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digestion

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Digestion and Hormones: Why they aren't so separate as we think


If you’re a woman, and you most likely are if you’re reading this, (don’t worry though fellas, this applies to you too), then you’re probably familiar with your hormones and all the chaos they create when imbalanced. Maybe this shows up for you in your monthly cycles, or maybe it’s in the persistent acne that won’t let up, or maybe you’re having a hell of a time with those hot flashes and mood swings that started around your birthday this year. No matter where you are in your life cycle, hormones can be a bitch to deal with and a headache to figure out.

However, from a nutritional therapy standpoint, there’s an easy way to comb through the web that is our hormonal system and make sense of the complexity surrounding it. We do that by coming back to the foundational aspects of good health, in particular, digestion.

 

In conventional medicine and structure, we think of the body as made up of separate systems that work independently of each other. This is a reductionist point of view that has gotten us in a lot of trouble as we continue to prescribe a “pill for the ill” and fail to recognize the wide-spread effects they have on other systems. Pharmaceutical ‘Side effects’ are the manifestation of this paradigm. If your digestive system wasn’t connected to your mineral balancing system, we wouldn’t see osteoporosis as a side effect of acid blockers. Similarly, if you’ve ever had a nervous stomach before publicly speaking or performing, you’ll understand that the gut and brain are connected as well. The body is made up of relational systems that each build upon, support and work in conjunction with one another. It is for this reason that we can address deficiencies in one and make a significant impact on another, like we are going to talk about today in relation to digestion and your hormones.

 

Coming back to foundational principles of health is essentially the process of filling in the holes letting out the most water so that we can bring the boat back to optimal function and safety. Digestion is the process by which we extract nutrients from our food. We take for granted that when we eat a food, it will go to where it needs to go and do what it needs to do. This isn’t necessarily the case. Our digestion needs to be strong in order to do this, but dietary habits, stress, inflammation and a host of other factors can impede these processes.

 

All of our hormones are made up of either proteins, fatty acids or cholesterol as their main component. So where do we get these substances? From our food! The food we feed our bodies supplies the building blocks to manufacture hormones in our body. Interesting, right? So you can see how if we are deficient in those nutrients, either because we aren’t eating them or because we aren’t digesting them, we won’t be setting up a very good foundation. It’s kind of like trying to build a house without tools - you’re probably not going to get far.

 

We’ve talked a lot about digestion in previous posts, but what are some of the ways that things can go wrong? Well, to start with, we are usually eating in a sympathetic state, or in other words, stressed. We are rushing, eating in the car, standing up or walking, hurrying back to work, etc. as we eat. Digestion, unfortunately, is a parasympathetic activity, meaning it happens we our body and brains are at rest or calm. When our brain registers stress, all energy and focus goes to getting through that stressor and moves away from stimulating digestive juices and processes. This means that nutrients are not being absorbed from our food leading back to a low supply of those building blocks. Another common dysfunction occurs when we have too little stomach acid being produced. A highly acidic environment is needed not only to chemically break down our food but to stimulate other digestive processes. Digestion is sort of like a water cascade, wherein the water supply of one pool directly affects the next process in line. Without this very specific pH as a trigger, we don’t release certain enzymes or bile that also work to break down proteins and fats. Yet another way that digestion affects hormones is through reabsorption. Hormones are meant to be excreted from the body via our elimination systems. However, if our colon is sluggish or backed up, this allows extra time in which our hormones can be reabsorbed into the body and recycled. This is when we see things like excess estrogen or testosterone. There are lots of other ways in which digestion affects our hormonal system, but hopefully you are starting to get a picture of why this fundamental process is to vital to our endocrine health.

