Do I have IBS?

Do I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal problem, which leads to unusual sensitivity and muscle activity.

It is very common, afflicts mainly women and tends to develop ebfore the age of 35.

It is also often referred to as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis or nervous stomach. However, IBS should not be mistaken for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBS is a functional problem, whereby the operation of the bowels may be abnormal, but no structural problems are present.

How the bowel works

It can be helpful to understand the role of the intestine (bowel), in better understanding IBS.

The intestine stretches from an opening in the stomach to the anus (rear end). It plays a major role in digestion, a process in which food is broken down and absorbed (together with water) into the bloodstream. The small intestine absorbs nutrients, whilst the large intestine assimilates moisture from the matter that is leftover and excretes the waste from the anus.

So, partly digested foodstuff normally leaves the stomach and passes into the small intestine and then into the large intestine. The large intestine helps food to flow through with light squeezing motions. However, with IBS, it is believed that the intestines squeeze too hard or not hard enough and cause food to move too quickly or too sluggishly through the gastrointestinal tract.

Types of IBS

As such, there are broadly two types of IBS:

1. In some instances, material inside the bowel doesn’t progress rapidly enough and an excess of fluid is absorbed, leading to constipation – this is called IBS-C.

2. In other cases, the material moves too quickly and the colon doesn’t take up enough liquid, which leads to diarrhoea – this is called IBS-D.  

Those that have problems with IBS seldom openly discuss it. However, studies suggest its likely prevalence in the United Kingdom to be around 17% of the population.

Unfortunately, doctors do not tend to understand why or how IBS comes about. Furthermore, quite a few doctors feel that the complaint doesn’t really exist and is psychosomatic in origin. Having said that, this opinion is now generally rejected by the natural health fraternity. Moreover, it is the most common condition diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians.

The specific cause, or causes, of IBS are uncertain, but the following factors are likely to contribute to the onset of this condition:

  • stress
  • depression
  • insufficient intake of dietary fibre
  • hypersensitivity to specific hormones
  • food allergies and sensitivities (e.g. to gluten)
  • problems with the way signals are sent between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract
  • poor diet (including diets high in sugar and/or fat)
  • micro-organisms in the gut (including bacteria and parasites)
  • yeasts
  • coeliac disease
  • and medications.

What is a syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not classified as a disease. The term “syndrome” may sound alarming, but it’s actually just a broad term used by doctors to describe a group of symptoms.

Although IBS certainly isn’t fatal, its symptoms can drastically impact on quality of life and may even be debilitating.

Certainly, symptoms and severity vary from one person to another (and might change over time). For some, IBS is a chronic (continuous) disorder that characterises daily living. For others, it is a periodic unwelcome visitor. Everybody suffers from an occasional bowel disturbance, but for anyone with IBS, the symptoms are more acute or arise more often.

Whether constant or intermittent, IBS is most often known to cause a mixture of any of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, acid reflux, wind, bloating, fullness, cramping pains, fatigue, severe headaches, passage of mucous, urgency or a a sense of unfinished bowel movements and a change in bowel habits (i.e. constipation and/or diarrhoea).

Clearly, a number of these symptoms are common in other conditions and are rather ambiguous. This explains the frequent difficulty in obtaining a certain diagnosis. More uncommon symptoms include a feeling of sickness and throwing up.

Living with IBS

Unfortunately, there isn’t any known cure for IBS, but it appears that its symptoms can be managed in many different ways. For instance, dietary and lifestyle changes and supporting health supplements. Many people find that high-strength, multi-strain probiotics help with symptoms, along with plant-derived digestive enzymes and high quality dietary fibre.

In contrast, having fatty, processed foods can lead to a tummy upset in virtually anybody. Nonetheless, particular foods and drinks (like greasy burgers, sugar, chocolate, milk products, caffeine and alcohol) are believed to especially aggravate the symptoms of IBS, by (amongst other things) increasing the body’s output of digestive gases and creating an acidic environment.
 
