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Guest Column: Nutrition essential to a properly-functioning digestive system

September 16, 2009

By Dr. Jonathan Taylor

Northern Illinois Medical Group

In my last article, I mentioned supplementation to enhance your immune system function so you can defend yourself this cold and flu season. But, what good are your supplements doing you if you cannot absorb them? Proper digestive function is essential to good health. If we cannot absorb the nutrients we eat, then we can become deficient in vitamins and minerals, even with a healthy diet.

Digestion is performed in several stages. Enzymes begin breaking down our food as soon as we put it in our mouth, and this breakdown continues in the stomach and small intestine.

Nutrients are primarily absorbed in the small intestine, and water is reclaimed in the large intestine. During this process, many enzymes are used to break down the different parts of our food: starches, proteins, fats, etc. Most enzymes need minerals such as zinc or vitamins such as B12 to function properly. Therefore, proper nutrition is essential to maintain a properly-functioning digestive system.

Proper stomach acid levels are necessary for the release of intrinsic factor to absorb vitamins like B12, and to release enzymes to break down proteins. Good stomach acid also protects us from bacteria like Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which has been associated with ulcers and other digestive problems. Too often, people are told to take antacids for stomach upset when they actually do not have enough acid in their stomach.

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause inflammation in the lining of the intestines, which then prevents proper absorption of nutrients. Identifying and eliminating these sensitivities allows the gut to heal and helps restore proper digestion. The amino acid L-glutamine is very important to digestive health, as it is used for fuel by the cells lining the gut and is essential to help these cells heal and regenerate during treatment.

Eating the right foods is very important to aid in digestion. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, eating fish and lean meats, and avoiding processed foods, simple sugars, and additives will help with your overall digestion. Avoid eating large meals and instead eat small meals more frequently to avoid indigestion.

Ask your health care provider to help you identify your digestive problems and develop a treatment plan to improve your digestive health.

Dr. Jonathan Taylor of Northern Illinois Medical Group, 5301 E. State St., Suite 101, Rockford, IL 61108, can be reached by phone at (815) 397-8500 or e-mail at drtaylor@nimedgroup.com, or visit www.nimedgroup.com.

From the September 16-22, 2009 issue.

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