 

So, what can we do? Well, I personally recommend that we begin to look at the ways in which we eat and start there. Simple shifts can make a big difference, and before overwhelming yourself with tons of new habits, just try taking some time to sit and enjoy your meals. Begin to thoroughly chew your food and perhaps start a sort of gratitude practice for the meal you’re about to eat. Gratitude immediately puts us into a parasympathetic, (rest and digest) mode. If you want to take it further, begin to address possible food sensitivities that are creating inflammation and introduce some gut healing nutrients and foods. Adding in a hydrochloric acid supplement can help to get that acidic stomach pH and enzymes will ensure that your food is being digested, even if your natural digestion isn’t where it needs to be yet. Lastly, addressing possible infections in the gut, such as SIBO or candida, will be necessary to improve digestion long-term. These small but easy changes can make all the difference if hormonal imbalance is something you’re dealing with and will give you something to focus on when the task seems overwhelming at best and defeating at worst. Hormonal balance is our body’s natural state of being. Our job is simply to remove the barriers and stressors creating the imbalance in order to bring back our vitality and see the world through those rosy, hormonally-balanced lenses once again.

 

Until next time…

 

Much love,

Sy

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What Digestion has To Do With Your Energy



Adrenal and chronic fatigue are funny creatures. And when I say funny, I don’t mean in the humorous sense. Not even a little bit. They’re hardly funny and often bring the people experiencing them many, many tears and feelings of frustration. What I mean by funny, is that they’re extremely non-descript, which can make them tough to wrangle. I see so many women (and sometimes men) getting caught up in the tiny nuances that can be easy to get carried away in when it comes to adrenal and endocrine issues.

 

What is my basal body temperature?  Which minerals am I lacking?  What does my cortisol panel look like? Which supplements should I take? What can I DO?!

 

While I understand how easy it can be to travel down the rabbit hole (Trust me, I was once the most neurotic of them all!)  getting back to the basics and setting up stellar foundations is often what tips the scales in our favor. It’s hard to have a healthy, well-functioning body without a sturdy base. Similar to a house, our foundation is of the utmost importance and digestion is one of those pillars –in fact, arguably the absolute most important one.

 

You see, digestion affects every cell, in every tissue, in every organ, in every system in the entire body. Think about that for a minute. Really let is sink in.

 

As a society, we’ve become very disconnected from the idea that food is our livelihood. I think this has happened in part because it’s so readily available. We have the wonderful luxury of thinking about our food in terms of taste and calories and weight gain or loss – but ancestrally speaking, it was about staying alive. Without the nutrients we receive from food, our cells quite literally shrivel up and die. We are made of cells so… I’m sure you can see where this is going. Therefore, to think that food can’t change the landscape of what’s going on in our bodies would be illogical.

 

Moving forward, digestion is the process by which we extract nutrients from the food we eat and turn them into usable energy in the cells we talked about above. When our digestive process is broken or sluggish, we aren’t able to extract the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbs which all play irreplaceable roles in the body’s metabolic functions. Without the basic building blocks it needs, it becomes taxing for your body to do its many jobs which can make us feel depleted, tired and fatigued. For example: amino acids from protein are needed to repair the body’s tissues, carry toxins out of the body, build hormones and much more. Without sufficient stomach acid, we cannot cleave the proteins we eat into their amino acid form. If those proteins never get digested/broken down, we can’t carry out the necessary processes from above. Now, the body has to work twice as hard to carry out those functions AND it will probably steal nutrients from other stores to get the job done, depleting your body even further. It is here that we start to see how fatigue ties in to digestion.

 

This is just ONE simple scenario, but there are thousands of functions that suffer when we aren’t able to break down our food. In a way, you can think of it like a car without gas. A car can’t run without gas, and digestion is the process of going to the gas station and filling up so that you can continue to drive.

 

I’ve never met someone with adrenal or chronic fatigue that didn’t also suffer from some sort of digestive issue. The sad thing is, sometimes we get so used to having them, that we forget what proper digestion feels like. In case you’re not sure whether or not your digestion could use some TLC, here are the most common digestive symptoms you may experience: bloating, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, feeling of fullness or tightness in stomach or intestines, pain when pressing on stomach, gas, burning feeling after eating. These responses to eating are by no means optimal nor are they pleasant and a lot of times, it can even become painful or unsatisfying to eat.

