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What Foods and Supplements Improve Digestion? : Exclusive Renegade Health Q & A

Wednesday Jun 22, 2011 | BY |
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tarwi peru
Tarwi (tar-we) is a bean found in the Andes that is soaked for days before you can boil and eat it. If you ate them raw, you’d really have problems with digestion!

Last week I wrote about protein and absorption issues in vegans (as well as other eaters)…

There was a lot of buzz about the article. For the most part, many of you appreciated it and learned that not everything is as it seems (or is spoken) in the health world!

Today, I have a question that addresses the “what next?” questions that we received after publishing these two articles.

Here’s the question from Becky (and countless others!)…

“I’m just wondering if you have any advice / wisdom on foods / supplements to increase absorption of nutrients in the digestive system?”

Thanks for your question, Becky!

Good news is that, yes, I do have advice for you and anyone else who wants to increase absorption.

Here’s where to start…

First off, you need to determine if your digestion is poor. Not many people have a perfectly functioning gut, but some function better than others.

The reason why you want to figure out how everything is working is because you want to be able to identify exactly what will be most effective and work for your own situation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people buy products they think will work for them without any evidence that they need to take it at all.

So coming from me, I strongly recommend working with a practitioner who can analyze your protein / amino acid levels and maybe even analyze your stool to see what degree of digestion your food has been through and also see if you have any pathogens that have overtaken your tubing.

Next up, the breakdown.

After you identify what’s going on, you then can start to look at the individual parts of the whole system.

The first part to look for absorption is not the small intestines where most of your food crosses into your body. The place to look is actually in the stomach where food is broken down first for maximum assimilation.

If you are not producing enough HCL (hydrochloric acid) or releasing enough digestive enzymes, you will not break down your food properly in your stomach. The biggest issues you will encounter in this case are possible mineral deficiency and possible protein / amino acid deficiency.

Why?

The HCL works to break down compounds and release minerals – think muriatic acid on concrete. It also works to denature proteins so they can be more easily broken down by the digestive enzymes.

If you don’t have both of these guys working for you, you could eat the healthiest diet on the planet and still not get the nutrients you need, because your intestines are getting poorly broken down food to work with.

Now let’s talk uptake.

Most of your nutrients – at least from the food you eat – are absorbed in your small and large intestines.

So in order for you to get the nutrition you need, a few things need to be in place.

First up, you need to have food that has started to be broken down effectively in the stomach. This includes proteins and minerals.

Second, you need to have the appropriate amount of bile and other digestive fluids to help emulsify and break down fats.

Third, you need to have a great array of healthy bacteria to continue the digestive process.

Finally, you need to make sure you don’t eat foods (or have infections) that inflame the intestines and allow (or inhibit) the intake of particles that can cause an immune reaction in the body.

So clearly, this isn’t just a take-a-pill-and-be-OK situation.

You must be eating foods that are non-allergenic to your system – wheat, soy, GMO, corn, nuts, and dairy are some of the biggest culprits.

You also need to make sure your gut is populated with strong and natural flora, since this ecosystem helps support the immune system and helps you digest and absorb your food better.

The process of getting this all correct could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, so patience is also very important.

Foods and supplements for digestion?

Sure, there are some that can help.

I think the way to look at it first is to decide if you need HCL or enzymes (or both). This will start the re-feeding of your body if in fact you are deficient.

The next step is to eliminate any foods that I mentioned above that may be causing inflammation in the gut – these are wheat, soy, GMO, corn, nuts, and dairy.

The third step is to use natural means of nutrition to get yourself more nutrients. For minerals, try sea vegetables and green juices. For protein, try algae. For B vitamins, try nutritional yeast.

Be sure to take fermented foods as well. You can make your own, or buy something like Coco-Biotic.

If these don’t seem to give you any relief or better digestion, then move on to more concentrated supplements like protein powders (like Sunwarrior), mineral supplements (like Liquid Light), and a B-Complex.

I like this step-by-step process because it allows you to see what works for you and allows you to stay as close to nature as possible.

Some may find they get relief right away with increased minerals, others may need to take all the supplements and foods to get better.