Tension is also believed to increase the motility (the rhythmic contractions) of the intestine that propels food through the gastrointestinal tract and causes abdominal pain and irregular bowel functions.

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How do I balance my gut flora?

Do I have dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis refers to a microbial imbalance on or within the body; in other words, an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria.

It most often occurs in the digestive tract (leading to unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating, excessive wind, IBS symptoms etc). However, it can also present on any exposed surface or mucous membrane, such as in the vagina, lungs, nose, sinuses, ears, nails or eyes.

For the purposes of this post, we will focus on intestinal dysbiosis, where digestion is compromised.

Toxic bowels and overall declining health can often be caused by diminishing levels of friendly bowel flora, coupled with and caused by the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and parasites, such as Candida albicans.

Bacterial enzymes can deactivate digestive enzymes in the gut (essential for the proper digestion of food and absorption of nutrients) and convert human bile or components of food into chemicals, which promote the development of diseases. Some by-products of bacterial enzyme activity, like ammonia, also hinder normal brain function and various other essential processes in the body. These by-products, when absorbed, need to be processed by the liver, placing it under additional strain.

What can cause this imbalance?

An imbalance in bowel flora can be caused by the proliferation of pathogenic parasites, yeast and/or bacteria and can have any number of specific causes. For example:

  • stress
  • illness
  • poor digestion (including low levels of digestive enzymes, constipation and other bowel disorders)
  • chemical exposure
  • poor diet
  • overuse of medication (including antibiotics and birth control pills)
  • mercury, for instance, in dental amalgams, may also have a role to play. It is thought that mercury can cause mutations in intestinal bacteria. These bacteria (either directly or indirectly) can then lead to the formation of small holes in the gut lining, which in turn has the potential to lead to dysbiosis and “leaky gut syndrome”.   

Dysbiosis is also often an underlying condition in people who are generally unwell, but is either misdiagnosed, not diagnosed at all or simply dismissed as a non-existent condition. However, natural health experts are generally in agreement that the health of your gut has a direct impact on your overall health. How can it not, when your digestive tract is where you take in nutrients and eliminate waste which, if left in the body too long, can become toxic and a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

As such, dysbiosis has been associated with a number of health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) (e.g. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), chronic fatigue syndrome, yeast infections and rheumatoid arthritis.

How do you know if your intestines are healthy?

If you have intestinal dysbiosis, you are likely to experience one or more of the following signs:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • intestinal upsets
  • stomach ache
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • wind
  • heartburn
  • burping
  • constipation
  • and/or diarrhoea. 

One of the main reasons for mis- or non-diagnosis of this condition is that these symptoms fit with many other conditions. For example, Candida albicans (also known as “the yeast syndrome”). This is because Candida is actually a form of dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is just an umbrealla term, which reflects the fact that yeast organisms aren’t the only intestinal parasites that can cause these symptoms. In fact, intestinal bacteria or viruses may be the primary cause of some of these illnesses, not yeast. However, the most serious dysbiosis cases are likely to involve both yeast and harmful bacteria in the intestines.

How do you reset your gut?

It is perfectly achievable to re-balance your bowel flora, with careful attention to your diet (including supplementation) and lifestyle.

However, it should be noted that after suffering intestinal diseases, the body may be vulnerable to other infections, both bacterial and viral. As such, treatment of dysbiosis would be sensible as part of any overarching treatment of intestinal infections.

One suggested approach is to remove all sources of carbohydrates from the diet, as the molecular structure of these foods is too large for direct entry into the bloodstream.

When diseased intestines are inflamed from the effects of dysbiosis, they cannot break down the molecules that are too large to be transported across the small intestinal surface into the bloodstream. Instead of entering the bloodstream, the undigested starch and sugar molecules serve as a continual source of food for bacteria and fungi. By removing starches and sugars, dysbiosis may possibly be corrected.

However, it is important not to make any drastic dietary changes (such as the complete elimination of a food group) without first consulting a nutritionist, dietitian or GP.

