Digestion : Poor Digestion is a National Problem

As a nation, we’ve got serious digestion and elimination problems. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common chronic medical condition in the Western world. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 4.5 million Americans are constipated. Add to that the more than 60 million Americans who have heartburn at least once a month and the 15 million who experience symptoms daily, and we’ve got problems.

Aside from the epidemic levels of digestive disorders and disturbances, Americans are also plagued with a host of autoimmune disorders and so-called “diseases of civilization” such as chronic fatigue syndrome, high cholesterol, joint problems, anxiety, depression, diabetes, allergic diseases and heart disease. Of course, since these afflictions don’t take place in the gut, they don’t have anything to do with digestion, right? Absolutely wrong! Most people assume that gut health is a separate entity from cardiovascular, psychological, and other types of health, but in truth, the gut is the root and core of our total general well-being. It’s the place where food is broken down into the building blocks of our cells. It’s the first line of defense against invading pathogens and infectious diseases. It’s our protection against environmental and bacterial toxins leaking into the bloodstream. It’s the home of up to 80 percent of our immune system.

You are probably wondering, how does the digestive system have this much impact on your health? One word: BACTERIA. We are filled with bacteria—about 100 trillion bacteria cells in our digestive system alone! The bacteria that grow naturally in the intestinal tract aid in the nourishment and defense not only of the digestive tract but of the whole body. These beneficial bacteria are known as probiotics, and they help maintain a heathy microbial balance in the digestive system.

Think of the healthy bacteria—or probiotics—in your digestive system as your Gut Protection System. Up to 80 percent of the immune system is found in the gut. It’s your body’s primary defense, and uses trillions of bacteria as your army. However, our natural gut flora can be destroyed or depleted by changes in diet, increased stress, medications including antibiotics, and other factors. When the balance of these beneficial bacteria is disturbed, harmful bacteria can proliferate, leading to digestive upsets.

The good news is that you have the power to balance your gut and heal your body. Scientists have long noted that consumption of foods and supplements containing certain microorganisms, particularly certain species of probiotic Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, has health promoting benefits. These probiotic organisms help restore an imbalanced Gut Protection System.

Your Gut Protection System is the Secret to Good Health

Think of the healthy bacteria—or probiotics—in your digestive system as your Gut Protection System. Up to 80 percent of the immune system is found in the gut. It’s your body’s primary defense, and uses trillions of bacteria as your army. However, our natural gut flora can be destroyed or depleted by changes in diet, increased stress, medications including antibiotics, and other factors. When the balance of these beneficial bacteria is disturbed, harmful bacteria can proliferate, leading to digestive upsets. The good news is that you have the power to balance your gut and heal your body. Scientists have long noted that consumption of foods and supplements containing certain microorganisms, particularly certain species of probiotic Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, has health promoting benefits. These probiotic organisms help restore an imbalanced Gut Protection System.

The normal, good bacteria in the gut support a variety of intestinal functions:

1 - Probiotics play a key role in nutrition. In addition to synthesizing vitamins such as thiamine (B1), folic acid (B9), pyridoxine (B6), and vitamin K, probiotics also produce digestive enzymes and help with the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and iron.

2 - Probiotics protect the intestinal lining. The lining of the intestinal tract, made up of the epithelial barrier and the mucosal barrier, is the human body’s largest (4,000 square feet) contact area with the external environment. If this barrier is compromised, harmful organisms and toxins in the intestine can increase inflammation, cross into the bloodstream or exert other undesirable effects. Beneficial gut bacteria—or probiotics—help maintain the integrity of this lining by producing short-chain fatty acids, which provide a major source of energy for epithelial cells to regenerate themselves.

3 - Probiotics support and stimulate the immune system. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of our immune system is located in and around the intestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria in the gut work to “educate” the immune system to help it respond appropriately to invaders. Further, beneficial bacteria produce a variety of inhibitory substances that help support a healthy balance of gut bacteria. In addition, they stimulate the immune system and the secretion of immunoglobulin A (IgA), a very important antibody that helps protect the intestinal lining.

4 - Probiotics enhance detoxification. Probiotics increase your body’s ability to neutralize toxins and promote a balance of gut microbes to support optimal health.

Factors That Can Destroy Your Health A multitude of factors in modern life can negatively impact the ability of your Gut Protection System to do its job, including:

Aging
As we age, our levels of certain good bacteria start to decrease, especially Bifido bacteria in the large intestine.

Antibiotics
While these drugs can be lifesaving, overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a serious concern. The problem is that along with the bad guys, antibiotics also kill off the “good guys,” or beneficial bacteria in the gut, in the process. The result is that you may have cured the infection, say, in your throat, but you’ve left your Gut Protection System without foot soldiers.

Yeast Overgrowth
When antibiotics kill off our natural probiotic bacteria, another organism that can proliferate is yeast, also called Candida. Left untreated, Candida can lead to leaky gut and a host of other health problems.

Parasites
Invasive intestinal microbes can thrive in an environment that lacks sufficient, friendly probiotic bacteria. Parasites can be difficult to detect and they can trigger a range of digestive symptoms.

Undigested Food & Unhealthy Food Choices
The Standard American Diet (SAD), which is high in sugar, animal proteins, chemicals and processed additives, but low in fresh vegetables and naturally fermented foods can also be incredibly disruptive to the balance of bacteria in your gut. Unfriendly organisms, including pathogenic bacteria and yeast, feed off sugar. So if you eat a diet high in sweets (especially after a course of antibiotics), you’ll be giving a treat to the bad guys. As they grow in number, they can crowd out the probiotic bacteria, leading to digestive upsets and other health problems.

Environmental Toxins
Toxins from the environment are known to destroy friendly bacteria in your gut. Since the middle of the 20th century, we’ve introduced over 80,000 new chemicals into our air, water, food supply, and homes.

Acid-Suppressing Medications
Americans spend more than $3 billion a year on over-the-counter heartburn drugs and more than $13 billion on prescription acid-reducing drugs. These drugs reduce or eliminate the stomach acid that is essential to the health of our Gut Protection System. Antacids work by changing the pH of the digestive tract, and in doing so create an environment favorable to the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria and yeast. What many people who take antacids don’t know is that they may actually have too little.

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