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Renewing Your Digestion

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(Renew Life Press, 2002). Speaking from her office in Clearwater, Fla.

Digestive problems are the number-one reason for physician visits later in life, according to Brenda Watson, certified colon therapist and author of Renew Your Life: Improved Digestion and Detoxification (Renew Life Press, 2002). Speaking from her office in Clearwater, Fla., Watson explains how digestion plays the key role in good health.

The digestive system is basically a long, lubricated tube that starts in the mouth and ends in the rectum. As food is broken down to provide nourishment for the body, it has to pass through the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, pancreas, liver, gall- bladder, intestines and colon to reach its final departure destination.

We are typically born with a good digestive system. But, unfortunately, it becomes less effective as we age. Watson says that after we pass 40 and enter our 50s and beyond, digestive problems can manifest as diverse conditions such as heartburn, constipation, candida, parasites and irritable bowel syndrome. What's worse, many of us don't recognize the digestion connection.

Why do our digestive systems weaken as we get older? Watson explains that one of the top reasons is processed food consumption. North Americans eat way too many fried and packaged goods when we should be focusing on fresh, whole foods as the centrepiece of our diet.

Another reason is stress. Stress is subtle. It doesn't matter whether the cause is emotional, financial or physical. All stress can affect how the body secretes the digestive juices needed to break down food. For example, our stomachs contain hydrochloric acid, which is necessary to break down proteins. But stress can lower the body's production of hydrochloric acid, as well as affect the ability of the pancreas to produce other necessary enzymes.

Unfortunately, it's when sickness kicks in that most people realize something is wrong not before. "The greatest motivator in life is pain," Watson says. Bloating and gas, which are caused by the indigestion of starchy foods such as rice and potatoes, are typical symptoms of a weak digestive system.

Watson says there are several ways to improve our digestive system, no matter what its current state. The first is to supplement with plant enzymes as both a preventive and treatment measure. Plant enzymes are beneficial because they are not affected by stomach acid. This means they can pass through the stomach and enter the small intestine, where they are needed, and as Watson describes, work like "little Pac Men" to help the digestive process.

Getting enough fibre is also essential. We need about 30 to 40 grams a day for proper functioning; however, Watson says most people don't get enough. There are two kinds of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is important to absorb undigested food particles as they travel through the digestive tract. Insoluble fibre is important to push food through faster. Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and flax seeds.

Healthy fats are also important. The entire digestive system is lined with a mucous membrane that needs to stay lubricated. Good dietary fats are those found in fish, flax and borage oils.

One final thing Watson recommends is to do a good cleanse a couple of times a year. Use common sense, she says. It should be a gentle cleansing program that both detoxifies and restores to keep the digestive system in top working order.

How Healthy Is Your Digestion?

At minimum, should have one good bowel movement per day, but two to three are ideal. A "good" bowel movement is one that is walnut brown in colour, with a consistency similar to toothpaste, about the length of a banana. The stool should be free of odour, leave the bodily easily, settle in the toilet water and gently submerge. The transit time for food, meaning the elapsed time it takes for a meal to enter the mouth and then exit the rectum, should ideally be less than 24 hours.

Source: Renew Your Life by Brenda Watson, Renew Life Press, 2002, p. 12.

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