It is also recommended to “crowd out” bad bacteria and other pathogens, by taking in high amounts of friendly bacteria in the form of probiotic supplements. While probiotic foods can certainly be beneficial as part of the revised diet, these probiotics do not tend to colonise the digestive tract (unlike probiotic supplements, which do). It is important to increase numbers of healthy bowel flora for the long-term; not just during the process of digestion.

As such, high-strength multi-strain probiotics can offer support.

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Beetroot nutrition

So you think you know all about the humble beetroot – the root vegetable so often found in pantries since World War II. But you might be surprised to learn that it is so much more than just a pickle. It is actually a nutritional powerhouse, now widely regarded as a “superfood”, and best friend to those who engage in high-intensity, stamina and endurance exercise.

Beetroot history

The beetroot is no stranger to the average household. Also known as “table beet”, it is one of the many cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris and the most common variety found in Britain, North America and Central America today.

In the earliest days of its consumption, the leaves were most commonly eaten by people living in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The Romans then began to make use of the root for various medicinal purposes. Over the years, it became popular in Central and Eastern Europe for culinary purposes too.

Beetroot, as we know it today, was only cultivated in the 16th century. Interestingly, modern varieties are derived from the sea beet, an inedible plant that grows wild along the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia.

An unlikely “super” hero

Unlike some of the other, better known superfoods, like wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina or acai berry, beetroot is not particularly exotic. But don’t let that fool you.

What has traditionally been viewed as a boring, somewhat unappetising vegetable, is really a “super-root” in disguise.

It is a rich source of both carbohydrates and plant proteins, along with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.

At the same time, it has a very low caloric value and is almost entirely free of fat. It is also a low-GI food – the sugar conversion process is slow, which supports stable blood sugar levels.

Beetroot antioxidants

You can’t have failed to notice the vivid colour of beetroot – whether the deep purple, the bright yellow  or the lesser seen candy-stripes. Like so many other superfoods, these colours offer a visual clue as to the high level of antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids found in beetroot as a result of its pigment.

The notorious red colour compound is called betanin (or beetroot red), a pigment which is a well-known antioxidant and phyto-chemical. However, all beets contain betalain antioxidants – a class of red and yellow pigments found in plants.

Vitamins and minerals in beetroot

Beetroot is also rich in a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, contributing to its classification as a superfood. For instance, it contains high levels of folate and vitamin C (another powerful antioxidant), as well as riboflavin, niacin and thiamin, vitamin K, calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron.

Dietary fibre

Beetroot is high in dietary fibre – both soluble and insoluble. A 100g portion – about two or three small beetroot – contains as much as 10% of the recommended daily allowance.

Fibre is an essential component of healthy digestion and supports everything from stable blood sugar levels to natural cleanse and detox processes in the body.

Dietary nitrate

More recently, a lot of research has been undertaken on beetroot’s capacity to absorb and store exceptionally high levels of nitrate – a nutrient involved in many of the processes that are essential for efficient exercise performance, including blood flow and oxygen usage.

In particular, a study conducted by Exeter University in the UK received a high level of media attention when it found that cyclists who drank a half-litre of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20% longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice.

Since that study, both beetroot and beetroot supplements have been of particular interest to athletes.

Supporting general health and vitality

The unique combination of nutrients found in beetroot mean that it can offer ideal support for general health and vitality, including:

  • a healthy heart and cholesterol levels
  • detoxification and liver function
  • a strong immune system
  • healthy homocysteine levels
  • normal tissue growth
  • musculo-skeletal health
  • healthy skin, hair and nails
  • stable blood sugar levels
  • stamina and energy levels
  • stable moods
  • and healthy digestion.

Belonging to the same family as two other nutritional titans, chard and spinach, both the leaves and roots of beetroot can be eaten. Incorporate it into your daily diet and your body will thank you.

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How antibiotics affect the gut

Good health begins in the gut

Many health experts agree that good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the digestive system.

Inside our bodies there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria is a crucial part of avoiding illness and supporting long-term health and vitality.

Having the right kind of bacteria (so-called “friendly bacteria”), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections.