Whatever way works for you is a success, because it’s the way that worked.

So what do you do?

First, work with a practitioner to identify what’s up with your absorption. I know it’s not the advice that you were looking for, but I’m certain that I’ll have have to repeat this a thousand times before you realize how important it is to have help.

This way, you’ll be able to pinpoint what you need so you don’t waste money and time barking up the wrong tree.

Second, try some of the foods and supplements that will help (again, if you need them) and then reassess in a few weeks or months – depending on the seriousness of your situation.

So to wrap it up…

Yes, you can improve your digestion with foods and supplements – completely natural. This is a great place to start, but understand that without an analysis by a practitioner or through testing, you may never know what your main issue is and may not fully address what it happening before it becomes larger than it is now.

Again, it’s not a popular topic, because you probably want to blaze the trail by yourself (like I have in the past) – but just know that a little help does go a long way.

You can either go at it blind, or with a set of x-ray glasses.

Which one do you prefer?

I want to know your thoughts: What have you done to improve your digestion in the past?

Live Awesome!
Kev

By the way, if you’re interested… I also have a complete digestion program called “The Perfect Digestion Plan” that outlines all these protocols in detail. If you want to read more about this as well as purchase it, here’s where you can go (now in print format too!)…

http://www.renegadehealth.com/digestion

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

30 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Jim says:

    Just a passing thought I had for Becky while reading this… Another *potential* way to help (aside from the advice Kevin mentioned — which, really, is *the* best way to go here) could be to take a quick look into the blood-type diet and see if maybe you eat a lot of the things that are no-nos for your type (esp. if you’re an unusual blood type). I’ve not tried this diet myself, but have read a good deal about it (and, frankly, don’t buy into it 100% — although I do like a lot of what it says in there, at least in theory). Still, there have been some anecdotal stories claiming success with this method of interpreting digestive troubles. (Usually, it has to do with a person consuming too many specific lectins that are bad for people of their type.) Anyway, not to tout it too much, but it’s one of those easy things that can’t hurt, if you’re having some digestive frustration and haven’t gone down that road yet. In the end, I agree with Kev 100% in that there are a ton of different things that may be causing this.

  2. Lori says:

    I have been diagnosed with gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying). My doctor recommended prepackaged protein shakes. They went through well but offered little nutrition and my health began to suffer. So I began juicing vegetables, making green smoothies and protein shakes that I blend with quality protein, raw eggs, avocado, coconut oil, etc. My digestion is doing much better and after two years I am now able to eat more solid foods. I also take probiotics, raw goat kefir, enzymes and HCL. I am determined to heal!

  3. Candice says:

    People do tend to quickly jump on the pill bandwagon. Our culture promotes it, and folks often don’t how to tell what, if anything, they actually need to supplement.

    I like your step-by-step approach, but I particularly appreciate your recommendation to find a practitioner for appropriate testing.It’s always good to see sound, safe advice, rather than the one-size fits all approach so many “experts” have.

  4. Jane says:

    Digesting enzyme & Apple Cider Vinegar
    help me get rid of GERD. Raw honey, a piece of apple also work wonders for gas, stomach pain.

  5. wayne rivali says:

    Kevin, I hope you catch my post here since I would really love to hear you address this. I would think that my digestive system should be in good shape since I do the things that Lori stated above, but are the nutrients arriving at there final destination. I don’t believe they would be if the circulatory is not in prime condition.

    I now believe that many of us have excess fibrin which is responsible for arterial blockages, uterine fibroids, breast fibrosis,etc. I recently learned about protiolytic enzymes which break down and remove fibrin, thus improving circulation.

  6. Jessica says:

    I’m surprise that you didn’t mention colon cleansing. This has helped me tremendously. It’s essential though that it’s done properly – with true fasting and clays and herbs to both absorb toxins and built up mucoidal plague, and eliminate it from the body. Just doing a fast alone I think is too dangerous, as many of the toxins get reabsorbed and make you feel bad. Plus one also needs to take care to heal the intestines and replenish the good bacteria before eating normally again. Using colonics is also a huge aid in this process. Either use a trained practitioner, or a step by step program from an experiences company like blessed herbs (one that I find very easy and manageble). This is just one piece of the puzzle, but without a clean system, you can’t really know what your issues are either. Good Luck!

