By Jeffery Vaughn
19th Aerospace Medical Squadron
Did you know that up to 70 percent of your immune system resides in your digestive tract? In addition, an unhealthy digestive tract may play a role in many of the chronic diseases Americans suffer from today.
An old Proverb states, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” Truer words have never been written because what you eat determines the health of your digestive system and the health of your digestive tract plays a huge role on your total health.
The healthy gut is made up of trillions of bacteria called “flora” that assist in the digestive process among other things. When you truly begin to study the digestive system and the impact it has on total health, it can be a bit over whelming. A healthy digestive tract protects the body from infection, regulates metabolism, and promotes immune health. However, an unhealthy digestive system does just the opposite and is increasingly being linked to many of the chronic and autoimmune diseases plaguing America’s health.
The digestive system is designed to be a highly selective closed system. This means the digestive tract contains and maintains sensors that should only allow useful nutrients to exit the intestinal walls and enter the blood stream. However, research is telling us that certain foods and medicines increase the intestinal wall permeability allowing foreign matter to enter the blood stream and cause the immune system to act causing inflammation and potentially disease states. This increased permeability is often referred to as “leaky gut syndrome.”
While the medical community does not fully understand the causes or cures for leaky gut syndrome, they do know that certain things have the potential to improve and cause dysfunction in the digestive tract. The following tips may help improve the health of your digestive system and possibly improve your overall health.
1. Eliminate or reduce refined and processed foods in your diet. Many of these foods contain chemicals that have the potential to damage the intestinal lining.
2. Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kim chi, yogurt or learn how to make your own fermented vegetables. Fermented foods increase good gut bacteria and work better than probiotic supplements.
3. If fermented foods are not an option, probiotic supplements are an alternative choice and may increase good bacteria in the digestive tract, increasing the health of the digestive system.
4. Eliminate or greatly reduce refined sugar in your diet. Sugar can cause an overgrowth in yeast which is linked to increased permeability in the intestinal lining.
5. Eat foods high in fermentable fiber like sweet potatoes, yams and yuccas.
6. Eliminate or decrease gluten in your diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and can cause damage to the lining of the intestines in people with gluten sensitivity.
7. Increase the amount of Vitamin D in your diet by consuming fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna. However the major source of Vitamin D for people (80-90 percent) comes from exposure to sunlight.
8. Increase zinc in your diet by eating pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and rib meats.
9. Decrease stress. Make a worry list and determine everything that’s causing stress in your life. Take care of the things that can be solved easily and develop a plan for those things that will take time.
Incorporating the above steps into your routine will have a positive impact on your overall health allowing you to enjoy each day to the fullest extent.