How Digestion Affects Health

How much does digestion affect health? The truth is, it has a profound impact on how well you feel and how everything in your body functions. Everything you consume will ultimately have an effect on your well-being. Throughout the history of time, sage practitioners and health professional have understood that a healthy gut supports our entire foundation of wellness.

If we can’t digest our food, and if our food isn’t real or recognizable by the body, the digestive tract function will become impaired. As a result, all organ systems in our bodies will begin to malfunction.

Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, a pediatric neurosurgeon, has done an extensive amount of research on this system in the body and how it affects all the other organ systems. I was fortunate enough to hear her speak at the Weston A. Price Conference last week in Philadelphia. Although I already knew about many of the things she has been sharing with the health and medical world in her research, I learned some other things which were truly astounding.

From personal experience in finding treatment for her own son who was diagnosed with autism many years ago, she made the connection that no body system functions in isolation and that everything is connected. “Most psychiatric patients suffer from digestive problems. They have unhealthy inner ecosystems where there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast and fungus; they cannot digest food properly. This creates a large number of neurotoxins that can move from their intestines through the damaged intestinal lining into the blood stream where the toxins are carried to the brain.” In her research, she discovered that most modern illnesses can be linked back to the state of health in the digestive tract.

From the Weston A. Price Foundation web site review of Dr. McBride’s book:

“When a baby is born, it acquires the flora of the mother during its passage through the birth canal. If the mother has a history of antibiotic or contraceptive use and poor digestive health, her flora will likely be unhealthy. If she does not breast-feed her baby, the gut flora of the child will be further compromised. The infant will often develop digestive problems such as colic, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, feeding difficulties, intestinal damage and malnourishment very early in life and is typically afflicted by a host of allergies. The child usually has frequent ear infections treated with many rounds of antibiotics, which only make the situation worse.”

Genetic history, gender,  the state of nutrition prior to conception in the parents, medication and drugs, and environmental factors certainly also play a significant role in the development of disease. But without a doubt the digestive tract one of the primary mechanisms through which these factors can allow such developments to manifest themselves in noticeable symptoms and illness.

With high disease and illness levels present in the world, we are now understanding the connection to digestive health to many disorders – even though on the surface they may seem unrelated.

Here are some tips for successful digestive function and health:

  • Limit beverage intake while eating. Most overeating occurs because of dehydration, so hydrate before and after you eat – 1/2 hour before and 1 to 2 hours after eating. If you do drink with meals, try something warm that will aid digestion such as peppermint or ginger tea. Keep liquid intake to about 4 ounces during meal. Kombucha and bone broths are excellent foods to consume that will help keep your mineral levels optimal and reduce dehydration and other health issues. Too much liquid dilutes hydrochloric acid production in the stomach and can diminish the digestive tract’s ability to properly digest food you eat. If your hydrochloric acid production is low due to poor dietary habits, consider taking a hydrochloric acid supplement such as Betaine HCL 750 mg tabs by Designs For Health or Betaine HCL by Pharmax.
  • Avoid processed, packaged, and prepared foods, including refined foods with sugar. Sugar weakens the digestive tract and lowers immune system function. If you don’t do a lot of food preparation or cooking at home, consider doing this more in the future. Prepared and processed foods usually contain preservatives, chemicals, toxins, and have been altered in some way as to make nutrients dead and unavailable to the body. Real food prepared from scratch at home will support your digestive tract and health optimally.
  • Eliminate trans fats and hydrogenated oils. Replace with butter, lard, and tallow from healthy animals on pasture, coconut oil (for high heat cooking), and raw oils like pumpkin seed olive oil for raw consumption (great for salads).
  • Replace conventional and industrial sources of protein and meat with grass-fed meat and meat products. Instead of conventional eggs and poultry, switch to pasture-raised poultry and eggs. Meats, poultry, and eggs from healthy animals and birds on pasture are not treated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals. They are also from environments using organic and sustainable practices, and by their very growing methods contain more essential nutrients for health.
  • Take an Omega 3 supplement daily – cod liver oil is best in winter. Try Green Pasture Products fermented cod liver oil. Fermented cod liver oil is also the most potent source of natural Vitamins A and D – critical nutrients in maintaining general health.
  • If you eat grains, give yourself a break from wheat, which is normally the most processed and causes the most allergies/health problems. Try whole, soaked and/or sprouted grains including amaranth, quinoa, millet, kamut, buckwheat, and occasionally spelt. Try to keep to no more than 2 servings per week, and consider eliminating grains altogether if you have a chronic problem. This measure will help eliminate issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, candida syndrome, and other more serious problems like IBS or Crohn’s Disease.
  • Eat more fermented foods – kefir and real yogurt made from raw milk, cultured vegetables, and sauerkraut.
  • Eat bone broths made from home-made stock from healthy birds and animals on pasture. Bone broths are easily digestible and are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals that will heal your body.
  • Eat vegetables cooked and with healthy fats like butter, ghee, lard, tallow, or bacon drippings. The fat-soluble vitamins present in healthy fats help to digest and assimilate vegetables into your body more efficiently.
  • Raw juicing with plenty of greens is a good way to get your daily intake. When juicing, avoid high glycemic choices such as carrots and beets. For a good guide to juicing, read Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
  • Avoid soy unless fermented such as miso or tempeh. Do not eat soy cheese, milk, or soy proteins. These foods are all processed and soy contains phytic acid which inhibits the absorption of minerals and nutrients into the body. Soy also contains estrogen which can be harmful in excess and especially for men and boy’s reproductive systems.
  • Drink filtered water regularly. Another good way to stay hydrated is to add unsweetened, not-from-concentrate organic cranberry juice (and lemon juice) to your water. These are excellent detoxifiers and promote healing.
  • Mealtime should be relaxed and stress-free. If you are anxious or upset, avoid eating.