  7. Annette says:

    I have been taking “Michael’s Naturopathic Program Digestive Enzymes” every time I eat and in between meals “Chiro-zyme T5 to T9 Stm”.
    I eat small meals throughout the day and have learned to chew my food well. After a few months of this program, I have totally gone off Nexium! Previously I had extreme heartburn and indigestion issues with extreme pain.

  8. James says:

    Thanks for the advise. Anybody know of any good practitioner/nathroupath doctor in San Francisco?

    Thanks

  9. lovelucy says:

    How/when do you suggest we take them? HCL, digestive enzymes, probiotics? thank you!

  10. Nicky says:

    Hi there,
    Great article! I love the info you guys provide! My health care practitioner recommended I start taking HCL (w/ pepsin), zinc and digestive enzymes. Can anyone recommend brands that they’ve used with success?
    TXXX,
    Nicky

  11. QC says:

    I went 80/10/10. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. My IBS was gone, my leaky gut was gone, and my Rheumatoid Arthritis is almost fully healed. Simply eat more fruits and vegetables. Amazing!

  12. Lori says:

    Wayne, I have also been taking proteolytic enzymes twice a day for 18 months. The only thing my allopathic doctor recommended was the HCL and prescription drugs. I stopped the drugs and started doing the rest on my own. So, I’m not sure what is helping the most but I’m slowly improving. I believe the juicing and blending will get the nutrients in best regardless of the digestive and circulatory conditions. Good luck to you!

  13. Mtnplanner says:

    Like Kevin pointed out, digestion starts from the time you put food in your mouth, and it heals in the same directional sequence. And it’s not what you eat, it’s what you can digest and absorb that really impacts health.

    I’ve found that when I experienced severe digestive upsets I needed to ‘lighten up’ the digestive load and utilize juicing, and blending to break down foods into smaller particles that made the best use of my limited digestive system. I also made use of HCL and digestive enzymes to improve function. Time of day for eating major proteins became important, too, with much lighter meals in the evening being optimal for me.

    Finding root causes of digestive issues is challenging since many food sensitivities don’t manifest directly as ‘digestive’. My gluten sensitivity was finally confirmed by gene tests but it initially manifested as hypothyroidism and chronic fatigue. Those manifestations of food sensitivities play havoc with nutrient absorption.

    Recently I’ve found that switching to a good liquid vitamin (free of my particular triggers) provided a really significant improvement in overcoming deficiencies stemming from poor digestion. I noticed a big difference within a couple of weeks of changing to a liquid instead of a tablet or capsule.

    Keep up the great work Kevin!

  14. Jennifer says:

    As an osteo-arthritis sufferer, I take Oil of Oregano every couple of days and incorporate Curcumin capsules in my daily regimen, also taking a multi probiotic once a day on a full stomach. I am still having much pain in my hip and shoulder – besides my 3 days/week exercise aqua-fit program – what can I do to alleviate the pain? I try not to take pain killers, except when unbearable.

  15. Joel says:

    I think that Kevin’s advice is right on! I take digestive enzymes every time I’m eating several different types of foods at one time. I take HCL when I’m eating meat or mineral supplements. Be aware that taking calcium supplements (“bone” pills) before or with meals can lower your HCL.

    One thing I did want to add to the discussion is to suggest that one START with a good colon cleanse. This could be a high colonic, a month-long program using fasting or natural colon-cleansing supplements, or both. Most people have pounds of rancid stuff stuck in their colons (mostly on the sides and in pockets)and getting rid of that first will allow you to heal the walls of the colon much easier.

    :o)

    Joel@BrightLightSite.com

  16. diane says:

    I have tried digestive enzymes but most seem to be produced using aspergillis. I am sensitive to aspergillis along with other molds. Where can I find a digestive enzyme that would work for me? I have been taking HCL and bile along with a probiotic. I tested (stool test) extremely low on good bacteria – however, I did not have bad bacteria, either. Seems strange to me that both were low. My husband had low good bacteria but was overrun with bad. Thanks Kevin and Ann Marie for all you do!!

