by Jo Jordan and Jim Danna, M.A.
We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Never was there a truer statement. Everything we do in life depends upon our digestive system’s ability to derive nutrition from what we consume.
But how does the digestive system work? What is the brain-gut connection all about, and how does it affect mood, health, and just about everything else? And what are the necessary ingredients for a healthy digestive system?
The answers lie within your belly…
Digestive Diseases & Disorders
The list of ailments linked to a malfunctioning digestive system is long and varied. It includes:
- Acid Reflux
- Celiac disease
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Gluten intolerance
- Helicobacter pylori (peptic ulcers)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome (SIBO)
If you think you have a digestive disorder, it’s important to learn how the digestive system works in order to figure out how to minimize symptoms or – in some cases – alleviate a problem completely.
Digestion begins in your saliva, breaking down the carbohydrates and fats in your food; the action of chewing starts the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach. Mucosa in the mouth, stomach, and small intestine contain tiny glands that produce juices to help digest food.
Digestive enzymes play a major role in breaking down food into nutrients that can be absorbed by your body. Once food has entered the stomach, various enzymes work to continue digestion. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are broken down in preparation for absorption.
A layer of smooth muscle in the digestive tract also helps break down food, and move it along. Most of the absorption process takes place in the small intestine. Additional enzymes produced by the intestinal lining break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The liver produces bile to help with the absorption of fats.
The result of this entire process is that food is reduced to sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids…the fuel that your body runs on. Once absorption has taken place, the remainder waits in the large intestine (the colon) to be expelled in the form of stool.
Hydrochloric Acid (HCl)
But enzymes aren’t the only substance a body needs to process food. The stomach requires a mixture of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to format food into nutrients. Pepsin – an enzyme produced by the body – needs an extremely acidic environment in order to do its work. As we age, a variety of factors – over-use of medications and poor diet, for example – can catch up with us, and result in low stomach acid (low levels of HCl).
Without an adequate amount of HCl, the digestion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat cannot be properly completed. The stomach needs HCl for protection against bacterial and fungal overgrowth (bacteria and fungus cannot thrive in an acidic environment). HCl also helps the body to properly absorb essential vitamins and minerals.
Also referred to as gut flora, microflora, bacteria, and probiotics, intestinal flora plays a vital role in the fermentation and digestion of carbohydrates, and aids in the digestion of fats and proteins.
Bacteria populations that live in the gut are a combination of both good and bad bacteria; a balance between the two is necessary for an optimal state of health. They help with digestion, detoxification, metabolism, and ensuring balanced immunological responses to potential allergens.
Bad bacteria include those that cause disease such as Salmonella, Clostridium, and others. They only become problematic, however, when their numbers grow large and uncontrollable in proportion to that of good bacteria. Even yeasts such as Candida are healthy in small amounts.
Good bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and others. They help us digest food, maintain a healthy gut, provide us with nutrients and vitamins, and fight off bad bacteria. Good bacteria can be taken as a probiotic supplement.
Good gut flora helps prevent bloating, gas, and yeast overgrowth because they maintain intestinal acidity at a healthy pH level. They manufacture certain vitamins, help prevent disease by depriving unwanted bacteria of nutrients, and secrete acids that bad bacteria have difficulty coping with.
Serotonin: The Brain-Gut Connection
Another vital aspect of our digestive system is its role in the production of serotonin – the body’s natural “Feel Good Hormone”. Over ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which has been called the body’s “second brain”1 because of its role in serotonin production and so many of the body’s vital functions. In fact, serotonin levels have been linked to everything from autism to constipation.
Serotonin is a key player in the functioning of GI tract muscles, causing the contraction of our intestines, and triggering the gut nerves which signal pain, nausea, and other GI problems. As well, it influences the functioning of the cardiovascular, immune, and renal systems. This amazing hormone also regulates aggression, appetite, cognition, mood, sexual behavior, and even sleep.
A neurotransmitter (chemical by which nerve cells communicate with each other or with muscles), serotonin is manufactured in our bodies from the amino acid tryptophan, which is derived from the food we eat. Diet, then, influences not only the state of our digestive system and overall physical health, it also has a profound impact on memory, mental clarity, mood, and even the foods we crave; these functions are all regulated by serotonin.
