The Effect of Diet and Digestion on our Health
All of our health and well-being begins in our digestive tract. I will almost always remark to patients that “it’s digestion first, everything else second!”
Many doctors (at least those who practice a holistic approach to medicine) would agree that illness originates from our diet and digestive tract 95% of the time. Whether discussing autoimmune, neurological, mental health, or inflammatory conditions, or many other mild to severe disorders, its origins are in part or in whole reflected in the digestive tract.
For too long we have been told that diet has no bearing on disease. Even now, food we are being sold are less and less reflective of “real” food.
It seems remarkable that one should be asked to prove that our foods have a bearing on disease, when with only cursory thought one is left asking, “how could it not?!”
Our foods become the building materials we use to repair injuries and regenerate new tissues. Our food becomes us! Each and every day we build a billion new cells in our body to replace the billion that have reached the end of their lifespan. These cells are built from our foods, and the better quality foods with the most diverse and healthy nutrients, the heathier the cell we build. The healthier the cell, the better it performs its functions, the better that tissue works (consider the brain for example), and the better we feel. Multiply this over a billion cells and over a stretch of time, we build ourselves a body resistant to injury and resilient against fatigue and wear.
Given the poor quality of foods easily available to us in shops, restaurants, and even grocery stores, one has to wonder how we can be expected to feel well and thrive. Considering the void of nutrients, excess of sugars or unhealthy fats – all factors known to lead to disease – how does one still maintain the argument that the foods we eat do not contribute to disease?
There are mountains of research that exist demonstrating less disease with various dietary habits. Those with more fibre in the diet are less likely to develop Crohn’s Disease. Those with more fruits and vegetables in their diets are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease or Coronary Artery Disease. The list goes on and on. It therefore follows that diet needs to be corrected in order to heal, just like we need to stop pouring fuel on the fire before we can hope to put it out.
Certain conditions have strongly linked origins in the digestive tract, even if no symptoms of digestive malfunction are apparent. One may have normal, healthy bowel movements, no bloating or gas, or other irritating symptoms. Nonetheless, small changes to the bacterial ecology, the integrity of the intestinal membrane, and the essential absorption of nutrients still triggers disease and leads to significant illness.
As mentioned earlier, it is digestion first, and everything else second. The links between the digestive tract and chronic disease are only now becoming more clearly understood. Research is relentlessly pursuing the role of the microbiome (bacteria and other species living in and on our bodies) in the development of disease. In fact, an overwhelming amount of research funding in microbiology is going to better understand this very relationship.
The interaction between our bacteria and our bodies are inseparable. One influences the other. If the bacterial species have tended toward the less helpful and more harmful, then that can spell trouble for our wellbeing. It has already become clear that diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons are linked to certain abnormal bacterial ecologies in the gut. The same is true for anxiety and depression, obesity and heart disease, and the clinical triad of eczema, allergy, and asthma.
Treating the underlying cause of disease is the central feature of Naturopathic medicine and for the reasons made clear above, our diets and our digestive tracts are often the central focus in the origin of disease.
~ Dr. Colin Race