digestion

How to Naturally Support Stomach Acid Production

A lot of factors influence the amount of stomach acid or hydrochloric acid (HCI) our body produces. As we grow older, our bodies naturally produce less but this is also likely a function of our diet and lifestyles as well. Common factors that inhibit HCl production include stress, excess sugar and alcohol consumption, nutritional deficiencies or allergies.

HCl is a critically important part of digestion. It is a gastric secretion originated in the stomach that enables the body to break down proteins (into amino acids to be used for neurotransmitters), activate important enzymes and hormones, and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens, parasites and bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Given that HCl is such a critical part of the process at such an early stage, not having enough can really wreak havoc on the entire digestive chain.

 You might be surprised to know that symptoms of low stomach acid include heartburn, indigestion and bloating. Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that these symptoms are caused by too much stomach acid and doctors commonly provide us with prescriptions for antacids, H-2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors all of which are designed to reduce or block stomach acid. Most of the time, people with these symptoms actually have low stomach acid, and not high. These drugs end up masking the problem instead of actually trying to help it and often make the problem even worse.

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Other symptoms of low stomach acid may include a desire to eat when not hungry, a sense of fullness after meals, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea. So many of my clients have at least a couple of these symptoms. So how do we best support our bodies to allow them to naturally increase HCl production?  

Here are my top three suggestions to naturally and easily support HCl production without adding another supplement to your diet. All of these strategies will work best if done 10-15 minutes before you sit down to eat a meal.

  1. Drink warm water with lemon. This will stimulate the production of gastric juices. Use the juice of half a lemon, in warm, but not hot, pure, filtered water. This is my favorite way to start the morning and set myself up for good digestion throughout the day.

  2. Drink apple cider vinegar. Take one to two teaspoons diluted in about a half cup of room temperature water. The key here is, raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (preferably organic). 

  3.  Take bitters before meals. Bitter flavors stimulate the digestive flow, increasing the production of saliva and salivary amylase and triggering stomach acid and other digestive juices. Take about ¼ teaspoon of bitters before your meal (or suggested serving size) straight or diluted in a half cup of water. Make sure to use real bitters (my favorite is Urban Moonshine) that are made from organic ingredients and don’t contain fillers or additives. These days I keep the travel-sized bitters in my bag and use it on the go. Instead of the dropper, it is in a convenient spray able bottle. I use my larger bottle to refill the travel bottle when it runs low.

 These strategies are great for supporting your HCI production and digestion in general, but make sure that you are also in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state when you eat, eat slowly and chew your food well in order to truly fire up your digestion and have it function the way that it is meant to.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361959

https://nutritionreview.org/2018/11/gastric-balance-heartburn-caused-excess-acid/

Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You by Jonathan V. Wright

The Case for Consuming Collagen

Collagen is a group of proteins originated from the hides, hooves and bones of animals. It is the most abundant protein in the human body and an important building block. The amino acids present in collagen are the glue that holds our structure together and commonly supports the integrity of the skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, as well as parts of digestion. There are many different types of collagen in our body, but most are Type I, II or III, with the majority being Type I collagen.  In our twenties, the collagen in our bodies starts to decline, leading to stiffer joints, weaker bones, wrinkles, and sagging skin.

Our ancestors and traditional cultures around the world largely consumed collagen and gelatin too. No part of an animal was wasted and the bones were often used to make mineral rich and nutrient dense broths. These nutrients are not nearly as abundant in the modern diet as we are less likely to eat nose to tail. We tend to consume a lot of muscle meats (i.e. chicken breasts) which do not contain this important protein and rarely other parts of the animal. 

Two essential amino acids abundant in collagen are proline and glycine.  We need to consume them through our diet because our body cannot make them. Glycine is an amino acids with many functions. It helps build lean muscle mass and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Proline is important for stimulating collagen synthesis and works as an antioxidant by scavenging free radicals to prevent cell damage.  Both of these amino acids help heal the stomach and prevent stress-induced ulcers making them important for supporting digestion.

Collagen

My favorite way to get in this important nutrient is in homemade or high quality store bought bone broth.  Not everyone has the access or time to make their own broths and store bought broth can be quite pricy.  That’s where collagen powders come in.  They are an accessible way to replenish your body’s collagen supply from years of undereating natural sources of collage in an easy to consume powder form.  The collagen powders are tasteless, have no texture and easily blend right into foods and beverages. You can add it to your morning coffee or tea, smoothies, soups or other recipes. You can also bake with it. It’s important to note that many topical beauty products contain collagen, but they are not entirely effective. Collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin.  We need to consume it internally to get the benefits.