  17. Ela Harrison says:

    Good perspective on the direction of healing travel. Colon flora seem like the key spot that it all boils down to…

    My guts (problematic my whole life, celiac etc) are way better since chelating mercury and lead out and getting rid of yeast. And they’re much better still since I started eating high fruit again.

    But at this stage, I’m candida free but still have another yeast and still have a bacterial infection (has been a long time) and am still not growing my own good bacteria. My HCL is good and I’m not needing to take enzymes nearly as much. My ND wants me to take a week of antibiotics followed by another course of antifungals–no good bacteria to kill, no risk of yeast afterwards, start fresh. I can see how it makes sense, but I’m very loath to take antibiotics.
    Thoughts?

  18. juan says:

    this is for James the name of the doctor in san francisco is Joel Lopez he is at 345 west portal avenue and the phone is 415 566 1000 he is very good good luck juan

  19. Fumi says:

    Hi James. I’ve been working with Dr. Sarah Kalomiro of Kalo Clinic in San Francisco. She challenges a lot of my belief systems regarding nutrition and detox but I’ve had good results. May want to try her. Just google Kalo Clinic in S.F.

  20. Diane says:

    Jennifer, I was diagnosed w/osteoarthritis in my knee, which was quite swollen & I could only do one stair at a time. I started riding my bicycle (to build the muscles around the knee) .. no pain & no problem. I have some arthritic stuff going on in my hands I believe, so I started taking msm .. & think it might help.

  21. jasmine says:

    I did 80/10/10 and it helped but I had to add in some meat protein after a while. (Only a little at evening meal.) Sea veg, nutritional yeast, and any supplements made from yeast (B vitamins and selenium), coconut anything, too many cruciferous (kale,..) put my system out of balance and tests show I started to react immunologically to these substances. I do juice and blend foods but again I have to be careful as these foods pass through the digestive system very quickly – one has to be able to digest well. My intestines sort of bloated and stretched out because I drank so much. I do best with small meals especially when I pay attention to food combining (I eat practically no grains). HCL supplements messed up my system. Gerd was solved by raising head of bed, eating smaller meals, not laying down within 2 hours of eating, and by not eating more protein than my body required. It took quite a few months but it is gone.

  22. Stella says:

    Nicky,

    Try ENZYMEDICA they’ve got everything you need for digestion of protein, fat,etc., gluten intolerance, acidity and all kinds of gastrointenstinal distress.
    There’s also this book on enzymes from Tom Bohager. Take care!

  23. Patricia says:

    Hi Kevin! Awesome write-up, love it!!!! According to Chinese physicians eating beans including soy can put someone in 2 directions – alot of gas and wind and if you are suffering from sprain, gout it prevents speedy recovery.

    What is the difference and benefits derived from consuming brewer yeast or nutritional yeast??

    Thanks and God Bless you and Annmarie.
    Patricia

  24. Rachael says:

    Ginger is my HERO! It really helps me and my digestion. Another thing i learned which is magic is not to have any cold drink until after your meal….its best to drink warm water or tea before your meal…it digests so much better!!!! promise :D

  25. Aloe Vera juice/gel is wonderful for the intestines. As to a practitioner, I gave up on doctors at least 4 years ago and no of no one I would trust around here to understand all this and be able to work with me. I wonder about things like trying things (like HCL) to see what it does for you. To much HCL will cause burning for instance. Just a thought.

  26. Jerry Snyder says:

    I’m making Keefer & using daily

  27. If you start taking HCL or enzymes how long do you need to be on them for? eg. Do they help bring the body back to normal so you can eventually stop taking them or will you always require them?

    Cheers
    Jodie

  28. nikola says:

    nice + accurate work kev!!!!
    aloha

  29. bhuppi says:

    I have chronic constipation due to my irregular lifestyle and food timings but i never ever felt acidity or sour-burps in my 30 years life…does it mean my stomach is making less than required acid.

  30. Luisa says:

    I sometimes get indegestion and/or acid reflux. I.read Bout eating at least 1/4 of an apple after every meal. Especially after supper. It works for me. No.acid reflux.

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