What can disrupt the balance of gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy bowel flora can be disrupted by a number of things, including excess intake of alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, as well as exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of bowel flora imbalance – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the gut?

It is now generally accepted that antibiotics have historically been prescribed and used far more than they should be. While this is in the process of slowly changing, the result has sadly been an upsurge in antibiotic resistance – a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

What’s more, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora – they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – obviously good in terms of bad bacteria, but bad in terms of friendly bacteria.

This is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying one of the body’s primary lines of natural defence. In fact, what is arguably the most important part of the immune system resides in the gut – Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) work hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.  

Of course, antibiotics have their role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections. However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic courses often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

How to support the good guys

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in three healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements.

For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) and so include them as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.

Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

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Fibre for digestion

What is dietary fibre?

Dietary fibre, “bulk” or “roughage” (a complex carbohydrate) is the part of plant-derived foods that can’t be completely broken down by digestive enzymes in the human digestive system. Instead, it travels through the gut largely untouched, when it arrives in the colon where it may or may not be fermented by gut bacteria or micro flora. This is in direct contrast with most other nutrients, which are fully digested and used in other parts of the body during the digestive process.

Fibre is probably not something you think about too often, unless you suffer with chronic constipation or other symptoms of poor digestion on a regular basis. However, it plays a very important role in helping to maintain, not only a regular digestive system, but also a healthy body, for everyone.

As mentioned above, fibre is derived from plant sources, such as fruit, vegetables and grains, and contributes to digestive regularity, toxin elimination and is a key ingredient to a healthy, varied and balanced diet. Most people consume different types of fibre daily, without realising it. However, the quality of this fibre will vary greatly.

It is important to remember that fibre is about much more than just eating unprocessed bran, as is sometimes promoted by cereal companies. Bran has the potential to irritate many people’s guts, producing bloating, excessive wind and anal discomfort.

Soluble and insoluble fibre

Dietary fibre is often categorised according to its solubility, as soluble or insoluble fibre. In other words, whether it dissolves or not. Both types of fibre are found in different proportions in fibre foods.

What is soluble fibre?

Soluble fibre, essential for healthy digestion, is fibre that dissolves in water; a soft fibre that absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract. It is made up of sticky substances like gums and pectin, which form a gel-like substance in the presence of liquid.

It is found in fruit, vegetables and other plant-based foods, and is probably best known for its cholesterol-lowering effects and ability to regulate blood sugar levels. When soluble fibre absorbs water, it turns into a gelatinous substance which is then fermented in the colon to produce short chain fatty acids. Soluble fibre is thought to bind with cholesterol and prevent it from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This helps to lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

This type of fibre is a fermented source of nutrition, which means that it is acted upon by the normal bacteria in your intestines, which helps to break down the carbohydrates in your colon. One of the benefits is that your stomach stays fuller longer, providing a feeling of fullness.

Especially good sources of insoluble fibre include beans and other legumes, whole grains and certain fruit and vegetables (such as apples, citrus fruits and strawberries, and peas and lentils).

What is insoluble fibre?

Insoluble fibre, resistant to human digestive enzymes, is not digested by the body and it does not dissolve in water. It acts like a sponge, absorbing water and moving solid waste out of the intestines. In this way, it promotes regularity and softens stools

It is mainly found in wholegrain foods (such wheat bran, brown rice and couscous), root vegetables (such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes), celery, cucumbers and courgettes, fruit with edible seeds, beans, pulses and lentils, nuts and seeds. 

Constipation is a serious and chronic problem for many people of all ages in today’s fast-paced, fast-food society. Stress, low-fibre diets, lack of exercise, certain medications, very little insoluble fibre in the diet and dehydration all often result in continuous bowel problems. Toxic bowel material needs to be passed every day. Otherwise, if allowed to build up in the colon, it can lead to a range of bowel disorders and diseases.

Ironically, constipation can be a side-effect of a high-fibre diet if fluid intake isn’t also increased. This is because fibre acts like a sponge and absorbs water.

