Crohn’s disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome are no longer rarities. Nearly everyone, it seems, nowadays, is suffering from some kind of digestive issue. Maybe you just fart too much, but you still want the problem solved– rectified, if you will.

Proper digestion is important. You can pump all of the fanciest nutrients money can buy through your system daily, but if your gut is unable to utilize those nutrients, you just wind up with very expensive poo. And furthermore, digestion is the very cornerstone of all preventative medicine. Compromised digestion necessarily leads to nutrient depletion, which in turn leads to unpleasant symptoms and various chronic disease states. Proper digestion is foundational to superlative health.

In the vast majority of cases involving compromised digestion, the problems seem to accrue over time. Most often there seems to be a lengthy process involved, as bit-by-bit the gut loses its former proficiency. (But this suggests that it’s reversible.) What’s going on internally beyond the scope of our superficial introspections? What is causing this detrimental change in our guts? Numerous factors are involved.

The first and foremost factor which remains hidden or obscured to the public mind in general is the fact that the majority of the nuts-and-bolts of digestion in the body is not carried out by the human body itself; rather, it is the action of trillions of microbes to which our gut is merely host which perform the biological actions that release nutrients from our food for our personal benefit and use. These communities inside us are as varied as our individual food choices. The types and quantities– and the fluctuating ratios– of these various microflora have everything to do with how well we utilize the nutrients inherent in our food. The microflora profile present in our guts at any given time are correspondingly reflective of the habit patterns of our food choices. For instance, if we are in the habit of eating at typical fast food restaurants on a daily basis, the bacteria most prevalent in our digestive tract will reflect that choice. Our bodies will play host to the microflora most suited to the breakdown of just those types of ‘foods.’ And although those microbes may indeed flourish and thrive within us, they can’t magically provide any of the nutrients that might be inherently absent in those ‘food’ choices. They may be getting everything they need, but we are left depleted and vulnerable as a result of our poor choices. (Many of those types of microbes are also pathogenic, often causing disease states to manifest.)

And when we make the positive decision to choose our food more wisely, it is the colonies of microflora within us which must be considered throughout the change. Dietary changes should be implemented slowly– over a period of weeks and months. Abrupt changes to our diets are fraught with problems stemming from the types of bacteria we still harbour in our guts. When a fast food eater suddenly decides to instantly change over to a diet of primarily raw fruits and vegetables– because he’s suddenly convinced that this is the road to health– the microflora in his gut are wholly unable to process (digest) this new food source. Raw fruits and vegetables are broken down to their basic nutritive constituents by completely different bacteria than are required for hamburgers and french fries. Most often, folks electing to make such abrupt dietary changes experience an initial period of ‘indigestibility.’ The new healthy, nutrient-dense foods seem to pass right through the digestive process completely unchanged and wind up in the toilet looking much the same as they did going in. Furthermore, because the food is passing through largely undigested, extreme hunger is a most common result. This is another reason why temporary or fad diets typically don’t work. We simply don’t have the capacity– at the microscopic level– to digest and utilize the nutrients suddenly introduced through such abrupt changes. Ironically, even though you may be putting significantly more and better nutrients into your body, you are actually receiving less nutrition at the cellular level as the result of sudden changes– until the gut flora can properly adjust.

There are positive steps we can take however to speed up the transition and play host to the healthier colonies of microbes necessary to utilize our healthier choices… to our mutual benefit. There is hardly a culture on Earth who historically hasn’t relied upon various fermented foods to boost the prevalence of healthy gut bacteria. From fermented dairy like kefir and yogurt, to traditional vegetable ferments like sauerkraut and kimchi, these living (unpasteurized) foods can provide billions of individual microflora generally associated with improved health and digestion directly to the gut where they’re needed. Small amounts of these probiotic foods are eaten frequently with meals– typically several times a day– in order to ‘seed’ the intestinal tract with the bacteria associated with healthier food choices. They help to condition the entire gut environment to become more conducive to the healthiest microflora colonies. (Homemade vegetable ferments like sauerkraut and kimchi tend to terraform the internal environment more efficiently than store-bought probiotic supplements, in my experience.)

For information about creating your own probiotic foods, look into the work of Sandor Katz and/or Donna Gates. (Sandor’s book Wild Fermentation taught me everything I needed to know.) Just be aware that store-bought varieties of yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, etc. are typically pasteurized before they’re placed on store shelves. Pasteurization negates virtually all of the benefits of these types of foods by killing the very probiotics for which they are typically cultured. Vigilant consumers can sometimes find living versions, but it really is best to make your own; it’s so cheap and easy… and incredibly delicious!

