By Wendy Romig, DCNDigestion is one of the most critical functions in the body when it comes to our overall health. From the moment food enters our mouth, until the time that it is either absorbed or excreted, vital biochemical processes are taking place enabling us to receive essential nutrients required for life. Our biological and life-sustaining systems are quite intricate, but understanding some basics can be beneficial for health.Basic Overview of DigestionContrary to common belief, digestion actually begins in the brain not the mouth. From the moment we think about food, see it or smell it, our body begins releasing enzymes for digestion. Then, when food actually enters the mouth, our teeth mash up the food while enzymes initiate the break-down of carbohydrates and fats. As food enters the stomach, digestive juices, hydrochloric acid and proteolytic enzymes (which breakdown proteins) are released to continue the processing. The stomach then slowly empties its contents into the upper portion of the small intestine where it is met by enzymes released from the gall bladder and walls of the intestines. Another important substance released by the gall bladder into the small intestines is bile, which emulsifies fats for absorption. All nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine and transported to other systems of the body via the blood or lymphatic systems. Any fiber that was not broken down, continues on through the digestive tract and enters into the large intestine for fermentation and creation of our gut microbiota, Vitamin K and biotin. What is unused, is excreted in feces.Where Things Go WrongPoor digestion can actually begin in the mouth, especially for those who do not chew their food sufficiently. Under-chewed food enters into the stomach for continued breakdown but when large chunks are present, they are often not broken down properly into their micro-nutrient (vitamins and minerals) and macro-nutrient (carbohydrate, fats and proteins) parts. It is recommended to chew food until it feels completely mashed up in the mouth (around 50 chews according to well-known Integrative Medicine expert Dr. Joseph Mercola). Another area of digestive weakness is insufficient stomach acid. As we age, our bodies tend to produce less hydrochloric acid, which is essential for several functions: 1) breaking down food, 2) killing bacteria and pathogens, 3) activating the protein enzymes, 4) activating the carrier for B12, 5) activating the release of enzymes in the small intestines. While we know that too much stomach acid is dangerous, too little can interfere with major processes.The next place people with digestive problems commonly experience issues is in the intestines in the form of inflammation. Inflammation results in gut tissue that has been irritated by foods not well tolerated, medications, stress, bacterial overgrowth and other aggravants. Inflammation can cause conditions like irritable bowel, intestinal hyperpermeability (‘leaky gut’) and nutrient malabsorption. Lastly, we hear a lot about making sure we have enough of the ‘good’ bacteria in our bodies. This is true and while our large intestines manufacture a large portion of our gut microbiota, those who have taken anti-biotics may be chronically low. Common Symptoms of Poor DigestionThere are a whole host of health problems that can arise from digestive problems and nutrient malabsorption; the list grows by the year. Common primary symptoms of compromised digestion include but are not limited to acid reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, bad breath and gas. Secondary symptoms can include fatigue, muscle weakness, nutrient deficiencies, depression (there are multiple studies linking gut health and depression) and weight problems. It is important to address digestive issues to promote good health and prevent other more serious health problems. The good news is that there are natural options for getting digestion back on track including nutritional changes, supplements and herbal medicine. Consult your local health practitioner for guidance. This article offers only a brief overview of digestion and its potential pathologies. If you are interested in learning more, there are several reputable resources including Dr. Mercola’s website, The National Institute of Health’s PubMed directory (for scientific studies) and the Townsend Letter.Happy digesting!