 

So, knowing that digestion is integral to energy production, what can we do about it? Well, each person is unique in the way that their body processes and responds to foods, and it can take some navigation. The foods I eat may be really irritating for another and my given levels of stress, exercise, blood sugar regulation etc… will also affect my outcomes. However, there are a few tried and true basics you can use to get yourself started on the right track and I’ve listed my favorite 3 below:

 

1.     Work to increase stomach acid, naturally or supplementary. Foods that increase stomach acid are usually bitter and sour. Some of my favorites include lemon, apple cider vinegar, green apple, bitters, ginger, papaya, and pineapple. Things which decrease stomach acid are: eating while under stress, eating without chewing, eating too quickly, diets high in sugar, drinking too much liquid with meals, use of antacids, over the counter pain meds like ibuprofen, and highly processed foods. By introducing healing foods and taking out the stressors mentioned above, we can go a long way in increasing our best ally when it comes to digestion.

 

 

2.     Add in digestive enzymes. If your digestion has been suffering for a while, chances are you are low in the enzymes which do the job of breaking down proteins, fats and carbs that you eat. Adding in a supplemental enzyme is not only beneficial, but a highly safe and easy way to aide digestion. This is especially important is stomach acid is low as that is usually the first line of defense in breaking down proteins. Once your food reaches the small intestine, it needs to be in small enough molecules that it doesn’t irritate the delicate lining of the gut. Enzymes will help to ensure that foods enter the gut in smaller, more manageable molecules which means easier absorption and more nutrients and energy for you!

 

 

3.     Relax. I know it sounds easier than it is, especially if you tend to be tightly wound, but digestion is a parasympathetic activity, meaning it can’t take place in a physically or emotionally stressed state. Try taking a few deep breaths before you eat, or practicing real, true gratitude for the meal you’re about to eat. Thinking about things that make us smile, or feel grateful, instantly puts us in a state of relaxation and peace. Taking time to sit down for meals can greatly help rather than standing at the counter or eating over your laptop while you work. The body puts safety and survival before anything else and digestion is not imperative to survival when faced with a life-threatening stressor. Fortunately, these days we don’t deal with many life or death situations like running after or away from our food, but our brain doesn’t really recognize stress that way. Stress about our boss or spouse could easily be stress about a tiger as far as our brain is concerned, which means out with digestion and in with adrenaline. Reframing is also another powerful tool for moving out of stress, as is picking up a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. You can find out more about those at www.headspace.com .

 

 

Hopefully this gives you a brief look into why digestion is so closely linked with our energy levels. If you’ve been battling fatigue or adrenal symptoms for a while now, I would highly suggest starting with the basics and diving head first into healing your digestion function. Until next time!

 

Much love,

Sy

 

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10 Tips for Boosting Immunity this Fall and Winter



Hello!

First off, I want to start out by saying that Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year! Not that it really matters in regards to this post, but I thought you might like to know J  I love the crispness in the air and the break from the exhausting heats of summer. While spring and summer are energetic times for exploration, fun and travel, I equally love the winding down of fall and inward reflection that winter brings. However, the downside of this wonderful season is the increase in colds and flus that rear their ugly heads during the colder months.

 

There are varying opinions on why this happens and research proposes several different theories for the almost unavoidable flus which circulate during school season. Some people think that immunity goes down during the fall and winter months because we spend less time outside and therefore get less immune-boosting Vitamin D. Some believe it has to do with higher sugar intake or the dry air from heating systems. All of these theories have great science backing them up, and each are probably contributing factors, but regardless of the reasons, the fact remains that most people tend to get sicker during fall and winter months.

 

So what to do about this conundrum?

 

Well first, it’s important to understand what immunity is on a broad scale so we then know how to support it in the best way possible. Overall, the reason you feel symptoms of illness is because of the processes going on in your body that are working to kill off harmful bacteria and viruses. You have amazing cells built specifically for the job, but unfortunately, their work (which includes killing off harmful invaders) can leave you with some pretty nasty side effects: Think runny noses, fevers, chills and aches.

 

Often, I hear people bragging about the fact that they haven’t been sick in years. While I’m happy they aren’t suffering, as a Nutritional Therapist, that statement actually raises some red flags for me. A well functioning immune system is one that can work to rid the body of infections before they take up permanent and chronic residence in the cells. While it doesn’t feel good to go through this process, it does signal that your body is doing its job protecting you. Now, to be clear, I’m not referring to illnesses that last weeks to even months, or lingering coughs that won’t clear up. But getting the sniffles for a day or two here and there is a good sign that your immunity is alive and well.

