Have you ever wondered how your digestive system works and what is happening to that meal before it reaches the toilet?

The digestive system is made up of a complex set of organs, starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. For proper digestion and absorption of nutrients to occur, your digestive system needs to be functioning at its best. Let’s take a look at the journey your food goes through in the digestive system, and what it takes to extract the nutrition from your food.


The Mouth
The mouth and teeth are an essential beginning to the digestive process. Chewing your food not only helps to break food down into pieces which can be swallowed and more easily digested, but the act of chewing also lets your stomach and pancreas know to get ready for action and produce the stomach acid and enzymes required to break your food down. Your saliva also has a role, containing digestive enzymes which begin to break down your food. There’s also receptors in the mouth that will let your body know what is coming in preparation so that your pancreas, liver and stomach can create/excrete bile, stomach acid and the relevant enzymes to break your food down.

TIP: One of the most vital things you can do to help your digestion is to chew your food well before you swallow it. By chewing until it is a paste in your mouth, you make it easier for your body to extract the nutrients further down the line. Chew your food 20 times per mouthful.


The Oesophagus
Once swallowed your food will make its way down your oesophagus and into the stomach. The oesophagus pumps food into the stomach, and has a sphincter at the bottom to help keep you food in the stomach. If this sphincter is not tight enough it can cause reflux or heartburn.

TIP: Reflux is often thought to be a problem of over acidity, however often a low acid situation will cause a loosening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LOS). See a naturopath to look at balancing the stomach acid, rather than simply taking antacids which do not address the root cause of the problem.


The Stomach
Once your food reaches the stomach it begins to get broken down by stomach acids into smaller particles as the stomach contracts. This is the main site for breaking down protein, so if your stomach acid is too low you can get smelly gas from the proteins fermenting in your bowel. Other signs that you may not have enough stomach acid are reflux (caused by the stomach having to pump harder), burping, low appetite and bad breath.

TIP: Stress is the biggest cause of low stomach acid, so make sure you address stress as part of any digestive treatment plan.


The Pancreas The pancreas is located at the start of the small intestine (duodenum), and has the job of producing enzymes to break down carbohydrates, protein and fat. When you eat, the body signals the pancreas to produce enzymes. If you have low pancreatic enzyme function you may get belching, burping, bloating, indigestion and constipation.

TIP: Digestive stimulants like bitters can help your pancreas to make more enzymes.


The Liver and Gallbladder
The liver is essential for breaking down the fat that you eat. Your liver produces bile, which is then concentrated in your gallbladder for release into the small intestines. Signs that your liver may not be functioning well include nausea, intolerance to fatty foods, diarrhoea and bloating.

TIP: Bile makes your stools dark brown, so if you always have light coloured stools it can indicate a bile insufficiency.


The Small Intestine
The small intestine has the big job of completing digestion and absorbing nutrients from your food, so it’s no wonder it is around 6m or 20 feet long! The walls of the small intestine are made up of lots of cells with different functions, from carrying vitamins and minerals across the intestinal wall to absorbing glucose and fats so that your body can make energy. The small intestine also contains billions of bacteria (your microbiome) that work as part of your immune system and keep the intestine nice and healthy. An imbalance in these bacteria is called dysbiosis, which means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. Symptoms of dysbiosis are bloating, indigestion, irregular bowel movements and smelly gas.

TIP: Your transit time is how fast your food moves through the gut. A slow transit will lead to constipation, and a fast transit can cause loose bowel movements.


The Large Intestine
The Large Intestine has the job of absorbing excess water from the bowel movement, which is why you can get constipated if you do not drink enough water. The large intestine also helps to create and absorb some B vitamins and vitamin K. If the bowel is not working effectively you may have incomplete bowel movements, excess gas and digestive discomfort. You also have 10x more bacteria in your large intestine than your small intestine, and the role of this microbiome is essential for just about every system of your body.  As you can see your food has got quite a journey to go through, which is why it is so important that you have good digestive health.


When things go wrong
Issues with the digestive system are so common due to the complexity of the system, and the fact that we don’t always put the right food into our bodies. An issue in one area can easily lead to an issue in another, and before you know it there are multiple areas of dysfunction. This then leads to bloating, wind, reflux or irregular bowel movements.  Signs and symptoms are your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right, so if your gut is experiencing symptoms it may be time to see a naturopath and get this checked out.

Need help with digestive problems like bloating, reflux, diarrhoea, constipation, IBS or excessive wind? Call us and book an initial appointment with Katherine or one of her team, so you can get to the bottom of what is going on. 

