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Keeping the digestive track healthy helps prevent illness.
"The pathogen is nothing, the terrain is everything."
What did Dr. Louis Pasteur, the French scientist mean when he said this? Simply put, he meant that our terrain--our body--is the most important factor in fighting disease. If our body systems are working efficiently, we will not have much trouble with pathogens--harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and parasites--or other medical problems. However, if we our body systems are not working well, we open the door to pathogens and a host of other problems. One of the most important systems to keep healthy, and one we often ignore, is the digestive system.
Our digestive system is responsible for unlocking the nutrients that food provides. The nutrients, in turn, provide us with the energy needed to carry out everything needed to live: from producing body tissue to healing wounds to breathing. If this important system is not working well, it becomes a fertile field for disease.
What makes welcome terrain
There a number of reasons why the digestive system can be welcome ground to disease. One, and perhaps the one we have less control over, is our intake of toxins. Every day pollutants assault us, and additives and pesticides sneak in via our food. We also create toxins "naturally." Waste products are produced through the natural metabolic process, and when the balance between good and bad bacteria is lost, toxicity may build up. (For a great beneficial bacteria product see FloraFood )
Toxins make it difficult for your digestive system to effectively rid your body of wastes. And if the digestive tract is not functioning as well as it should be, the residue of partially digested foods can irritate mucosal walls and clog our bodies' transportation systems. This, of course, is a greenhouse where disease can thrive.
Even if we are eating "healthy foods," we may not be eating healthily--that is, we are eating too much and overloading are digestive system. Our digestive process can also be adversely affected by stress, other illnesses, lack of exercise, and inadequate liquid intake.
What is the result of toxins, inefficient digestion, and pathogens? First of all, inconvenience, if nothing major. Burping, gas, heartburn, and indigestion are all symptoms of a digestive system out of whack. But it gets more serious. Constipation, diverticular disease, hiatal hernia, colon cancer, and irritable bowel system all can be the result of trouble within.
One way to try and prevent all of this--bacterial imbalance, minor problems such as indigestion and heartburn, and more serious problems--is through diet. Surprisingly enough, diet appears to be one of the major causes of all that can go wrong with our digestive process. And you can help a lot by making a simple addition to your diet: fiber.
In simpler times fiber was called roughage. It was "rough" in that it was not easily digested and seemed to work to clear up and prevent constipation. This still holds true, but interest in fiber has greatly expanded, as has our knowledge on how it helps us.
Evidence from clinical and epidemiological (disease and population) studies could be used to put fiber's effects into four categories: laxation, regularity, effects on blood sugar, and effects on blood cholesterol. Others have extrapolated these effects and linked increased fiber consumption to less occurrences of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Indeed, a Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Healthy said "...dietary patterns emphasizing foods high in complex carbohydrates and fibers are associated with lower rates of diverticulosis and some types of cancer ... some evidence from clinical studies also suggests that water-soluble fibers ... are associated with glucose and lipid levels." For an oustanding Herbal Fiber product see Herbal Fiberblend
There are two types of fiber: Insoluble and Water-soluble.
Insoluble fiber cannot be dissolved in water, meaning that our bodies cannot digest it. This type of fiber includes the insoluble parts of plant walls and is found in greatest amounts in cereals, brans, and vegetables. Its primary function is to collect water that increases stool bulk in the large intestine. As this bulk works through the intestine, it scours the intestinal walls of waste matter, reducing the risk of colon-related problems.
Many claims are made for what this scouring does. It is a laxative, and does help regularity. Some studies have shown that it can help reduce instances of diverticulosis (pouches that form in the wall of the colon). According to W. Grant Thompson, a gastroenteroligist at the University of Ottawa, the bulkier stool "... gives you a larger colon. The wider the colon, the less pressure, so it's less likely to pop pouches out" (as quoted in Nutrition Health Newsletter, September 1994). However, evidence is inconclusive that this type of fiber can actually reverse diverticulosis.
It is this "scouring" action that may also protect against colon cancer. This may be because insoluble fiber dilutes cancer-causing bile acids, or because it speeds up elimination--carcinogens may not have time to develop or are excreted before they cause trouble. However, studies at this time are inconclusive. We must also remember that we are not sure if it is the fiber, other parts of fiber-rich foods, or both that aid our bodies.
Water Soluble Fiber
Water-soluble fiber dissolves in water. This type of fiber includes oat bran and psyllium. It forms a bulky gel in the intestine that regulates the flow of waster materials through the digestive tract, and is believed to help cholesterol levels and the circulatory system.
Water-soluble fiber may lower cholesterol because it prevents the reabsorption of bile acids. Bile acids are made out of cholesterol, and after they aid fat digestion, fiber binds with them and escorts them out of the body. The liver then has to pull more cholesterol from the blood to produce more. However, it should be mentioned that not all water-soluble fiber does this; fiber that does includes oat bran, legumes, and psyllium.
Water-soluble fiber may also stabilize blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood. This in turn might be one of the reason why a high-fiber diet benefits diabetes. Dr. Brain L.G. Morgan, the author of Nutritional Prescription, says "Good scientific data show us that a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber will improve the glucose tolerance of diabetes. This new type of diet has been credited with lowering insulin needs in diabetics by an average of 35 to 50 percent" (as quoted in Let's Live, February 1990).
Finally, both types of fiber may help you with weight problems. Insoluble fiber absorbs water as it goes through your system. This might crate a "full" feeling, curbing hunger. Fiber's blood sugar stabilizing property might also prevent huge fluctuation in blood sugar and the desire for snacking that goes with it.
Be aware that, except for constipation and regularity, most of the claims for fiber need further research and testing--nothing is really conclusive, and, as mentioned, the health benefits may be due to the synergistic work of everything found in high-fiber foods. Be that as it may, everything points to making fiber an indispensable part of your diet.
The Digestive Process
For greatest efficiently, the digestive process must proceed in 35 hours or less, with a time of less than 24 hours being the most desirable. If food remains in the digestive tract for long periods of time, there is risk of the food fermenting or putrefying. This may result in carcinogenic toxins.
Enzymes are critical to good digestion and overall health. If you eat mostly cooked food you should seriously consider digestive enzymes like Prepzymes.
Dietary Fiber, by Shirely S. Lorenzani, Ph.D. Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, CT. ISBN 0-87983-479-X.
Cleansing the Body and the Colon for a Happier and Healthier You, by Teresa Schumacher and Toni Schumacher Lund.
"Fiber," by Bonnie Liebman. In the Nutrition Action Newsletter. September, 1994.
"Role of water-soluble fiber in the management of elevated plasma cholesterol in healthy subjects," by William L. Haskell. In JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. May 27, 1992. Vol. 297, No. 20.
"The importance of dietary fiber," by Peggy Rynk. In Let's Live, February 1990.
mitigate, or prevent a disease or illness. Results may vary per person"
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