Why is fibre good for you?

Diets that are high in fibre have been shown to be beneficial in a number of ways, from supporting digestive health and regularity, to helping to eliminate toxins from the body. High fibre diets also help to regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer, thereby also supporting natural weight loss and a healthy heart.

Your daily diet should ideally contain between 25 – 30 grams of high quality fibre.

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Enzymes for digestion

The process of digestion

Digestion is a vital process in the body, during which food that is eaten is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body.

The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus are the organs that make up our digestive system.

The process of digestion starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where the food is broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine. The  digestive tract comprises these digestive organs that take in food, digest it to extract essential nutrients and energy and finally expel the remaining waste.

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are complex proteins that stimulate chemical changes in other substances. They are secreted by different glands in the body, including the salivary glands, the stomach and pancreas glands and the glands in the small intestines.

These enzymes also have specific sites of action, including the oral cavity, the stomach, the duodenum and the jejunum. They work optimally at a specific temperature and pH in the body.

They are used by the body to break food down into nutrients, which are then digested. The human body produces around 22 different digestive enzymes, each of which acts on a different type of food. Fruit, vegetables, meat and other natural foods also often contain enzymes that assist in their own digestion.

Without digestive enzymes, we could not exist. Our body’s reactions would be too slow for life to be possible, because they are involved in almost every biological process.

How do digestive enzymes work?

The human body makes more than 3,000 kinds of enzymes, all of which speed up chemical reactions and save energy. Digestive enzymes, which are only a few of the thousands of known enzymes, break down the foods we eat into basic building blocks that our body can then absorb and reassemble to build cells, tissues, organs, glands and body systems.

These enzymes are produced by the body to help break down food into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestines. When we don’t produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently – wind, bloating and more serious digestive and other health issues may occur.

As mentioned above, digestive enzymes come from 2 sources: internal and external. Internally, the digestive system secretes the enzymes found in saliva, the stomach, pancreas and intestines. Externally, raw food is the primary source.

Food digestive enzymes are found in raw foods. Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes needed for digesting that particular food. This is one reason why it’s important to include many raw foods in our diets. It relieves the stress on the body, having to produce all the digestive system enzymes needed for continuous food digestion (particularly where the food items are hard to process, such as foods high in saturated fat, dairy, red meat etc). Chewing raw food releases these enzymes and digestion begins. Our own enzymes assist in this process.

What are some of the benefits of digestive enzymes?

Caffeine, alcohol, illness, pregnancy, stress, severe weather and exercise all take their toll on our enzyme reserves. Our bodies also produce less as we age. But the main reason we don’t digest food well, is poor diet.

Our diets don’t contain as much raw food as they once did, and modern food processing techniques and cooking destroy nearly 100% of the enzymes naturally present in food. Even raw food doesn’t contain as many enzymes as it once did due to environmental factors, depleted soil, and preservation techniques.

The body tries to compensate by producing more internal digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes. Enzyme-deficient food puts a burden on the digestive system that it isn’t always able to handle. Incomplete digestion can lead to poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, food allergies and other health conditions and digestive complaints. Partially digested food particles escaping from the gut can cause an immune response (such as Leaky Gut Syndrome), affecting the immune system. The body may also “steal” enzymes from the immune system, compromising it even further.

As a result, many health conscious individuals choose to support their daily diet and digestion with plant-derived digestive enzyme supplements.

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What are colon cleansers?

About the colon

To understand the role of the colon, it is important to first understand how the digestive tract (of which the colon is a part) is formed and functions in the body.

The digestive tract is the group of organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and finally eliminated. These organs include the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.

The large intestine consists of the colon and the rectum. The colon is approximately 5-6 feet long and has an ascending, transverse and descending portion. From there, it joins the rectum. It takes food around 18 to 24 hours to pass along the entire length of the colon.

