Your stomach secretes acid which not only breaks down the food we consume, but also destroys bacteria and parasites that may have entered with the food. So, to have ample acid is protective, it protects us from harmful things entering with food. The food stays in your stomach churning for between 1-3 hours. At the bottom of the stomach there is a doorway called the pyloric sphincter, it is considered the quality control center for the system. It regulates the passage of food to the small intestines. When we have proper pH in the stomach the pyloric sphincter is triggered to release the food into the intestine. The first part of the intestine is a transitional area, the stomach contents pH should be between 1.5 to 3 and mucous is secreted to raise the pH so it can continue through the small intestine without doing damage.
If, in this first part of the intestine, the stomachs contents pH is higher than 3, your stomach contents will not be released until absolutely necessary. Food staying in your stomach too long can cause fermentation, putrification and maldigested food and lead to gas, bloating and back flow of food into the esophagus. It can also lead to a deficiency of B12 and other nutrients and proteins that aren’t fully broken down. The acid triggers hormones and enzymes along with bicarbonate to be secreted and if the acidity isn’t there, these signals are not produced which hampers additional signals further down the GI tract.
With the contents staying in the stomach longer, the mixing is still happening and it’s easy for acid to spill out of the LES, the classic sign that your stomach isn’t acidic enough. Less obvious signs of improper stomach acidity are food sensitivities, a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition, unexplained bouts of nausea or diarrhea, food sitting uncomfortably in the stomach after eating, acne, obesity, fatigue, pale skin due to anemia, muscle cramps, hair or nails that won’t grow, and seeing undigested food in the stool. As you can see, you may not have typical signs of low acid secretion, but so many small seemingly unrelated symptoms point to it.
Here's an example. I am 52 years old, about two years ago I noticed that I had some swelling under my armpits. I thought it was weird, so I started to work on my lymphatic system, drank extra water and spent some time in my sauna, exercised a little more. Nothing made it budge.
Would you think something like this was related to digestion?
It wasn’t until I started to optimize my digestion that it went away, within three months. Like I said, an improper pH can come in many forms and a lot of the time we don’t connect it to digestion.
How can you optimize digestion?
These remedies can get you started. You can find all the items in a regular supermarket. If you find that these aren’t working for you and you need more support, reach out!
In my practice I talk about digestion ALL the time. It’s one of the places I start with everyone. Why? Because this is where the outside world meets you. I always get puzzled looks when I say this because we really don’t think about the body like this. What do you mean, my digestive system is outside of my body? Yes, technically your digestive system is inside you, BUT it’s a place to process the outside world.
Think about your digestive system for a minute, it starts with an opening at your mouth and ends with an opening at your butt, like a hose. A hose running through you, the stuff inside that hose, is the outside world and it’s not until the food goes through the hose that it’s able to enter into you.
In my last article I talked about why it’s important to chew your food. In this article, I’m going to focus a little further down to the stomach. So many people that come to me have issues directly related to the digestive system, they have symptoms of heartburn or indigestion and many are on or have been on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) or other acid blocking medications. They are told that because they have these symptoms, they have too much acid and it needs to be decreased.
Let’s think about this for a minute. When do we start having symptoms like this? Typically, we start getting light nudges from our body in our late 30s and it winds up getting worse as we get older. If heartburn was an issue of too much stomach acid, wouldn’t children and teenagers have heartburn and indigestion?
The fact is that by your mid twenty’s your stomach acid naturally decreases, this is a normal part of aging and can set the stage for heartburn and indigestion and lead you to think that you have too much acid.
So what’s happening to give you heartburn?
At the top of the stomach, there is a doorway called the lower esophageal sphincter. This doorway opens and closes to allow food to go in and keep the food in the stomach. If the stomach does not have the proper acidity, this doorway can open when it should be closed. As food inside the stomach is being processed, a little bit of acid can splash out of this doorway onto cells that aren’t capable of handling acid. This is the feeling you get when you have heartburn.
Your stomach is meant to be acidic. It’s meant to be the place where the chemical breakdown of food happens, it also is meant to protect you from pathogens, bacteria and viruses. If you are taking medications to decrease your stomach acid further, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies, parasitic infections, H. Pylori and an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria. These medications can be helpful to reduce pain and esophageal inflammation, but they don’t address the underlying cause.
