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The Link Between Digestive Health and Overall Health and Well-Being

Jan 31, 2024 ● By Sheila Julson
Headshot of Reneé Barasch

Reneé Barasch. Photo credit Reneé Barasch.

Conditions such as joint pain, eczema or fatigue can often be traced to a main culprit—the digestive tract. Certified Digestive Health Specialist Reneé Barasch, who was certified through the Food Enzyme Institute, works with her clients to guide them toward restoring balance in the digestive tract. Barasch shares why digestive health is so important for not only our overall health, but also for how we feel overall on a daily basis.

What is the connection between the digestive system and physical issues such as joint pain, lack of sleep or skin issues?

It all comes down to the chemistry of what people put into their mouths. The body has a response to food, whether it’s sugars, proteins or certain fats. If the body can’t digest those, then we start to have issues: the body responds to the incoming load. If digestion isn’t optimal, that leads to undigested food particles and overgrowth in the GI tract, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and toxic overload.

When the body can’t break down food properly, that body is off-balance. That leads to digestive issues like gas or bloating, along with constipation, diarrhea, poor energy and hormonal imbalances. Food is designed to be our fuel.

How does emotional stress affect digestive health?

Emotions can keep one stuck and keep the body in a lull. Stress can also lead to emotional eating and cravings for sugar, fat or other poor food choices.

What are some symptoms of an unhealthy digestive system?

The obvious ones are gas and bloating, but the ones that aren’t very obvious are waking up exhausted in the morning and feeling like you need more sleep. That means the body is not breaking down the food properly to stabilize the adrenal glands.

Cravings for certain foods—carbs, salty, crunchy or processed foods—are a sign that digestion could be off. Other signs could be skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis. By the time digestive problems reach the skin, the digestive system is so far out of balance that the liver, an organ of detoxification and digestion, will get backed up. If the liver is backed up, there’s no room for the liver to get rid of cellular waste. We start to see skin issues because the skin is the emergency exit for toxins backed up in the liver.

What are some common misconceptions that you hear about digestion and gut health?

Some people think probiotics are an automatic fix, but overdoing it or taking certain strains can cause an overgrowth in the intestines. It’s not about taking probiotics, but rather helping the body make its own natural probiotics by eating the right foods. Not everybody needs probiotics. Self-diagnosing and automatically taking probiotics or any supplements is not a good idea. Don’t guess—test.

What foods help promote healthy digestion?

Rather than focusing on specific foods that may aid good digestion, it’s important to remove inflammatory foods that interfere with the body’s ability to break down the incoming load. Apple cider vinegar is often recommended online for better digestion, but if someone has severe bloating or an infection, acidic vinegar could worsen symptoms.

Remove the irritant rather than add more. So many people come to me and say they have removed so many foods from their diets that they’re down to eating only rice cakes and apples. That means that the digestive system is off and they can’t digest anything else going in. They removed foods, but I help flesh out why a person can only tolerate just a few foods without feeling horrible.

It’s always important to partner with a health professional to help move the body in the right direction. Don’t go at it alone. Inflammatory issues can be driven by a poor diet. If you’re feeling pain, but the body has not experienced any trauma such as an accident or a fall, always look to the digestive tract as the first line of defense for chronic inflammation.

For more information or to  make an appointment, call 847-207-2034 or visit

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.