The main functions of the large intestine are: the formation and excretion of faeces; the absorption of water and minerals; and beneficial bacteria in the colon manufacture vitamins B1, B2, B12 and K. They also help to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Cells of the colon secrete mucus, which lubricates and protects the walls. Inflammation or irritation of the intestinal wall causes the release of large amounts of mucus, as well as water and electrolytes. In this case, mucus can be seen in the stools and there may also be diarrhoea.

On the other hand, if faeces remain in the colon for longer than is desirable, causing constipation, large amounts of toxins can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. This is called auto-intoxication or self-poisoning.

Waste matter is filled with bacteria, so it is important to get it out of the body as quickly as possible. If the colon isn’t working efficiently, problems such as bloating, wind and pain are likely to present.

The digestive system is under pressure to perform very important functions all day, every day. Generally, digestive system problems are caused by a toxic build-up in the body, so it can be beneficial to flush the body of such toxins and waste from time to time. It is widely held by many natural health practitioners that one of the best means of achieving this is with so-called “colon cleansers”.

What are colon cleansers?

Colon cleansers fall into two broad categories: oral/rectal supplements and colonic irrigation.

As the name suggests, they are all intended to cleanse or clean the colon of toxins and other substances that can lead to disease and/or the accumulation of fat.

They come in the form of supplements, laxatives or procedures / devices used to stimulate the bowels into producing a bowel movement. The idea is that, by stimulating the colon to expel its contents, this helps rid the body of the toxins and waste matter that has built up in the colon.

As mentioned above, the colon is the part of the digestive tract that stores the waste material that we would rather not think about (and most of us don’t, until our health starts to deteriorate or we experience digestive issues). Over time the colon has a tendency to get clogged with food particles, especially if the diet includes a high level of processed foods and insufficient fresh fruit and vegetables. This leads to an accumulation of parasites and toxins that can have a detrimental effect on health.

If the colon is repeatedly abused and neglected, it can become a cesspool of toxins. If these are not eliminated from the body, they can keep building up over time and may even be reabsorbed. This can lead to bloating, constipation, irritable bowel symptoms, fatigue and various other health issues.

Colon cleansers may therefore offer support for conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, chronic fatigue, acid reflux and even skin and hair problems. Users of colon cleansers often say that they feel “cleaner” and healthier after cleansing, that they experience weight loss and increased bowel regularity.

Colon cleansing is not a new therapy. In fact, colonic irrigation was used by the Egyptians as far back as 1500 BC, was taught in Ancient Greece’s medical schools and was practised by Chinese medicine more than 3000 years ago. Even then, it was already recognised that water can be a highly effective cleansing agent that purifies, softens and neutralises.

In more recent years (and particularly as a result of the added pressure placed on our digestive systems by the modern-day diet), colonics and colon cleansing health supplements have seen a resurgence in popularity, as potential tools that can support digestive health and general well-being.

It is generally accepted that the colon is an important digestive organ in terms of our overall health. Colon cleansers have therefore become a popular means of detoxification, ridding the body of dangerous parasites that may have otherwise found a home in the digestive tract, and promoting colon health and a healthy balance of intestinal flora.

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Body cleanse and detox

What is body detoxification?

Broadly speaking, the aim of any detox programme is to eliminate toxins from the body that have accumulated over time, resulting in a healthier and more energised you.

There are countless ways to bring about the detoxification of the body and, as such, there are a wide variety of detox programmes out there to choose from.

Why do I need to detox?

Unfortunately, in this modern age, much of our food and water contains chemicals that are foreign (and often highly toxic) to our bodies. We are also exposed to an ever-increasing level of environmental toxins on a daily basis – even the air we breathe contains such compounds.

