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Navigating Common Challenges to GREAT Digestive Health

A well- functioning digestive system is a critical aspect of overall well-being, and is a truly amazing process, given that food is a universal need to provide our bodies with energy and resources to sustain life. If any part is not working properly, the process of digestion, absorption and elimination may be compromised. Symptoms such as heartburn, upset stomach, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation may result. In this article, we’ll explore some of the common challenges to good digestive health.

  1. Hypochlorhydria

Hypochlorhydria refers to reduced hydrochloric acid production in the stomach. Stomach acid plays a crucial role in breaking down food, activating digestive enzymes, and killing harmful microorganisms. It’s estimated this problem affects more than 50 percent of people over the age of 40.

Reasons for low levels of hydrochloric acid production have been linked to:

  • Chronic high levels of stress, anxiety and tension. They are your digestive system’s worst enemies. If you eat while in an emotional state, you will not be making enough stomach acid or digestive enzymes
  • A lack of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins due to poor diet choices, which in turn can also impact the breakdown of protein by protease, which is an enzyme that requires an acidic environment to function properly
  • Lifestyle habits of smoking and high alcohol intake
  • Ageing in general.
  • Ironically, long term use of antacids is also an emerging issue as low stomach acid can produce a lot of the same symptoms as high stomach acid, helping to explain why antacids are so frequently used. Long term use of antacids to suppress stomach acid, without input from your doctor, and correctly identifying the underlying reasons for your problems, can do enormous harm to your health.
  1. Liver and Pancreas Burnout

These two organs are the absolute workhorses of the body. They are active 24 hours a day and play vital roles in maintaining our overall health. Dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle choices, underlying medical conditions, genetics, and environmental influences, but it’s also worth noting that both organs have a remarkable capacity for regeneration and healing, but severe or prolonged dysfunction can lead to long-term health issues.

Liver: The liver performs a wide range of functions and works continuously to process nutrients, detoxify harmful substances, regulate blood sugar levels, stores and releases energy, produces bile, and synthesises proteins. These functions are necessary for digestion, metabolism, and maintaining various bodily processes. Liver dysfunction can be caused by a number of reasons:

  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Viral Infections
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Medications and Toxins
  • Autoimmune Conditions

Pancreas: Similarly, the pancreas is also active around the clock to support digestion and blood sugar regulation. The exocrine function of the pancreas involves the production and secretion of digestive enzymes that aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These enzymes are released into the small intestine whenever food is ingested, and their activity is crucial for efficient digestion. The endocrine function of the pancreas involves the regulation of blood sugar levels through the secretion of insulin and glucagon. These hormones are continuously released to maintain stable blood sugar levels, even during periods of fasting or between meals. Pancreatic dysfunction can be caused by a number of reasons:

  • Chronic Pancreatitis
  • Acute Pancreatitis
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  1. Lactose & Gluten Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is the sugar found in milk and dairy products. It occurs when the body lacks enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose into its simpler components (glucose and galactose) for absorption. Instead, lactose is absorbed in the small intestine and passed whole, to the colon, where it’s fermented by gut microbiota, leading to bloating, gas, abdominal pain and.

Gluten Intolerance  is characterised by adverse reactions to gluten, which is a protein found in grains, like wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten intolerance is similar to lactose intolerance, and may also be called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. It’s not the same as coeliac disease or a wheat allergy. The body finds it hard to digest gluten so it can cause IBS like symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, headaches, brain fog, joint pain, and fatigue. Long term undiagnosed intolerance may also present as depression and anxiety.

  1. Poor Microbiome Diversity

Poor microbiome diversity refers to an imbalance or reduced variety of beneficial microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract. This condition can arise from factors like a diet high in processed foods, overuse of antibiotics, lack of dietary fibre, and chronic stress. A diminished diversity of gut microbes can affect the lining of the gut, impacting digestion and nutrient absorption which in turn has been linked to various health concerns, including weakened immune function, mental health issues, obesity and an increased risk of chronic diseases. Maintaining a diverse and balanced microbiome is crucial for optimal digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall well-being.

  1. When Fibre is Lacking

And finally, recent research has highlighted that when low fibre intake in a diet occurs, there is a significant negative impact on health and well-being, particularly on digestive health and the risk of chronic disease. While fibre is a carbohydrate, its unique properties make it beneficial for the body in ways distinct from other carbohydrates that are broken down and absorbed for energy. The human body can’t fully digest fibre, meaning it passes through the digestive system relatively intact.

There are two main types of dietary fibre:

  • Soluble Fibre: can dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance. It can be found in foods like oats, beans, fruits (such as apples and citrus fruits), and vegetables. It can help stabilise blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and promote a feeling of fullness.
  • Insoluble Fibre: does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to stool, helping to promote regular bowel movements. It’s commonly found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and the skin of fruits and vegetables.

Both types provide various health benefits and play important roles in supporting digestive health. Many other health benefits have also been linked to diets rich in dietary fibre, such as:

  • Blood Sugar Regulation
  • Heart Health
  • Gut Microbiome Food
  • Colorectal Health
  • Improved Gut Performance
  • Efficient Nutrient Absorption
  • Weight Management

Whilst there are many obvious choices that can be made around living a healthy lifestyle, and eating a nutritious diet, it can be hard to consistently manage it with our busy, modern lifestyles. NutriKane™ has developed a range of scientifically trialled Food-as-Medicine products, that are rich in micronutrients and a combination of both soluble and insoluble fibres plus other natural plant outputs essential to digestive resistant starch. NutriKane™ is simple to incorporate into your daily routine to support optimal digestion. Visit our site here to learn more.

Dr Malcolm Ball