Now let’s talk about leaky gut. There’s a common misconception that ‘leaky gut’ means that there’s holes in the intestines that you could stick your finger through. If such was the case, you would die very quickly from sepsis or septic shock. Leaky gut is more of a molecular condition whereby the lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes compromised over time (through poor food choices) and larger molecules of food particles pass through the gut membrane and enter the bloodstream. Because of their larger size– not being completely broken down into their nutritive parts– these leaked molecules are unable to feed our cells; they’re too bulky to be pulled through the cellular membranes. Rather, they circulate in the bloodstream until they are typically utilized by parasites anywhere in the body. This is the primary food supply for all sorts of human parasites. For this reason, leaky gut can result in many secondary health complications.

There is a simple– and traditional– method for repairing the damage to a leaky gut. This involves bone broths. When we boil bones for 36 hours or more, we can create a broth (soup base) that is rich in the very nutrients needed to ‘plug’ a leaky gut. Our mostly thrifty ancestors were in the habit of letting nothing go to waste. It was quite normal up until a few decades ago for every kitchen to have a stock pot on the boil for days on end containing bones and scraps from previous meals. Prolonged boiling breaks the bone tissue down into a usable form which soothes and repairs the damage caused by a leaky gut. Again, this is something you have to prepare yourself. Any type of bones can be used from beef to fish. Fish bones will typically disappear completely after 36 hours, whereas beef bones will only shrink almost imperceptibly. (Beef bones can be boiled again and again to the same positive effect.) Chicken and turkey bones may look the same after 36 hours, but they can be easily squished with your fingers once properly cooked. I always do squish them in order to release the marrow inside. The frequent use of such bone broths both prevents and repairs the health challenges posed by a leaky gut.

Now let’s touch on toxicity. In this modern age, our food supply is anything but clean. From preservatives and colourings to GMOs and accumulated heavy metals, our food typically includes chemical agents which tend to accrue within our guts and bodily tissues due to prolonged and repeated exposure. We have to take proactive steps in order to periodically reduce or outright rid our bodies of these nasty agents. There are oodles of detoxification and general cleansing protocols elaborated on the internet. Find what sounds right for you and begin experimenting. Just realize that the mobilization of nasty toxins in order to usher them out of the body can result in a whole host of unpleasant detoxification symptoms. One thing to keep in mind during a cleanse is that pain associated with detox tends to move around, whereas a pain associated with an actual injury or specific health issue tends to remain very localized. A positive side-effect of cleansing is that it forces you to become more aware of the internal condition of your own body. Awareness and self-responsibility cannot be overemphasized in achieving superlative health… so this is a very good thing!

A relatively new discovery in the quest for digestive health is the positive action of coriander seed oil. Cilantro, the herb, has long been known for its chelating effect in drawing toxins out of the body. Unfortunately, the amount of cilantro required to achieve positive results in this regard is rather prohibitive. However, the seed of the cilantro herb, known commonly as coriander, has been found to be far more efficient in this regard. The cold-pressed oil is particularly efficient at drawing out heavy metal accumulations in the gut when it’s consumed. And when the oil is held under the tongue for a minute or more, its chelation action is released directly into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the mouth; this can effectively pull those same heavy metals and other toxins from cells throughout the body. Additionally, coriander seed oil improves the general environment of the gut, favouring conditions more conducive to the proliferation of the beneficial microflora over the decidedly pathogenic microbes. It also helps significantly with better nutrient absorption. The cold-pressed coriander seed oil that I recommend comes from Activation Products (a company worth investigating for additional health strategies.)

And lastly, I want to talk about superfoods. (If you’re one of those belligerent pinheads who says “Superfoods aren’t a real thing; that’s just a marketing term!” then feel free to substitute the term ‘nutrient-dense foods.’ No sense in compromising your health over a semantic argument!) There are many many nutrient-dense foods out there to choose from… and I’ve tried most of them. My current favourites are: spirulina, chlorella, pine pollen, marine phytoplankton, raw cacao and moringa leaf powder. These are the ones I use nearly every day. The greatest advantage of ingesting superfoods regularly relies on taking them on an empty stomach.