What can do to assist your body in healing?
Did you know, chewing your food is an important part of digestion? It is! It is often overlooked as part of the digestive process and many times, with certain foods, we chew our food a couple of times and swallow. If this food is meat, you feel it slowly go down your esophagus. I remember this feeling well. When I ate meat, I felt it so tedious to chew that I often swallowed after a couple of bites and felt it almost getting stuck in my esophagus. This is not good, instead of the stomach receiving a smooth broken down mass of food (called a bolus), it receives chunks of food.
We need to chew our food well. When we do, we start the chemical process of digestion which enhances saliva production. Saliva contains enzymes like Amylase that help to break down and moisten the food. Your teeth and tongue help to mix the food and enzymes so that the food glides down the esophagus easily and can help take some strain off the rest of the digestive system.
How is this? When you chew your food, your intelligent body sends chemical messengers to the rest of your body, it tells your stomach to start producing digestive juices because food is coming. If your food is chewed thoroughly, the digestive juices can get right to work efficiently because the surface area of the food is bigger. If your food is received in chunks this can result in gas, bloating and indigestion. Did you catch that? Not chewing your food can result in some of the symptoms that bring you to me! As we travel further down the digestive tract, if we miss this one critical step in digestion, it can also result in leaky gut which can open the doors for so many health issues.
So, how well do you chew your food? Examine your oral health. Do you have teeth that hurt, dentures that don’t fit right? Sensitive teeth? This can all impact how thoroughly you chew the food. The amount of times you chew the food will vary depending on what food you are eating. For instance, if you are having a smoothie, just a few times is sufficient, if you are consuming animal foods, you want to chew that to an almost liquid state. As the saying goes “chew your liquids and drink your solids”. Chewing may seem like an insignificant task, but it is the first step and essential to optimizing your digestion!
If you’re like me, by now you have probably been inundated with emails for detoxes, weight loss gimmicks and fat loss supplements, all discounted to entice you buy. A new year a new you, right? Get healthy in the New year! Try this for 30 days and lose 20 lbs! You know what I’m talking about. These ads lure you to believe that if you follow a specific protocol (that is usually impossible to follow) or pop a pill, you will lose weight. Then when you lose the weight and gain it back, you are left thinking you just didn’t have enough willpower! Why? These diets are gimmicks, they are designed this way so the writers can make money time and again because you think it was your fault you failed. It was NOT your fault, you were tricked into thinking there is one thing that will help, a quick fix. These gimmicks do not teach you how to eat or even what foods might be better for you. There are no quick fixes and, we, as a culture, need to move away from this “diet mentality” and really learn about how food affects us individually.
What I want for you in the new year is to learn to change your lifestyle so you never have to think about dieting (or detoxing) again and so you don’t fall for a quick fix. I want you to change your mindset regarding eating. I want you to know that there is no one diet plan that is going to work for everyone all the time…at least not for the long term. I want you to know that there is so much more to being healthy than just losing weight.
Here are four things you can put into place immediately to start you on your new health journey:
1.Eat whole foods – this does not mean looking at foods that say whole wheat flour. A whole food is how you find the food in nature. An apple, celery, kale…these are whole foods.
2.Eat organic as much as possible – the pesticides that are sprayed on food are meant to kill insects, they affect humans too but at a much slower rate.
3.If you do buy packaged foods – read the ingredient label, it should contain a small list with only things you know. For instance: wheat berries, or dried apples
4.Research the ingredients - Can you say the ingredient? Do you know what it is? Is it organic? Is it verified GMO free? If you can’t pronounce something and don’t know what it is, or is genetically modified, put it back on the shelf!
Making small changes like these can help you now in the New Year and be a catalyst to a lifetime of health as well!
We just started another year; I want to start the year out talking about how our body is connected. How each body system works synergistically with another. You see, we live in a world where medicine has specialties. These specialties separate the body into parts, each specialty zeroing in and treating one specific part. They see the body as separate systems, NONE of them practice looking at the body as a whole. It reminds me of the analogy I read a long time ago about the blind men who were at different areas of an elephant, each arguing what they thought it was through their lens. They each saw a piece of the elephant, not the whole. They were each right in what they saw but they were missing critical information.
