I’ve certainly been an advocate for Probiotics for a long time, but even I was once confused by advertisements for prebiotics. The important thing is not to understand the differences between probiotics and prebiotics but to understand how they work together.
Just to recap, Probiotics are the good bacteria needed for intestinal health found in supplement form. Their list of benefits include (but are not limited to):
- Killing bad bacteria to prevent common bacterial infections
- Protecting against food borne illness
- Reducing and sometimes treating diarrhea, especially associated with taking antibiotics
- Reducing inflammation and improving conditions caused by inflammation
- Treating IBS…and more
Prebiotics are just as important as probiotics because they are the fuel that allows probiotics to flourish in the digestive tract. Prebiotics are undigested fibers that probiotics feed on for growth and maintenance. Fortunately, prebiotics can be found in many common foods such as whole grains, bananas, cherries, onions, garlic, artichokes, kale, and honey. Because probiotics are generally only found in fermented foods (such as yogurt, miso soup, pickles, and sauerkraut), it is sometimes necessary to take additional supplement. You can buy combo supplements containing both, but you can decide if that is needed based on your individual diet.
Most people go through life and never truly appreciate the delicate process that takes place in the digestive tract. All we understand is that we eat, we digest, and we get rid of the waste. It is a little more complicated than that because there are so many variables in what we eat, how our bodies digest what is eaten, and how those variables determine the level of discomfort experienced at the end of the process.
Digestive enzymes help to ease the burden of understanding such a complicated process. Our bodies produce many enzymes needed for digestion, but we depend on our food to provide the rest. Natural enzymes are present in large quantity in raw foods, but because we live in a world of over processed foods, we lack the quantity necessary to facilitate healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients.
I have previously mentioned the importance of taking digestive enzymes to help digest problem foods. One of my favorites is Beano, which contains the enzyme Alpha-Galactosidasa. This enzyme helps to break down the complex carbohydrate raffinose, which is found in many commonly consumed and healthy foods.
I have recently found two naturally occurring enzymes that work wonders on common foods that I did not realize were problem foods. Bromelain is found in pineapple (stems and fruit), and Papain is found in papaya. These serve the same function as the enzyme Pepsin (which is naturally produced in the intestines) and are all types of proteolytic enzymes. All you need to understand about proteolytic enzymes is that they digest, or dissolve proteins. Because of their protein dissolving properties, it is no wonder that pineapple and papaya juices work wonderfully as meat tenderizers.
Bromelain and Papain are traditionally used for their anti-inflammatory properties both consumed orally and used topically on minor skin irritations or burns. This makes these enzymes especially helpful in dealing with conditions such as Crohn’s Disease and IBD. Their bag of tricks also includes other beneficial functions. Bromelain has anticoagulant properties, which reduces blood clots and the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Papain has carminative properties (anti-bloating) and acts as a diuretic.
Our diets today are filled with meat and plant proteins, and we simply lack the enzymes needed to digest them comfortably. I personally take these enzymes in combination daily to digest all the meat that I did not realize was causing my discomfort. Before I discovered these I had given up on pork and turkey altogether, and now I can eat them with pleasure. I no longer experience the bloating, gas and constipation commonly associated with protein-rich foods, and because of their anti-inflammatory properties I am confident that my body is better able to absorb nutrients and maintain a healthier existence knowing I am experiencing less inflammation in my body in general.
When dealing with an overabundance of acid in the stomach, the simplest way to start neutralizing those excess acids is by choosing alkaline-forming foods to add to your diet and removing acid-forming foods from your diet. This can be the best and most natural way to fight heartburn and acid reflux and balance your pH levels for overall good health.
Even on the scale of alkaline-forming foods there are highs and lows in terms of exactly how alkalizing foods are once metabolized. Generally fruits and vegetable are the most effective acid neutralizers. Here are the TOP PICKS:
- Citrus: lemons, limes, mandarine oranges, tangerines
- Berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries
- Melons: cantaloupes (muskmelons), honeydews, watermelons
- Tropical Fruits: mangos, papayas, pineapples
- Leafy Greens: collard greens, kale, mustard greens
- Winter Squash: acorn squashes, butternut squashes, pumpkins, spaghetti squashes
- Root Vegetables: radishes, sweet potatoes, yams
For a complete list of alkaline-forming and acid-forming foods, please read The Acid Alkaline Food Guide by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr. that I write about in Fight Heartburn with Food.
