Why do so many people today suffer from digestive troubles? It’s an important question to ask, because if digestive problems are truly on the rise (and it seems like they are) then that would lead us to the question: What has changed?
With our collective digestion seeming more problematic than ever, it stands to reason that lifestyle factors may be at play. If you have a hard time going to the bathroom or making bowel movements - or, conversely, you’re pooping too often, experiencing frequent diarrhea - it’s time to start thinking about what changes you can make that might make your life easier and your health more robust.
Lifestyle, stress and food all play a role in the overall health of your digestive system. We’ll breakdown how it all ties together and how foods like vegetables and collagen, can help improve your gut.
First of all, let’s define normal: What is healthy digestion? For one thing, it doesn’t involve constipation. The Mayo Clinic defines constipation as having three or fewer bowel movements per week, though there isn’t a consensus on an exact number of bowel movements required. It’s generally accepted that regularity, not frequency, is a better determinant of digestive health.
However, when you do go to the bathroom, you shouldn’t experience diarrhea, an uncontrollable need to go immediately, or severe constipation. These problems are good indicators that something is getting in the way of your body’s ability to make a healthy bowel movement.
Digestion is a good indicator of overall health, for a number of reasons. For one thing, digestion is closely related to gut health. Every day, scientists are uncovering new ways that human health is impacted by the gut, or the gastrointestinal tract. Not long ago, we used to think that bacteria “colonized” in the gut, or made makeshift homes and camped out indefinitely, or until obliterated by bad bacteria. We now know that’s not true. In fact, bacterial strains have more of a “vacation” in our gut, and constantly need to be replenished. That said, the healthy bacteria that exists in our gut seem to have an important impact on health. The microbiome has recently been linked to skin conditions, mental health, nutrient absorption and, of course, digestion.
The lining of the gut, which is populated by billions of bacteria, is important for nutrient transfer. When food passes through your digestive tract, the molecules that form nutrients transfer into your bloodstream through the semipermeable barrier of the gut lining. The barrier is designed by nature to allow healthy nutrients to pass through, but many scientists posit that this barrier can be disrupted by irritants such as foods to which people often have sensitivities, like gluten or dairy, causing larger gaps and allowing more than just nutrients to get out … and back in.
When this happens, people may experience myriad health issues that are related to gut health — though it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly causes these issues. If the wrong molecules get through (think potential toxins), the body can respond by attacking those intruders, leading to digestive problems, feelings of fatigue, sluggishness and even skin issues.
To improve your gut health, you need to focus on eliminating potentially irritating foods, and including nourishing, healing ones. The foods that most commonly irritate the gut lining are dairy and gluten, with other foods, such as eggs, nuts and nightshades also being problematic for some people. The best way to find out which foods are ailing you is to try an elimination diet.
For at least two weeks (and preferably one month), eliminate all the foods that are likely to be giving you problems. The Whole30 is a great elimination-style diet that can help you pinpoint the foods that are giving you problems.
Once you’ve eliminated the offenders, it’s time to add in the defenders.
Collagen: Collagen, a protein found in the body’s connective tissues (such as the skin and the gut lining) is made by the human body, but it can also be consumed. Because collagen is a primarily component of the cells that line the gut, it’s a fantastic ingredient for supporting the digestive system. We’ll talk more about collagen in a moment, because it has numerous benefits for digestion. You can obtain collagen in any foods that contain skin or bones. However, you can also take a supplement such asCollagen Peptides — we’ll talk more about how collagen helps digestion in a moment!
Fibrous Vegetables: Fiber is a hero of good digestion. However, you may have heard that the best place to get your fiber is from whole grains, many of which often contain the common irritant gluten. Fortunately, this is a myth — you can get an abundant amount of fiber from fresh, healthy produce like leafy greens, celery, fruits, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
Chia Seeds: Chia seeds pack the double whammy of being high in fiber and also having the ability to attract water. This is a component of fiber itself, but chia seeds take it to a new level. This allows them to help “move things along” by attracting water and food matter throughout the digestive tract.
Sauerkraut: Like all fermented vegetables, sauerkraut is high in probiotics, the healthy bacteria that we need to keep our gut healthy. Consuming probiotic foods can help repopulate the gut with a healthy colony of bacteria. Just make sure the sauerkraut you’re consuming is labelled as probiotic; sauerkraut that is not properly prepared and refrigerated may no longer contain living organisms.
Onions: Speaking of probiotics, in order to maximize the benefits of healthy bacteria in your diet, you need to feed them! Enter onions. Onions are a healthful prebiotic… meaning, they are good food for the bacteria in your gut.
Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes, in addition to containing fiber and being a healthy carbohydrate alternative to breads and pastas, are also a prebiotic food.
Bone Broth: Bone broth, which is made by boiling bones in water, contains collagen as well as collagen in its hydrolyzed form, gelatin.
