Digestive health is one of the most critical pieces to obtaining and maintaining good overall health. The health of any person is directly related to the health of the bowel, as about 70% of our immunity resides in the “gut”. Therefore, it is important to eat foods that promote a "healthy gut" and supplement with concentrated foods and sometimes herbs that clean and maintain the digestive tract and bowel.
Probiotics, Bugs with Benefits
Probiotics are products containing living beneficial bacteria, i.e. "good bugs", which ‘colonize’ the entire lining of our intestine. The potential benefits that the bacteria living in our intestine have on our well being are only just beginning to be understood by scientists and includes the following:
- They enable the entire digestion and absorption functions of the intestine to operate efficiently
- They protect us from challenge and infections by potential pathogens
- They continuously prime and condition our immune system to function properly, from the day we are born throughout our entire life.
- They can help protect us from allergy and intolerance and can reduce the symptoms in existing sufferers.
Probiotics are found in yogurt, kefirs, fermented foods and in supplements. Probiotics can be added to your diet and most people will benefit from probiotic supplements.
In most old traditional civilizations, a major part of the diet was the consumption of fermented foods, such as fermented milks and vegetables. Some of the most widely consumed fermented foods are kefir, (a fermented milk that is easily digested, common in Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries), yogurt, kimchi (Korea), tempe (Indonesia), fermented soybean foods, miso, natto (Japan)and vegetables such as sauerkraut, beets, (Poland, Ukraine or Russia), and other vegetables. This tradition of consuming a little fermented food at meals provided a regular intake of the ‘probiotic’ types of live bacteria and gave the associated benefits outlined above. This tradition continues today in many cultures, but unfortunately, not in the United States. Most modern Western diets are devoid of ‘live’ fermented foods, and hence the ‘essence’ of these foods, i.e. the beneficial probiotic bacteria, must be supplemented. But consider adding kefir or kimchi to your main meal at least once a day to obtain the health benefits of live fermented foods. Fermented beverages and foods can aid digestion and enhance the immune system and may offer additional health benefits, depending on the source.
Digestion and Aging
As we age and especially if there have been any chronic health issues, the digestive enzymes, and especially the hydrochloric acid produced in our stomach is diminished. If the food is not properly digested in our stomach and upper bowel, the bad bugs in the lower bowel will be fed and proliferate, crowding out the good bugs.
Talk to your practitioner about adding probiotic supplements to your diet, or try a good yogurt or kefir for a few weeks and see how much better you feel. And don't forget to add a Tablespoon or two of a tasty fermented food to your dinner plate to reap the benefits of these beneficial bacteria. Once a healthy gut is obtained, it is important to keep it that way.