In a previous article entitled Nature’s Acid Reflux Relievers I compiled a list of natural acid reflux relievers. This list includes ginger, complex carbohydrates, cinnamon, fruit, romaine lettuce, and plain yogurt. While these are still helpful for the reasons written, I have a little more information to help you decide which of these natural remedies has the greatest effect.
Complex Carbohydrates are essential for sustained energy, but there is a flaw in eating complex carbs in order to relieve stomach acid. It is true that foods containing fiber help the flow of food through the digestive tract, thus reducing the buildup of gases that lead to excess acid production. Also, it has been said that grains help to absorb excess stomach acid, but I find this information contradictory to the fact that most all grains are acid-forming when metabolized. This means that during digestion they actually reduce the pH level in the stomach and intestines (making it more acidic). Other complex carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes are mostly alkaline-forming when metabolized (reduce acid in the stomach and intestines), so they in fact will help relieve acid reflux.
Plain Yogurt appears on this list because the healthy bacteria found in yogurt has MANY benefits for healthy digestion. The downside to yogurt, whether it be sweetened or unsweetened, is that it is acid-forming when metabolized. A better solution would be to simply supplement your diet with probiotics (healthy bacteria).
When discussing whether or not a food is alkaline-forming or acid-forming, I reference a great book that lists which foods fall within these levels. The book is called The Acid Alkaline Food Guide written by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr.. I talk about how much this book has helped me manage my food choices in the article entitled Fight Heartburn with Food. I cannot recommend this book enough because it truly helps to explain how important our food choices are and how simple it is to manage acid issues with the foods we eat.
I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have given me the opportunity to share all of this information with you. If you did not know already, my purpose for this blog is to share all of the years of research that I have used to better my own health. Healthy digestion is so IMPORTANT and many times digestive issues are simple to remedy. For those of us who suffer from more severe digestive disorders, much of this information is still helpful (with the OK from your doctor).
Most of my articles contain a great deal of medical jargon, and the information may seem a bit too academic for short blog articles. I think it is important to understand the medical details associated with the digestive disorders we are trying to treat. Because medical information can take a great deal of explanation, I have broken many articles into parts so they do not get too lengthy. I have tried very hard to link these articles together so that you are able to find their counterparts more easily. Please read the additional parts because I feel they contain information that is important enough to write about.
I hope that everyone who visits this site finds some comfort and helpful information to better their own health. Please feel free to comment on any of the articles you read. I love to hear feedback and any additional information you can share with me.
Happy Digestion Starts Today!
It may seem cheesy to say you can fight fire with fire, but the burning in your chest caused by food can in fact be fought with food. It all boils down to balancing the pH levels in your body through the foods that you choose to eat.
It is no surprise that each item of food that you eat has its own alkalizing and acidifying effect once metabolized. To maintain a low acid environment in your gut it is important to choose alkalizing (acid neutralizing) foods to balance out the acidic foods in your diet. For detailed information on pH and its effect on the body, please read the article entitled Understanding pH. To better understand pH levels in the foods you eat, please read the article entitled Our pH and Our Food.
In order for me to manage my stomach acid without medication I have added a new weapon to my arsenal. This weapon is a book I purchased at a health food store entitled The Acid Alkaline Food Guide by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr.. What these authors have done is create an extensive chart that identifies the alkaline-forming and acid-forming properties of almost every food you can think of. Dr. Susan E. Brown has compiled this information using her own clinical experience and the collective research and formulas of four other doctors who have studied the subject of pH levels of foods once metabolized. Dr. Brown will describe these charts as a “work in progress” because even she understands that scientists are making new discoveries every day and progressively gaining a better understanding of pH. This is a VERY helpful resource.
It may sound complicated so far, but it is actually quite simple. I use these charts to plan my meals for the day. In the morning, when stomach acid starts out high, I choose foods in the charts that are highly alkaline-forming (the most alkaline-forming). During the afternoon, because I have many hours to digest the food at this point (starting out balanced by my morning meal), I can afford to eat larger meals and choose the more acid-forming foods in the charts. As I get within 3-4 hours of bedtime, if I am still hungry I only choose alkaline-forming foods so that I do not go to bed with excessive acid in my stomach. Anytime I wonder what the pH level of a certain food is, I just flip to my handy alphabetized food chart, and it is simple to read and understand. Here is an example of what the food chart looks like in the book:
This is a relatively simple method that can be used to balance your pH levels, or just simply lower your stomach acid as needed. I have found that the more I reference the food charts, the more it becomes habit to choose the alkaline-forming foods, and I feel better and better each day.
