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Digesting Your Food with Ease and Comfort

Digest


Feeling bloated during and after meals?  Is gas a problem?  Does the food just sit there? You're not the only one.  I hear these complaints regularly.  In fact, millions of Americans have constipation and intestinal discomfort.  After some basic background info, we’ll get into the solutions.

 

Think of the digestive tract as one 30 foot long tube traveling through your body.  It’s surface area is about 600 square ---- Digestive Sys 5-pics (large)meters which is approximately the size of a baseball diamond!!  Strictly speaking, it is actually outside the body as it communicates with the outside world on both ends.  If you eat lots of high fiber healthy foods including, fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds; eat several servings of lean protein; drink 6-8 glasses of water or healthy fluids and get adequate physical activity, you probably don’t have problems with your digestive system. 

The problem is that most of my patients don’t fit into this category.  Let’s dispense with the anatomy lessons and cut to the chase.  Here are a few of the main GI problems along with some solutions.

Constipation:

  • One of the main causes is a lack of Fiber due to a lack of fruit and vegetable consumption. Most people don’t get close to the recommended 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (7 for women and 9 for men). In addition, most of my patients don’t eat beans, nuts and seeds, resulting in an overall lack of fiber. The best way to solve this problem is to consume more of these foods. If you find eating that much produce to be a  problem another good choice is to use a phytonutrient drink.  There are many on the market and I am personally involved with The Organic Juice Cleanse and Triple Greens.  These are novel ways to add fiber along with dozens of super foods to turbocharge your health at every level (we have lots of these available in a variety of flavors in the office).
  • Dehydration is another reason for constipation.  Try to drink at least 6 glasses of water (or clear fluids such as green tea) per day and more if you are sweating or performing heavy exercise.  When you don’t have enough water your stool becomes hard and difficult to pass.
  • Inadequate physical activity is another big reason for constipation.  Just like skeletal muscles tend to get weaker when you don’t exercise; similar changes take place in the muscles around you intestine and colon.  If you have problems with constipation, try getting some more physical activity, you’re whole body will thank you for it. 
  • The digestive process begins in the mouth with proper chewing. The teeth need to mechanically break down the food you eat, while the salivary glands moisten the food with saliva and a digestive enzyme called alpha amylase. This creates hundreds of times more surface area for your stomach acid and digestive enzymes to work on. So, chew your food well; it’s a critical part of the digestive process.
  •  As we get older (and wiser), we produce less, not more, stomach acid and digestive enzymes.  These substances are responsible for breaking down our proteins, fats and carbohydrates into tiny particles that our intestines can absorb. Our stomach alone produces 2-3 quarts of digestive juices per day!! However, the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes produced by the stomach and pancreas become dilute with age.  This creates an interesting quandary to ponder.  Why are our doctors and drug companies pushing acid blocking drugs such as Tums, Rolaids and a Little Purple Pill, when we need more acid and enzymes, not less?  These substances are actually further hampering an already limited digestive function, not helping it. Remember, when you were young and you had stronger stomach acid and more powerful enzymes? You could eat anything and feel fine afterward. You had no GI upset or acid reflux and digested your food with ease.

    We need strong acid in the stomach, like we had in our youth, to create an acidic environment which kills pathogens in our food (bacteria, parasites, viruses) and breaks down protein and fat. Strong pancreatic and intestinal enzymes are able to break down protein, fat and carbohydrates into tiny digestible particles. Yet for many of us, as we get into our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, our digestive juices are not as potent as they once were, which can dramatically reduce our ability to break down and digest our food efficiently. Instead the food is sitting in our stomach and intestines and actually beginning to rot creating burping, bloating and reflux.

    What do we do about this? Try Digestive enzymes first, and if that doesn’t completely resolve your digestive problems, try using Betaine Hydrochloride as well. Zypan, a supplement made by Standard Process, is a combination of the two. I like to start my patients with 2-3 digestive enzyme capsules with a big meal and 1-2 with a small meal. You can take a few more or less. Experiment; how you feel after eating will tell you if you’re using enough. If this doesn’t do the trick, add a stomach acid supplement such as Betaine Hydrochloride.  We use the Warming Test to determine the appropriate amount: First of all, only take Betaine Hydrochloride with food and never chew it. That said, start with one during a meal, and work your way up. Keep increasing the number of capsules that you take with subsequent meals until you feel a slight warming sensation in your stomach. That warming sensation tells you that you have taken one too many. Then reduce that number by one capsule and you have your dosage. It may be as little as one and as many as 6 per meal. 

    As you are using the enzymes and betaine hydrochloride with good results, you can try to reduce your dosage to see if you remain comfortable. When you begin to feel like you’re not digesting well again, you know you’re not taking enough. At that point bump the dose up again and there you have it... Your minimum dosage to properly digest your food.

GERD - Reflux:

  • GERD is a very common problem which should be taken seriously. In people with GERD the esophageal sphincter (the valve that connects the esophagus with the stomach) doesn't work well and allows the acidic contents of the stomach to move backward up into the esophagus. If this process goes on unchecked over time the cells lining the esophagus can change (Barrett’s Esophagus) and in rare cases lead to cancer of the esophagus. So, if you suffer with GERD it makes sense to minimize the problem. Here are some ways to do it:
    *Utilize the procedures that I have outlined above. When there is less
    back pressure from food sitting in your stomach and intestines, reflux is  
    minimized.
    *Avoid foods that trigger symptoms such as alcohol, spicy foods, fatty 
    foods or acidic foods.
    *Try eating smaller meals
    *Don’t eat too close to bed time
    *Lose weight if appropriate
    *Wear loose-fitting clothes
    *Raise the top of the bed so that when you’re lying down, gravity helps to 
    keep the contents of the stomach from refluxing up into the esophagus.

Proper digestion, absorption and elimination of the food that we eat is critical. This is where health begins. We need to absorb the nutrients from the food to build our cells, tissues and organs. We need the vitamins and minerals to optimize our energy and vitality. Try to make healthy choices. Eat lots of Fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Try and include heart healthy nuts, seeds and legumes. Try to dramatically reduce your overall carbohydrate consumption from grains, such as breads, pastas, pastries, muffins etc, as most people eat far too many grain products.

I’m sure that if you adopt some of these recommendations you will feel much more comfortable, have more energy and feel sharper.

I hope that you find this advice to be helpful. If your symptoms persist make sure that you consult a qualified health care provider to fully diagnose and treat you GI problems.

In Health,
Dr. Neil Levin
Chiropractor practicing in East Northport, NY
(631) 651-2929