Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gut Health and why it drives Nutritional Health

It has been said, “You are what you eat.”  A more accurate statement is, "you are what you digest, absorb, and assimilate".

Did you know digestion starts before you ever take the first bite?  Ever walked past a plate of cookies on the counter and your mouth began to water?  That friend, is your body getting ready to digest.  You see saliva contains loads of enzymes.

Want to see this at work?  Take a small bowl of oatmeal that you have prepared, and then add about a teaspoon of saliva.  WATCH it work!  It is amazing!!!  Within minutes that bowl of cereal will be completely liquefied.

That is what enzymes do in our digestive tract.  They break down the food we eat into a liquid and break down the proteins, carbohydrates and fats into absorbable size particles.  Those are then used by the body to run all aspects of our physical health.

So what is the big deal about enzymes—do they deserve all this talk?
Well, the enzymes found in saliva aren’t enough to complete all the break down that has to happen to get food from your fork to your muscles and organs.  In fact there are dozens if not hundreds of steps where different enzymes are needed at different places along your digestive tract.

Ever so briefly here is a quick description of what the major players of the tract do:
  • Mouth: grinds the food into hopefully a paste
  • Stomach: churns the food into a liquid called chyme
  • Small intestine: absorbs most of the nutrients
  • Large intestine: reabsorbs the water from the liquid 
  • Rectum: holds waste until eliminated

Well, this post is about enzymes right?  So where do enzymes come from?  Well, they can come from a number of places.  Your saliva, gallbladder, pancrease, liver, the good bacteria in our intestines even produce enzymes…but honestly a lot of enzymes are supposed to come from our food. 

The unfortunate thing is the Standard American Diet(aka the SAD diet) is so processed, preserved, frozen, and cooked, that no enzymes are present.  So, often times supplementation of these enzymes can alleviate many digestive discomforts that millions of Americans experience--and medicate--for on a daily basis.

A publication of the top 200 drugs sold in 2010 listed here( puts the top drug sold in 2010 as Nexium.  To the tune of 5.3 BILLION dollars.  Aside from masking the symptoms of digestive discomfort, Nexium does little to fix anything.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a time and a place for meds, but wouldn’t it be smart to explore other alternatives first?  I mean if you look at the serious side effects of Nexium(google it), I would rather go a more natural route first.

So what does ABNORMAL (digestive enzyme deficiency) look like?

  • Stomach pain/discomfort
  • Skin problems (eczema, acne, rashes, etc.)
  • 'Brain Fog'
  • Mood swings
  • Chronic Fatigue

Some simple ways to support healthy digestion:
  • Add raw food to your diet
  • Add lacto-feremented food to your diet
    • like homemade sauerkraut
    • homemade yogurt(super simple to make in a crockpot) 
    • homemade ginger ale
    • or lacto-fermented pickles.                
  • Add lacto-fermented drinks to your diet
    • Apple Cider Vinegar(with the mother)
    • Kombucha
    • Kefir  
All these are loaded with great bacteria that will nourish your gut’s healthy bacterial levels.  Google it and make your own!  It’s not hard.  It makes a fun family science project that tastes great.

Now if you are like most Americans and the thought of making any major diet changes terrifies you and makes you not even want to try, that is ok.  We all start somewhere.  A simple first step might be to add a supplemental food enzyme to begin with.  Then as you begin to make small diet changes you can begin to add in a few of those foods.

Change is challenging!  I’m right there with you!  It is easier to open a bag of prefab meatballs than to make my own.  However the long term health effects of that, if that is my everyday habit can be extremely bad.

I’m an 80/20 kinda momma.  80% straight and narrow, 20% convenience/comfort. 
Sometimes the enzyme pill is way easier than a serving of homemade lacto-fermented pickles. 

Young Living has many great enzyme options.  KidScents® MightyZyme is an all-natural, vegetarian product in the form of chewable tablets designed to help children combat the negative effects of enzyme depletion.  MightyZyme chewables address each of the digestive needs of growing bodies and assist normal digestion of all foods, including proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  Allerzyme is great if you know you have a high number of food sensitivities.  Detoxzyme is a good choice if your diet has been loaded with preservative and chemicals for a LONG time and you are just getting going on turning your battleship around to actively pursue better health naturally.  The Essentialzyme and Essentialzyme-4 each have a specific set of enzymes in them, read up on those and see if one is right for you.

The bottom line…Enzymes are vital to your ability to break down and absorb what you are eating.  You could eat a completely raw, organic diet and absorb none of it if you don’t have the enzymes to digest the nutrients.  The other main culprit commonly seen is an inefficient, damaged small intestine (aka leaky gut) that does not absorb the good things you are putting in.  We’ll look at ways to address this as we go.  A great resource if you can get your hands on it is Renew Your Life  by Brenda Watson.

Ginger old favorite with lots of enzymes and other beneficial microbes that is trending again thanks to the home-brew and micro-brew movement.  The following recipe is recounted in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

"Makes 2 qts

3/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped/grated
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup Rapadura (we like Grade B maple syrup)
2 tsp Sea Salt
1/4 cup  Whey (see our previous post for how to make)
2 qts- filtered water

Place all ingredients in 2qt Mason jar or jug.  Stir well and cover tightly.  Leave at room temp for 2-3 days before transferring to the refrigerator.  Keeps several months well chilled.  Ginger ale may be mixed with carbonated water and is best sipped warm rather than gulped down cold."

Need a productive exercise to stave off cabin fever?  Winter is the perfect time to cut wood.  The most efficient fire wood is ‘well seasoned’, meaning it has dried out, this usually takes about 6 months to a year depending on humidity and local weather.  Right now sap levels are at their lowest.  Weeds, snakes, and poison oak/ivy are more dormant.  You don’t have to break out a chainsaw either.  Hand saws and axes still do the job and provide more stress relief without a fume/noise induced headache.  Eye protection and substantial foot gear is prudent.  Always check your back swing and the path of the axe overhead to ensure you don’t get hit with a deflected strike.  Cutting small brush to clear out fence rows and edges is a good chore for the axe in winter too.  If you don’t have land of your own try asking a local farmer if you could clear out some storm deadfall.  Most sizeable public lands have firewood permits at really affordable rates.  

Enjoy the aching muscles and a big mug of your own house made Kombucha or Ginger Ale!

Feel free to comment on your family's favorite enzyme-rich recipes. 

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