Brazil nuts originate from the South American rainforests, especially abundant in the amazon. Brazil nut trees can live to be more than 500 years old, and require the presence of a specific orchid that attracts the particular bee that is needed to pollinate the flowers. Unable to be farmed, Brazil nuts are harvested from wild trees without harming the rainforest.

Brazil nuts are rich in the mineral selenium, a powerful antioxidant that is beneficial for thyroid and cardiovascular health as well as detoxification in the liver. A single Brazil nut contains more selenium than most supplements!

Brazil nuts are also rich in monounsaturated fats, which are great for cardiovascular and brain health. They are also a good source of magnesium and calcium, which will help to keep your bones strong and also help with stress.

For best results, try to eat 3 raw Brazil nuts every day. They are also a great addition to salads and are yummy ground up and put in yoghurt or on muesli.

What is a cholesterol-lowering diet?

A cholesterol-lowering diet is aimed at assisting the body to reduce cholesterol using cholesterol-lowering foods and avoiding foods that increase cholesterol levels. This is very different from traditional low cholesterol diets, which aim on reducing cholesterol intake in a bid to reduce cholesterol levels. Only a small amount of our endogenous cholesterol levels are from ingestion of cholesterol, the rest is made by our body. High cholesterol can be a result of the wrong dietary choices over a period of time, an inflammatory disease process, a hypothyroid condition, or even allergies! The following dietary advice is aimed at helping to lower your cholesterol levels.

The following foods are associated with cholesterol-lowering properties:

  • Garlic
  • Tumeric
  • Onion
  • Artichoke
  • Rocket
  • Oats
  • Eggplant
  • Tomato
  • Lentils
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Chickpeas
  • Linseeds
  • Linseed Oil
  • Ginger
  • Kale
  • Mustard Green

Fibre

Fibre helps to lower cholesterol by binding to bile, which is made from cholesterol, and carrying through the bowel for excretion. This means that the bile is not reabsorbed and needs to be produced by the liver again from cholesterol, lowering endogenous levels.

The following foods are high in beneficial fibre which increases the excretion of cholesterol:

  • Oats
  • Slippery Elm
  • Psyllium Husk
  • Asparagus
  • Wholegrain products
  • Parsnips
  • Linseed Meal
  • Brown Rice
  • Legumes
  • Barley
  • Black Rice
Another aspect of cholesterol to look at is the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ratio. HDL cholesterol is beneficial as it bounces off the blood vessel walls, cleaning up excess cholesterol and fats that have stuck to the walls and carrying them back to the liver for metabolism. In contrast, LDL cholesterol is damaging to its low density as it bounces against the blood vessel walls and leaves splats of bad cholesterol particles that stick to the blood vessel walls. It is these particles that are the predisposing factor to atherosclerosis as they make it easy for calcification to occur, leading to blockages that cause heart failure and strokes.
Foods that increase HDL and decrease LDL are:
  • Nuts and their cold-pressed oils – almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts
  • Seeds and their cold-pressed oils – sesame seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds
  • Globe artichoke
  • Linseeds and linseed oil
  • Chickpeas
  • Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • Lentils
  • Apples with ski
  • Ginger
  • Linseeds / Linseeds oil
  • Brown and black rice
  • Tomato
  • Fish – mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, blue-eyed cod

Antioxidants

Cholesterol actually serves an antioxidant role in the body, so when the antioxidant status is low it can cause an increase in cholesterol levels. Increasing antioxidant foods in the diet can therefore help to lower cholesterol by decreasing oxidative stress but will also have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system, preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The following foods are good source of antioxidants:

  • Blueberries
  • Black Olives
  • White Tea
  • Blackberries
  • Wheat Grass
  • Rocket
  • Red Grapes
  • Slilverbeet
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Berries
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mangos
  • Ginger
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Beetroot
  • Papaya
  • Red Wine
  • Lemons
  • Cocoa
  • Garlic
  • Green Tea
  • Rasberries
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Tumeric
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Goji

What increases my cholesterol?

Now that we’ve covered all the beneficial foods you should be including in your diet, it’s time to discuss what kind of factors will have an unfavourable effect on your cholesterol levels, and should therefore be avoided.


Trans-fatty acids

Trans-fats are created by oxidation of the fat molecule, which causes it to change from its natural cis formation to a transformation. This form is not easily digested or metabolised by the body, and studies have shown that trans-fatty acid intake is associated with inflammation, increased oxidative stress, and poor cholesterol and fat parameters.