The same holds true when we look at the body like this, each specialty looking at one area, we miss seeing the whole picture. In my practice it leads to questions like, but I don’t have digestive issues, why are we looking there? That’s a good question, it’s where we break down the food into the nutrients needed to feed our body. These nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream that travels throughout the body, this super highway is moved by the beating of our heart, all of the nutrients that are absorbed through our digestive system are fed into the bloodstream for distribution. It doesn’t just stop at one place and fizzle out, it continues feeding the whole.
In functional nutrition, we make the connections of how each system is impacted by another. We look at the body as a whole and look at things like how food impacts the body. How do those heart blockages impact the rest of the body, can we do anything nutritionally to support the body or medical intervention?
A really good example of how medicine separates the body system is if we look at a cancer diagnosis. In conventional medicine, you receive a protocol that is targeted for a specific site. The oncologists all follow the same protocols, these protocols are written out for them...if this doesn’t work then go to that and I am not saying to abandon conventional medicine because it does have its place. What I am saying is, we need to dig a little deeper and trust ourselves enough to ask the tough questions to yourself and your medical team? What if these questions led us to a better place? What would happen if we were to change our mindset and take charge of our own health? Ask questions like what is my body trying to tell me with this diagnosis? What else can I do? What can I learn from this? Will a change in my diet or lifestyle support me in my journey?
These questions are good, these questions lead us to empowering ourselves, they lead us to taking charge of our health and not just being passive in our health care. We need to start a grass roots movement to get back to trusting our body, honor the processes and realize it’s all connected!
In holistic nutrition we talk a lot about finding the root cause. Sometimes this can be easy, sometimes difficult, other times all you need is intuition. The case I’m going to talk about, took intuition.
Most of the time we don’t see a direct cause and effect, it’s a little more insidious. Let me give you an example of one where this can be seen. Beginning at the end of the last school year, my older son started getting an ingrown toe nail on his big toe. He’s not a complainer, so it got pretty bad before he told me his foot hurt him. I took him to the podiatrist and she removed the nail and recommended antibiotics. Throughout the summer, we had multiple trips to the foot doctor because it kept happening and started happening in the other foot too! Every time we went through the same thing, we went in, she removed the nail and recommended a permanent surgery.
At each appointment, I asked her why she thought this kept happening. She said some people are more susceptible to it than others and it’s probably genetic (it’s not). Most people accept this type of answer from a doctor because we collectively feel that they have gone through a lot of schooling so they must have the answer. I too would accept this answer too if he was a toddler, but he’s 16! He has gone 16 years without having ingrown toenails. Something else was going on…
So, I started my research, why could this be happening? One of the reasons that came up in my research was shoes that are too tight. I had thought of this the first time we went and even asked but was told it’s probably genetic so I let it go. I had also just bought new shoes for him and thought they fit him correctly. My son does have a wide foot and since he’s older and can tell me how the shoes fit, I just check where the toe is to make sure they are long enough. He should know if the shoe is too tight, right?
After researching, I took a chance and bought him new shoes again but this time they were marked wide and just to be safe, I bought bigger socks too! I figured it couldn’t hurt! Since this time, he has not had a single ingrown toenail! It has been about 4 months!
My gut was telling me that it he wasn’t just susceptible to ingrown toenails and it turned out to be an easy fix. There are other times it takes more detective work. .This is usually when an issue is chronic. Listen to your gut, ask questions and do research, don’t just assume a doctor that has seen you for about 5 minutes has the answer…it’s usually inside of you, but you may need some help pulling it out
You go to the supermarket once a week for food. Once inside you are bombarded with marketing claims. I’m not talking about the seals like Certified organic, or Non Gmo verified. These are important to look for and pay attention to. I’m talking about the signs you see in the aisle in front of the food. They’ll say things like PALEO, VEGAN, NON GMO (even when the crop was never genetically modified in the first place). Really anything customers are looking for; a sign will go up in front of a product. Oh look at me, I’m LOW FAT!
I’m in Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago in the sauce aisle and I see two signs. One says VEGAN, the other says PALEO. I’m intrigued because I wouldn’t think there is a difference aside from the packaging. Although in the Paleolithic period they probably didn’t have tomatoes because that’s a modern agriculture food and they certainly would not have had cans or glass to put the tomatoes in; but tomatoes seem to be on the Paleo food list possibly because no one really knows exactly what Paleolithic people ate, it’s just one big guess.
