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How Digestion Affects Health

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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

Activism Alternative Medicine Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food Toxin Alert!

Reducing Your Child’s Risk of Autism And Other Disorders: Conception, Pregnancy, And The Newborn Infant, Part I

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Having children is one of the things in your life that will alter your future more than anything you will ever do. Although it is filled with uncertainty and a great deal of trial and error, most everyone you ask will say their lives are transformed for the better because of the decision  to have a child.

This series of posts about conception, pregnancy, and the newborn infant are intended to be companion pieces to the recent vaccination series – Vaccinations: A Choice or A Mandate? If you are considering having children or are pregnant, these posts are intended to help guide you through the many decisions you will make affecting the health of you and your child.

We hear a great deal from the medical and health communities at large about what we should be doing to make a better foundation of health and future for our children. But many of those pieces of advice are actually counter to what our children need to be healthy. For instance, we are repeatedly reminded to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – but very little is said about including a good variety of healthy fats and proteins – foods which contain the most nutrients per serving – and fermented foods full of natural probiotics which keep your immune system in optimal condition. The information here provides a thorough treatment of these critical topics, and won’t leave you hanging on what to eat for maximum nutritional support.

Please take some time to read through these posts about things you can do to give your child the best possible chance for a healthy and happy life. Good foundations are extremely important, and one of the best ways is to focus on a healthy lifestyle and superior nutrition through nutrient-dense foods.

In the vaccination posts, I talked extensively about the factors that can lead to disorders such as autism, ADHD, ADD, and other related issues.

This list of items will address those concerns and provide some tools with which to do what you can to prevent the development of health issues. (some of these item are from the following resource: Pathways To Family Wellness, Maureen McDonnell, R.N.):

Prior to conception:

  • Spend six months to a year improving dietary habits and lifestyle choices. Whenever possible, eat organically and sustainably-produced produce, and locally-sourced food from farmers who use safe practices – no synthetic pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals, and do not use GMO (genetically-modified substances, crops, or feed for their animals). Eat meats/meat products, raw dairy, safe-sourced seafood, eggs from pastured birds, and fats from healthy sources such as butter, lard, tallow, olive oil, coconut oil, and sustainable produced palm oils.

Remember: a real, whole food is something that our ancestors would have eaten. If it’s not real, don’t eat it! For some ideas on foods that really pack a nutrient-dense punch, check out this list:  11 Healthy and Nutrient-Dense Foods At A Glance. Want more information on what the differences are between processed, whole, traditional, organic, and sustainable foods? Read: How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!

  • Reduce or eliminate processed and refined foods – and in particular, sugar and white flour products, and most all packaged or prepared foods from the store. Throw out artificial fats like margarine, “butter spreads” and those containing soy and vegetable oils like canola, soybean, cottonseed, and others.

Want to learn more about why claims made on packages of the foods you buy in the store are usually false? Read Fortified and Processed Foods: Are Label Claims About Nutrition True? and Reading Labels in The Store – Don’t Be Fooled By Marketing Lingo!