Collagen is not all created equal.  Like all of our food, the sourcing and quality of the collagen we consume matters, especially if it is something we utilize daily.  It is important to find a brand that sources their collagen peptides purely from grass-fed, pasture-raised cattle or from sustainable wild-caught fish.  This will ensure that the collagen you buy is pure and doesn’t contain toxins or additives and comes from healthy animals. 

Collagen is one of few supplements I believe everyone could benefit from taking daily, especially if you don’t have access to bone broth.  The benefits of consuming it are abundant. From more youthful looking skin to reducing inflammation, and supporting digestion, collagen is a nutritional powerhouse that is worth considering to support your health for the long term. Though please bear in mind that not all supplements are right for everyone.  If you are unsure if collagen is right for you, please check with your doctor or functional medicine practitioner.

Sources:

  • https://www.furtherfood.com/collagen/
  • https://www.vitalproteins.com/pages/why-collagen
  • https://www.peptan.com/science/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collagen

The Single Most Important Strategy to Support Your Digestion

The key to starting your digestion off on the right note isn’t the latest and greatest super food or supplement.  It is chewing, also known as mastication, and it’s the first and maybe the most important step in the digestive process. The way you chew and how long your chew, can significantly impact your digestion and your health in general.

Why?

Digestion is a very demanding task for the body and actually requires a great deal of energy.  Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to break down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine, particularly for fats and carbohydrates. Additionally, when you chew well your brain has more time to signal to the rest of the body to begin the process of digestion, providing the proper signaling for all of the different organs and hormones involved.

When food is in smaller pieces, it is easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from passing food and it also allows your body to more efficiently convert those nutrients to energy. The stomach may not be able to break down large particles of improperly chewed food.  In the small intestine, improperly digested food can ferment, putrefy or rancidify.  The bacteria will eventually begin to break down these particles which can lead to gas and bloating and other digestive problems.

Lastly, if you rush through your meal without chewing appropriately, you are not able to enjoy or even taste the food you are eating. Taking the time to properly chew your food, forces you to slow down and really enjoy all the flavors on your plate. Eating should be a relaxing, stress free, enjoyable time of the day.

 

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How?

Here are some guidelines to help ensure that you are chewing in a way that will support your digestion and overall health. Generally speaking, you will want to eat in a relaxed environment with minimal distractions. Eating in the car, while working or watching television is not conducive to proper chewing.

·        Take smaller bites of food

·        Chew slowly and carefully

·        Chew until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture

·        Swallow one bite completely before taking another bite

·        Drink fluids after swallowing, and take small sips only

Side note on gum chewing: Chewing gum disrupts the signaling of the entire digestive process and confuses the brain. When you chew gum, your brain activates enzyme and acid production and signals to the mouth and the stomach that food is about to enter your body. Given that there is no actual food following up the signaling, bloating can occur, an overproduction of stomach acid, and your ability to produce sufficient digestive secretions when you are actually eating food may be compromised.

Sources:

https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/31/chewing-foods.aspx

Natural Ways to Boost Immunity

It is definitely cold and flu season.  We just entered fall, and everyone in my house has already had their first cold of the season.  We all know the usual ways to boost immunity – loading up on zinc, echinacea, vitamin C to name just a few.  Our immune systems are complicated though and directly tied into lifestyle factors like stress and sleep given their relationship with our adrenal and digestive systems.  Here are some easy strategies to support your immune function throughout this season both before you are sick and when you have already come down with something.

1. Drink bone broth.  Broths have been used in traditional cuisines around the world for thousands of years. Properly prepared meat broths are extremely nutritious – containing minerals, electrolytes and gut healing gelatin from animal bones, cartilage, marrow and vegetables.  Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, found that the amino acids produced in the making of chicken bone broth reduced inflammation in the respiratory system and improved digestion. Bone broth supports normal immune system function (probably as a link to reduced inflammation in the gut) and reduce symptoms of allergies, asthma, and arthritis. Homemade is your best bet but Kettle and Fire makes an excellent shelf stable bone broth and Bonefide Provisions is distributed nationwide and can be found in the freezer section of some grocery stores.  Let’s face it, we don’t always have the time or the means to make it ourselves.

2. Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods go through a lactofermentation process where natural bacteria feed on sugars in the food, creating lactic acid.  The fermentation helps to preserve while creating beneficial enzymes, vitamins and various probiotic strains.  Probiotics not only introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of flora, they are also known to support the immune system by secreting antibacterial peptides capable of killing off harmful bacteria in the gut. They also help strengthen the barrier function of the intestinal lining, lowering the chance of bacteria entering into the blood stream. This function may decrease the chance of infections and immune related reactions, therefore supporting the immune system.  I like to eat my probiotics through eating foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, but a high quality grass fed or non-dairy yogurt can be helpful too, as are fermented drinks such as water kefir and kombucha (watch the sugar content).