Gelatin: Like collagen, Gelatin is beneficial for supporting the lining of the gut.
Ghee: Ghee makes our list because it is a gut-friendly alternative to traditional butter. Ghee is clarified butter — meaning, the “dairy” parts of the butter have been separated and removed. This makes it a potential option for people with dairy sensitivities.
So how do you know if you have gut health issues? If you are experiencing constipation or frequent explosive bowel movements, that’s a good clue that something is off with your digestion. However, a number of seemingly unrelated signs may actual indicate that you should start focusing on your gut health. Here are just a few:
Fatigue: If the gut barrier is compromised, you may feel an abnormal amount of tiredness and fatigue. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, if undesirable substances such as toxins or irritants get through the gut barrier into the bloodstream, the body may generate an immune response. This can make you feel tired and drained. Additionally, imbalances in the gut may lead to poor nutrient absorption, which means that you may not be getting the full benefit of the nutrients you’re eating. This, too, can cause you to feel tired and lethargic.
Skin issues: Because the body may trigger an immune response, gut health problems can also cause issues such as acne and eczema. This is because the body begins to attack itself, leading to inflammation that can cause the skin to flare up in various ways.
Moodiness: The brain-gut connection has never been more apparent. While the exact cause remains unknown, scientists are increasingly convinced that the microbiome can dramatically impact mood, with poor gue health leading to moodiness and sadness.
Sugar Cravings: Sugar cravings can be another major sign of gut imbalance. This is likely because diets high in irritating ingredients, such as simple carbohydrates like bread and sugar, can also lead to spikes and falls in blood sugar levels.
Getting Sick Often: Finally, because your body may be turning on itself due to the presence of toxins and irritants, your immune response may be weakened, leading to frequent colds and coughs.
So, you’ve identified that you may have a problem with digestion and gut health. Now it’s time to pinpoint the underlying cause. If you’re otherwise healthy, lifestyle factors are usually what’s at play, and a lot of it comes down to what we eat.
A few things happen that trigger these immune responses that cause ill health. In addition to irritants getting into the bloodstream from poor gut function, toxins can also enter the body if you’re not pooping often enough. Many scientists believe that when digested food (that is, your stool) is in the intestine too long, molecules from it can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
Other things can be reabsorbed, too — hormones are a major one. This is especially problematic for women, many of whom have extra estrogen in their systems already due to contraceptive pills. Hormones are meant to be eliminated through bowel movements when they’re no longer useful. When they are reabsorbed into the system, it can lead to an excess of those hormones, which can cause many issues related to fertility, weight, acne and other areas of your health.
So, the takeaway here is that strengthening the function of the gut barrier is absolutely key to increasing your energy, normalizing hormone levels, promoting healthy skin, increasing the ease of digestion, and allowing for the absorption of crucial nutrients. Simple right?
Let’s get back to collagen for a second. Collagen is fantastic for digestion and gut health in general. The entire gastrointestinal tract is made of skin, which needs a permeable barrier to do its job correctly. These cells must be kept as healthy as possible, and that’s where collagen comes in.
Collagen makes up 25 to 35 percent of our bodies’ natural protein content, and that includes the gut. So when collagen production begins to decline around age 25, it’s important to support out connective tissues through diet.
TakingVital Proteins Collagen Peptides not only supports the cells by providing the body with ingestible collagen, it also contains amino acids that are specifically beneficial for digestion. Collagen contains about 30 percent glycine, an amino acid that isn’t as prevalent in most of our modern protein sources. Glycine and glutamine, another amino acid in collagen, are beneficial for promoting digestion and even supporting a healthy gut barrier.
Our ancestors used to consume collagen in larger amounts than we do now. Collagen is present in bones and cartilage, not to mention in organ meats and skin, so by eating the whole animal, our ancestors were able to obtain a significant amount collagen in their diets. The same goes for our ancestors who consumed rich, nourishing soups and stews made from bone broth, another healthy dietary source of collagen.
Today, modern food trends dictate that we no longer consume a healthy amount of collagen. Getting it from a supplement such as Collagen Peptides or by drinkingBone Broth is a good way to keep your intake of collagen protein optimal.
Digestion-Supporting Bone Broth Tea
Directions: Add all ingredients into a pot. Bring to a boil. Remove liquid from heat. Strain ingredients. Sip and savor.
Collagen Peptides: Collagen is supports the health of the connective tissues, including those of the gastrointestinal tract. It also supports the production of stomach acid and contains the healing gut-supporting amino acids glutamine and glycine.
Beef Gelatin: Gelatin contains the same amino acid profile as Collagen Peptides, and can be used as a baking ingredient or a thickening agent in soups and stews.
Bone Broth: Bone Broth contains naturally occurring collagen and is nourishing for overall health.