Most digestive problems are a consequence of one or more of the following issues:
- Poor digestion (irritation, intoxication, lack of enzymes, lack of stomach acid)
- Poor absorption (increased gut permeability)
- Poor protection (dysbiosis, inflammation, food intolerances)
- Poor elimination (clogged up colon, liver-detoxification problems)
This common sequence of events is shown below, together with the remedial actions necessary to get everything working properly again. These form the basis of my approach to restoring digestive health.
Figure: What goes wrong with digestion and how to correct it
One survey found that almost 70 per cent of US households experience a digestive disorder.1 To a very real extent, digestive problems are a silent epidemic and a major cause of discomfort in our modern world. The consequences of having digestive problems are much more far-reaching than most of us realise and they can lead to arthritis, chronic fatigue, headaches and migraines, sinus problems, eczema, psoriasis, infections and many other common diseases not usually connected to digestion. Restoring digestive health is, without doubt, one of the keys to a long, healthy and happy life. Here’s a crash course in how to achieve it.
STEP ONE: IMPROVE YOUR DIGESTION
Eat the right foods, in the correct amounts and combinations. This means eating whole, unrefined, chemical-free foods that your digestive system is designed to work with, digest and absorb.
The easiest way to test and correct indigestion is simply to take a digestive enzyme supplement with each meal for one week. Find one that provides the following:
- Amylase – to digest carbs
- Invertase – to digest sugars
- Protease – to digest protein
- Lipase – to digest fats
- Alpha-galactosidase – to digest pulses
- Glucoamylase (also called amylo-glucosidase) – to digest greens
- Lactase – to digest dairy products
If you find substantial relief, keep going for as long as you need to, or adjust as necessary to take with your main meals only or when you eat foods you find hard to digest, such as beans or greens.
If you are still experiencing indigestion or heartburn, read my report on GERD and acid-reflux.
STEP TWO: IMPROVE YOUR ABSORPTION
Improve your gut integrity. The easiest and fastest way to do this is by taking two teaspoons of l-glutamine powder, one teaspoon at night, in water, just before you go to bed, and one teaspoon on rising, waiting an hour before you eat. Do this for one week.
If you have been diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome, read my report on this.
STEP THREE: IMPROVE YOUR PROTECTION
Re-inoculate your gut with healthy bacteria. The cornerstones of good gut microbiota are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. For one week, supplement 2–5 billion viable organisms a day, ideally twice a day. Also, avoid alcohol.
STEP FOUR : CALM INFLAMMATION DOWN
If your gut is in an inflamed state, the best way to calm it down is to eat a healthy diet, free from foods that you are intolerant to. The following can help to calm down a belligerent hyperactive GALT (gut associated lymphatic system):
Omega-3 fish oils - eat oily fish two or three times a week and supplement at least 1,000mg of omega-3 fish oil daily providing at least 333mg (a third) EPA, which is the most anti-inflammatory omega-3. Also eat chia seeds – this is especially important for vegans.
Turmeric - of all the natural painkillers and anti-inflammatories, turmeric is the best all-rounder. Although it can act locally in the gut, it is poorly absorbed. Various new forms of turmeric, concentrating the active ingredient, curcumin, and delivering this in an absorbable form, have improved its function by over one hundredfold.
Quercetin with bromelain - quercetin is a potent anti-inflammatory found especially in red onions but also other foods. A red onion provides almost 20mg, but I like to take between 500mg and 1,000mg, equivalent to 50 red onions, to calm down gut inflammation. I aim to eat a red onion every day. Quercetin’s absorption is considerably helped by bromelain, the protein-digesting enzyme in pineapple, so combinations of these two work best.
MSM (sulfur) - sulfur, found in onions, garlic and eggs, is vital for healthy methylation, which is a ‘master control’ function of the body, also required for nutrient absorption. It helps to heal a leaky gut and calms down inflammation. MSM is the most usable form of sulfur, readily absorbed, but also immediately helping to calm down an inflamed gut.
Vitamin C is a natural anti-histamine. Histamine is released when the body reacts in an inflammatory way, so vitamin C helps to calm this down. People with incredibly sensitive digestive systems may need to take an alkaline form of this slightly acid vitamin, such as magnesium ascorbate. Magnesium also works as an anti-spasmodic. You can buy combined supplements of all these, except omega-3 fish oils, so you’ll need to take these separately for one week initially to calm down inflammation.
STEP FIVE: ELIMINATE FOOD ALLERGIES
If your body has developed sensitivities and intolerances to certain foods that currently trigger an immune-based antibody response, the first step is to surrender, to calm down the situation. Get yourself tested for IgG antibody reactions against foods, then, in the short term, eliminate them. You’ll need to get a Yorktest FoodScan test.
STEP SIX: IMPROVE ELIMINATION
Finally, to encourage healthy elimination, increase your intake of soluble fibres. You can do this using diet alone; for example, by eating more oat-based foods and chia seeds. However, if elimination is a sticking point for you, you might want to take a teaspoon (5g), or the equivalent number of capsules, of glucomannan or a glucomannan-based soluble fibre, always with a large glass of water immediately before each meal. This is also a good way to remind yourself to drink plenty of water – the equivalent of six glasses of water a day, including your hot drinks, is my recommendation. Vitamin C also helps to move things along. I recommend taking 2g of vitamin C a day.
In summary to restore good digestive health, you are going to need to address the six fundamental steps explained above:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Ensure good digestion by taking digestive enzymes
- Ensure good gut integrity by taking glutamine powder
- Re-inoculate your gut by taking probiotics
- Reduce inflammation with omega-3 fats and anti-inflammatory nutrients (turmeric, MSM, quercetin and vitamin C).
- Eliminate your food intolerances
- Increase your intake of soluble fibres, primarily from oats and chia.
During the past 15 years, I developed two supplements to help with these issues. These are available from HOLFORDirect. Digestpro an innovative formulation combining digestive enzymes, glutamine and probiotics and also Allex which can be used to regulate an allergic response and combines quercetin, bromelain and vitamin C.
1. D A Drossman et al, U.S. householder survey of functional gastrointestinal disorders. Prevalence, sociodemography, and health impact, Dig Dis Sci, 1993