Have you ever wondered why most restaurants serve you a glass of ice cold water with a slice or wedge of lemon? It is actually for your benefit. Fresh lemon and lemon oil are actually a great natural digestive aid because of their vast beneficial properties.
For starters, lemon can actually help to minimize acid in the stomach. This may seem strange because lemon is very acidic in nature, but once metabolized, lemon has an alkalizing effect, especially since it contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium. (See how these minerals help to reduce acid by reading Understanding pH)
Lemon is a natural cleanser both on your skin and in your digestive tract. This is due to its antiseptic, antibacterial, and Anti-fungal properties. These are immune boosting properties because they fight infections, and the vitamin and flavanoid (antioxidant) content also helps boost the immune system.
For anyone who suffers from digestive disorders, the best thing about lemon is its carminative property. This means that it can actually relieve and prevent flatulence. Lemon accomplishes this in two ways: 1.) lemon suppresses the formation of gas, and 2.) lemon acts as an expectorant to expel gas from the digestive tract. This helps to also relieve and prevent bloating, cramping, and discomfort. These benefits go a long way to minimize damage to the stomach and minimize the acid that fuels heartburn, acid reflux, GERD, and Barrett’s Esophagus.
Using lemon to combat acid is very simple. If you have fresh lemons in your kitchen, squeeze a half of a lemon into an 8 oz. glass of lukewarm water (lukewarm is best). Drink this either before a meal or after you feel heartburn and/or indigestion. One drop of lemon essential oil in 8 oz. of water is equally beneficial. Lemon oil is expressed from the peel of a fresh lemon and can be purchased at any health food store that sells essential oils. Be sure to verify the quality of the oil and that it is meant for consumption. Some lemon oils are strictly for topical use.
I have been receiving many comments in regards to a commonly talked about issue called Hypochlorhydria. This is also referred to as Achlorhydria, and it is the condition where the stomach does not produce enough or sometimes any hydrochloric acid (HCl). It is vital to understand the importance of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which can be found in the article entitled Hydrochloric Acid and Its Importance in the Stomach. Just as a quick recap, hydrochloric acid (HCl) serves three major purposes: 1.) it is necessary in order to digest and absorb nutrients, 2.) sterilize the stomach, and 3.) allow food to empty into the small intestine.
Based on the lack of these three important functions, people suffering from hypochlorhydria can eventually experience these commonly associated conditions:
- Celiac Disease
- Eczema, Psoriasis, Urticaria (hives)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Macular Degeneration (vision loss)
- Pernicious Anaemia
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori)
- Stomach Cancer
- Acid Reflux, GERD, Barrett’s Esophagus, Stomach Ulcers
- Gastritis (stomach inflammation)
The top 3 conditions listed are primarily due to the fact that when food is not properly digested, large food particles enter the lower intestines where the immune system attacks them (assuming they are foreign particles and dangerous to the body), thus causing an allergic reaction. This developes into food allergies that can present symptoms in other areas of the body besides the digestive tract such as skin and lungs.
Conditions 4 through 9 (to name a few) can occur due to lack of nutrient absorption. When a person lacks the proper amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) to digest food and absorb nutrients they become deficient. This can be very dangerous because nutrients are needed in ever aspect of healthy bodily function.
Conditions number 10 and 11 are examples of conditions resulting from the stomach’s inability to kill excess bacteria, yeast, and fungus due to the lack of acids needed to sterilize the stomach.
Listed conditions 11 through 13 are due to the stomach’s inability to empty its contents. When the stomach does not empty properly, its contents (foods and their acids) are left to sit stagnant and ferment. Stagnation allows acids to stew too long in the stomach, and fermentation causes gas, bloating, belching, and the opportunity for acids to travel up into the esophagus.