 

Repeated or long-lasting sickness is a different animal and definitely a sign that those immune cells could use some support or reinforcements. If we are constantly bombarding our bodies with invaders, (in the form of toxins, food sensitivities, chemicals and other environmental pathogens), it will have a hard time mustering up the strength to fight off an actual bacteria or virus when it reaches our bloodstream. So, boosting immunity is both a game of removing stressors and strengthening weaknesses.

 

70-80% of the immune system is actually found in the gut and if you stop to think about it, you’ll recognize that your digestive system is actually the barrier between the outside world and the inside of your body. Everything you ingest, knowingly or not, makes its way through your digestive tract to the small intestine where your gut lining decides whether or not it will absorb that substance into your body or reject it. This is called selective permeability. However, food intolerances, antibiotic use, chronic stress, chemical exposures, environmental toxins and other factors all contribute to something called hyper-permeability, or leaky gut. What this means is that your gut lining becomes somewhat leaky and loses its ability to filter between substances it needs and ones it doesn’t. This triggers your immune system to be on alert almost all the time, instead of just when pathogenic bacteria and viruses are able to sneak in on occasion. So, supporting the gut lining and healing any “leakiness” becomes paramount when also working to support the immune system.

 

In no special order, here are 10 ways you can help your body stay healthy this fall and winter season:

 

1.     Sleep – hacking your sleep can be one of the absolute best ways to combat illness in the colder months. Sleep is the time when our bodies repair from damages done during the day. Shorter days traditionally meant more sleep when we needed it most. But now, with artificial lighting and screen time in the mix, we are still pulling long days during the times when our bodies need extra repair. Start by dimming lights in the evening, minimizing screen time at night and giving yourself permission to have earlier bed times and relaxing evenings.

 

2.     Remove food intolerances – Eating a food over and over again that your body is not keen on is highly stressful to an already heighted immune system.         If you’re not sure whether or not you have sensitivities going on, try eliminating the most common culprits for a while to see how you do. The most common include: grains/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, nuts and eggs. I recommend that my clients remove them (either all together or one at a time) for at least 30 days before reintroducing them.

 

3.     Reduce emotional stress levels – Emotional and mental stress play a huge role in gut health. Mental stress raises the hormone in your body known as cortisol, which has several roles in the body. Unfortunately, overly high levels of cortisol have a thinning-out effect on mucosal linings in the body, including your gut. Overtime, this wears down the lining and leads to the leakiness discussed above. Acute stress is not as damaging, but the chronic, long-term stressors most of us feel daily play a big role in this pattern. Find stress-reducing techniques that work for you and try to incorporate a weekly or daily practice. Meditation, walking, therapy, yoga, reading and breathing exercises are all good options for physically reducing stress in the body.

 

4.     Add in gut healing foods – There are certain foods you can eat that act as healers to the lining of your gut. Some of them contain collagen, the main connective protein found in your gut, and some are healing because of vitamins, minerals and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Some of my favorites include: bone broth, cabbage juice, sautéed cabbage, apple cider vinegar, pineapple, ginger, beets, lemon water, butter from grass-fed cows, raw dairy (if tolerated) and healthy oils like avocado, olive or coconut.

 

5.     Add in gut healing nutrients – Sometimes, if significant damage has occurred, food might not completely cover the healing needed. In this case, adding in some quality supplements can be helpful to expedite the process. Some great ones include: Collagen peptides, cod liver oil, digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid. Collage and cod liver oil help to repair the gut lining and enzymes and hydrochloric acid help the breakdown of your food so that when it reaches the gut, it doesn’t irritate it any more.

 

6.     Take a quality probiotic supplement – Assuming you aren’t suffering from a bacterial overgrowth or dysbiosis, adding in a quality probiotic can drastically improve immune function. The microbes in our gut are essentially the choirmasters of the body. They dictate thousands of functions in the body and play a huge role in determining gene expression as well. Technically speaking, there are way more microbial genes in our body than actual human genes, so it would make sense to support these beneficial organisms. Adding in regular doses helps them to colonize, or take permanent residence, in our guts, essentially crowding out other harmful or pathogenic microbes.  

