Traditional approaches to health have always emphasized the importance of the digestive system. We are what we eatbut only if we absorb it.
Much of what we absorb is dependant on the proper functioning of the intestinal tract. Illness, medications, and poor diet can all hinder nutrient absorption, resulting in low energy and malnutrition as well as more serious chronic conditions such as IBS, colitis, or even cancer. The following four pillars of intestinal health can greatly enhance the quality of our lives.
Probiotics are good bacteria that normally inhabit the intestinal tract. They are essential to good health and proper digestion. The balance of friendly flora in the intestines can be adversely affected by illness, prescription drug use, or poor eating habits.
Oral supplementation of probiotics has traditionally been used as a first option in the treatment of a wide variety of digestive and immune system disorders. The results of a recent study at the University of Alberta indicated that probiotics are as effective as prescription drugs in the treatment of chronic digestive disorders such as colitis, with fewer side effects.
Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that contain disease-preventing compounds. They have been shown to help prevent cell damage and decrease cholesterol levels. Certain types of vegetablesalliums (garlic, leek and onion), cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale), and umbelliferous (carrots, yellow squash, and yam)and cereal grasses (barley and wheat) are particularly rich in phytochemicals.
The US food pyramid and Canadas Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommend a diet rich in phytochemicals for optimal health. Summaries of current research illustrating the many benefits of phytochemicals are available through a variety of sources including The American Dietetic Association (www.andrews.edu/NUFS/phyto.html) and Ohio State University (ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5050.html).
Energizing Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down food into basic building blocks that the body reassembles to build cells, tissues, and organs. Some enzymes are ingested with food while others are produced by the body. Its worth noting that enzyme production tends to decline with age. Good food sources of enzymes include pineapple and papaya. In addition, digestive enzymes are available in supplement form at health food and nutrition stores.
Fibre is found in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, cereal grasses, and fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibre, such as wheat bran, speeds the passage of stools through the gut. Soluble fibres, such as pectin, absorb water to help with elimination and relieve constipation.
Additional benefits attributed to soluble fibre include the regulation of blood-sugar levels and potential reduction of bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. A high-fibre diet is also believed to offer protection against colon cancer.
Promote better intestinal health by maximizing the benefits to be derived from these four pillars: probiotics, phytochemicals, digestive enzymes, and dietary fibre.