You require food and nutrients to live and function at your very best. To optimize all they have to offer, you need to ensure you digest them properly. The digestive process is complex and long. It begins with your first bite and ends when it exits the body from the intestinal tract. Many things can go right or wrong during the digestion of food.
Just as important as good digestion to fuel the body is making sure our body is free of toxic elements. Our environment assaults us with a barrage of pollutants, food additives, toxins and other stressors, physical and psychological, that can jeopardize our ability to maintain good health. When things go wrong, it can ultimately result in illness and disease. That’s why it’s necessary to learn how to detox the body effectively.
The digestive process
Here’s a quick rundown of the digestive process. Why is this important to know? If you have an idea of how it works, then you can more effectively support it.
The digestive process begins the moment you put food into your mouth. Chewing reduces the food into particles that are acted upon by saliva. The saliva mixes with the food particles and begins the process of reducing it into a form the body can utilize.
The food then travels through the throat into the esophagus. The esophagus uses contractions to deliver the food to the stomach, where acids and enzymes further break down the food. This activity transforms the food into a paste or liquid, which then moves into the small intestine.
Once in the small intestine, enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver continue the breakdown. The food is moved along to the large intestine, where breakdown is completed and nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream.
Good digestion means better health
If there are any problems with any of the steps of the digestive process, you may experience symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea. In addition, you may not absorb your nutrients properly, which could result in nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, tingling and numbness, hair loss, heart palpitations, skin irritations, and weakness.
How can you promote and support good digestion? Here are some tips:
Choose whole, natural foods.
The traditional Western diet is high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, fast foods, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, and food additives and low in antioxidants and fiber. This way of eating has been linked to digestive disorders (e.g., ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, leaky gut) and an unbalanced gut environment. The solution? Choose whole, natural, organic foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and beans, and, if animal foods are part of your diet, only those that are free range and without hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Diets high in nutrients can protect against the development of digestive diseases.
Get enough fiber.
Many people don’t get enough fiber, a substance that is critical for keeping your digestive tract in optimal working order. Insoluble fiber helps keep everything moving through the intestinal tract while soluble fiber absorbs water and contributes bulk to your stool. Sources of insoluble fiber are vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran, while soluble fiber can be found in seeds, nuts, legumes, and oat bran. Fruits are also a good source of fiber. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily.
Drink green tea.
Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that has a calming impact on the nervous system. This healthy beverage also has less than half the caffeine of coffee and also packs a powerful punch of antioxidants.
Chew your food thoroughly.
Good digestion begins in the mouth, so be sure to chew all of your food thoroughly, preferably until it reaches a liquid consistency. By that time, the digestive enzymes in your saliva are engaged in the process, and your food is ready for its journey through the rest of your digestive tract. The more work your mouth does, the less work your stomach will need to do!
Adequate fluid intake is essential to help with digestion and help prevent constipation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend 15.5 cups of fluids for men and 11.5 cups for women daily. This includes water, other fluids, and foods. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake is from food.
If you participate in regular, daily exercise, great! Your digestive system will thank you. However, even short periods of exercise performed throughout the day can be beneficial for the digestive process. Don’t stay on the couch!
Chronic stress can significantly disrupt the digestive process. You can diffuse stress by incorporating some calming habits into your lifestyle.
- Begin and end your days with a cup of stress-reducing tea or an herbal supplement that supports calm, such as tulsi (holy basil), ashwagandha, rose, chamomile, or hibiscus.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness. As little as 10 to 15 minutes a day can help restore calm.
- Take up yoga or tai chi, both of which combine physical movement with calming breathing and mindfulness.
- Do some fun exercise, such as dancing, tennis, handball, biking—whatever you enjoy!
- Play with your pets.
- Get a massage.
- Practice deep breathing.
Try natural digestive aids.
Some herbs shown to be helpful in supporting digestion include ginger, peppermint, licorice, turmeric, and tulsi (holy basil). Teas and natural supplements containing these ingredients can prove helpful in aiding the digestive process.
Why detox is important
Even if you follow an all-natural, organic eating plan, your body is exposed to a barrage of toxins from your surroundings. They assault you in the form of air and water pollution, off-gassing from furniture and building materials, medications (over-the-counter and prescription), personal care products, household cleaning items, dry cleaning, physical and emotional stress, pesticides and herbicides, radiation, plastics, and more. These substances have a wide range of effects, from causing allergies and headaches to disrupting the digestive process, affecting the nervous system and heart health, and even causing cancer.
How to detox naturally
Let’s face it; most of us don’t have time to enroll in a sophisticated detoxification program because we have busy lives. The good news is, you don’t have to. In fact, the human body is superbly sophisticated and equipped to detox itself. Your liver, digestive system, skin, lungs, and kidneys can handle the job with a little assistance. No special detox program needed!
To take advantage of your body’s natural detox system, follow these tips. You will notice that many of them are the same as those to promote and support good digestion. Coincidence? We think not!
Follow a detox diet.
This includes eating more fiber, as foods rich in fiber help eliminate toxins in the stool. Also, choose clean, organic foods (reduces the body’s need to deal with food additives and pesticides), stay well hydrated, avoid added sugars and processed foods, reduce salt intake, and eat lots of foods high in antioxidants (e.g., fruits and vegetables).
Limit or avoid alcohol.
Your liver (the master organ of detox) has to work extra hard when you drink alcohol. Minimize your intake to just one or two drinks per week or eliminate them altogether.
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, and at least 70 of them have been shown to cause cancer. Among the more common ones are nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, lead, benzene, carbon monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Need we say more?
Choose natural personal care and household products.
Both personal care items (e.g., shampoo, deodorant, soap, lotions) and household cleaning items are traditionally full of chemicals that pose health dangers and can be readily absorbed or inhaled by the body. Rather than expose yourself to these products, look for all-natural, organic products or make your own.
Get sufficient restful sleep.
While you sleep, your body is hard at work, recharging itself, storing memories, and removing waste products, including potentially neurotoxic substances, that have built up during the day. If you don’t allow yourself to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, you don’t give your body adequate time to perform these and other vital functions.
Take herbal detox supplements.
Numerous herbal teas and supplements may complement the detox process. Some of the herbs to detox include turmeric, ginger, milk thistle, burdock, and cilantro. Follow the directions on the package.
Good digestion and natural detox are important for overall health and well-being. Both are possible by making some lifestyle adjustments. What tips do you have to share?
[Editor's Note: Organic India USA offers a variety of tulsi products as well as supplements based on Ayurvedic practices that have been used to support digestion, detox, and wellness for centuries.]
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