The Importance of Digestive Health

By Adrian Lopresti

Food is essential to our survival. It provides our body with the nutrients it needs for energy, growth and repair. Without food we are likely to die within 3 to 4 weeks, although this varies significantly across individuals and is dependent on a range of factors including body weight, genetics, general health, climate and obviously the presence of water (we can only live for about 3 days without water).

While the foods we eat have a major impact on our overall health, how our body converts this food into energy is also crucially important. This is why a healthy digestive system plays a large role in our overall well-being. It is often said that we are what we eat, but research now confirms that, 'we are what we digest, from what we eat.'

The Importance of Digestive Health

Digestive health is so important and when problems occur with our digestive system it may lead to many diseases including cancers, mental health disorders, chronic pain conditions, skin disorders, and even Alzheimer's disease.

About our digestive system

Our digestive system is made up of our digestive tract and all of the organs and glands involved in the digestion (breakdown) process, the absorption of nutrients, the utilisation of nutrients, and the excretion of wastes.

The digestive tract, also known as the alimentary canal, extends from our mouth to our anus and is approximately 6-9 metres long. Its innermost mucosal lining contains tiny glands at various points along its length that secrete digestive enzymes. These assist with the breakdown of food.

Also, the small intestine (a section of the digestive tract) is lined with villi, small finger-like projections, that help to increase the surface area of that part of the digestive system to assist with the absorption of nutrients.

The gut also contains around 3-4 kilograms of bacteria. These are essential and offer a range of functions including, improving our digestion, helping produce vitamins, detoxifying chemicals, producing nutrients to repair the gut lining, increasing resistance to infections, and regulating our immune function.

The time taken for food to move through the gastrointestinal tract is dependent on many factors, but on average takes around two hours for all of the stomach contents to empty into the intestines following a meal. Finally, transit time through the entire digestive tract takes between 12 and 50 hours and depends on various factors.

Why is digestion important?

When we consume foods, they almost always need to be broken down into smaller particles so they can be absorbed and utilised by the body. This essentially defines the process of digestion.

Digestion begins in the mouth, when you chew and swallow, and is completed in the small and large intestines. It involves mixing food with digestive juices, moving it through the digestive tract, and breaking down large particles of food into smaller particles.

Accordingly, digestion involves several important processes and can be affected by a number of different factors. Some of the common causes of poor digestive health are summarised below:

Common causes of poor digestion

1. Inadequate chewing. Chewing our food is the first step in the digestive process. It is also known as mastication and involves the mechanical breakdown of food into smaller particles. Salivary glands in our mouth also contribute to digestion by secreting enzymes that help with the breakdown of food (chemical process). A common contributor to poor digestive health is inadequate chewing, so it is crucially important to chew your food thoroughly.

2. Excessive stress. Our digestive system is greatly influenced by our nervous system, so factors such as stress will influence our digestion. High stress can affect the transit time of food through our digestive tract and also the ability of our gut to produce the necessary enzymes to breakdown food. Learning to relax while you eat and minimising stress in your life is important for digestive health.

3. Eating the wrong foods. Many of us consume 'artificial' foods on a regular basis. These include foods containing artificial colours, additives, sweeteners, flavours, etc. Our bodies are not designed to eat these chemical since they are not naturally occurring in nature. As a result, our digestive health may become compromised, leading to inflammation and general wear and tear of our digestive tract.

Some people are also eating foods they are intolerant to which can also be a major cause of poor health. The most common food types that people may have an intolerance to are, gluten-containing foods, nuts and dairy foods.

Having a healthy, natural breakfast cereal is a great way to start the day. Pura Veda is a high-quality breakfast cereal that is low GI, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and high in fibre. Also, it provides a good source of essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.

Another great addition to your diet is Amazonia's Raw Multi. It contains a range of nutrients including, essential herbs, seeds, superfoods, veggies, sprouts, spices, sea minerals, live foods, grasses, and roots as well as prebiotics and probiotics, to assist in improving your health and vitality.

4. Inadequate amount of good bacteria in the gut. Our digestive system contains over 400 different species of micro-organisms. The bacteria comprise of both 'good' and 'bad' bacteria. A healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system is essential for digestive health.

Probiotics are friendly bacteria and in order for us to maintain a healthy digestive system we need to ensure that we have lots of "good" bacteria. These friendly bacteria have a range of essential functions when it comes to improving our digestive health (mentioned earlier). They are also needed to prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria.

To promote a good balance of bacteria in the digestive tract we need to ensure we eat good-quality, natural foods, plenty of high-fibre foods, and minimise our use of medications, particularly antibiotics.

Taking a high-quality prebiotic (foods that promote good bacteria growth) is also important. BCN's Gastro Forte contains arabinogalactans, a prebiotic which is effective in providing food for good bacteria.

Another good option is to take a high-quality probiotic supplement. Be careful though as not all probiotics are the same. You need to ensure the probiotics are 'alive' and the product contains a large number and range of good bacteria strains. Healthy Essentials Broad Spectrum Probiotic is a high-quality probiotic that contains 33 billion organisms per capsule!

5. Gut inflammation. Eating a nutrient-sparse, artificially-based diet will inflame the gut and negatively affect digestion. It can eventually lead to a condition known as 'leaky gut' (a condition where larger food particles get into the bloodstream before they have been properly digested). This may result in an immune system 'over-reaction', which may then lead to an auto-immune condition. A leaky gut can also be detrimental to our health since it places excessive strain on various organs of our body.

To reduce inflammation and treat a leaky gut, you must eat 'real' foods, avoid foods you may be intolerant to (e.g., gluten-containing foods), and implement all the suggestions provided here.

Also, BCN's DigestEZE may also be beneficial for you if you're suffering with gut issues. It can help soothe the gut lining, assist with gut healing, reduce inflammation in the gut, and provide food for the good bacteria so they can flourish. It is one of the best overall gut products to improve digestive health.

Poor digestion is an often overlooked cause of ill-health and is associated with several commonly encountered health conditions. It can also affect energy levels and general mood. That is why optimising your digestion is so important. By implementing the suggestions above you will be amazed at the positive changes that can occur to your overall health and well-being.


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