The main sources of trans-fats that should be avoided are:

  • Margarine
  • Spreadable Butter
  • Deep-Fried Foods
  • Oil that is not cold-pressed
  • Biscuts
  • Cakes
  • Cooking Spray Oils
  • Lard
  • Chips
  • Donuts

Sugar and simple carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body, so when our diet is high in simple carbohydrates the body uses this excess energy to convert to fat which then can increase our cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Simple carbohydrate sources which should be avoided include:

  • Sugar
  • White Bread
  • Pasta
  • White Crackers
  • Jasmine Rice
  • Maltose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Jams and Spreads
  • Chocolate/Lollies
  • Canned Fruit/Veg with added sugar

Saturated fats

A high saturated fat intake has been associated with high cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is however beneficial, it should just be consumed in small amounts compared to the other fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, which should be consumed more frequently.

Limiting the amount of the following will ensure you are not consuming too much-saturated fat:

  • Excess Fat on Meat
  • Chicken Skin
  • Hard Cheese
  • Lard
  • Confit
  • Fatty Meats
  • Milk
  • Cream

Low-fat products

Low-fat products generally tend to be high in sugar, and as mentioned above this can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Low-fat dairy products usually contain milk solids to make them creamier. Milk solids are in fact milk powder and are high in oxidised cholesterol due to the high heat process by which they are made. It is in fact better to have full-fat products in moderation than it is to ingest these oxidated cholesterol-containing foods.

The following low-fat products should be avoided:

  • Skim/Trim/Low fat/No fat milk – if you insist on low-fat milk try Mungali Creek organic low fat, TRIM or you’ll love coles skim milk as these do not contain milk solids
  • Low fat cream, yogurt, cheese, ice-cream or other dairy products
  • Other products that claim to be low in fat but are high in added sugar (check labels)

So how do I put these dietary changes into action?

Making changes to your diet can be difficult, which is why it is important to take things slowly, changing one or two things at a time. Your practitioner will assist you in choosing which dietary changes are best to try first and will give you practical dietary advice along with recipes.

There are many options available to you as substitutions for foods that you enjoy in your daily diet – try using xylitol (a natural fruit sugar found in health food shops) instead of sugar, or substituting low-fat milk for rice or oat milk.


What other things can I do to reduce my cholesterol?

Exercise

Regular exercise is an integral part of cholesterol reduction as it helps to increase metabolism and increase cholesterol excretion. Aim for 40 minutes three times a week. Try to have a mix of cardio which increases your heart rate, and strength exercises which help to reduce fatty tissue and build muscle mass.

Water

Dehydration increases oxidative stress so be sure to drink at least 1.5 litres of filtered water a day, more if exercising or on a hot day.

The Alkaline Diet – It All Comes Down to the PH

The acid/alkaline diet may be something you have heard of before, but what does it mean? Foods have different properties when consumed. Acid or alkaline refers to the effect the food has within the body, being acid-forming or alkaline-forming. A common misconception is that foods such as lemon are acid, however, when consumed in the body they are actually highly alkaline-forming.

pH is a scale used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of certain things. The higher the pH, the more alkaline, the lower the pH, the more acid.

The ideal blood pH is 7.5. Eating too many acid-forming foods can reduce this pH, leading to acidity in the body. The correct pH is needed for ALL bodily functions to work correctly, from the cellular level to our metabolism and organ function.

Foods that are acid-forming should therefore be reduced in the diet, and limited to 20% of your total dietary intake.

Foods that are the most acid-forming in the body include:

Alkaline-forming foods should form the basis of your diet, making up 80% of the food you eat.

As a general rule, most fruits and vegetables are alkaline-forming, with the most alkaline foods being:

Changing your diet

Most people have a very acid-forming diet, being high in wheat, refined foods, and sugar. Substantial improvements in most health conditions can be obtained by reducing acid-forming foods in the diet to only 20% of your intake. This is not an easy task initially, as significant changes will need to be made to achieve this.

A good start is to look at substituting some of the acid foods for alkaline foods:

Try looking at your meal and imagining how you could make it more alkaline. Adding green leafy vegetables is a good way to do this, or having a salad on the side can also help. Lemon juice in water can be had on rising and before meals (30 minutes) to stimulate digestion and alkalise the body (always rinse your mouth out with fresh water after having lemon juice).

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wa, was the staple food of the Incas. It is gluten-free, has the highest protein content of any grain and contains many nutrients including calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

The seed coating contains saponins which can irritate the intestines, so quinoa must be soaked and washed under running water thoroughly to remove these. Quinoa is available from most health food shops.

Preparation of quinoa:

1 cup quinoa + 1 1/2 cups cold water

Quinoa is delicious on it’s own or served with anything you would normally use rice for.

