Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Why you're only as healthy as your digestive system

When I was a kid I got scurvy ... yes you read correctly ... scurvy ... the gum inflammation that pirates used to get when they went to sea for months so couldn't eat any fresh fruit of veg.

Without going into the details I can assure you this was a really unpleasant experience and one that had my doctors scratching their heads. A dose of 100 mg of vitamin C daily should be sufficient to avoid scurvy which is roughly two portions of fruit and vegetables, so given I was eating masses of home grown fruit and vegetables how was this possible?

Infact it was only much later, when I turned to nutritional therapy to address my digestive issues, that it transpired that I must have had malabsorption. This is where the lining of the intestines become inflamed preventing the proper absorption of nutrients. It has a variety of causes and in my case it was food allergies.

The point of this anecdote is that you can have the healthiest diet in the world but if you can't digest and absorb your food properly it won't be doing you any good.

I also think a lot of people with digestive problems suffer in silence, either because they're embarrassed to discuss the condition, or they have spoken to their doctor but not had success with their treatment. In some cases someone may not even realise they have a digestive problem - discussing your bowel habits isn't considered polite conversation so a lot of people don't have a point of reference as to what is normal.

For anyone about to eat breakfast I suggest you stop reading here as I'm about to get very Gillian McKeith about bowels, but for everyone else here is a rough guide as to what is or isn't normal when it comes to your digestive system:

- You should have a bowel movement between. one and three times a day. Three infact is ideal although that's not commonly known.

- It's normal for a bowel movement to be triggered by eating. Your gut is basically one long tube so as you put food in it makes sense for some to come out. If however you don't get much warning and find yourself running to the loo then this may indicate an over-sensitized gut and this should be investigated.

- Constipation can cause a build up of toxins, as well as hormonal imbalances, elevated cholesterol and can damage the intestines so shouldn't be ignored.

- Equally diarrhoea or too frequent stools can be signs of digestive disturbances that should be investigated and may lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies.

- I appreciate that most people don't look, but stools should be medium brown (not nearly black or too pale) and formed but soft looking

- Blood in the stools always warrants a trip to the doctors and must be investigated and regular mucus in the stools may indicate gut irritation.

- Occasional burping and wind is normal but this isn't normal if experienced after every meal. Regular foul smelling wind is usually a sign of poor digestion and should be addressed.

- Regular indigestion or heart burn after eating usually indicates insufficient stomach acid rather than too much, as is usually assumed. Excess stomach acid is usually indicated by a warm or burning feeling in the stomach that is relieved by eating.

- It is normal for the abdomen to expand after eating, particularly after a large meal, but if distension is exaggerated or lasts longer than three hours it may indicate a digestive issue.

If you think you might have a digestive problem your first stop should be your doctor, but nutritional therapy can also be very helpful in this area. Remember you're only as healthy as your gut so don't ignore any symptoms.

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