By Wendy Romig, DCNWhether children, adults or senior citizens, physical activity and movement are critical for health and well-being. Despite the endless amounts of research and evidence showing the benefits of movement, a large percentage of the US population still falls short of the recommended level of exercise in a week. Many factors including sedentary lifestyles, desk jobs, busy lives and limiting health conditions contribute to the problem, but an important consideration is the physiological effects of inactivity. Now that winter is in full swing pushing many indoors, finding ways to keep the body moving during those dark, cold days is critical. Chronic inflammation has become an epidemic of the developed world and is the result of several factors including diet and lifestyle. According to an article published in Behavioral Neurology Journal, our hunter-gather ancestors experienced significantly lower levels of inflammation, particularly in terms of the duration of inflammation present in the body. Where these earlier humans may have experienced up to 40 days of acute inflammation, present day pathologies linger for months, and even years at times, leading to the onset of chronic disease like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Research has been conducted to measure the levels of certain inflammation markers with long durations of inactivity in newly diagnosed diabetics. Results showed that sedentary lifestyles caused an elevation in the marker IL-6 but increases in activity actually lowered another inflammatory marker c-reactive protein in diabetics. In fact, this research published in the journal of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiac Disease in 2014 points out that each hour of added movement in a day decreased the inflammatory marker c-reactive protein by 24% over a six-month period. There is an important correlation between exercise and inflammation levels in humans and some researchers suggest that our muscles are the “forgotten organ” of the immune system. Physical activity and engagement of the body’s musculature actually activates anti-inflammatory immune function. And more specifically, exercise before eating, can lower inflammation brought on by dietary intakes of certain foods like fats, meats and simple carbs. Knowing the inflammatory effects of a sedentary life, the question remains, how can individuals bring more movement and activity into their daily lives? An article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity suggests that even 30 minutes of concentrated daily activity may not be sufficient in counteracting the effects of sitting all day. If you’re not one to spend hours at the gym every week, there is hope. Just simply standing up, walking around your house or office for a few minutes every hour can significantly reduce the levels of inflammation in your body. While this does not replace dedicated cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise, your body will likely soon feel the positive effects of more movement in your day.
By Wendy Romig, DCNAs we launch into spring from a gentle winter, you may find yourself cleaning out closets, clearing gardens and removing the old and unwanted from your life to open space for the new and rejuvenating. Spring invites awareness to our bodies and to the earth, along with an increased focus on health and wellness. Some may use this time of year to detox their bodies in preparation for the seasons ahead. In today’s modern world, toxins are abundant. On average, we are exposed to hundreds of toxins each day, creating strain on our internal systems which can promote inflammation, hormonal imbalances and disease. Not to mention the effects on wildlife and our water systems. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common chemicals we come in contact with based on research from the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org). Toxins found in common personal care products:Oxybenzone is another product found in sunscreens, personal care products, aftershave and makeup. Oxybenzone has been shown in studies to increase oxidative stress, putting added strain on organs, as well as increasing risk of allergies, cardiovascular disease and imbalances in the endocrine system. Parabens are found in sunscreens and personal care products. Evidence suggests that these compounds may disrupt hormone production and lead to allergic responses in the body. Phenylenediamine (along with aminophenol and diaminobenzene) are found in hair dyes. These chemicals have been associated with increased risk of liver toxicity, respiratory illness, and eye irritation. Phthalates are found in nail polishes, cosmetics, scented products and aftershaves. They have been found to disturb reproductive function, particularly in males.Retinyl Palmitate is an ingredient found in many personal care products including shaving cream, moisturizers, sun screens and makeup. Research shows that this chemical may contribute to reproductive disruptions and increased oxidative stress in the body.Triclosan is found most in toothpaste and facial cleansers. Data suggests that exposure to triclosan may increase risk of endocrine system imbalances, allergic responses and organ toxicity. This product has been restricted for cosmetic use in Canada and Japan. Toxins found in common cleaning products:Ammonium hydroxide is a chemical used in common household cleaning products which can contribute to respiratory distress, organ damage, allergies, skin irritations and vision issues. Oxalic Acid is a chemical used in many cleaning products. Evidence suggests this compound contributes to disruption of the endocrine system and may cause convulsions, vision issues or kidney damage.Sodium hypochlorite is one of the main ingredients in bleach products which may lead to respiratory inflammation, allergies, skin irritation, hormonal imbalances and digestive disturbances. While this list is far from exhaustive, it contains a few of the more aggressive toxins found in everyday products. As you consider ways to detoxify your life, you may research safer alternatives to some of these products found through the Environmental Working Group website. Many of these products can be found at your local co-op or natural food store. You may also choose to investigate DIY options like vinegar, water and essential oils for cleaning, and other recipes for skin care which are natural, safe and oftentimes more economical.