- The Mayo Clinic found that serotonin plays a key role in controlling depression.2
- The Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal reports that tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is manufactured, assists in memory retention as well as maintaining a good mood, especially among people with a family history of depression.3
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center research sheds light on how serotonin works to suppress appetite.4
Optimal nutrition and digestion is crucial to the production and function of serotonin and that, in turn, plays a vital role in everything from our mental health to our ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Diet Is Vital to Serotonin Production
Nutrition is vital not only to our physical health; it’s necessary to a properly functioning digestive system capable of producing sufficient amounts of serotonin. A diet of “real food” – one rich in organic fruits and vegetables and free of trans fats, refined wheat and sugar – goes a long way toward preventing the build up of toxins in the colon. And when it comes to serotonin production, the importance of raw foods for their nutrient value and serotonin-boosting properties cannot be over stated.
Our bodies require serotonin as well as tryptophan, the amino acid from which it is manufactured.
Tips for Ensuring Adequate Serotonin Levels
- Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B to help with serotonin production.
- If you cannot get fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, opt for frozen over canned.
- Omega-3, omega-6, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) are required for serotonin production. GLA is found in black currant seed, borage, evening primrose, and hemp seed5 oils. Click here for a list of omega-3 and -6 sources.
- Healthy carbohydrates and proteins help metabolize foods high in the agents responsible for serotonin production.
- Avoid white flour and sugar carbohydrates. The boost they provide in serotonin levels is temporary and quickly followed by a crash.
- Foods in which completely formed serotonin can be found include bananas, kiwis, pineapples, plantains, plums, tomatoes, and walnuts.
- Foods rich in tryptophan include almonds, bananas, beans, cheeses (particularly Cheddar and Swiss), chicken, eggs, fish (especially high-oil fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna), milk, peanuts, soy foods, turkey, and yoghurt.
- Digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements can assist with full nutrient absorption from the above food sources, thereby increasing overall nutrient intake.
Let Puristat Help Enhance Your Digestion & Mood with “Feel Good” Serotonin Production
Digestion affects nearly every aspect of our functioning. From appetite to the health of our immune system, a functioning digestive system with sufficient serotonin production can mean the difference between feeling well and feeling lousy.
As people age, they often find their GI tract is on the fritz, sometimes resulting in the onset of an uncomfortable disorder. A lack of clarity, memory problems, and moodiness are on the list of accompanying complaints.
Let Puristat help you to keep your serotonin levels high, your spirits up, and your chances of developing a digestive disorder low. Here are our Top 4 suggestions along with the products that can help.
1. Keep Your Colon Cleansed
Keeping the digestive tract cleansed is a good strategy for dealing with digestive disruption. Periodically undergoing a colon cleanse program can help balance the good and bad bacteria in your body.
A simple colon cleanse can help return the colon to a healthier state and shorten transit time, thereby minimizing the amount of time bacteria have to do damage. Cleansings can make it easier for your body to eliminate impurities and absorb nutrients, all vital to serotonin production.
2. Don’t Take Multivitamins, Take Digestive Multivitamins
Since it’s almost impossible to get the daily nutrients we need from the food we eat, vitamin supplementation is critical. There is no other single thing you can do to improve your digestive and overall health than to support your digestive system with a daily multivitamin.
Of course, the vitamins you take with good intentions do absolutely no good… unless your body can digest the pills! Many dollars have been wasted on “bed pan bullets” that pass through unabsorbed. The solution – take a Digestive Multivitamin.
Much more than a complete multivitamin, a Digestive Multivitamin also includes a foundation of digestive enzymes and probiotics – actually enabling your body to absorb the multivitamin itself along with overall nutrient absorption. Increasing your nutrient intake also helps foster serotonin production.
Many people say that multi-vitamin supplementation gives them the extra energy and mental clarity they need to live an active, productive life.
3. Take a Digestive Enzyme with Every Meal
The enzymes in our Digestive Multivitamin are a good start. To really focus on specifically improving your digestive system, give your gut a hand by taking a digestive enzyme supplement, and maximize the production of serotonin. Enzymes help to break down sugars, leaving little left over for the bacteria to munch on. An enzyme boost may maximize your nutrient absorption and, by extension, increase serotonin levels.
4. Pass the Probiotics, Please
Having read about the difference between good and bad bacteria (above), the importance of probiotics may now be clearer. Puristat’s 35 Billion Probiotics can help restore beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract to healthy levels, keeping a proper balance between good and bad bacteria. Probiotics can also help with nutrient absorption, which may help to increase serotonin levels.
Your digestive system can rightfully be called a “second brain”. The essence of “you” is strongly influenced by what you ingest and your ability to gain benefit from what is consumed. How interconnected is the brain and gut? More and more research is showing that the health of the gut is what influences dozens of diseases including those never before thought of as originating in the gut – such as depression and other mood disorders.
Optimal Digestive Health is so important. Remember – we’re here for you. Get in touch with one of our Digestive Wellness Specialists for support by phone, or Live Chat with any questions.