Digestive Health

by Steven Carney on August 16, 2012

A while ago, I caught the end of a probiotics presentation and it reminded me to do a post on digestive health. I’ve told many people that a significant portion of your immunity (up to 70%) is based in your digestive tract.

I know we all forget about those bacteria, including their variety and huge numbers, plus the incredible contribution they make to digesting our food! We can only break down and absorb nutrients (amino acids, carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc.), with the help of those billions of gut bacteria in the small and large intestine (also called flora).

For your digestive and immune systems to work effectively, you need the right mix of bacteria (some common types are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria). And many of the nutritional recommendations I give clients and include in my posts will help you have the right mix and variations of healthy bacteria! For example, have plenty of:

  • Veggies and fruits for their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and especially fiber
  • Nuts, also high in vitamins, minerals, healthy proteins and fiber
  • Yogurt, especially low-sugar, Greek yogurt (proteins and healthy bacteria) and kefir.
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, olives and some cheeses.
  • Green and white tea, high in polyphenols.
  • Herbs and spices like oregano, turmeric and black pepper (antimicrobial properties)

Did you know that healthy nutrition and activity can help your good bacteria to be healthy? And that same healthy lifestyle can help the good bacteria kill off and control the bad bacteria that might slip in. Hence, your gut flora really are a critical part of your immune system and your overall health!

Foods and drugs that harm digestion

Many foods and drugs common to American and western diets are bad for gut flora and overall health. Things to avoid are:

  • Sugar and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which feed unhealthy bacteria and yeast
  • Refined carbs (feeds unhealthy bacteria)
  • Processed foods (can disrupt bacterial balance)
  • Fast foods/fried foods (also feeds unhealthy bacteria)
  • Antibiotics (kills both good and bad bacteria)
  • Antacids (lowers stomach acid/helps harmful bacteria to grow)

Common digestive problems

Sometimes, problems like lactose intolerance, food allergies and stress can also upset your digestive system. Gluten intolerance (from wheat and other grains) can also harm gut ecology and cause bloating, indigestion and other symptoms. Some experts say that iodine deficiency and thyroid problems are part of these issues.

A related problem for many is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and it affects mostly women. Common symptoms can range from bloating, cramps, abdominal pressure/pain to alternating diarrhea and constipation.

Although IBS appears to have some trigger foods (dairy, wheat and food intolerance, etc.), one of the biggest causes is bacterial overgrowth and inflammation in the small intestine, often caused by the wrong foods and drugs listed above. Stress is also a contributor to IBS because the digestive tract, hormone systems and brain are strongly interconnected. Stress hormones like cortisol can negatively affect gut function. Another thing to be aware of is that an unhealthy ecology in your digestive tract will cause your waste to have more odor. It all relates!

Given the complexity and nature of the digestive system, it’s another reason I help people to make small changes in their eating habits over a week or two. Drastic changes can shock your body, including your brain, hormonal and digestive systems, whereas smaller changes help in making transitions for nutrition and lifestyle.

Questions or comments? Drop me a line any time! You can comment on the post or send me a message (see icons at top right). And it you have any of these digestive problems, I’m happy to help you work through them. You can feel better in a week or two!

Helpful links:






A new research study from 9/30/13 that again shows the close integration of gut bacteria, immune function and health, including mood:


Another study from 11/1/13 showing what you eat contributes to whether you have good bacteria in your gut:


A new small human study from 12/2013 showing that a change in diet can change your gut bacteria in a few days:


© 2012 by Steve Carney/End Sickness Now


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