The digestive system is an extremely important organ system in maintaining our overall health and well-being. It constitutes 70 percent of the bodies immune system and is responsible for removing waste, breaking down foods into glucose and providing the body with nutrients it needs for optimal energy. An important key in healthy digestion is including foods in the diet that optimize gut health as well as ones that benefit the nervous system. This combination leads to a calming effect which allows the digestive system to function optimally. Magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, B Vitamins, healthy fats, probiotics, and prebiotics are all important nutrients that create this optimal combination. Digestion is best when a sense of calm in the body is achieved. When foods are digested better, nutrients are absorbed better. Stress causes a disruption in digestion and therefore makes it harder on the body. Although it is always best to achieve optimal nutrient levels through diet, supplementation can be used as well.
Magnesium Magnesium is important for a variety of reasons. It is used in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body. Some include maintaining energy levels, being able to relax, and maintaining heart and blood vessel health. The RDA for magnesium is currently 400-420 mg/ day for men and 310-320 mg/day for women. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for supplemental magnesium is 350 mg/day. Magnesium deficiency is becoming very common. The best way to determine if a person is getting adequate magnesium is to asses the body and lifestyle. Certain foods such as carbonated beverages, pastries, cake, candy, caffeine, and alcohol, can all render low magnesium levels in the body. Lifestyles encompassing a lot of stress, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, moodiness, fatigue, sadness, lack of motivation, muscle cramps and joint pains can all be due to a magnesium deficiency as well as contribute to a deficiency. Magnesium is the first mineral that gets depleted by stress, fatigue, or too much calcium in the body. Calcium and magnesium work hand in hand; if one is out of balance it is likely that the other is also. Magnesium can be incorporated in the diet through many great food sources including leafy greens, nuts and seeds, whole grains, bananas, and cacao, which are the richest source of magnesium available. Adequate magnesium levels can also be obtained through supplementation.
Calcium Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Adequate calcium levels in the body are necessary not only for proper bone health but also for proper nervous system function that affects digestion greatly. The RDA for calcium in adult males is 1,000 - 1,300 mg/day and 1,200 - 1,300 mg/day for adult women. Upper Intake Levels of calcium is 3,000 mg/day for both male and female adults. Proper calcium levels can be achieved through diet as well as supplementation. Calcium is abundant in leafy greens, dried figs, white beans, chia, almonds, kale, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium supplements come in two common forms; calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Dairy products are some of the most calcium rich sources but many people have a lactose intolerance. This is where supplementation through calcium can be useful. Calcium deficiencies do not produce many symptoms so many people are not aware of it when they have it.
Vitamin D Vitamin D is a nutrient used throughout the body. It is needed to maintain strong bones, absorb the bodies calcium, and carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body. The immune system uses vitamin D as well to fight off bad bacteria and viruses. Vitamin D works together with calcium to carry out these responsibilities. The RDA for Vitamin D is 600 - 800 IU for adult men and women. The Upper Limit for Vitamin d is 4,000 IU per day. Vitamin D is found in small amounts in some foods but it is hard to obtain the recommended amount solely through diet, so supplementation is often used. Vitamin D is found in salmon, tuna, cheese, egg yolks, some mushrooms, and milk. Vitamin D can also be acquired from the sun although not an adequate amount without gaining harmful effects to the skin from the sun.
B Vitamins B vitamins play a vital role in digestion through their effects on metabolism, absorption of nutrients, and the effect it has on the central nervous system. B vitamins help a person achieve better focus, lower anxiety, improved mood, which optimizes function of the brain and central nervous system, leading to healthy digestion. B vitamins come in different forms, Vitamin B6 and B 12 being some of the most common. The RDA for Vitamin B6 is 1.3 - 1.7 mg/day for males and 1.2 - 1.5 mg/day for females. Upper Intake Levels (UL) for Vitamin B6 is 80-100mg/ day for both male and female. The RDA for vitamin B12 2.4 mcg/day for both males and females. B vitamins are abundant in plant based foods including nuts and seeds, bananas, cacao, broccoli, greens, figs, carrots, avocado, beans and legumes to name a few.