If you have had a compromised immune system and digestion due to poor diet and other factors, here are some recommendations to help heal your gut:

  • One of the best ways to heal your gut from the effects of a lifetime of poor dietary habits is the GAPS diet as recommended by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. For more information, visit the GAPS web site.
  • You may want to consider taking a digestive enzyme for additional support for digestion. Some brands available from the health food store which are good include Digest Gold and Garden of Life. For more potent support, ask a qualified health professional who has access to professional line of digestive enzymes. Some practitioners can recommend very powerful enzymes which are not available on the mainstream market, and depending on your individual need, this type of product may be appropriate.
  • You may need additional fiber in your diet for a period of time to help overcome issues you are experiencing as a result of poor dietary habits. Good products to take include Colon Plus by Biotics Research or Gastro-Fiber by Standard Process. Or, consult a knowledgeable practitioner who can recommend a good product.
  • Use aloe vera daily. Drinking liquid aloe vera is very soothing and helps heal the digestive tract of a variety of disorders. Aloe vera encourages the bowels to move more efficiently and effectively, and is a great detoxifying agent. Good brands to use are George’s and Country Life. Drink several ounces of aloe vera in the morning at least a half an hour before breakfast and between meals (two hours after eating) for maximum benefit.
  • Foods that do not digest properly such as processed foods or because of stress result in overgrowth of harmful bacteria and digestive disorders as well as lethargy, mood disorders, and other issues. You may want to consider a detoxification protocol to help heal your gut. Talk with a qualified practitioner who has experience in this area to find out which protocol is best for you. For more information about basic detoxification, read How Cleansing Positively Affects Your Health about the different types of detoxification, or It’s Time for A Fall Detox!

For more information about the digestive organs and how they affect health, read Gallbladder Disease and The Standard American Diet – My Personal Account

For more information about gallbladder/liver detoxification, read My Liver and Gallbladder Miracle Cleanse Experience


  • November 22, 2010 - 10:03 AM | Permalink

    Excellent & thorough post, Raine! Thank you.

  • Jen
    November 22, 2010 - 4:51 PM | Permalink

    In the grains section…

    “Try to keep to no more than servings per week, and consider eliminating grains altogether if you have a chronic problem.”

    How many servings?

    Great post, thanks : ).

  • Kelli
    November 23, 2010 - 2:34 PM | Permalink

    Another great article! I usually drink a cup of detoxing tea everyday in the evening and that seems to really help with digestion. Traditional Medicinals is a good tea brand.

  • November 24, 2010 - 4:18 PM | Permalink

    Kelli – I love Traditional Medicinals teas, they are delicious and soothing. I have been drinking the Yogi Teas in the ginger variety and also the Tulsi Tea in ginger, I find them to be great for digestion and stress. Thanks for your comments!

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