If you feel these symptoms, you may have an imbalance or disease of your digestive tract, and you are not alone. A study published in 2019 showed that 61% of people in the United States had digestive, and gastro-intestinal problems. The most commonly reported symptoms were heartburn and gastric reflux (30.9%), abdominal pain (24.8%), bloating (20.6%), diarrhea (20.2%), constipation (19.7%). and nausea/vomiting (9.5%). Females, non-Hispanic whites, and individuals who were younger and highly educated were more likely to have symptoms according to the publication.
Many of the top drugs sold in America are those to alleviate symptoms of the gastro-intestinal tract. Some of these cause multiple side effects if they are used too much. Getting your GI tract into balance using foods and herbal remedies is the better solution. The most common type of over the counter (OTC) and prescription medications for heartburn and GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) are known as PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors). When taken for too long a period of time, PPIs have been shown to have negative consequences including severe kidney problems. In most cases they are to be taken for a maximum for 14 days, but many people use them on an ongoing basis. These medications can lead to deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals, thus causing serious problems.
Digestive Enzymes and Age
Digestive enzymes breakdown food into nutrients the body needs. Most of the digestive enzymes are made in the pancreas. Although bile is not considered an enzyme it helps to emulsify and absorb fat. As people age the stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile all decrease, making it more difficult to digest food, breakdown and absorb certain vitamins, minerals and dietary components from food.
Need for Stomach Acid
The stomach releases acid to begin protein digestion and help absorb important vitamin and minerals. The acid is very, very strong as the pH should be between 1-2, and this makes it a powerful component of the immune system. This acid is very deadly to pathogens which may try to enter and cause infections in the body. Fortunately, there is a very thick mucus lining in the stomach that protects corrosion from this acid. People with GI conditions often lack the proper stomach pH.
A condition known as “Achlorhydria” (low stomach acid) leads to a 7-fold increase in stomach
cancer (gastric carcinoma) as compared to those without achlorhydria. Interestingly, blood type can also affect this. As one study on achlorhydria concluded, “Although the incidence of achlorhydria in the O and A blood groups was approximately equal, the frequency of carcinoma was about four times greater in subjects with blood group A than in those with blood group O.” Low stomach acid can lead to low absorption of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and iron, and this can lead to anemia, inflammation, weak bones, and many other diseases and conditions. The overuse of over the counter drugs such as H2 Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) can also lead to similar conditions, because they inhibit stomach acid release and production.
There are enzymes throughout the digestive tract, but most of the digestive enzymes are made in the pancreas. Pancreatic enzymes help digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats. As individuals age, pancreatic enzymes decrease by 40%. Pancreatic enzyme deficiency can lead to symptoms of gas, malnutrition, steatorrhea (fat in stools), diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss. When food is not digested and broken down properly it can lead to fat in the stool attracting water and resulting in a watery loose stool. When carbohydrates are not digested properly, bacteria can feed off undigested food and release gas. And when proteins are not digested properly, it leads to inflammation, bloating and pain.
A condition known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a diminished production of pancreatic
enzymes. Interestingly, this has been shown to occur at a higher rate (26-57%) with type 1 diabetes than people with type 2 diabetes.
What Can You Do?
There are many things you can do to help improve your digestive tract: Change your diet, take herbs that stimulate digestive enzymes and facilitate digestion and take digestive enzymes that may be lacking in the body. Raw foods have digestive enzymes which are activated when eaten. This is evident when an apple is dropped, and it starts to turn dark because of activated enzymes. So, one of the most important healthy steps is to incorporate more raw foods into your diet. In Northern Europe they often drink bitters to aid digestion. Many cultures eat their salads or fruit at the end of their meal to help with digestion. They eat acidic foods to facilitate digestion, like salad dressings made with vinegar or lemon, or deserts made with yogurt. At the end of the meal at an Indian restaurant, a bowl full of seeds is presented. These seeds are from plants that aid in digestion, and all are encouraged to take a handful.
Decades ago, digestive enzymes were prescribed by physicians for people with digestive issues. This practice is no longer popular. Digestive enzymes may be derived from plants or animals and help supplement what may be lacking in the body. Taking supplemental digestive enzymes may be something to consider as you age, to ensure you get the most nutrients out of your food, and that food is broken down properly, not causing inflammation within the digestive tract.
An Easy Recipe for Natural Digestive Enzymes
Papaya and Pineapple are natural digestive enzymes. Pineapple has an ingredient called Bromelain which you may have seen in meat tenderizer. Bromelain is also used in medicine as a way to help inflammation and digestion. One easy recipe is taking the core from the pineapple and boil
It to extract the bromelain. Drink at any temperature throughout the day. It not only helps with digestion, but it is also very refreshing.
To learn more about digestion, herbal remedies and other helpful hints, check out the courses on Drlynnlafferty.com.