Greens Leafy greens help keep the digestion process smooth. Leafy greens are rich in chlorophyll which helps relieve joint pain and inflammation. Chlorophyll also aids in alkalizing and cleansing the body which allows for optimal digestion as well.
Healthy Fats Healthy fats help maintain satiety after meals as well as help boost the absorption of important nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats increase our energy and help build muscle. Getting too much or too little fat in a meal can lead to poor digestion so it is important to figure out the right amount. According to the CDC, fat intake for adults should be between 20-35% of total calories. Another important factor to take into consideration is to know which fats are healthy and which fats are unhealthy. A good way to remember that is fats that come from plant based sources and whole foods are typically healthy fats where as fats that come from processed food are the unhealthy fats. In order for optimal digestion, it is best to incorporate small amounts of healthy fats throughout the day in each meal or snack. Some good sources of healthy fats are olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and avocados. Without proper amounts of healthy fats, the fat soluble vitamins are not absorbed which can cause deficiencies. Healthy fats also aid digestion through reducing inflammation in the gut.
Prebiotics and Probiotics All humans live with a natural gut flora that is vital for our digestive systems to function properly. It is made up of trillions of healthy bacteria. These bacteria help us properly digest food, protect us from harmful pathogens and microbes, and helps us detoxify our bodily systems. Our gut flora also helps us produce vital vitamins and nutrients in order to help balance our immune system. Prebiotics and probiotics are two key elements in our gut that are very important for a healthy functioning digestive system. They work hand in hand. Prebiotics help enable probiotics to grow and survive as well as discourage the growth of bad bacteria and microbes. Prebiotics are only found in plants. They are small plant fibers that are non-digestible and they work to nourish the good bacteria already present in the gut. Prebiotics can be found in asparagus, leeks, and yams, bananas, whole grains, onions, and garlic. Health benefits of prebiotics in the diet are better regularity, improved immune function, higher vitamin production, better energy, help with leaky gut, and less inflammation. Probiotics are live microbes that are found in bacteria and yeast and are very beneficial in creating a healthy balance of good bacteria present in our gut. It is believed that including probiotics in the diet it one of the best ways to boost the immune system as well as the health of the digestive system. Probiotics also support the production of Vitamin B12 and K which supports the nervous system as well. Probiotics are found in dairy and fermented foods such as yogurt, keifer, and kimchi and are often offered as a supplement as well. Without prebiotics and probiotics in the diet, pathogenic bacteria exceeds an appropriate amount leading to many gut issues. Some include bloating, constipation, inflammation of the gut lining, and candida. This also leads to immune imbalances such as susceptibility to infections, colds and flu, allergies, and inflammatory disorders. A very important chemical, serotonin, is produced in the gut and when there is too much bad bacteria present, it effects the production of serotonin, decreasing its level, affecting a persons emotional health. It is said that an adequate amount of prebiotics can be obtained through a healthy diet and usually no supplementation is needed. Probiotics however are commonly taken in supplement form. The recommended dose for probiotics is 5-30 billion viable bacteria a day.
Water Our bodies need adequate water intake for all systems and organs to function properly including the digestive system. Today it is recommended by the IOM that the average adult male should consume about 15 cups of water a day and the average adult female should consume about 11 cups of water per day. This is a general guideline because each person’s water intake requirement can differ. Activity level, body composition, body temperature and geographic location are all dependent factors on recommended water intake. The digestive system functions optimally when the body is hydrated properly but drinking a lot of water during meals has been known to have possible harmful effects to digestion and the digestive system. It is recommended to consume water 15-30 minutes prior to a meal or 30 minutes after a meal rather than drinking a lot during the meal. This is because too much water during meals can disrupt natural levels of acid and bile needed in the stomach to properly digest food. Cold water in particular during meals can slow digestion and cause cramping. http://www.naturalnews.com/033731_digestion_drinking_water.html http://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/daily-water-intake/ Sources used throughout the research: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/foods-to-regulate-digestion/ http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12848/7-foods-that-will-work-wonders-on-your-digestion.html http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/important-nutrients-you-need-for-healthy- digestion/