Parties and family gatherings are sure to follow in the weeks ahead. These are undeniably taxing times for your digestive system. Luckily, following just a few basic guidelines can go a long way in the effort to keep your gut trouble-free, no matter how challenging the holiday months may be.
The strong relationship between digestion and overall health is emphasized as one of the central schools of thought in Traditional Chinese Medicine—the Spleen/Stomach school, or in simpler terms, the digestive school. This practice looks at health and disease as a reflection of the balance and health of the digestive system.
For example, we now know that the digestive system goes well beyond digestion. Important functional and regulatory aspects of the endocrine/hormonal system and the immune system also take place in the digestive system. Both the naturally acidic environment of your stomach and immune-cell-rich mucosal lining of the digestive tract combine to form a strong barrier against a variety of food-borne bacteria.
Your intestines also play host to hundreds of different natural microorganisms, including germs against which your body produces antibodies. The result is secretory IgA, a crucial immune substance that resides in your saliva, tears, and other mucous membranes, where it acts as your first line of defense against invading pathogens—including colds and the flu. This can explain how and why simple dietary changes can have such a profound effect on our health and wellbeing.
According to TCM, digestive problems are a result of “digestive weakness”—a condition that can be inherent as part of our constitution, but more often acquired as part of our lifestyle and dietary habits. The weakness is seen as reduced digestive “heat.” In Western terms, this heat can be understood as pertaining to essential enzymatic and secretory activity. As such, any conditions that might “cool down” the digestive system can contribute significantly to the problem of sluggish and impaired digestion. Some of the most common causes of this type of cooling include excessive eating, late meals, rushed eating, and stress—all of which are even more commonplace during the winter holidays.
Simply taking the time to slow down and mindfully eat your meals (as hard as it can be when you’re busy) could make a big difference in your effort to stay healthy. But remember that the food that you eat is responsible for telling your digestive system what to do—and if it’s not receiving proper direction in the way of natural whole foods, it’s not going to function correctly. That’s why a fiber-rich, organic, nutritious and balanced diet can go a long way in helping you to achieve this goal.
Plenty of fresh, clean water is also key, as your body needs ample amounts of fluid to form the saliva and gastric and intestinal secretions that are crucial to digestion. You want to avoid putting your water on ice, however—beverages that are too cold will further reduce the “heat” you want to restore. Warm beverages such as herbal tea or hot water with lemon are best.
Supplements are especially important for digestive health, as they are often used to support components of our digestion that not functioning optimally. Probiotics and prebiotics are two of the most important supplements you can take to help restore healthy digestion. Probiotics provide live strains of friendly flora to balance the bad bacteria in your gut that can contribute to chronic diarrhea, flatulence, or constipation. Prebiotics, on the other hand, will ensure that your friendly flora are provided with the proper environment in which they can thrive.
Herbal support is probably the most helpful for restoring digestive strength. In my clinic, I like to use an integrative digestive tonic based on ancient Eastern digestive herbal formulas, which integrates herbs, digestive enzymes, medicinal mushrooms, and minerals as well as other components. The unique feature of this formula is that it addresses the root causes of weak digestion, while simultaneously addressing common issues that result from such weakness as I discussed above. That’s why you can also expect improvement in any number of conditions related to poor digestion—from skin allergies, fatigue and retention of fluids, to cold hands and feet.
If you’d like a more detailed description of my natural strategies for eliminating chronic digestive problems, I invite you to download my free report on the subject here. As always, I encourage you to share its contents with anyone seeking strong digestion, a healthy gut, and an immune system functioning at its peak throughout the holiday season and well beyond.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980's, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.
Since 1991 Dr. Eliaz has maintained a busy private practice in northern California that focuses primarily on integrative, holistic protocols for cancer patients. He leads an integrative medical team at Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, California with focus on cancer and other chronic ailments.
To learn more, please visit www.dreliaz.org.
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