You can tell when quinoa is cooked as the edge of the seed separates as a white spiral and the seed turns clear.

Try adding the rinsed grain to soups and casseroles or use it as a porridge.

Have you been asking yourself what the craze is with wheat grass? Wheat grass is a fantastic companion to a healthy diet, as it contains high levels of chlorophyll, the nutrient that gives it its deep green hue.

Chlorophyll is structurally very similar to haemoglobin, the molecule responsible for carrying oxygen around our bodies, and therefore is said help oxygenate our body.Chlorophyll is traditionally used as a blood cleanser and alkaliser, so is great for detoxification.

Wheat grass contains 82 of the 92 minerals found in soil, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. It also has B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A.

Eating the grass provides little nutrition as our digestive system cannot break down the cellulose int the plant to release the minerals. Wheat grass should therefore be consumed juiced.

A special expresser is required to juice wheatgrass. Top of the line juicers can sometimes have an attachment, or you can buy a manual one to clamp on the bench.

To grow your own wheatgrass, use a seedling tray filled with organic soil. cover soil with whole wheat grains and put a piece of newspaper on top. Soak thoroughly daily. When the grains have sprouted (2-4 days) remove the newspaper and leave in a sunny position. Water daily.

Wheat grass should be consumed within 12 hours of juicing, but ideally straight away to maintain its nutrient value. Most people don’t mind the taste, but you can follow with a slice of orange to help if you don’t like the taste of wheatgrass.

Don’t want to buy a juicer? Wheat grass juice shots can be purchased at most juice bars for around $2, so try it today!

Our immune systems are made up of billions of cells, designed to fend off invaders and keep things balanced, so what happens when these cells get out of control?

Without proper functioning of our immune system we suffer from frequent colds, allergies, asthma, skin conditions and even autoimmune disease. So how does our immune system get out of control? Let’s look at some of the main causes of immune based issues.

Birth

Immune dysfunction can start right back to when you first entered this world. During a natural birth, babies pick up beneficial bifido bacteria from their mothers birth canal, which starts to build the delicate immune system via the digestive tract. This process is bypassed during a caesarean birth, where the baby is born via surgical removal from the abdomen.

In the last 10 years the Australian caesarean delivery rate has sky rocketed from one in five to one in every three births. This means that currently a third of Australian children are missing out on this immune building process.

Breastfeeding

Most people know that breast is best, however Australian breastfeeding rates have been shown to be as low as 14% after 6 months according to studies.

The very first thing that is produced by the breasts is colostrum, a rich mix of immunoglobulins that is designed to prime a baby’s immune system. Studies have shown that breastfeeding exclusively for at least 6 months reduces the risk of asthma, allergies, eczema and immune related illnesses such as tonsillitis, ear infections and bronchitis.

Most mothers attempt breastfeeding, although many have issues. It is thought that poor education and support with breastfeeding has lead to the low numbers of breastfeeding that we see in children today.

There are solutions to help bottle fed babies build their immune systems, and a good naturopath can help even the smallest of babies to have better immunity. For more information contact Katherine and ask her how she can help.

Hygiene hypothesis

You may have heard of the hygiene hypothesis, where an over-zealous approach to germ control has lead to a weakened immune system. Bacteria, fungus and parasitic organisms have co-inhabited with humans for all of time. They are present in our homes, our gardens and even in the air we breathe.

As we grow up, these organisms challenge our immune systems, helping it to improve its defenses. This is the reason why babies put everything in their mouths!

With a high use of antibacterial agents (take for example the many ads telling you to protect your family from germs), and the growing number of parents who are afraid to let their kids play in the dirt, we are seeing an increasing number of people with a reduced immunity, and the creation of super germs. It is interesting to note that the most dangerous organisms to our health are picked up in hospitals, where germ control is at the highest level possible.

Childhood illnesses and the hygiene hypothesis

Like environmental organisms, it would appear that childhood illnesses also have a key role in developing our immune function. Studies have shown that contracting conditions such as measles, hepatitis A and tuberculosis significantly reduces the risk of developing atopic diseases such as allergies, dermatitis and sinusitis later on in life. Why? Because these conditions help to challenge our immune systems, leading to the development of a stronger and more advanced immunity.

This then poses the question – are we over vaccinating our children? Gone are the days when parents would take their child to play with another child that has chickenpox, hoping that they would contract it too. Children are now being vaccinated against chickenpox, which means their immune systems have one less challenge to deal with. Vaccination is carried out for more conditions now than ever, and allergy rates are also higher than ever, perhaps there is a correlation?

