I'm writing this for myself as much as for you.
For the past couple of years I've felt remarkably healthy. Overall my energy had been consistently good. I rarely catch colds. My asthma and allergies had receded into the distant background. I wasn't suffering from stomach pains or bloating, either. In fact I was beginning to reintroduce some foods that had given me trouble in the past.
And then everything went to hell over the course of a month.
People ask me what happened. Of course, I've tried to figure it out myself. The best I can come up with is that I got caught in a perfect storm of problems.
It's depressing. It's hard not to feel like I failed somewhere. But I remind myself--and I want you to know this, too--the path to vibrant health isn't a straight shot. It zig-zags. It twists and circles. And sometimes it takes you on a detour. Detours aren't the same thing as wrong turns, though you may have to traverse a bumpy, foreign road for a while. You may feel lost.
While many things piled up to put me where I am now, the driver of my current not-great-state of health is poor digestion. The silver lining is that I learned even more about the wellness process so that I can better help you, too. Digestive problems are actually behind many health problems, ones you may never have considered.
You know the saying "You are what you eat." That's not really accurate. Remember this instead:
You are what you digest.
When I write "digestion," you might think of the elimination part of the process. So if you're regular on the toilet, you pat yourself on the back and say that you have good digestion. But there's more to the story.
Digestion is the breakdown of your food into water and nutrients and their absorption into your body before eliminating the subsequent waste and toxins. It's the whole process. And if it's not all working up to par, you're going to end up with health problems.
You would expect digestive trouble to affect your stomach and intestines. Bloating, gas, pain, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, and/or constipation are common symptoms. But there are other signs that you may not consider. This is what happened to me. I didn't put them together until it was too late.
Unusual ways that poor digestion can show up
I can't remember how many moisturizers I've thrown away because I thought they were giving me little bumps on my forehead or occasional rashes on my limbs. Because they would clear up after I quit using the lotion, I thought I was on the right track. But my dermatologist told me that contact dermatitis is immediate and unmistakable. The actual cause of my skin problems is poor digestion. In fact, acne, redness and rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dry skin are all symptoms of poor gut function. For me, it's one of the early warning signs that something's going awry.
Both asthma and allergies are diseases of inflammation and overactive immune systems. Having leaky gut and food sensitivities (they go hand-in-hand) negatively impact both of these. Cultivating a diverse microbiome is an important part of helping your immune system function correctly. If you find yourself reaching for your inhaler or allergy meds more frequently, look to what's going on with your digestion.
Since so many things can affect your energy levels, you may not consider your digestion. But if it's off, there's a good chance you're not absorbing all of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals necessary from your food. Depending on how nutrient-rich your diet had (or hadn't) been leading up to your digestive woes, you could be experiencing some deficiencies that affect the energy of your body.
Also, if your body is struggling with any phase of digestion, that takes energy that can't be used elsewhere.
Remember how your intestines are your primary immune organs? When your digestion's off, your adrenal glands can have difficulty producing both DHEA and cortisol. These "stress" hormones promote cell growth and repair, so having less of them in your system creates a vicious circle.
Good digestion also plays an important role in the proper excretion of excess estrogen from your body. Estrogen dominance can cause weight gain, headaches, mood swings, exhaustion (along with trouble sleeping), and low libido.
Finally, melatonin is also produced in the stomach when we eat. In this form, it regulates the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. So, just like with the stress hormones, not producing enough melatonin creates a vicious circle.
Once you understand how important your digestive process is, I'm sure you'll want to know how to optimize yours. I'll go into more detail about this in next week's post, but for now let me leave you with the basics for healing your gut and improving your digestive process.
3 Key Steps for Optimizing Your Digestion
Eliminate what's bothering you.
Whether it's food sensitivities, mold exposure, lack of hydration, and/or too much stress, this is the first step you need to address. The more potential causes you can get rid of, the better. Your digestive process can't improve if you keep putting it in defense mode.
In general, give yourself at least two weeks for this step to begin healing your gut.
Support your system.
You want to soothe your digestive system while giving it time to repair. Eat smaller meals than usual, focusing on cooked foods which are easier for you to digest. Chew thoroughly. Adding a tablespoon or two of collagen peptides is very gut-healing (you can add it to your coffee or tea). Digestive enzyme supplements and/or bitters added to plain or soda water can also help.
In addition to these Nourish Facet tips, self-care is important. Epsom salt soaks, bodywork, acupuncture, and easy walks in nature are all beneficial.
Rebuild your microbiome
Try a probiotic and/or add more cultured foods to your diet. You also want to make sure you're eating a small amount of starchy vegetable daily to give your new healthy bacteria the fiber they need to thrive.
Proceed carefully with this step. If you notice any problematic digestive symptoms, back off of this step for a day or two and then reintroduce the probiotic or fermented food in a smaller dose (if possible). Your microbiome is highly unique and this step needs to be highly individualized to your needs.
That's it for now. Be sure to check back next week for a more in-depth look at optimizing your gut health....