Did you know that your intestinal tract is actually part of your immune system? If you find yourself catching every cold and flu bug going around, it may be that you need to strengthen your digestive system to get your immune system working better for you. We usually pay attention to our gut health when we are constipated or have diarrhea, but if the digestive system is not in peak condition then neither is the immune system.
A Look At the Digestive System
Your digestive system begins at the mouth as soon as you begin chewing food. Chewing is actually the first process in breaking food down for the body to use as fuel and nutrition. Digestive enzymes such as amylase in the saliva of your mouth also help in this breakdown process and the mouth itself is able to absorb many of the nutrients your body needs. After the mouth has done its job, food continues down the esophagus and on to the stomach. In the stomach, the food is broken down even more by mixing with enzymes like pepsin and acid. This is where proteins are broken down into polypeptides and amino acids. From there the food travels to the small intestine where it is broken down even more by the 100 trillion or so microorganisms found there. The liver then adds in bile and the pancreas adds digestive enzymes. The villi along the small intestinal tract take out nutrients from the food at this point and move them into the bloodstream. Digested food now passes through the ileocecal valve to get to the large intestine. Here any additional digestion needed is accomplished, water is absorbed from the digested food and anything not needed is discarded as waste.
This is how a healthy digestive system works. There are several factors however that can cause poor digestion which in turn can leave your immune system lacking. Let’s take a look at some of these factors and some natural ways to deal with them.
Digestive System Function
Effects of Getting Older
As we age we are more likely to have problems with our digestive systems. Ira Hanan, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center says constipation is the leading problem in older adults, but heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux are also common. This is because as we age we produce less stomach acid. You may think your digestive problems are from too much stomach acid, but actually the opposite is true. With less stomach acid being produced, the pancreas does not supply the proper amount of enzymes that is needed for the digestion process. This causes the intestines to clog up and the result is constipation. A digestive enzyme supplement can be added to the diet to aid in digestion. We should be able to get the enzymes we need from foods, but many of our food sources today are lacking in the necessary enzymes. Digestion also requires a lot of energy in the best of circumstances, but digesting foods that are deficient in enzymes is particularly hard on the body. The more energy that has to be dedicated to digestion, the less there is for other physical and mental processes. I like taking these enzymes that contain amylase, cellulase, lipase, protease, and lactase to help break down fats, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber efficiently which avoids having all my energy being directed towards digestion after eating.
Support Good Bacteria in the Intestines
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your intestines and are a big part of the digestive system and the immune system. As well as aiding the digestion process, the good bacteria helps fight off bad bacteria, viruses and yeast that can make us sick, cleans up toxins in the body and helps in getting rid of waste from the body. A poor supply of probiotics in your system can result in gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea and smelly bowel movements. The good news is that you can add to the good bacteria by eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, sour pickles, and miso. You can also add high quality probiotic supplements to your diet such as acidophilus, bifidus and a full spectrum probiotic.
Good bacteria can be destroyed by a diet high in processed foods, junk foods, fast foods and foods with refined sugar. Not only do these types of foods kill off good bacteria, they feed bad bacteria and yeast creating an imbalance in the number of good bacteria to bad that you have in your system. Protein is necessary for a healthy diet, but watch eating too much protein all at one time. This can cause putrefaction which causes the intestinal bacteria to change into toxic gases and chemicals. Eating fiber filled and easy to digest foods can help if you are having digestive problems. Drinking during a meal can affect the chemicals needed for digestion by watering them down, so hold off drinking water until an hour after eating or drink 10 minutes before you eat to help your digestive system out. Water is important for health and for digestion though so be sure to drink plenty in between meals.
The digestive system does so much more for you than just process food. It is vital to the immune system to keep you healthy and well. Making some simple changes to how and what you eat, and supplementing your diet with high quality probiotics and enzymes can make a big difference in your energy level and in keeping your immune system working at its best for you.
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