Dr. Amy Bader, ND
Hi, ladies! In the infamous words of Olivia Newton John, let’s get physical! This month we will focus on your physical heath by enhancing one of the most crucial systems in your body… the gut. A topnotch gastrointestinal system is key to having balanced hormones, a strong immune system, resilient bones, beautiful skin, and on, and on.
Not only does the gastrointestinal system play its obviously important role in absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste, but it is also the hub where so much of our biochemistry starts and stops. A healthy gut works in concert to assimilate the outside world, and is symbolic of our ability to create appropriate boundaries in life. Ever heard the term “gut feeling?” Your gut is your second brain… and is intimately and profoundly intertwined with your nervous system. If you want your mood to be great, your digestive tract must be happy first.
If I have heard it once, I have heard it a million times — “So, you’re a naturopathic doctor? What should I take?” The answer is always the same: bugs. The bugs I am referring to are the healthy bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal system. We call them gut flora or probiotics. Our intestinal tracts are home to hundreds of species of bacteria, and they are crucial to our health and longevity. Many other cultures (excuse the pun) eat fermented foods rich in healthy flora as part of their normal diets. However, in the United States we eat less of these foods, and therefore, we need to work a little harder to get the “bugs” we need.
Healthy gut bacteria support the immune system. Studies show reductions in stomach, skin and respiratory infections in people who supplement them. Probiotics improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients. In addition, they make some of the vitamins we need. (Vitamins B12, K, folate, biotin, and riboflavin.) They also go to work on the fats we eat and make them more available to the body for energy. Good gut bacteria liberate “phytoestrogens” and “lignans” from the plants we eat. Phytoestrogens and lignans help to balance hormones and can be especially helpful for menopausal symptoms. Probiotics release anti-inflammatory substances from fruits and vegetables called “bioflavonoids.” These compounds can decrease the allergenic response by the body, and improve symptoms associated with many health concerns including hayfever and asthma. Friendly flora helps to detoxify and remove heavy metals from the body. The Lactobacillus family of bacteria produces “lactase” which helps the body to digest “lactose” from milk products. These are just some of the reasons to supplement probiotics. Researchers are currently exploring more benefits of these bugs, including decreasing antibiotic resistance, lowering cholesterol levels and reducing cancer risk.
So, your first assignment is to start taking probiotics daily if you aren’t already. High quality probiotics are available in many naturopathic doctor’s offices, most health food stores and online.
Remember last month when I said change is hard and asked you to “release resistance?” Well, that was in part to prepare you for potential shifts in your lifestyle in order to increase your level of health. These changes are tough sometimes, and none tougher than changing what and why we eat. However, in order to heal the digestive system and create a positive ripple effect to the rest of the body, a dietary change may be necessary.
The most important shift you can make is to remove potentially inflammatory foods from your diet. These foods are commonly gluten-containing grains, corn, dairy, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, tomatoes, white potatoes, peanuts, oranges, alcohol, caffeine, food additives, and processed food in general. I advise patients to avoid these items, and eat organic whole foods with uncomplicated labels, or no labels at all. Be sure to include as many vegetables as you can possible stand. To borrow a quote from Jack LaLanne, “The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.” Let’s make it count, ladies.
Proper digestion begins when we think of food. Remember the story of Pavlov’s dog salivating when it heard the bell ring? In our culture we cook less and eat on the fly… we have little time to prepare a meal, smell it cooking, think about what it will taste like. So, our bodies are not getting the food signals they need and lacking adequate time to ramp up digestive juices. One very effective tool to get your digestive system ready is to take half of a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar in half a cup of water about 15 minutes before meals. Do this prior to each main meal for the next month. If you don’t like vinegar, try lemon juice instead. By the way, this is very effective for many people who suffer from heartburn (most commonly caused by too little stomach acid) and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Once again, you have your assignments. I cannot emphasize enough just how important proper digestion is to the overall health of your body. When asked about the importance of digestion, a Chinese medicine doctor once replied in a matter-of fact tone (please imagine a Chinese accent here), “Stomach bad, you die.” That pretty much sums it up. Now go out and eat some veggies!
Until next month…
Take care of your (whole)self,
Amy Bader ND is a doctor, teacher, speaker, writer and entrepreneur. She is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine, where she is now an adjunct clinical faculty member training naturopathic medical students. She has private practices in Northern California and Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her beautiful daughter. She has a passion for treating patients with chronic diseases using clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, biotherapeutic drainage, and homeopathy. She has a particular interest in working with patients who want to lose weight and feel comfortable in their bodies.
Dr. Bader has been interviewed as an expert in natural medicine and natural healthcare for radio, newspapers, magazines and television. She has been a contributing expert columnist for a large online health resource website. Dr. Bader was a founding co-director of NCNM’s Integrative Skin Care Clinic. She is a member of the Advisory Counsel for Kamedis, a bio-herbal skin care company, and is a trainer for Radiancy, maker of LHE phototherapy systems.