This article is taken from Patrick Holford’s 100% health Newsletter available to members of his 100% health Club – for more information visit www.patrickholford.com.
You are not just what you eat. You are what you can digest and absorb. The fundamental design of the human body is a tube – like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. We, like other animals, spend our physical lives processing organic matter for waste. How good you are at this determines your energy level, longevity and state of body and mind, as well as your digestion.
Over a lifetime, no less than 100 tons of food passes along the digestive tract and 300,000 litres of digestive juices are produced by the body to break it down. Our ‘inside skin’ – a thirty foot long tract with a surface area the size of a small football pitch – is only the thickness of a quarter of a sheet of paper. Amazingly, most of the billions of cells that make up this barrier between us and the inside world are renewed every four days. It’s also where we make many key brain neurotransmitters and hormones that change how you feel.
If you suffer from indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain or feeling sleepy after meals, or if you often get stomach upsets, diarrhoea or constipation, there are four simple steps you can take to tune up your digestion.
1. Avoid allergenic foods
Your ‘inner skin’ can be easily damaged – alcohol, antibiotics, food allergens and painkillers (the average person takes 300 a year) are the most common culprits. The result is that the digestive tract becomes more permeable and whole food proteins – which aren’t on the guest list so to speak, rather than broken down amino acids, which are – get through into the bloodstream. Then your immune system attacks. That’s the basis of food allergy.
You can find out what you are currently allergic to with a simple home test kit that measures IgG food allergies (see www.totallynourish.com). By avoiding your current food allergens – wheat, milk and yeast being the most common – you give your digestive system a break. The good news is that most food allergies aren’t for life. If you remove the offending item strictly for around four months, and heal the gut during this break (see point 3), you can lose your sensitivity to foods. (There is a more severe and immediate ‘IgE’ allergy which lasts for life, but these are less common. I know of no way of reversing these kind of allergies.)
2. Increase your digestive capacity
Another way to lessen the load on your digestive system is to take a digestive enzyme with each meal. These enzymes – called protease, amylase and lipase – literally help digest your food. If you instantly feel better after taking them, you know you’ve got a problem with your digestion.
If you get bloated after lentils or beans, choose an enzyme that also contains glucoamylase, sometimes called amyloglucosidase. You might not need these forever but they’re excellent to take for a month after eliminating your food allergies, and whenever you eat foods you find hard to digest.
3. Repair your gut lining
Next, you can help rebuild your digestive tract by feeding it glutamine. While the rest of your body runs on glucose, the rapidly repairing cells in your gut can run on this amino acid, which is abundant in many foods but destroyed by cooking. It’s a clever design that allows your gut, the food delivery system of your body, to run on something other than glucose, which is what the rest of your body’s cells need. Having a heaped teaspoon (5g), ideally last thing at night in a glass of water, can promote rapid healing and repair. Do this every day for a month, or after any kind of infection, alcoholic excess or course of antibiotics.
4. Repopulate the good bacteria
Inside your body are more bacteria than living cells. They flourish in a healthy digestive tract and die off in an unhealthy one. So, once you’ve improved your digestion, ‘reinoculating’ your digestive tract with exactly the right strains of bacteria makes a big difference. These are called ‘human strain’ Acidophilus and Bifidus bacteria and work much better than dairy-derived strains found in yoghurts. Again, having a capsule or powder for up to 30 days is all you need to get your inner flora flourishing.
The maintenance stage
After four weeks improving your gut health, a few additional measures can help you to maintain the benefits. What damages your digestive tract the most is too much alcohol, deep-fried food, burnt meat, coffee and wheat. Wheat contains something called gliadin, not found in oats or rice, which irritates many people’s insides. Even if you are not allergic to wheat, it’s best not to eat it every day. By ‘rotating’ these potentially problematic foods – which means eating them no more than once every four days – you are less likely to develop an intolerance. Fresh fruit, vegetables and soluble fibres found in oats and vegetables, plus plenty of water, helps digestion, as does chewing well and not eating when you’re stressed.
Common symptoms of food allergy
30 Day Action Plan for Healthy Digestion
• Either avoid wheat, milk and yeast (found in beer but not spirits, bread but not pasta) or, ideally, test what you’re allergic to with a pinprick blood test, from a home test kit.
• Take a heaped teaspoon of glutamine powder last thing at night to improve the integrity of your digestive tract.
• Take digestive enzymes with each main meal.
• Reinoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria by taking a capsule or powder of human strain acidophilus and bifido bacteria.You can get combined digestive enzymes and probiotics.
• Eats lots of vegetables, fruit and fish, and less deep-fried food, alcohol and caffeine (tea, coffee and chocolate). Start each main meal with some salad or something raw.
• Chew your food well and don’t eat when you’re stressed.
• Drink 8 glasses of water every day, but in between rather than with meals (as it can dilute your digestive juices). You really need it. Dehydration is the most common cause of constipation.
This 30 day tune up is like a trip to the health farm for your insides. As one Harvard professor of gastroenterology once said, “Having a strong stomach and good set of bowels is more important to human happiness than large amounts of brains.”