 

 7.     Herbals – If you happen to get sick, there are certain herbal compounds which act as support to your immune cells, helping to fight off infection. Some of the most anti-viral and anti-bacterial ones are: Elderberry, Echinacea, Ginger, Oregano, Calendula, and Astragalus. Always check for contraindications or allergies when starting a new herbal remedy and if you begin to feel worse, or get any new symptoms, it’s a good idea to stop use and check with a doctor before continuing.

 

8.     Up your dose of Vitamin C – Vitamin C, as most of know, plays a large role in immunity and general health. Vitamin C is used by the cells of your immune system to carry out their attacks on pathogenic microbes. By upping the amount of Vitamin C available to them, you essentially make it easier for them to complete their tasks which results in less time spent feeling sick. Using a minimum of 2000 mg/day of vitamin C can be extremely helpful when already sick or as an immune boost during colder months and stressful periods.

 

9.     Add lots of healthy fats to your diet – Healthy fatty acids play a huge role in the inflammatory process in the body. While inflammation has gotten a bad rap over the last couple years, it is actually an integral part of the healing process. Inflammation is sent to an area of the body when that area is in need of repair. You can think of the heat, swelling and irritation as signals that call in the ANTI-inflammatory crew to help repair the damage. Without fats, we are unable to form the inflammatory hormones called prostaglandins which take care of both inflaming and un-inflaming our body during illness. Good sources of fats include: fish, seafood, coconut oil, avocados and oil, olives and oil, grass-fed meats, eggs, pastured meats, liver, nuts and seeds, palm, butter and ghee, tallow and lard.

 

10.  Gentle movement – Your immune system is moved through the body by the lymphatic system, similar to how blood is moved through the body by your bloodstream. Unfortunately, the lymph system doesn’t have a heart which mechanically pumps it through the body and instead relies on the contracting of your muscles to pump it through. This means that gentle, non-stressful movement can be one of the best ways to circulate immune-boosting T and B cells through the body. Walking, running, bouncing on a trampoline, jumping up and down, stretching, yoga, pilates, tai chi, qui gong, and hiking are all great ways to stimulate this movement. If you’re already sick, stick to extremely easy exercises so as not to stress your already tired body even more. 

Until next time, 

Sy

 

 

 

 

 

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What a Healthy Digestive System looks like and How to Get One.



 

So, I’ve officially decided to go in the direction of Gut Health Therapy in my practice and I couldn’t be more excited about it. When people think of the gut, they tend to focus solely on digestion and digestive complaints, however, the gut is home to a microbiome filled with trillions of bacteria that act as the control panel of the human body. What does this mean? It means that gut health isn’t just related to how you digest your food, but also influences and controls hundreds of processes within your body ranging from your mood to your hormones to skin health and beyond. The potential for healing your gut and getting back to feeling your best is limitless and I think that’s why I love it so much. I myself was able to come back from severe adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance through healing my gut and I love sharing this information with others who might be frustrated, confused and out of ideas. Anyway – that’s all for now, but with the gut in mind, I want to jump in to today’s topic:  A Basic Look at Healthy Digestion.

 

Most people have a rough idea of what digestion entails. You eat your food, it goes to your stomach and fills you up, and then somewhere in the next 12-24 hours it makes its way out and that’s that. What most people DON’T know, however, is that digestion and all it’s processes affect way more than your satiety level and fat stores. In fact, your gut is the birthplace for almost every metabolic process in your body – which is a fancy term for everything that makes you YOU! In order for us to extract and utilize nutrients from our food, a certain cascade of events must take place. Without proper nutrient utilization, every cell in our body is subject to compromise. Digestion has several steps but it all begins with one simple little thought. Most of us assume that digestion begins once we swallow our food, but in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you have the thought “I’m hungry,” you set off a chain of command that begins with your salivary glands. As you prepare your food, wait for it to cook or heat up, and continue thinking about your meal, your body gets itself ready by producing digestive enzymes and juices that will aide the breakdown of carbs, fats and proteins. This is why, when we bust through the drive through, talking on the phone, and scarf our meal in the car on our way back to work, we end up with bloating at best or terrible reflux and indigestion in worse cases. We never even had time to think about our food, let alone prepare our body to receive it. Most people think of cooking or prepping your foods as a chore, but in reality, cooking our food is the closest thing we have to our ancestrally honoring our body to assimilate nutrients.

