Probiotics, prebiotics, symbiotics, enzymes… Supporting your gut and digestive health can be complicated!
We asked our amazing naturopath, Kelly McGillivray, about which products can make supporting your gut health as easy as 1-2-3. We jumped straight into step number 1 – digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes are the substances that help us break down our food into the smallest building blocks possible. Only then, can our bodies use these nutrients for the many growth and repair processes it carries out.
When people think about digesting food, they probably think first of their stomachs. But the truth is, digestion starts in your mouth! Hunger triggers a reflex that causes your salivary glands to start producing saliva. Saliva contains the first lot of digestive enzymes food encounters on its journey through your body.
Food contains the macronutrients fat, protein and carbohydrate. Our bodies produce enzymes that specifically break up each of these food types. Take a carrot, for instance. Carrots are carbohydrates. Enzymes called amylases break down carbohydrate foods into sugars and starches, the smallest building blocks our body can then use. Saliva contains amylase so this is where carbohydrate digestion starts.
Protein digestion starts in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid activates the enzyme pepsin which starts to break down protein foods (eg, chicken) into amino acids.
Our pancreas is chiefly responsible for producing digestive enzymes. It produces a swag of them, including amylase for carbohydrates, trypsin for proteins, and lipase for fats. A healthy pancreas makes on average 1-2L of digestive enzyme juices a day!
Our small intestine is the other major area for food breakdown. The cells that line this area also produce enzymes. It’s also the main location in the body to absorb food building blocks for our bodies to use.
They’re step one because the first job our body does is break food down into the smallest possible unit. Only then can our bodies use the food we consume as cellular fuel.
Good health requires optimal digestion – and digestion is the process of breaking down and then absorbing what we eat. If we can’t properly break down the food we eat, then every process that occurs after that will be compromised. This means we won’t be able to adequately absorb nutrients. And, if we can’t absorb the nutrients we need, then ultimately our health may suffer.
Firstly, some people’s powers of digestion might not be cutting the mustard – excuse the pun! They may regularly experience digestive issues such as:
Other common indicators that digestion needs some support include:
Digestive enzymes can help to break down difficult-to-digest nutrients associated with common digestive symptoms. To support optimal nutrient absorption we need to ensure optimum nutrient breakdown. This is where supplementing with additional digestive enzymes can help.
Step 2 is healing and sealing the gut. It’s the second step because large, undigested food molecules can irritate and inflame the cells that line our digestive tract. This might happen if we regularly eat foods that don’t agree with us, or that we can’t properly break down.
This leads to unpleasant symptoms and potential health problems. Over time, this can be damaging, causing the cells that line our gut to become ‘leaky’. A leaky gut sets the scene for ongoing inflammation and worsening of food sensitivities. It can also trigger the immune system to become over-reactive which can lead to other health problems.
The small intestine is the location for nutrient breakdown and absorption. But it also provides a physical barrier from pathogens and toxins from the outside world.
Think of the cells that line the digestive tract like a brick wall. Digestive cells known as enterocytes are the ‘bricks’. They are lined up in an orderly pattern and held tightly together by ‘mortar’ which are adhesion molecules called ‘tight junctions’. In a sense, the tight junction ‘glue’ enterocytes together. When these tight junctions fail, enterocytes start to move away from each other. Suddenly, your ‘strong brick wall’ is becoming crumbly and ready to fall!
When this happens, you have increased intestinal permeability, otherwise known as ‘leaky gut’. With it, we are at risk of absorbing larger, non-broken down food molecules. Worse still, larger substances like microbes or allergens, that ordinarily would be too big to pass, may also get through. These large substances passing into the bloodstream triggers the immune system to a state of alarm.
A protective coating of mucous lines the intestinal tract. This helps to protect the cells that lie below them from attack. It also provides a habitat for the trillions of gut microbiota that call our intestines ‘home’.
So ‘healing’ and ‘sealing’ incorporates the actions of:
The ingredients in Gut Health combine all the actions needed to help heal and seal the gut. This, in turn, supports the integrity of a healthy gut. It helps keep it strong and provides soothing protection against unpleasant gastro and digestive symptoms. A healthy digestive tract equals healthy digestion. This is critical to providing our bodies with the nutrients needed to live well.
Seed the gut! This means repopulating the gut with a broad spectrum of beneficial bacteria. Encouraging the growth of diverse, intestinal gut flora supports optimum health.
A leaky gut breeds an overgrowth of unfriendly gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis. The two go hand-in-hand and pave the way for poor health outcomes. Thus, no solution is complete without looking at both issues – poor gut integrity and an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.
We’ve just looked at how we can support the strength and integrity of our gut lining. Now we turn to improving the balance of good bacteria in our gut. A probiotic supplement makes it easy to get guaranteed levels of beneficial bacteria. And you don’t have to eat mountains of yoghurt or fermented foods either!
Probiotics support the balance of healthy gut flora and supports the gastrointestinal barrier function. It can also be helpful during times when levels of intestinal flora are low. This occurs when we consume substances that have a negative impact on both the quality and variety of gut species. Examples include medications, alcohol, processed foods, toxins, pesticides or chemical exposure, even stress.
Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, support our digestive health in several ways:
Of course, you can take any one of these supplements alone for certain purposes to good effect. But for the best effect taking them together contributes much more widely and deeply to health.
Optimal digestion occurs when food travels easily and smoothly along a digestive tract with a healthy gut lining and plenty of good gut bacteria. All nutrients are properly extracted and processed efficiently for use by the body. And the resulting waste is eliminated without any digestive symptoms.
Life should be that easy! But so many of us are suffering from niggly symptoms that make life more difficult than it should be. If digestive distress is getting you down, take the 1, 2, 3 Gut Challenge and see how well you can feel!
Thanks to Kelly for answering our questions! If you have a question about your digestive system get in touch and we could answer it next time. Please always remember to read or product labels and use only as directed. If your symptoms persist, get in touch with your health professional. Our Vitamins & Supplements should not replace a varied diet.
The Nutra-Life team x