So I have two items right next to each other both seemingly the same but they are being marketed differently. Why are they being marketed differently? To appeal to the different trends! Don’t fall for it! Although they are all tomato sauces, they are not created equal.
Let’s take a look:
Do you see the difference?
You can’t really tell much from the nutrition facts as far as what is inside, But here is a big difference you can see: the serving size is smaller for the PALEO one but is still much higher in sodium than the other two. Everything else when adjusting for the serving size would work out about the same.
Let’s look at the ingredients; the one marketed as PALEO has added sugar which is not allowed and citric acid which is a food additive also not allowed on the diet.
So since tomato is allowed on the PALEO diet, sauce would be too so either of the two marked VEGAN would fit the PALEO bill, but not the one that was actually being marketed as PALEO! Crazy right? So don’t pay attention to the signs marketing what product to buy, turn the product around and look at the ingredients list, compare them to other similar products and then make your decision!
One of my jobs as a nutritionist is educator, to think about things that aren’t being talked about. When it comes to food, nothing is cut and dry. Studies can help us in making an educated decision, but they are typically biased in favor of what those who paid for it want. So you wind up with lots of studies that contradict each other and what you hear about are the studies that are well funded. Or you will hear the contradicting studies for instance one day it seems eggs are good for you and the next they are not. So for the above question, I don’t have a definitive answer, and I don’t think anyone else does either but I would like to talk about some concerns I have regarding this.
So let’s talk about fish oil supplementation. For many who don’t consume fish, they turn to supplementation. Even if they do consume fish doctors typically recommend fish oil supplements to decrease inflammation, because today everyone has inflammation! Here’s the problem with this, to get the oil from the fish, the entire fish is minced and the oil is extracted using heat and chemical solvents. The Omega 3 fatty acid is an extremely sensitive oil and can become rancid from exposure to heat, light and oxygen. So the oil is more than likely rancid prior to being put into the capsule to be sold. And low quality supplements don’t remove the toxins that were originally in fish or the chemical residue so toxins are increased. Professional products do test for toxins and typically there is no chemical residue, but the concern about rancidity is still there.
I have tested the Omega fatty acid profile on clients and most are deficient in Omega 3 even in people taking fish oil supplements and consuming fish on a daily basis They also have high inflammation markers and Omega 6 fatty acids (inflammatory) are higher than their Omega 3 fatty acid (anti-inflammatory) numbers. So a change of diet is typically needed.
Omega 3 (and 6) fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning the body can’t make them. So it’s important for you to get them, but fish is not the only source. In fact, the fish don’t produce it; they eat algae on the ocean floors that contain it. Wouldn’t it be better to skip the fish and use the algae as your Omega source? Algae can be grown in a lab in controlled conditions so there is no contamination issue. You could also consume Spirulina and sea vegetables which have an added benefit of lots of micronutrients.
There are other plant sources but conversion is necessary for it to become an Omega 3 and there are various reasons that would diminish capability of conversion. For example: Deficiencies micronutrients such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, biotin, B 3, B6, Vitamin C; medications, alcohol, advancing age, high sugar consumption, genetics, high omega 6 consumption, etc. Plant based sources have many benefits even if you don’t convert the Alpha Linoleic Acid (the parent form) easily. Plant sources: Flax seeds, Chia seeds, Hemp seeds, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, avocado, chlorella
So what do you think?
Sources: Killer fish, Brian R. Clement, 2012
The kids have gone back to school so I have seen an uptick of people with colds in the past couple of weeks. Both of my kids have just had colds and typically right after they get sick, I do. It’s called the common cold for a reason, right? For the past few days, I have had a sore throat so I have been doing my best to fight it off. I have talked about some remedies you can use here and here
It seems that not as many people get sick in the summer, even with all the barbeques. Maybe there aren’t as many sweets or maybe we are protected by the vitamin D we are getting from the sun. It may be a combination of things, but what I want to talk about today is what you can do when you start to feel like you are getting sick or if you actually do get sick how to shorten the duration. This is not a time to slack off on your healthy eating, this is when you need to kick it up a notch.
Naturally when we feel bad, we go to our comfort foods…these foods usually consist of sweets and fried foods. You can use natural treatments like Vitamin C and Zinc, maybe even increase vitamin A and believe me I use everything in my toolbox to combat a cold! But I want to talk to you today about diet. Taking one item out of your diet may boost your immune system so you either don’t get sick or you are more resilient when you do.