The liver is the body’s main detox organ. Every toxin taken in (whether eaten, drunk, inhaled or absorbed into the skin) will end up at the liver. However, the liver is part of a group of detoxification systems within the body and its role is to convert toxins into forms more easily excreted by the other organs comprising:

  • the digestive system – the natural health industry and most practitioners place great emphasis on the state of the intestines and bowels in terms of the health of our liver, lymphatic system and immune system;
  • the urinary system – the kidneys receive toxins that have been broken down and made water soluble by the liver, such as the end products of medications, organic chemicals, yeast and hormones;
  • the lymphatic system – this system filters the bloodstream of toxins and waste. Lymph nodes contain large amounts of white blood cells that attack bad bacteria and other pathogens;
  • the respiratory system – gas exchange is the main function of the lungs; inhaled oxygen is supplied to the blood and carbon dioxide is exhaled. The respiratory system has a number of mechanisms to reduce the amount of toxins entering the body. For example, the hairs in our nose trap dust and pollutants, which are expelled when we blow our nose;
  • the skin – the skin is our largest organ of elimination and, if working optimally, we can excrete a significant amount of water soluble toxins this way. Sweat has a similar composition to urine and is an important detoxification fluid, which is just one of the reasons why exercise is so important for good health.

Therefore, for the most part, our bodies have the ability to deal with the toxins to which they are regularly exposed. However, we can encounter difficulties if nutritional requirements are not being met and/or the level of toxins becomes too high.

For example, skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are often treated by conventional medicine as conditions of the skin itself, when in reality, they are more often simply external manifestations of internal toxicity. Similarly, chronic constipation and IBS-type symptoms are virtually considered “the norm” because they are so common, when such symptoms are indicative of an underlying problem, most likely rooted in poor diet and toxin overload.

In such circumstances, a body cleanse and detox programme may be beneficial, along with dietary adjustments and supporting supplementation.

How does a body cleanse and detox work?

The human body is best able to make use of natural substances, which include fruit and vegetables and other natural foods, herbs and phyto-chemicals from plants. Any foreign, synthetic substances introduced into the body will induce some form of response from the immune system.

While there are many detoxification programmes available, they can differ quite significantly in their process and outcomes. Some focus on one particular system of the body, such as the digestive system (and the bowels in particular). Others may purify the liver, or the blood or seek to improve the function of the kidney or skin. A full body cleanse and detox programme, on the other hand, involves combining all of these detox regimes, which can then help to restore the body’s organs to their optimum levels.

Although different, many types of detoxification programmes will be beneficial, subject to your desired outcome and your particular health needs and goals. Most detoxification regimes that advocate lifestyle changes will have some beneficial effect. However, there are of course other factors to be considered, such as a sensible diet, taking regular exercise, drinking pure water etc.

How body cleanse and detox programmes work will depend on the type of programme being followed. For example, those focused on the digestive system will generally recommend a higher intake of natural, unprocessed plants (such as living or raw foods, high in digestive enzymes). These foods will contain the quality dietary fibre necessary for stimulating good bowel elimination. These foods will also usually contain the required levels of vitamins and trace minerals to nourish the eliminative organs mentioned above.  

Supplementation

Of course, changing dietary and lifestyle habits for the long-term can be a significant challenge, particularly with the pressures and time constraints of modern-day living. Whether undertaking a short-term body cleanse and detox, or seeking to introduce major lifestyle changes to address a serious health issue or simply improve upon your health, it can be helpful to include food supplements in the programme to offer additional support and promote better outcomes.

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Why am I always bloated?

The most common causes of bloating

Stomach bloating is a common condition that affects as many as 1 in 5 people. While it’s most commonly associated with women, men can be just as prone.

Bloating can be very unpleasant, with the stomach swelling up like a balloon and making it difficult to wear tight-fitting clothes or uncomfortable to carry out normal daily activities. Excessive wind may also be present, adding to the sense of embarrassment.

But what causes bloating? If there’s no other bowel disturbance (like diarrhoea or constipation), underlying disease is unlikely – although, if in doubt, always visit your GP.

Bloating is most often caused by gas in the bowel, the volume and odour of which can depend on a number of factors, including:

  • diet
  • how much air you swallow
  • and the mix of bacteria in your gut.

Below are listed some of the most common causes of bloating, many of which are connected or inter-dependent.

Did you know?

