Many health complaints, inability to lose weight, and underlying causes of disease can be attributed to gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction and poor digestive health. As quoted from Hippocrates, “All disease begins in the gut.” GI dysfunction is the most overlooked and mismanaged disorder in health care today.

The digestive system is the mechanism to feeding every cell in your body, especially your brain. Over two-thirds of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut and 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut. The GI tract has a very high metabolic function that influences hormone metabolism, cholesterol regulation, toxin elimination, energy production and absorption of nutrients.

The gut is considered the second brain since 90 to 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut. If your gut is inflamed or not functioning optimally, production of serotonin will be impaired. Bear in mind that an inflamed gut equals an inflamed brain, and an inflamed brain increases risk of depression and dementia.

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food into tiny particles to be used for maintenance, energy and repair. The digestive process also involves creating of waste to be eliminated.

You can be eating the healthiest, organic foods, but if you’re not breaking down, absorbing or assimilating your food properly digestion will be compromised, which negatively affects your weight and immune function, accelerates age-related disorders, and influences overall health and quality of life.

Simple solutions to optimize digestion

1. Remove items that are unrecognizable by the body and irritate the gut (soy, dairy products, gluten, wheat, corn, artificial sweeteners and sugar, vegetable oils, conventionally-raised meats, caffeine, trans fats alcohol, chemically-altered frankenfoods and NSAIDS).

2. Rule out dysbiosis, leaky gut, hidden viruses, bacterial and chronic low-grade infections in the gut (e.g., yeast, parasites, fungus, Candida, C. dificile, H.pylori) that are more common than not and can flourish for years without causing noticeable symptoms.

3. Restore beneficial bacteria with probiotics to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria. The amount of bacteria and the diversity of bacteria in the gut is directly linked to your weight, risk of disease and overall health.

4. Replace hydrochloric acid (HCL), digestive enzymes and bile acids as necessary. Avoid antacids.

5. Eat slowly. Chew food thoroughly until liquefied before swallowing to break down food and increase nutrient absorption.

6. Pay attention to how you feel 30 to 90 minutes after eating. Do you feel energized? Bloated? Tired? Keep a food journal to help identify foods that are stressing your digestive system.

7. Avoid eating under stressful conditions. Don’t drive and eat. Sit down during mealtime, turn off the television and your cell phone, stay off the computer, avoid listening to chaotic music and engaging in stressful, complicated conversations.

8. Rotate protein sources. If you eat chicken today, tomorrow eat wild salmon, the next day bison or beef, and so on.

9. Eat organic, locally-grown food that is in season whenever possible. At minimum choose grass-fed, pastured-raised poultry over conventionally-raised.

10. Before eating, take a few deep, full breaths and bless your food with a silent prayer of gratitude. Full, deep, diaphragmatic breathing activates the “relax, rest and digest response” in the body.

11. Include more soluble-rich fiber foods in your diet such as dandelion, kale, chard, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli. Lightly steam for easier digestion.

12. Sip on tea away from meals that help soothe the gut.

13. Be mindful and fully present during mealtime. The digestive process is 30 to 40 percent less effective when you’re tuned out and eating mindlessly.

14. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdomen, which can encourage acid reflux.

15. Avoid aspirin and NSAIDs, which tear up the gut lining and cause gastrointestinal stress.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, is a nutritionist and fitness and fat loss expert with more than 25 years of experience. Visit Paula at

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