What item am I talking about? Sugar! When your throat hurts ice cream feels good right? It soothes because it’s cold, but eating sugar is like taking down your defense system and not just for a few minutes, but a few hours! There are no nutrients in sugar, in fact consuming sugar makes the body use its own stores. You definitely don’t need this when you’re feeling under the weather. Your white blood cells are your guards, they need to be in tip top shape to go around your body and look for invaders, and sugar weakens them. So even on a daily basis, you want to limit the amount of sugar you consume, but when you feel sick it is best to avoid it.
Where do we find sugar? Pretty much EVERYWHERE! When I talk about sugar most people think of white granulated sugar, but if you buy any processed carbohydrate like bread, pasta, pizza, soda, ketchup, dips, spreads, processed meats (like lunch meats), “whole grain” cereals, yogurt. You know the comfort foods I was talking about earlier! These are typically low in fiber and digest really quickly in your body, they also contain added sugars which increase your sugar intake. They also deplete your nutrient stores which are vital when you get sick. I’m not as concerned about natural sugars because they contain nutrients and fiber that actually help you feel better.
A good way to look at illness is as part of your body’s detoxification system. Your body is taking out some trash and making an inhospitable environment for a virus or bacteria. Instead of turning to comfort foods, support your body, look to your fruits and vegetables or maybe create some new comfort foods. I like to make smoothies, but I increase the greens and the fruits that are high in vitamin C. Leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard mixed with oranges maybe some kiwi, add some pumpkin seeds and this will increase the zinc.
Taking the above measures, eating right and supplementing when appropriate may not completely deter an illness, but it can make it more bearable and decrease the amount of time you are sick.
Lately I have been getting a lot of calls from people who want to transition to either healthier eating or a vegan diet because they have seen a documentary or read about something they didn’t like in the industry. I think this is great because anytime we make positive dietary changes, we are not only helping ourselves with better health, but we are also helping the planet and the animals.
A good place to start is to evaluate what you are currently eating. Let’s start with processed foods, personally I try to buy as little packaged food as possible, but when I do I make sure that I’m buying the best quality I can; it’s a process and I want to help you with that. How do I do that? I read the labels on the package.
I am a big proponent of reading labels, not in the traditional sense of reading them but to really find out what’s in the product. Typically we are told to use the nutrition facts label because it is government regulated, but that doesn’t mean it’s 100% true. The nutrition facts label can be deceptive, manufacturers can play with the numbers so the product is perceived the way they want it to be…to follow the trends; gluten free, sugar free, low cholesterol.
If you are only looking at the nutrition facts box, you are only getting half the story. For instance a manufacturer can put 0 g of sugar on the nutrition facts label even though sugar is listed in two or three places in the ingredients. How is this possible? As long as there is .5 g or less per serving, they can put 0 g. So for each of those sugars, each one has .5 g or less per serving, this can wind up being a lot of sugar.
So I just mentioned per serving. There is a difference between serving size and portion size. This is one thing I do recommend looking at because the serving size is a set amount like ½ cup whereas a portion size is what we serve ourselves which is typically double or triple of the serving size. So make sure to check the serving size on the top of the nutrition facts label.
Use the nutrition facts label as a tool to help guide you but don’t use it by itself, consult the ingredients list too. This is where you will find out more information as to what is in the product. Using the two together will give you a more complete picture.
What you want to look for is a small list of ingredients, maybe five to six ingredients with names you can pronounce. The ingredients are listed in descending order, so the first ingredient is usually the largest amount and the last ingredient is the smallest.
So how do you put this into practice? Start at home, pull out those cereal boxes, I’m not a fan of these but let’s look at it as an example. Look at the ingredients, how long is the list, can you name all of them? Do you know what each ingredient is? Are there preservatives that you’re not quite sure about? How many sugars are there that you can recognize? Are there genetically modified ingredients? Are there food colors?
Start with this one food, assess it and next time you go shopping look for a better alternative. Do this for all of your processed foods and each time dig a little deeper. Eventually, you will get to a place where there is less and less processed foods and more foods in their natural state in your shopping cart. It’s a process, you can go as fast or slow as you like.