 

Moving on …  as you are chewing, your salivary glands trigger enzymes that begin to break down carbohydrates, to be used for immediate energy needs. In a society that eats quickly and efficiently, we have forgotten that chewing is the first mechanical step of food breakdown that occurs. Our teeth are meant to aide the process of digestion so that we aren’t having to overuse and overwork our secretory glands and gastric juices. Often, if people are experiencing gas, bloating or indigestion, the simple act of chewing their food better can relieve symptoms and reduce the burden on their body. Once food has been turned to mush (bolus) in the mouth, we swallow and it makes its way down the esophagus and into our stomach.

Your stomach is an AMAZING organ that protects both itself and our body from the intense chemical reactions taking place inside. Hydrochloric acid (Hcl), or stomach acid, has a pH strong enough to eat through metal, yet the cells in the lining of your stomach produce mucus to ensure its survival. Brilliant! Anyway, once bolus reaches your stomach, several hormones and actions are stimulated to continue the process, including the release of pepsin to breakdown proteins into amino acids and polypeptides. Your stomach will continue to secrete Hcl and mechanically churn your food until it reaches a highly acidic pH of 1-3 and is soupy in consistency. This mixture is called chyme. Once this pH has been reached, your pyloric sphincter will open up and allow these contents to flow into your duodenum, or the first part of the small intestine, where bicarbonate will flow in to to calm down the acidity of the chyme. At this point, bile is also released from the gallbladder, when dietary fat is detected, to break it down into fatty acids. As chyme moves along the rest of the small intestine, all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals are absorbed through the intestinal wall and into your bloodstream, to the liver where they are distributed to your various cells, tissues and, ultimately, organs. I’ll say it again, literally EVERY CELL, OF EVERY TISSUE, THAT MAKES UP EVERY ORGAN, IS AFFECTED BY DIGESTION! Still think your food doesn’t matter?

 

I’ll finish up quickly. Once your leftover fiber, water and waste leaves the small intestine and enters the colon (large intestine) there is a lot of probiotic activity that takes place to eat up extra waste in your intestinal wall and manufacture vitamins and nutrients. You also reabsorb compounds like water, hormones, bile back into your body, assuming they don’t make it out quickly enough. We could cover an entire blog post just about colon activity but I’ll save it for another time. Knowledge is power my friends. When you understand HOW the digestive system and processes work, you are in a position to make sure that everything stays on track and that you are giving your body the support it needs to do its job well. In another post, we will talk about dysfunction, but having an understanding of FUNCTION first is critical to gaining a foothold on the complaints and issues you may be experiencing. To put it lightly, without proper digestion, our whole body goes to shit! So, with that in mind, here are 5 tips to get you back in shape!

 

1.     Chew your food! At this risk of sounding like your mother… You have teeth for a reason: Use them.

2.     Try adding in foods like apple cider vinegar, ginger and lemon water before your meals to stimulate your own natural Hcl production. Stomach acid is king!

3.     Sit down and enjoy your meal. Eating is not a chore, nor something to cross off your to-do list. Your nervous system MUST be in a rest and digest mode to properly assimilate your food. To put it bluntly, maybe its time to reevaluate your priorities if life in the fast lane is your jam.

4.     Don’t skimp on fat. Fat is necessary for so many reasons, but one of them is to maintain and healthy liver and gallbladder. Without dietary fat, you risk biliary stasis and build up – ie. Gallstones and the inability to tolerate fats in your diet. Trust me, it’s nasty. Shoot for small amounts at first if you are coming off a low or no-fat diet, and aim for healthy, stable fats like coconut oil, butter, avocado, nuts/seeds, and properly prepared olive oils.

5.     If you are having trouble digesting food, you may want to consider adding a digestive enzyme or HCL supplement to your meals. I would suggest working with a practitioner on this, but you can also test for stomach acid production at home.  

Till next time! 

Sy

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