We produce up to four pints of gas a day and release it by either burping or passing wind (14 times per day on average).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Previously known as “mucous colitis” and “spastic colitis”, IBS involves the colon being in spasm. The two main symptoms are abdominal pain / bloating and altered bowel habits. The pain is usually relieved on passing stool or wind. Diarrhoea with watery stools on wakiing in the morning may alternate with constipation. It is often accompanied with the sensation that the bowel is incompletely emptied and excessive flatulence. IBS is often linked to emotional factors (such as stress) rather than allergies / intolerances (although it is thought that cow’s milk and antigens in beef can precipitate the condition), with around one-third of cases being linked to diet. Women are more susceptible than men.

Bowel disease

Bloating is one of the symptoms of an inflamed bowel, which can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as severe food sensitivity (as is seen with coeliac disease for example – an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten intake).

Poor digestion

All too often, people eat their food too quickly because they are stressed, in a hurry or on the go etc. This is a bad start. Hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes are secreted in the stomach in order to digest protein. Stress inhibits all enzyme secretion and the levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach decline as we get older. As a result, many people routinely take antacids and other stomach acid blockers. These people are unlikely to be digesting protein properly and may therefore experience abdominal bloating, reflux and burping.

In the small intestine, bile from the liver, pancreatic juices and enzymes secreted by the intestinal lining act to digest food. Once again, stress, poor diet and nutritional deficiencies can all impair enzyme production which can in turn cause bloating of the stomach, wind and cramps.

Constipation

Constipation can have a number of underlying causes, but if food is only partially digested (e.g. because there has been a lack of digestive enzymes) and that food reaches the colon, it can putrefy and ferment. The problem is compounded if there is a lack of fibre and water in the diet.

The longer food sits in the bowel, the longer toxins inside your intestines are in contact with the intestinal wall and gas-forming bacteria have to work, meaning more gas can be formed.

Food allergy / intolerance

Any food that we are allergic or intolerant to acts like a poison in our bodies. In the majority of cases (+-95%), food allergies develop over time, so that a food that you once tolerated well might now be making you ill.

If our digestion is poor, there is an imbalance of gut flora (dysbiosis) or we have nutritional deficiencies, we may develop what is known as “leaky gut syndrome”. The intestinal lining can become more permeable than it should be, allowing toxins and partially digested food molecules to enter the bloodstream. This challenges the immune system and, over time, may contribute to food intolerances and/or allergies that can produce wide-ranging symptoms (including bloating, fluid retention, IBS, weight gain, cravings and fatigue).

Eating foods that you are allergic / intolerant to can create a lot of inflammation in the body, weakening your immune system. If you continue to eat these foods, your body will try to dilute them to minimise their harmful effects – this congests your lymphatic system, which can leave you looking bloated and puffy.

Dysbiosis

It’s estimated that there are more than 500 different species of bacteria present in the human gut in concentrations of between 100 billion to 1 trillion microbes per gram. This amounts to around 95% of the total number of cells in the human body.

The friendly bacteria in the stomach and intestines can quite easily become unbalanced (dysbiosis), making the body more vulnerable to yeast overgrowth (Candida), fungi, parasites and harmful bacteria. Poorly digested food, a high sugar diet and medication (like antibiotics) can all alter the intestinal pH, destroy good bacteria and then lead to bloating.

Beat the bloat with a healthy diet

A diet packed with fresh, enzyme-rich raw foods, fruit and vegetables, quality dietary fibre and fermented foods; low in saturated fats, salt and sugar; and with plenty of pure water, coupled with an active lifestyle, is the best way to keep your digestive system healthy and therefore beat the bloat.

You can also help to ensure healthy bowel function by:

  • eating slowly and chewing well (to avoid fermentation, gas formation and bloating)
  • eating only when calm and relaxed (to encourage the secretion of digestive enzymes).

When increasing the level of fibre in your diet, be sure to opt for naturally occurring fibre that is part of a whole food (e.g. in grains, fruit and vegetables etc). Try to avoid extracted bran, which is can have an irritant action on delicate membranes in the gut, leaving them open to inflammation (which will only aggravate bloating).

Also be sure to increase your water intake accordingly, otherwise any constipation could be worsened.

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