“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Even Aristotle, the father of western medicine, believed that all physical afflictions begin in the gut. So, let's take a deep dive into why a healthy digestive system is important.
The Basics of a Healthy Digestive System
If you've ever heard, you are what you eat? It's true...well sort of... you are what you eat, digest, and absorb! To summarize, the foods we eat provide the nutrients, and minerals our bodies need to run all of the reactions that make up our metabolism. Without the proper nutrients (particularly those that are essential) our body does not have the necessary components required to make those reactions take place. When our nutrient tanks aren't full, we don't have enough of the necessary nutrients for vibrant health. Sadly a few of those important functions can't take place... as a result, setting us up for a myriad of chronic diseases.
What your Digestive System Does
Overall, a healthy digestive system is vital to ensuring our nutrient tanks are full and we are able to digest and absorb all the essential components from our food. Our digestive system plays several important roles:
- Absorbs nutrients into the bloodstream that are necessary for energy, growth and cell repair. Each nutrient plays a crucial role in overall wellbeing. Just one nutrient deficiency can make it impossible to maintain homeostasis. A nutrient-dense diet does no good if digestion and absorption are sub-par.
- Produces serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. Gut-friendly bacteria can help manage neurotransmitter activity, which makes them natural antidepressants and anti-anxiety organisms.
- In fact, 70%-80% of the immune system is contained within the digestive tract.. It’s important to have a majority of the immune system in the digestive system because it is our body's first encounter with the outside world.
- It is home to your microbiome! The microbiome is a lot like Earth’s ecosystems, the bacteria interact with one another within the community they live in (our gut). Throughout our lives, we help shape our own microbiomes. They change in concentration depending on their surroundings. In short, they are very reactive to the foods you eat, how you sleep, your level of stress you experience and use of medications/antibiotics. Having the right balance of microbes as part of your microbiome keeps your immune system strong and healthy. Your microbiome can also help prevent diseases far beyond the gut! Studies now show that up to 90% of all diseases can be traced back to the gut microbiome.
With all of these important roles, I hope you can begin to imagine how important a healthy functioning digestive system truly is. But maybe you’re here because you know that your digestion seems to be a bit off…let's dive a little deeper into how to reset your digestive system!
Do you need a Digestive Reset?
You may be in need of a digestive reset if you are experiencing any of the long list of digestive symptoms. Not only is the list of potential symptoms stemming from your digestive tract long, but it can be complex and similar symptoms may have a different underlying digestive cause. In addition, you may be experiencing complications of poor digestion far beyond symptoms within your gut.
Within the digestive tract, you could experience some of the obvious complications such as gas, bloating, cramping, belching, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or acid reflux. Beyond the gut and elsewhere in the body, digestive issues can lead to autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, brain fog, mood disorders (i.e. anxiety and depression), difficulty losing or gaining weight, joint pain, fatigue, headaches, infertility, severe PMS symptoms, behavioral problems plus nutritional and mineral deficiencies.
When dealing with any of these symptoms, it is important to identify and resolve the root cause instead of trying to solve each symptom. The most common root causes circle back to issues concerning the gut such as leaky gut, underlying food allergies or sensitivities, and an unbalanced microbiome.
If these symptoms sound all too familiar, learning how to reset your digestive system is a great place to start!!
Reset Your Digestive System with the 4 R’s of Digestive Healing!
The journey to heal your gut can be a long one, but it will no doubt be a rewarding one. Depending on the severity of the symptoms you face and the length of time you have been experiencing them, a reset can be as quick as 14 days or as long as 2 years. However, I would recommend starting this reset with a minimum of 30 days in mind. This will give your gut a decent amount of time to heal, you immune system some time to settle, and you should be able to begin seeing and feeling the amazing effects resetting your digestive system.
Here is how to utilize the 4 R’s of Digestive Healing…
- Remove: Certain foods and factors that damage the gut
- Replace: Gut-damaging foods with gut-healing foods
- Repair: Your gut with healing supplements
- Rebalance: It is important to pay attention to lifestyle choices. Sleep, exercise and stress all affect your gut health. Rebalancing your life and lifestyle are very important to an optimal digestive tract therefore autoimmune.
The first and potentially the most important step to jumpstart your digestive reset is to remove the foods that trigger gut inflammation, an overactive immune response, leaky gut, and otherwise hinder the effective functioning of your digestive tract. For example:
- Processed foods
- Refined carbohydrates
- Refined sugar
- Saturated and Trans fats
- Certain Foods groups such as:
- Onions, garlic, mangoes, figs, blackberries, honey, agave
- Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants
- Acidic & spicy foods
- Fried foods
- Phytates & phytic acid
You can decide to remove all or pick several you know wreak havoc on your body, for a minimum of 30 days.
The next step is to replace these trigger foods with nutrient dense foods that will fuel vibrant health and support the process of gut healing by reducing inflammation and supplying your intestinal cells with the fuel they need to repair. So here are a few foods for reference:
- Start first with a whole-foods diet!
- Fermented foods (kimchi, miso, kefi, pickles)
- Fiber-rich foods
- Prebiotic-rich foods
- Enzyme-rich foods
- Grass-fed bone broth
- Roots & Herbs: Thyme, ginger, fenugreek, fennel, dong quai, garlic
Step three involves repairing your damaged digestive lining with gut healing supplements and replenishing the balance of your gut microbiota by introducing beneficial bacteria. Below is a list of important supplements. For example:
- Digestive Enzymes
- Herbal Bitter
- Vitamin C
- Bone Broth
You may not need all of these to fully repair your gut, however it is important to starting with a good foundation. Consider a multivitamin to replenish nutrient stores, reinoculate your gut microbiome with a probiotic, reduce inflammation with fish oil and cur-cumin, boost digestion and absorption of nutrients with a digestive enzyme (very important), and finally to support your intestinal cells in healing with Vitamin C, L-glutamine, and zinc.
The final step involves rebalancing your lifestyle by focusing on improving areas such as sleep, stress, exercise, hydration, mindful eating, and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins.
- Support healthy sleep habits by introducing a consistent bedtime routine and prioritizing 6-8 hours of sleep nightly.
- Minimize stress through mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, writing to-do lists, setting daily, monthly and yearly goals,
- Aim to get at least 30 minutes of movement daily, even better if you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise weekly. Make sure that your exercise routine is balanced and includes a combination of low intensity cardio, high intensity interval training, strength/resistance training, and plenty of stretching or yoga.
- Staying hydrated is essential for digestion, liver and kidney function, and the movement of lymph through our lymphatic system. Aim to drink roughly ½ your body weight in ounces of water daily. You might also consider adding in an electrolyte supplement if you find that water alone does not seem to be doing the trick.
- Eat mindfully. Mindful eating is the act of eating while being in a state of non-judgmental awareness, shifting one’s attention to the food and mind-body connection. Eating without distractions and being conscious of the food you are eating can put your body in a calming state, thus reducing anxiety, stress, and optimizing your digestion. Eat slowly, chew your food, and make sure to breathe in between bites. All of these actions can help to improve the central nervous system's response to food and enhance digestion.
- Finally, eliminate your exposure to as many toxins as possible. These toxins fill our environment and sadly wreak havoc on our organs and hormones. Visit EWG.org to learn more about the toxins in your household cleaning products, body care and cosmetic products. Switch to cleaner alternatives to reduce your toxic load!
Now that you know a little more about the basics of how to reset your digestive system, give your gut health a fresh start and begin to feel fabulous again. If you need any help along the way, always remember to reach out to your Vessel Nutritionists to jumpstart your journey!!
Sinead Adedipe See all the author’s articles