3. Minimize refined sugars. According to a 1973 study by Loma Linda University, eating or drinking too much sugar reduces the ability of your white blood cells to kill germs and bacteria (possibly up to 50%) for at least a few hours after you consume it.  White blood cells need vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses and sugar impacts this process by competing with vitamin C for space in those cells. The more sugar in your system, the less you will uptake vitamin C into your white blood cells. Consuming sugar inhibits your body’s ability to fight off infection and keeps your immune system from doing its job.  Try to eat mostly natural sugars in the form of fruits, vegetables and properly prepared grains and legumes.  Aim to consume natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup in moderation.

4. Get outside. Not only can getting some sun help to naturally boost your vitamin D levels naturally (which supports the immune system), but physical activity may help to flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways thereby reducing your chances of getting sick. Moderate exercise also causes antibodies and white blood cells to become more active which may allow them to detect illnesses earlier. Some anecdotal evidence shows that the brief rise in body temperature during and after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and may help fight infection better (similar to how a fever works).  Moderate exercise or activity such as walking, yoga and light movement can be beneficial when you are sick, but listen to your body and do not overdo it. Too much and too extreme exercise could actually cause more harm than good.

Mug and Bed

 

5. Minimize stress. Stress can create physiological stress in our bodies, lowering our immune defenses and making us more vulnerable to illness. Stress is also known to lower our white blood cell’s ability to kill germs which can inhibit your recovery.  When you are feeling under the weather (or even when you are not), aim to get plenty of sleep and try to take some time off from work and other daily stressors. Meditation, yoga or a short walk may help to reduce stress and allow your body to heal faster. This is the time to catch up on your reading or podcast list or to veg out with your favorite Netflix show. I know that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a demanding job or are a parent, but your ability to rest will directly correlate to how quickly you are feeling better and back on your feet.

Resources:

https://draxe.com/the-healing-power-of-bone-broth-for-digestion-arthritis-and-cellulite/

https://www.enviromedica.com/probiotics-immune-system

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract

 Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

4 Simple Health Hacks

We are busy and most of us don’t have the time to dial up our health another notch. Here are four simple ways to help you on the journey to feeling your best without a huge time or resource commitment.

 

Bedroom
  1. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Sleep may be the most important thing in our health arsenal. It plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep gives your body more time to heal, repair, and detoxify from the day and can revitalize your brain, allowing your brain to form new pathways and perform better the following day. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To help you get to sleep earlier, try cutting your screen time short and unwind with light stretching, meditation, or a good book.
  2. Drink more water. I know you hear this message a lot, but are you really drinking enough water given your activity level and lifestyle? The general rule of thumb for daily water consumption is to drink half of your body weight in ounces plus an additional eight to 12 ounces for each diuretic beverage you consume. Diuretics include juices, coffee (even decaffeinated), most teas including some herbal teas (i.e., peppermint), and alcoholic beverages. One way I’ve found to easily get in all that I need is by drinking at least 12 ounces of water right before bed, another 12 or so upon waking, and then splitting up the rest throughout the day, especially between meals. Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go and track how many times you refill it. Spruce up plain water with lemon (which is especially great served warm in the morning for better digestion), sliced cucumber, mint, or berries. 
  3. Chew your food longer. This one isn’t entirely obvious but is so important. Chewing your food well not only ensures that the entire digestive process gets kicked off but also allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food. It makes digestion easier and reduces digestive issues like gas and bloating. Chewing slowly will also lead you to eat slower, providing your brain with the time it needs to register that you are starting to feel full. This simple act may keep you from overeating and help you to maintain your weight. As an added benefit, eating slower may actually allow you to enjoy your food and taste it better. 
  4. Incorporate more fermented foods into your diet. Many cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for generations – think sauerkraut in Germany and kimchi in Korea. Studies have shown a strong link between probiotic-rich foods and overall health. Sadly, with advances in technology and food preparation, these traditional foods are not as prevalent in today’s society. Not only are fermented foods rich in immune and gut-boosting probiotics, but they also contain beneficial digestive enzymes and a wide range of vitamins and minerals making them quite nutrient dense. Sauerkraut, for example, is rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, and the lesser known vitamin K, which is essential for bone health. Aim to eat or drink something fermented 2–3 times per day as a condiment. Try my easy sauerkraut recipe to get started.

Sources:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_K

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/31/chewing-foods.aspx