  • Minimize or eliminate the use of over-the-counter drugs, antibiotics, birth control, and other medications.
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco.
  • Begin or continue an exercise routine that is suitable to your abilities, interests, and is something you can do regularly and that you enjoy.
  • Consider a detoxification or cleansing program – especially if your lifetime exposure to chemicals and toxins includes prescription and over-the-counter drug use, a diet of processed foods, or if you live or work in a chemical-laden environment
  • If detoxification does not reduce or eliminate symptoms, consult with a knowledgeable practitioner – a medical doctor familiar with alternative treatments, chiropractor, nutritional therapist, naturopath, or other health care specialist familiar with advanced detoxification protocols.
  • If you have mercury-based amalgam fillings, consider having them removed by a holistic dentist familiar with proper removal of these substances. Check out the American Dental Association web site to find practitioners who can safely remove these types of fillings at least 6 months prior to conception. Do not have them removed while breastfeeding.
  • In addition to a healthy diet, begin taking a whole-food based, organically-sourced multivitamin supplement. Synthetic supplements, which make up the bulk of what’s on the consumer market, are not bio-available (meaning, they are hard for the body to absorb because they are not naturally-occurring nutrients accompanied by necessary co-factors and enzymes) and can cause more toxicity in the body. A whole-food based, organically sourced supplement is real food for your body, and will add to the nutrition you are consuming along with your real food diet to give your unborn child the best support for growth and health.
  • Add naturally-fermented cod liver oil to your diet. The best product available on the market is from Green Pasture Products. Fermented cod liver oil is a highly potent source of Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamin D must be accompanied by Vitamin A for absorption, and is associated with the reduction of many degenerative diseases and health issues such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. These nutrients support the immune, reproductive, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Getting Vitamin D levels tested is a good idea, especially if you have consumed a processed diet for any length of time.
  • Find a “green” dry cleaner if you  use dry cleaning services. The chemical used in most dry cleaning facilities is perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen.
  • Drink filtered water. For more information about water filtration systems, call NSF International at 800-673-8010 or visit their web site. Because most filtered water does not contain adequate minerals, drink home-made bone broths from the bones of animals and birds on pasture,  make a nettles infusion and drink daily, or add sea salt to your water or organic cranberry juice not from concentrate to provide necessary mineral supplementation. Cranberry juice is also an excellent natural lymphatic stimulant.  Be sure your diet is rich in sustainable and organic foods, and your mineral intake will be higher.
  • Replace plastics in your home as much as possible, including containers for storing food and water, and for cooking. Stainless steel, cast iron, glass, ceramic, wood, and bamboo are all good alternatives. There are also many eco-friendly alternatives available for cookware, dishes, and utensils.
  • Limit consumption of seafood containing toxic amounts of mercury. Do include in your diet plenty of safe seafood choices. For more information, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium site.
  • To build beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract and immune system, consume naturally fermented foods - yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, lacto-fermented vegetables, natto, kimchi, and take therapeutic-grade probiotics. Good brands include BioKult, GUTPro, Nature’s Sunshine, Prescript-Assist, and Biotics Research. Probiotics and “fermented” foods bought in grocery and health food stores are generally a waste of money as they do not contain adequate levels of friendly bacteria strain necessary for optimal gut and immune health.
  • Avoid flu shots and other vaccines at least one year prior to conception.
  • Minimize exposure to  electromagnetic fields in the home and office. Computers, televisions, and cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation. Do not sleep with these items in your bedroom. Use cell phones only when necessary. You can purchase protector diodes which greatly reduce EMF radiation from devices (such as cell phones) you use from Premier Research Labs.
  • Take reasonable measures to make your home green and minimize exposure to radiation, chemicals, and other harmful toxins. If you are planning a home remodel, consider green materials, paint, and other supplies for your project. Select no-VOC paints and sustainable wood instead of composites or resin-based products. Minimize exposure to building materials and allow outgasing of new materials such as countertops, flooring, or furniture. Many different green countertops and flooring are available.

During pregnancy:

  • Continue a high-quality whole foods diet that includes organic or sustainable whenever possible. Greatly reduce and eliminate sugar, refined, and processed foods.
  • Continue to take a whole foods-based, organically-sourced multi-vitamin supplement.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of healthy fats and proteins in your diet – extra virgin coconut oil, olive oil, and palm oils, lard and tallow from healthy animals raised on pasture, whole (raw is a plus) dairy from milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt, and kefir, grass-fed meats, game, and organ meats, pasture-raised poultry and eggs from chicken on pasture, and safe-sourced seafood.
  • Try to avoid dental work while pregnant. If you cannot avoid it, consult with a biological or holistic dentist that can counsel you about safe procedures, if absolutely necessary. To maintain your bones and teeth, eat a healthy diet complete with healthy fats and proteins, organic whenever possible, and fermented cod liver oil.
  • Avoid antibiotics, over-the-counter, and prescription medication. There is no pharmaceutical drug on the market that has been proven safe for pregnancy. A new study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine show that antidepressants are especially dangerous to take during pregnancy.
  • Continue a moderate regimen of regular activity and exercise, one that is gentle and enjoyable for you and your condition. It is important to stimulate circulation and peristalsis (the contraction of muscles that propel movement in the digestive tract) because intestinal motility slows as a result of pregnancy hormones. Pregnancy yoga, pilates, walking, stretching, cycling (on a stationary bike as you become further along), dancing, water exercise (in a non-chlorinated pool or water), and dancing are safe.
  • Avoid the flu vaccine or any other immunizations.
  • If you get sick, rest and take care of yourself. Drink plenty of filtered water and continue a healthy diet. Hot water with lemon and ginger, garlic, or peppermint with raw honey is a good treatment for colds, flus, and other viruses. Do not use goldenseal during pregnancy.

