Better Digestion

Better Digestion

David J. Zeiger, D.O.

Do you eat to live or live to eat? For many the most immediate response would be a rousing vote for the sheer pleasures of enjoying a good meal. On the other hand, it is also a well-accepted fact that if not for food, one’s health if not life is at risk. The vitamins, minerals and enzymes in the food we eat are crucial to maintaining health and preventing illness. But eating a healthy diet is only the first step towards wellness. A person can be equally as nutritionally deficient on a diet rich as well as poor in minerals, vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates. How our entire gastrointestinal tract functions (in digestion, absorption, and assimilation) from our stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver down through the large colon will determine our nutritional status.

The small intestine contains friendly bacteria and other mechanisms that break down food and absorb nutrients. There is also an immune system barrier so that toxins or foreign substances from your food are broken down and metabolized. Those that don’t get metabolized completely in the small intestine then go on to the liver for their eventual degradation. Your liver and your small intestine are mutually supportive of one another: your intestine is your first line of defense from ingested particles while your liver is your first line of defense from things you take through your blood stream.

Changes in Diet

Major diet changes or certain medications (such as anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, female hormones or drugs for seizures) can disrupt normal bowel function. The result can be “leaky bowel syndrome” which occurs when cell integrity and cell walls break down. Foreign toxins in the food will start to leak through the small intestine and your body will not get the nutritional support that it needs. Your immune system will also be under attack by toxins that come in from your food and your environment.

Normal Friendly Bacteria

Bad eating habits and these medications can destroy the normal friendly bacteria (E. coli) in the gut which are important for good health. Years ago, an increase of fiber in the diet was found to prevent bowel cancer. The reason is that the normal friendly bacteria in your gut chew on or live off of fiber, thereby producing butyric acid. Butyric acid is a nutrient for the bowel and the bowel wall. When you produce enough butyric acid and other nutrients, you’re able to prevent the formation of abnormal cells in the bowel wall and consequently, you reduce the formation of cancer. Also these friendly bacteria make B vitamins and Vitamin K (which controls blood clotting).

Diet and Nutrition

It is very important that you be aware of good nutrition, which encompasses a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, very little red meat, low (or no) alcohol and no caffeine. Exercise including maintenance of the abdominal walls and muscles is also very important for good bowel tone. Some food groups such as dairy and certain wheat-based products are not good to eat because they act like “glue”; over a period of time, they will start to coat the intestinal wall and decrease the absorption of nutrients.

Spare Your Liver

It is not recommended that you stay on any medication, even over-the-counter medication, for extended periods of time without a physician’s supervision. Certain drugs destroy the first phase of liver detoxification and inhibit the enzyme system from breaking down toxins in your body. When that occurs, you are more susceptible to environmental toxins (such as organophosphates and pesticides) that exist in the environment which can be absorbed through air, food or through your skin. Your liver has to get rid of them or they go into your blood stream.

For example, Tagamet is now an over-the-counter drug taken by many people to treat heartburn. Heartburn is one of the most common problems that afflict people almost on a daily basis, yet if people start taking Tagamet on a continual basis, they will basically poison their liver. There was an article in the New York Times many years ago about a chemist who was on Tagamet for an ulcer. He was outside spraying his yard with a pesticide. He absorbed the pesticide through his skin and poisoned himself. He almost died because his liver couldn’t get rid of the poison.


Unfortunately, the medical community is just becoming aware of a lot of these things, and now more physicians are beginning to educate themselves and their patients as to what alternatives they have. Symptoms of nutritional deficiency can range from chronic fatigue, muscle cramps, recurrent upper respiratory infections, failing memory, insomnia, to mood swings. A good place to start is to talk with your friendly neighborhood holistic physician.
Page modified on 5/15/2011

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