Surprisingly, it is not widely known that digesting a typical meal of meat, potatoes and veggies is a very energy-intensive process. (Ever wondered why large meals often make you sleepy?) In order to digest such a meal, your body needs to divert most of its blood supply to the organs of digestion, and even then– with the combining of starches and proteins– the digestive process is difficult and inefficient. Conversely, when superfoods are ingested on an empty stomach, their superlative nutrition typically requires very little in the way of digestion. Their nutrients are readily absorbable, requiring almost no alteration or breakdown. Spirulina, for instance, is up to 70% protein by weight (meat ranges between 27% and 34%, and its proteins become denatured as you cook it). The protein in spirulina is already in the form that your body requires for proper assimilation. In fact, you could smear the algae on your skin and still receive most of the nutrition it provides transdermally.

I eat my superfoods early in the day, before I have anything which could remotely be considered a regular meal. I only eat one large meal per day in the evenings– mostly for the pleasure of doing so. Prior to that satisfying meal, I’ve already ingested and assimilated all of the nutrition required through partaking of my favourite superfoods. It is a strategy which I will likely employ until the day I die– a thousand or so years hence!

Oh, and one more bonus tip… for those who have developed lactose intolerance: try organic raw dairy, if you have access to it. In Canada, we can only get organic raw milk cheeses which have been aged for 60 days or more (raw milk and butter are highly illegal– go figure!). So far, every lactose-intolerant friend who has tried the raw organic cheeses that I exclusively buy (I don’t touch the crap in the grocery stores) has found no digestive issues with these cheeses at all. In order to properly digest lactose (milk sugar), the natural enzyme lactase must be present in the product or else must be produced by the body itself. Lactose intolerance develops as the body loses its ability– through cumulatively compromised digestion– to produced adequate lactase. All enzymes are denatured (destroyed) during the pasteurization process. Raw dairy leaves these naturally-occurring enzymes intact, rendering it digestible for virtually all. Try it– with caution– and see if raw dairy is a food you might like to reintroduce.

Raw dairy products are actually highly nutritious foods which I heartily recommend, whereas pasteurized dairy is a digestive nightmare best avoided. So why don’t the stores typically sell raw organic dairy? Because that would almost assuredly spell the end for large industrial dairies. The Big Ag dairies are typically highly unsanitary, and utilize feed which is questionable at best and wholly unsuitable at worst for producing nutritious dairy products. Milk and milk products from these factory dairies has to be pasteurized in order for it to be even marginally safe for human consumption– and that renders it largely indigestible. Ironically, the dairy industry will eventually be saved by consumers realizing the incredible benefits of real dairy over the crap we’ve been fed for the last hundred years or so… and the big dairies will go kicking and screaming into the oblivion they deserve.

Astute readers will have already figured out that what is stated here for pasteurized dairy versus raw dairy also holds true for all other foods. Cooking destroys enzymes. When Nature produces anything, she always includes the enzymes necessary to break that thing down again. Cooking food denatures all of the naturally-occurring enzymes (catalytic proteins), which then places the entire burden of digestion upon the body’s ability to produce those enzymes itself. As we age, our ability to do so typically diminishes. For this reason alone, incorporating as many raw foods as possible into one’s diet is highly recommended to relieve the burden placed on the organs of digestion. 80% raw food is a good target ratio to try to achieve.

And one more thing to consider when making food choices: not only are you what you eat, but your food is what it eats too. If the meat you are buying is from animals raised on crappy unsuitable foods, then the quality of that meat will necessarily reflect that. A cow can’t magically produce nutrients in its body that are not inherent in its feed, just like a plant grown in poor depleted soil can’t contain the same nutrients as its healthy counterpart. Nutrition has to be present all the way throughout the whole food chain… starting with healthy soils. Therefore, the most nutritious food we can typically acquire is wildcrafted or foraged foods from pristine, natural settings. I forage foods every single day from the wild. The next best food comes from our own homegrown gardens. In order for that food to be superlatively nutritious however, we must be diligent in fortifying our garden soils with all of the mineral and probiotic (compost) agents required. The next best we can do is organic fruits and veggies and naturally raised meats purchased locally through our farmer’s markets. And finally the grocery store still sells a few (very few) items still worth purchasing. Consumer demand will have to reform the nightmare that is our current grocery store debacle. Virtually every processed, packaged food is crap– even before you eat it!

Well, I hope that helps.

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