To read more about natural remedies, read this post: My Home Medicine Cabinet – What I Use To Remedy Ailments.

  • Interview a practitioner who will work with your philosophy about pregnancy and childbirth – midwives, doulas, and some obstetricians are open to alternative and complimentary philosophies.  Find one that makes you feel comfortable and empowered. Home birth is an option that is not right for everyone, but is something that you may consider if you have the right type of support and environment. However, a study published by the British Medical Journal found that natural birth at home with certified practicing midwives is safe for low-risk mothers and their babies. The study followed 5,000 mothers in the U.S. and Canada, and found that these home births with low-risk mothers had much lower rates of medical interventions when compared with intervention rates for low-risk mothers giving birth in hospitals.
  • Consider other alternatives in care during pregnancy. Acupuncture, acupressure, massage, yoga, shiatsu, Traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy, naturopathic care, homeopathy, chiropractic care, and other forms of body and energy work are all good treatments for pregnancy. Research each modality and interview practitioners or get referrals from people you know to locate the person(s) right for you.
  • Avoid ultrasounds unless absolutely necessary. There are no conclusive studies showing ultrasounds are safe during pregnancy. Of greater concern are the studies showing how prenatal ultrasound affects brain development. Even standard, “routine” ultrasounds are not medically necessary and have not been shown to improve birth outcomes. Issue #22 of Pathways To Family Wellness has an informative article on the potential relationship between ultrasound and autism.
  • Choose birth care providers wisely. Rather than selecting a provider or place of birth because of your insurance coverage, select providers who are willing to support your philosophical core beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth. Decisions made about “unnecessary treatment” may vary drastically between home birth midwives, birth center midwives and obstetricians. Define your values, beliefs, and wishes, and then seek a provider accordingly.
  • If you decide to use childbirth classes, start early. Seek classes outside of the hospital environment, with independent groups that offer support and knowledge about natural childbirth. Finding a birth-support doula is essential for a better birth outcome. The perceived need for medication can be eliminated with proper breathing and relaxation techniques and adequate support during birth. Additional information on natural labor and birth procedures is available in Pathways to Family Wellness, Issue #24.

Prior to and during labor:

  • Minimize intrusive procedures during labor such as induction with Pitocin, pain meds, epidurals, forceps, C-sections, and early cord clamping. Research these procedures and discuss them with your practitioner. Pathways to Family WellnessIssue #21 has an article that relates many of often unnecessary procedures to an increased risk of autism.
  • There is a higher risk of autism in cesarean-delivered babies. Although it’s tempting to skip labor, labor is actually mother nature’s way of preparing the child for life outside the womb. The baby’s neurological function is enhanced by naturally passing through the birth canal and through cranial molding.
  • Walk during labor, and stay in an upright position or on all fours as much as possible for pushing and delivery. This greatly maximizes the ability of your pelvis to easily open and birth. It minimizes the need for doctor intervention and pulling with the use of forceps and vacuum extraction. Any form of pulling or rotation to the baby’s delicate spine in labor may have a lasting affect on his or her future nerve system function.
  • Interview several pediatricians, naturopaths, or other knowledgeable child health care providers during your pregnancy to find one who accepts your views on health and is open to discussing and giving careful consideration to invasive care with drugs and vaccines. Many parents are now seeking providers outside the typical allopathic model, choosing instead holistic practices which offer safer, more natural options to achieve health and well-being.

When you consider all the options you have for preparing your body for pregnancy, childbirth, and after care of a newborn infant, it can be extremely overwhelming to sift through all the information that is available. Just remember that anything advising you to do something that goes against your intuition and participate in something that isn’t natural can adversely affect your child’s health.

Modern medicine has many things to say about procedures, medications, and chemicals being “safe options” for your pregnancy, childbirth, and aftercare choices, but please carefully consider what the pharmaceutical companies and medical industry have to gain before you choose to use artificial means and prescription medication or drugs as a part of your overall program in your pre and post-childcare regimen.

Please check back for the conclusion of Reducing Your Child’s Risk of Autism and Other Disorders: Conception, Pregnancy, And The Newborn Infant, Part II.