Preventing Digestion Problems
Before They Start
Reneé S. Barasch
Reneé S. Barasch, a certified digestive health specialist, detoxification/purification specialist and founder of Nutritional Health Solutions, in Highland Park, has been a Chicago area leader in nutrition and digestion education for more than 12 years. She splits her time between seeing clients in private sessions, speaking to the community, writing about digestion issues, being an ambassador for holistic digestive health and giving people the ability to connect the dots between nutrition and digestion.
Although every digestive system is different, many people experience allergy flare-ups in the spring that may be related to how their bodies are breaking down ingredients in their food. Being aware of our specific digestive needs and taking steps to protect the gut can eliminate allergies, improve absorption and take unneeded stress off our organs.
Why is thorough digestion so important for overall health?
Digestion is one of the main ways the body detoxifies, or cleanses. If the food you’re consuming isn’t broken down properly and thoroughly, it causes stress on the system as it moves through, which can lead to symptoms like gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea and even insomnia, depression, psoriasis, eczema and chronic pain.
Proper digestion also allows for thorough absorption, so your body is able to use the nutrients you’re putting inside it. Undigested food leads to what we call “leaky gut”, where it passes through the gut membrane and into the bloodstream. This can eventually lead to more serious conditions such as Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases. In general, when our food isn’t being digested properly, our bodies aren’t working as efficiently as they can. Food becomes a toxin, instead of something that nourishes us.
What role do enzymes play in digestion?
Enzymes are the catalyst for food to be digested. They help to deliver the nutrients to the cells and increase absorption. When food is steamed, broiled, roasted, boiled, fried, stewed, canned, pasteurized or microwaved, the naturally occurring enzymes in it are destroyed. I recommend that everyone take a specific digestive enzyme supplement. That enzyme depends largely on your diet, and how your body breaks down fats, carbs and protein. Testing is recommended to determine which enzyme is right for you.
An enzyme with higher amylase content helps break down carbohydrates, and one with more lipase works better to break down fats. In my office, we run lab tests to determine the right mix of enzymes for each person. I take into consideration factors like family history, diet and overall health. The tests also help detect any nutritional deficiencies. Based on the results, I might recommend diet modifications and food supplements in addition to enzymes.
How do environmental irritants affect digestion?
We encounter factors in the environment every day that can cause irritation and inflammation, whether that’s someone’s excess perfume, secondhand smoke or particles from a construction site. In the springtime, the air is full of dust, mold and other seasonal aggravators. When we breathe these in, they get into our bloodstream in less than 20 seconds. Our bodies then have to break down those extra toxins, which is a lot of work for the liver, kidneys and gallbladder. If they aren’t broken down properly, it results in what people think of as seasonal allergies; runny nose, itchy eyes, red or blotchy skin. People often miss the connection between allergies and digestion. Instead of going to an allergist, they might just need to have their digestive system checked for digestive imbalances.
What practices can people do every day to improve digestion?
Digestive health is dependent on a number of factors, but it is key to both detoxification and real nutrition. I tell my clients that ideally, they are looking to digest, absorb, transport, utilize and eliminate the cellular waste that’s put into their bodies. Avoiding environmental irritants and pollutants eliminates the need to break them down in the first place.
Chewing your food thoroughly starts the breakdown process before it gets into the digestive system. Eating a healthy mix of protein, fats, whole grains fruit and veggies at each meal may be easier to break down than a giant plate of just pasta or a huge steak. Food that is processed or contains GMOs is much harder for the body to process, so I encourage clients to look for whole foods in their natural form as much as possible.
Nutritional Health Solutions is located at 480 Elm Pl., in Highland Park. For appointments, call 847-207-2034. For more information, email NHSolutions@sbcglobal.net or visit DigestiveHealthSolutions.com. See ad on page 9 and in the Community Resource Guide.
Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Chicago magazine. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.