Here’s a quiz question for you: Which function or condition do you rank as the most important for your health? Nutrition? Digestion? Physical fitness?

Did you rank Digestion as #1? Of course you need all three to enjoy optimal health, but if I had to put them in order of importance, digestion would top my list.

Poor digestion doesn’t just make you feel rotten, it interferes with the absorption of nutrients, makes you more vulnerable to disease and invites food allergies or intolerances. It’s nearly impossible to have good health without good digestion as a foundation.

Are you Low in Hydrochloric Acid?

Now there’s a question you can use an icebreaker at your next party! It’s also an important question for your health. You’ll never hear this in a television ad, but it’s the truth. Most people over the age of 50 have low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is the main digestive agent in the stomach.

Heartburn, belching, bloating or a heavy feeling after eating are classic signs of too little HCl. If you can feel that most of your meal is still in your stomach more than 45 minutes after eating a normal meal, your stomach is working inefficiently.
First off, I think it’s a great idea for everyone to stimulate the digestive juices by drinking a glass of water a half hour before eating. As I noted in last month’s article on vinegar, some people swear by a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in one-third cup of water before a meal. The vinegar may provide your stomach with enough additional acidity for quick, easy digestion.

If you’re still experiencing symptoms, try a supplement of betaine hydrochloride. Start by taking one tablet of approximately 300mg with food. You may increase the dosage to 2 or 3 tablets per meal. If you feel a burning sensation in your stomach, you’re taking too much. Some brands combine HCl with pepsin, a digestive enzyme, but I recommend you start with plain betaine hydrochloride and see how it works.

(Don’t take vinegar or start HCl supplements while you have an active case of heartburn. That will only irritate your system further).

Next Stop: Small Intestines

Can you imagine, you have about 22 feet of small intestine inside of you! Virtually all absorption of nutrients takes place in the small intestines. Food becomes useful to the body only after its components have been broken down – the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Only then can the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients be released to do their good work. The catalyst for the digestive activity in the small intestines is digestive enzymes. I can’t miss the opportunity to get on my soap box about what I call the Standard American Diet or SAD. The enzymes you need for digestion are made by our body and found in fresh, raw food. Since the Standard American Diet doesn’t include fresh raw foods, it’s easy to be deficient in these ever important enzymes. (Another good reason to eat a green salad every day). Plus, you tend to produce fewer enzymes as you get older. If you have gas, bloating, or cramps after eating, or if your food sits in your stomach for more than 45 minutes, you may be a candidate for a digestive enzyme supplement. Long-term overuse of antacids also can block your digestive enzymes.

Each digestive enzyme breaks down a specific food type for absorption. Be sure to take a digestive enzyme that includes the three major types of enzymes: amylase (carbo- hydrate-digesting), protease or proteolytic (protein-digesting), and lipase (fat-digesting). If you want help digesting the lactose in dairy products, get an enzyme supplement that contains lactase.

You can find digestive enzymes at most health food stores. Take them just before or with meals. I recommend Nutri-Zyme – available exclusively from NutriCell Health (30 capsules for $29.99). Nutri-Zyme contains the highest quality plant-based enzymes available anywhere. In fact, you get 7 powerful enzymes to help break down proteins… fats… dairy… fiber… and carbohydrates for your body to digest.

The Ever Important Colon

During the last stages of digestion, what was once food is now mostly waste products, fiber and water. The colon, in contrast to the germ-free stomach, is heavily populat- ed with bacteria, both “friendly” and “unfriendly”. In a healthy system, the friendly bacteria run the show in the colon, keeping the undesirable bacteria under control. Probiotics are the friendly or “good” bacteria found in your intestines, as well as the mouth, the urinary tract, and the vagina.

Your overall health is closely tied to the health of these bacteria. Among other things, they manufacture the B vitamins, reduce cholesterol, and help balance hormones. And of course, they play a major role in digestion and elimination.

A deficiency of probiotics can cause allergies, arthritis, skin problems, and candida (yeast infection in the vagina or intestines caused by an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria).

The surest way to get in trouble with your friendly bacteria is to take antibiotics, which kill all the bacteria in the system. Always follow antibiotic treatment with at least two weeks of probiotics. Steroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, can also upset the balance of intestinal flora.

Probiotics decline as we age, so it’s important to add probiotic supplements to your diet or eat daily unsweetened, preferably organic, yogurt with live cultures (this is listed on the label). Many supermarkets and health food stores also sell “acidophilus” a milk product containing live cultures. If you want to try a supplement, keep in mind that probiotics are “alive” and have a shelf life of only a few months. Please stick to reputable brands. I recommend BactiPlus from Nutricell Health (30 capsules, $39.99). This formula is 100% safe, drug-free and affordable.

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