Poor dietary choices

You are what you eat as the saying goes, so it makes sense that your diet has a huge impact on the proper functioning of your immune system.

We all know that vitamin C is needed for immune function, but did you know you also require good levels of zinc, bioflavonoids, vitamin A, iron, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, Omega 3, B vitamins and protein?

To get a good level of all of these things you need a varied diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Want to know more about immune boosting foods? Read the article here.

Stress – the immune depressor

Once we are adults the biggest thing that affects our immunity besides our diet is stress. Stress can come in many forms, from a high workload, long hours, emotional issues, anxiety and poor sleep. Often there is more than one stress that can effect you at a time.

Stress has been shown to directly suppress immune function. What does this mean? It means that you will be more prone to picking up everything going around the office, and take longer to get over it than usual.

As well as suppressing immune function, stress has been shown to contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions. With autoimmune disease, your immune system gets confused and stages an attack on different parts of your body. Some examples are rheumatoid arthritis (joints), Hashimoto’s disease (thyroid), Crohn’s disease (intestines) and psoriasis (skin).

For stress busting techniques, read the article here.

Sleep

Did you know that while you are sleeping your immune system is working harder than while you are awake? This means that not getting enough sleep can lower your immunity significantly.

A good quality sleep should be 8 hours a night for an adult.
You should fall asleep within 10 minutes, sleep right through to the morning and have dreams that you remember on rising. If this doesn’t sound like you, get help today, naturopathy works well to quickly improve sleep, which will benefit immunity as well as your general energy levels and well being.

Antioxidants; why we need them and where you get them from.

Antioxidant is a word that is thrown around a lot in food advertising these days – you hear about it in breakfast cereals, juices, and even now on chocolate! The hard part is deciding how to interpret this information – dark chocolate is high in antioxidants but the sugar content lowers it’s therapeutic capacity substantially, so you have to read between the lines.

Antioxidants are substances needed in the body to protect our cells and tissues from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage in the body can lead to tissue damage and has been linked to cardiovascular disease and aging. Antioxidants have a protective effect on cells, slowing the aging process and keeping our cells and organs healthy.

Antioxidants are found in many food sources but hormones, neurotransmitters and other compounds in the body also have antioxidant properties.

Some of the best sources of antioxidants include:

Foods which are brightly coloured generally have a high antioxidant content, so aim for a rainbow on your plate!

Try these recipes to help fight the flu this winter!

Honey, lemon and ginger drink

Yes, an oldie but a goodie. For best results, stir the honey through once the drink is slightly cooled.

Cut lemon into pieces, put in a mug and crush slightly to release the juice. Add sliced ginger and pour boiled water over the top. Add honey last when cool.

Sore throat tea and gargle


Immune boosting smoothie

High in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, this smoothie is both nutritious and delicious!
In a blender put:

Blend until smooth

For more information about colds and influenza, click here.

Winter is the time when our immune system is more vulnerable to catching the common cold and influenza. Both the common cold and influenza start out as a virus, which makes them very contagious. These viruses change year to year, with many different strains around each flu season.

The common cold is relatively harmless if your immune system is working correctly, and is usually short lived. Influenza virus however is much more dangerous, especially in the young and the elderly, and if not treated promptly can lead to severe illness and even death.


The common cold and antibiotics

Antibiotics are not effective against viruses – only bacteria, so they do not actually target the cause of the cold or flu – just the bacterial infection left behind, often presenting as mucous build up or a runny nose.

Antibiotics are harmful to your digestive and immune systems as they wipe out your beneficial digestive bacteria strains, such as lactobaccilus and bifidus. This leads to an imbalance in the digestive system which can cause bloating, indigestion and candida overgrowth.

In your digestive system there are 2-3kg of these bacteria, hanging in a delicate balance to perform many functions. Studies have shown that these bacteria have critical roles in modulating our immune system, reducing inflammation and allowing nutrient absorption in the intestine.

A good way to avoid antibiotic use is to visit your naturopath at the first signs of a cold or flu. Naturopathy helps by using herbs which support your immune system in fighting off the virus, as well as using specific antiviral herbs and nutrients that work quickly to resolve the illness. Symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, coughing, sinusitis and post nasal drip also respond well to naturopathic treatment, getting you feeling back to 100% quicker.


Antiviral foods

The following foods have antiviral properties:


Antibacterial foods

These foods have antibacterial properties – great to use on a sore throat or for gastroenteritis


Foods that boost the immune system

These foods are rich in immune boosting nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and omega 3.

For great flu fighting recipes, click here.

To make an appointment, click here.

Katherine
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