Trust Your Gut: Digestive Health & The Spa

Spa are all about promoting good health, and the digestive system is getting a closer look at many spas.  In the United Kingdom, Grayshott Spa, about an hour from London, has a seven-day Digestive Health Program.  Spa-goers seek to restore a healthy balance of the right kind of gut flora through healthy foods and intermittent fasting.  Daily one-hour lectures deal with the ins and outs of digestive health, so people can recreate the learning at home. 

But you don't have to go to a detox spa to start working on your digestive health.  Here are some guidelines to improve your gut flora from Naturopathic doctor Glenn Finley of New Leaf Holistic Health in Kingston, New York.

1. Take Probiotics.  

The gut has trillions of bacteria in it, which can be compromised by antibiotics, chlorinated water, and the Standard American diet.  In addition, 80 to 90%  of our immune systems are located in the gut, so it is important is good to to support and replenish the gut flora on a regular basis.   Which probiotic is the best? Finely prefer refrigerated-live strains to facilitate propagation.  His usual approach is to begin with a foundational flora (4-5 of the basic strains).  Once one has established the foundation, he recommends a more broad spectrum product to fill in the gaps (10-15 strains, 25-50 billion microbes).

 Fermented foods such as saeurkraut, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kim chi, and tempehare another way to "eat our medicine" on a daily basis.

2.  Eat Slowly.  

A good trick is to use chopsticks, or simply put down the fork in between bites, and chew your food thoroughly.  A cascade of events occurs when digestion is stimulated. The process begins with enzymes secreted in the mouth, which leads to hydrochloric acid (HCL) being secreted by the stomach.  HCL activates bile and pancreatic enzymes, which facilitate absorption of fats, minerals and vitamins in the small intestine.  That, in in turn, stimulates emptying the large intestine.   When we eat too fast, some of the steps are bypassed, which can lead to indigestion, fermentation, gas, bloating, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


3. Incorporate Good Fibers.

The bowel needs bulking agents to stimulate the peristalsis for optimal elimination. Food-based fibers  such as chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, steel cut oats, bran, vegetables, and fruit are good choices. Many fruits and veggies have both soluble, and non-soluble fibers which are both beneficial to the bowel. Flax seeds should be ground, and you can make a chia pudding that is a" slippery fiber" and also full of omega 3 fatty acids. 

4. Rest and Digest.

It is important to remember that the digestive tract functions optimally in a parasympathetic (rest) nervous mode, as opposed to the sympathetic( fight/flight) nervous mode. This makes sense if we think about running from a bear, the blood is sent to our heart, lungs, etc for survival...not the digestive tract.  Conditions like IBS, and inflammatory bowel diseases often have a nervous system component, so it is an important part of the treatment plan to address the nervous system and incorporate things like Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, walking, etc.

5. Drink a Lot of Water.

Water and hydration are critical for digestive health. Dehydration can lead to constipation, which can lead to liver stagnation. Once the liver is "bogged down" toxins aren't able to leave the body readily, which can result in skin issues, weight gain, sluggishness, etc. Water and fiber work together to keep the bowel healthy.

6. Cleanse

A yearly cleanse can be a beneficial way to reset the system and lower the overall toxic burden. There are many ways to cleanse the system, but Hinely's favorite approach is to incorporate a diet change (anti-inflammatory foods, juicing, teas or soups if it is a winter cleanse).  Incorporate liver support so that once the body begins to discharge toxins, they can be processed efficiently out of the system.  Gluten, dairy, soy, and egg are the most common food sensitivities, so avoiding these foods during a cleanse can lower the inflammatory response and lead to a happier digestive tract.