It is obvious that hypochlorhydria and these conditions are worth taking very seriously. There are a few diagnosis tricks and treatments that can be done at home as discussed in the articles entitled Diagnosing Hypochloryhdria and Treating Hypochlorhydria. However, if you are experiencing serious symptoms and/or any of the conditions listed above, please consult a gastroenterologist. If you are not satisfied with the care received from them, please seek a second opinion. You may find that some doctors overlook hypochlorhydria, so do make sure you feel you are properly diagnosed.
In my last article entitled Barrett’s-Are You the Answer I shared my recent experiences with gastroenterologists. My previous GE diagnosed me with Barrett’s Esophagus 2 years ago. An upper endoscopy revealed that diagnosis. Imagine my surprise when after discussing my concerns with an new GE and undergoing another upper endoscopy, Barrett’s was nowhere to be found.
Thank goodness I found a doctor who was not satisfied with the conclusions of another in regards to a serious condition that was not explained by my symptoms and medical history. To my surprise and delight, my new GE found evidence of a generally healthy esophagus and stomach. My symptoms more closely resemble those of a person who suffers from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). He did find acid reflux, but that pales in comparison to the seriousness of Barrett’s Esophagus.
I am extremely relieved by this discovery, and I am equally disappointed to find that my previous doctor was so careless. Everyone is entitled to have a doctor who listens to your concerns and seeks true answers to your questions. Everyone is also entitled to a second opinion…or third or fourth…however many it takes to find comfort in the discoveries of your physician.
Five years ago my journey started with multiple and unending digestive complaints. As my symptoms increased in intensity I was forced to seek the advice of medical professionals. Two years ago I was given a diagnosis…Barrett’s Esophagus was the cause of all my pain and frustration. A year and a half ago I created this blog to share all my knowledge with others. I had years of research information in my head that I needed to put down on paper (or laptop).
Imagine how my mind has been whirling since my new gastroenterologist gave me a new opinion…maybe I don’t have Barrett’s Esophagus. I have had my suspicions since the beginning, but it was difficult to discuss them with my original GE because she had stamped “Barrett’s Esophagus” on my forehead, and that was the end of the discussion. After evaluating all my symptoms and medical histery, my new GE did not feel everything added up to Barrett’s. He listened to my suspicions and removed the “Barrett’s Esophagus” stamp; at least for now.
My old symptoms and continuing symptoms are more what you would associate with someone suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Here are the reasons for the suspicions and possible new diagnosis:
- My age: Barrett’s is typical found in people 50 years of age or older, and I am well under 50.
- Little heartburn: I could count on both hands how many times I experienced heartburn in the 3 years prior to my endoscopy. With Barrett’s and GERD I should have had heartburn at least 2-3 times a week.
- My symptoms: I feel each instance of heartburn, gas, food traveling through my digestive tract, and bowel issues with intensity. My new GE says that this is because of hypersensitivity, which is typical for people suffering from IBS. Hypersensitivity means that I am able to feel basic digestive functions more than most people, and each pain such as heartburn feels worse than it may actually be because I am more sensitive to the sensation.
- Irregular bowel movements: I still flip flop back and forth between constipated and loose stool within a 24 hour period. That is a major indicator of IBS.
- My upper endoscopy (EGD) 2 years ago: My new GE reviewed my endoscopy and biopsy results. He observed that the endoscopy notes said that my esophagus “appeared normal” and there was no esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). If Barrett’s Esophagus was present, there would have been some abnormal cells or at least inflammation. A biopsy would be taken from the abnormal cells, but in my case a biopsy was taken from random cells. It would be unlikely to find Barrett’s in random, normal-appearing cells.
- Acid medication: I have felt significantly better while taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), but H2 blockers don’t seem to help. My new GE says that this is because PPIs are used to treat and/or manage IBS. H2 blockers are primarily used to treat acid reflux. While acid reflux is common, and I probably get it every now and again, it may not be the reason for all of my digestive issues.
My new GE and I have scheduled a much anticipated upper endoscopy to accomplish 2 things: 1.) Verify the presence of Barrett’s and 2.) check the progress of my Barrett’s management (if that is in fact still an accurate diagnosis).
I am so relieved to finally have a second opinion and to finally feel like I can express my suspicions and questions freely with someone who takes me seriously. I have tried really hard to be very aware of my body, and I am happy to have a gastroenterologist who will try equally as hard to help me find answers to my questions…and even ask new questions that I had not thought of.