More than just your gut is affected by your digestive health. In fact, your digestive health affects your mental and physical health, too. Everything that we take into our bodies goes through our intestines and our gut, and as such, our diet and lifestyle has a huge effect on our digestion. Unfortunately, around 40% of us have digestive problems at any one time. In fact, you might not be fully aware of the symptoms you have: indigestion, change in bowel habit, tummy ache. Most are caused by the foods we eat, our lifestyle and our stress levels, which is good news in the sense that it means we can remedy them easily enough. This article will give you a bit of information about digestive health and what you can do to improve it.
Friendly Bacteria: Acidophilus
You’ve probably heard of acidophilus, but do you know what exactly it is and what it does? Acidophilus is a natural bacteria found in the body, particularly, in the intestines. It’s also known as a ‘friendly bacteria’. It’s a good bacteria, and is integral to helping with promoting the growth of good bacteria, while also helping to reduce inflammation of the intestines. It is also thought to aid in the reduction of bacterial vaginosis, as it is also produced naturally there. However, many food and drinks which are labelled as ‘fibres’ often don’t come under the World Health Organisation’s definition of fibres which is ‘live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’.
There have been extensive studies carried out as to the health benefits and importance of acidophilus. It is used primarily in the prevention and treatment of diarrhoea; for people with diarrhoea as a result of antibiotics, acidophilus showed a 52% reduction. Acidophilus also reduced diarrhoea in children by 57%. Likewise, acidophilus has been studied for use by people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While the A.acidophilus tends not to completely alleviate the symptoms of IBS, it has been helpful in reducing inflammation of the gut, treating abdominal pain, and reducing bloating.
Enzymes: Papain and Bromelain
Digestive enzymes are hugely important to digestive health, and perhaps even more important than friendly bacteria. Bromelain and papain are two digestive enzymes that help the body to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Bromelain is naturally found in pineapple, and breaks down and absorbs protein. That means that it has a huge effect on overall digestive health, because it also reduces inflammation. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, bromelain has been known to improve symptoms of digestive conditions caused by inflammation such as Crohn’s Disease. Papain is found in the papaya tree, and like bromelain, has been used as a medicine for centuries. Papain has been used to treat pain and swelling, and is therefore helpful in the treatment of digestive discomfort, particularly diarrhea.
Friendly Bacteria vs. Enzymes
Friendly bacteria and enzymes are integral to digestive health, but for different reasons. Both have an affect on the digestion and absorption of nutrients, but they work in different ways to ensure your body is healthy. Therefore, you need a balance of both friendly bacteria and digestive enzymes or optimum digestive and intestinal health.
Digestive enzymes work to break down the food we eat into the components that are then absorbed and used by the body. They work throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract, but are found mostly in the stomach and upper parts. Friendly bacteria on the other hand, are more plentiful in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Friendly bacteria are living organisms which produce byproducts that are hugely important. These byproducts balance the digestive environment and stop the growth of harmful bacteria. We actually inherit our friendly bacteria from our mothers, and are not in infinite supply and could be lost by poor diet or antibiotic use.
Enzymes are also proteins, which means they are large chain molecules made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. These amino acids help with the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and also with alleviating lactose intolerance. Our bodies produce digestive enzymes, and are very rarely needed to be taken in supplement form. Not only that, but they probably wouldn’t work as supplements because the body would just digest them. However, friendly bacteria can be obtained through food, particularly through fermented dairy products.
If you have persistent heartburn, tummy pain after meals, skin rashes, headaches or brain fog then you might need more digestive enzymes. If you have IBS, bloating, fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot) or allergies, then you might benefit from friendly bacteria. Both enzymes and friendly bacteria can help with overall gut health, but they affect the gut and digestion in different ways, so a balance of both is necessary. If you eat pineapples and papaya, you will increase your intake of the enzymes papain and bromelain, while yoghurt contains friendly bacteria. There are supplements available also, if you don’t like the taste of the foods mentioned above.
Our digestive health impacts on our overall health and well being, and is affected by it because everything we eat passes through our digestive systems. Therefore, our diet and lifestyle are hugely important to maintaining proper digestive health. Our bodies naturally produce digestive enzymes and bacteria in order to keep our gut healthy. However, there are a number of things which can cause, or be caused by an imbalance of the friendly bacteria and enzymes in our guts. These range from bloating and gas to change in bowel habits, fatigue and more. The most important thing is to have a healthy diet, with a variety of different foods that provide a balance of vitamins and minerals.