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Conquering Digestive Disorders

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It's no fun when you get that bloated, gassy feeling after eating-so often considered a "normal" post-meal symptom in our societ.

It's no fun when you get that bloated, gassy feeling after eating so often considered a "normal" post-meal symptom in our society.

But what about if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers or even life-threatening inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis? The fact is, digestive problems run the gamut and affect nearly everyone at one time or another.

As a naturopathic physician and a former sufferer of Crohn's disease (now completely healed), it is my life's passion to discover and implement effective programs for the treatment of digestive disorders. My program for optimal intestinal health encompasses three major categories: diet, supplementation and lifestyle therapies.

Dietary Recommendations

After trying virtually every dietary approach to conquer my own digestive problems as well as those of my clients, I have come to what I believe are the foundational dietary truths for reversing chronic and acute health conditions.

To maintain good health in general, avoid foods that contain additives, preservatives, sugar, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, and white or unbleached flours. Most people suffering from digestive problems also have an impaired ability to digest and utilize carbohydrates that contain disaccharides, the double-bonded sugars found in all grain-based foods (pasta, bread, cereals), dairy products (milk, ice cream, most yogurts), sucrose (table sugar), most beans (including soy), as well as potatoes and corn. Disaccharides consumed by people with impaired digestive function tend to enter the colon undigested and feed the "bad" bacteria, yeasts and parasites.

Healthier carbohydrates are largely composed of monosaccharides (single sugars) found in fruits, most vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, honey and fermented yogurt. When grains, which are high in disaccharides, are soaked and fermented as in traditional "yeast-free" sourdough bread, or sprouted as in Ezekiel or Manna bread, many of the disaccharides are converted to monosaccharides. Therefore, someone suffering from digestive problems should choose only grains that have been sprouted or fermented (sour leavened).

When it comes to proteins, there are some animal foods I absolutely refuse to touch. Pork, shellfish, catfish and other so-called "unclean" foods, even if organically produced, are from the "garbage eaters" of the planet. They contain toxins and may harbour deadly diseases. Healthy protein choices include wild (not farmed) salmon, snapper, cod, sardines and other fish with scales. Whenever possible, choose free-range, organic and grass-fed beef, buffalo, venison, lamb and chicken. Eggs from chickens fed a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids are an excellent source of protein and essential fats.

For dairy foods, I recommend unpasteurized cheeses and yogurt from goat or sheep's milk when available. Properly prepared goat's milk yogurt is a rich source of highly absorbable protein in a predigested form containing generous amounts of probiotics (friendly bacteria) and enzymes. People with severe inflammatory bowel diseases should consume as much as four cups (one litre) of goat's milk yogurt per day. It is a cornerstone of my program, and a complete resource section listing of suppliers can be found in my book, Patient Heal Thyself.

The fats we consume can make a huge difference in our digestive and overall health. I recommend one to three teaspoons (five to 15 millilitres) of cod liver oil daily in addition to regular fish consumption. Cod liver oil contains the often elusive fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Unrefined flax, hemp and extra-virgin olive oils are other healthy fats.

Butter from organically raised animals is excellent for cooking, but I especially like and recommend extra-virgin coconut oil, a saturated fat that has shown tremendous benefits in digestive and immune health. Extra-virgin coconut oil is more easily utilized than other fats and is extremely stable. It can withstand high cooking temperatures without oxidation and has a long shelf life. I tell my clients to consume between two to four tablespoons (30 to 60 ml) per day.

Another traditional approach in healing digestive disorders is the consumption of soup stocks made from whole chickens, beef, lamb or fish. Bone broths cooked with vegetables for 12 to 24 hours contain large amounts of highly useable minerals, proteins and gelatinous substances that can help to regenerate the digestive lining and reduce inflammation. My favourite soup recipe, along with details of a dietary program I call "The Maker's Diet," can be found in my book.

Helpful Supplements

In addition to a super-healthy diet, the following supplements are essential to improving digestive function.

High quality probiotics with homeostatic soil organisms have been shown to help eliminate yeast, parasites and harmful bacteria from the digestive tract. They also help to enhance digestive, eliminative and immune functions.

Broad-spectrum digestive enzymes: Take a high potency, plant-based enzyme formula that contains protease, amylase, lipase, cellulase, maltase, sucrase, lactase and alpha galactosidase, as well as bromelain and papain. Dose: one to three caplets per meal or snack.

Whole-food fibre blend: Except for those with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, I recommend a whole-food fibre blend containing various organic seeds and sprouts such as flax, chia, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin. I typically don't recommend psyllium-based products, as they can cause excessive gas and bloating in certain individuals.

Green super foods: It is important to consume at least three to five servings of green leafy vegetables per day. If you can't accomplish this with diet alone, try a green super food that contains cereal grass juices, vegetables and seeds, but no filler ingredients such as lecithin, apple fibre or oat bran.

Natural anti-inflammatories: For those suffering from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, I recommend taking natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Make sure your formula includes systemic enzymes, herbs such as ginger, turmeric and oregano, chicken collagen and immune-enhancing herbs such as cat's claw.

Alkalizing minerals: For people who suffer from upper gastroin- testinal problems such as ulcers and acid indigestion, it is important to consume a supplement that contains whole-food mineral sources such as goat's milk whey and the juices of barley grass, beets and carrots. Enzyme formulations containing amylase, lipase and cellulase but no protease can also be beneficial when taken on an empty stomach.

Detoxifying clay: Taking clay internally does a great job absorbing toxins and reducing the symptoms of diarrhea.

Lifestyle Suggestions

In addition to the above recommendations, it is important to consume at least eight, 250-ml glasses per day of a high quality spring or non-sparkling mineral water.

A simple technique to improve conditions such as constipation and hemorrhoids is to elevate your feet on a small bench during elimination. This brings your colon into proper alignment and allows for a more thorough elimination.

Swimming and bathing in chlorinated water can also have a negative impact on digestive health, so avoid swimming in chlorinated pools and install a shower filter that blocks chlorine.

By diligently following the program outlined above, one can expect to see improvement from even the most serious digestive problem in as little as one to two weeks. It has been my experience that those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis can take up to one year to see significant improvements, whereas those with functional bowel disorders such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn can see major improvements in two to three months.

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