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Digestive Health

by Lynda France 

I found an article written by Heather Granato entitled "Natural Remedies for Digestive Health" published in the November 2001 edition of HSR (Health Supplement Retailer) to be especially informative and concise.

The article was a short study on the digestive process. The author began with the chewing action in the mouth, mixing food with salivary amylase beginning the breakdown of carbohydrates. Onto the stomach through the esophagus. Mixing with betain hydrochloric acid (HCI) chyme is formed. The author stresses at each point the various enzymes used in the digestion process and its importance. For instance, at this point the author stresses the jobs HCI perform are many and varied. It kills microbes in foods, breaks down protein bonds, and together with pepsin, begin the digestion of protein.

From the stomach food passes through the pyloric valve into the small intestine: the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. Here mucous membranes produce enzymes, and together with enzymes from the liver and pancreas and bile from the gallbladder digestion of fats (lipase) protein (protease) and carbohydrates (amylase) continue.

The author stresses the importance of good colon care with the explanation of soluble and insoluble fibers, and colon stimulants such as herbal laxatives and several new to the market products. The article ends by stressing a good diet, aided with the addition of various digestive enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics.

While much of the information was contained within the pages of "Understanding Nutrition" what I found interesting and the most informative was the emphasis on the differing digestive enzymes. It has been my feeling and observation for quite some time, that the prevalence of refined foods in our diet, and the lack of fresh plant foods, supplying enzymes with which food is digested, has become a problem for the modern digestive tract. One look through the advertisements in a magazine, or a perusal of television channels will testify to the epidemic proportion of digestive ailments. Within the last decade terms like 'IBS' or conditions such as 'colitis' or 'diverticulitis' or 'leaky guy syndrome' have become nearly household words. Not so long ago, surely within my lifetime, digestive ailments were contained within the population of the 'elderly'. By 'elderly' I don't mean people in their 30's and 40's, which is approximately the age of the target audience of those advertisements. No, 'elderly' meant people well into their seventies and eighties. Why the decline? Why the rapid increase in digestive problems and diseases? Why the billions of dollars spent every year on antacids? One theory, which happens to be the one I subscribe to, and the one which the author of this article addresses, is the lack of enzymes in the modern diet which puts added stress onto an already stressed digestive tract.

The author mentions that it is important to note that the body is not just what it ingests but more importantly what it absorbs. She further maintains that 'diets which are low in nutrients and raw food can tax the enzyme systems, build up toxins in the liver and colon, and progressively degenerate health.'

I agree with her assertion that by simply adding digestive enzymes, fiber, and probiotics to our daily regimen, our digestion will be less stressed, remain healthier and better functioning, thereby leading to better absorption of nutrients.

I also appreciated the listing of various supplemental forms of digestive enzymes such as bromelain, papain, cellulase, and betaine HCI. She also delineated the varying commercially available digestive enhancing bacteria (the list was limited as she didn't describe the 400-500 types of bacteria or their many strains!!!). I have been an avid consumer of simple foods containing bacteria for many years such as yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut.

I was appreciative of her explanation of 'prebiotic' and 'probiotic'. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which are sugars found in certain food like artichoke, are termed 'prebiotic' because of their ability to promote beneficial bacterial growth within the body. I feel this is important because then you are promoting the growth of colonies, which are already thriving in your intestines, whereas, with supplements, you are trying to establish colonies, which are perhaps foreign to your digestive system.

In reading Ms. Granato’s article, I was somewhat concerned by her cavalier attitude toward the idea of herbal laxatives being used to promote colon health. While she did state that 'overusing stimulating laxative herbs since they can cause dependency', I would have preferred to see a more directed warning. In our society, where improper body image, and overuse of laxatives and purgatives are so common, I believe caution in recommending these kinds of products is extremely important. I own a health food store, and even in our store, where we pride ourselves in education and caution with these types of products, there are numerous customers, who initially read an article about colon cleansing and come in to learn more. The problem is that their initial interest was spurred by an article, which stressed the correlation between colon health and losing weight, not with longevity health. This type of customer, initially invests in fibers and herbs, which promote colon health, but many eventually end up using the herbal laxative indefinitely. This should be a caution to the health care professional.

Lastly, one of my main interests in general on this subject has been motivated by my own family history. My father is dying of colon cancer, my older brother recently had a colostomy, and my younger brother has been having chronic bouts of colitis for over 3 years. With these types of genetic problems, myself, my family and ultimately my children, could greatly benefit from this type of knowledge.

In keeping with this, I greatly appreciated this article.

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