After almost 2,500 years, observation, research, and testing can now testify to what the ancient Greek philosopher and physician, Hippocrates, claimed when he said, “All disease begins in the gut!” Of course, not every disease originates in the gut, but good digestion is the foundation for good health.
Build a foundation of preventive self-care.
When all functions as intended, you feel healthy, vibrant, and energetic. When it doesn’t, you feel sluggish, uncomfortable, and even ill.
According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, up to 70 million Americans carry a digestive-disorder diagnosis. In fact, those numbers are on the rise. Add in those who suffer from chronic problems yet to be officially diagnosed and those who experience occasional digestive problems and the list quickly grows to include just about everyone.
Fortunately, a variety of health aids can address and resolve digestive issues and support a healthy gut. However, you almost need the credentials of a registered dietician or medical doctor to properly sort through the seemingly endless options: “Do I need fiber or a laxative? What is the difference between an internal cleanse and a detox? Can this be taken by men, women or both?”
Before getting overwhelmed, check out the following simple guide to help digest all of the possibilities.
Start with fiber
Fiber comes from plants; specifically, the indigestible portions of plant-based food. Fiber travels the length of the digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements. A diet high in fiber promotes healthy digestive-tract function and increases regularity. High-fiber foods can also create a feeling of fullness, a useful tool in weight control. Additionally, a diet high in fiber can decrease your risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
The Institute of Medicine, recommends daily dietary fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Because most adults only get about half that, many people receive a recommendation for fiber supplements to fill in the void.
The popular fiber supplement psyllium comes from the husk, or outer coating, of the psyllium plant’s seeds. On contact with water, psyllium thickens into a gel-like substance that acts like a broom to sweep waste out of the digestive tract and colon.
“You want to avoid lower-grade fiber products that grind the whole plant, including parts that are essentially fillers,” explains Craig Hays, an organic chemist and quality assurance manager at Yerba Prima (yerba.com), an producer of dietary fiber and internal cleansing products. “Check the label to make sure that the psyllium plant seeds are used.”
When addressing constipation, a fiber supplement alone may not be sufficient. If this is the case, a mild laxative can provide relief but should only be taken for a very short duration. Cascara sagrada and Senna, two of the most common natural laxatives, both act on the colon to stimulate muscle contraction.
“In normal doses and for short periods of time they are effective,” says Hays. “If higher doses are taken they can overstimulate the colon and cause problems. Senna or cascara, taken along with fiber to provide bulk to your stool, makes for easier passage of waste through the system. Some laxative formulations, like Yerba Prima’s Fiber Plus Senna Powder, combine the two.”
The digestive system also functions to expel toxins from the body. However, the overwhelming volume of chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, and environmental toxins, as well as the drugs, alcohol, processed foods, and added sugars that you encounter daily can put undue stress on the liver and the body’s elimination capacity. Detoxification offers a strategy for aiding this process.
One safe and very effective, natural method to enhance your body’s detox capacity focuses on bentonite, a natural volcanic clay that attracts toxins through adsorption. Commonly available as a solution or in capsules, the clay is not digested but passes through the gastrointestinal tract, binding to toxins and carrying them out of the body through the bowel.
“Bentonite attracts toxins like a magnet as it passes through the body’s digestive tract,” says Hays. “When combined with psyllium, it is even more effective because that ball of toxins is swept out of the body by the fiber.”
Because exposure to environmental contaminants, including industrial pollution and heavy metals, is cumulative, many experts advise performing a total-body cleanse on an annual or semi-annual basis. All of the body’s channels for detoxification and elimination come into play—the bowels, kidneys, lungs, liver, and lymphatic system—when engaging the total-body cleanse.
“People do a cleanse when they want to jumpstart their system and get back on a healthy track,” says Hays, whose company developed the first whole body internal cleanse. “It is popular as part of a new year’s resolution, in preparation for a change in one’s diet or when starting an exercise regimen.”
A cleanse can be achieved by taking many individual supplements, however, it is considerably easier (and cheaper!) to take a product that engages a complete range of cleansing pathways.
“Just as you would not run your car until it breaks down without maintaining it, you should not do that to your body,” adds Hays.
Because men and women have different physiological and nutritional needs, you should consider the different requirements for men’s and women’s internal cleanses.
Female consumers should look for internal cleansing systems designed to enhance good digestion, nutrient assimilation, waste and toxin elimination, energy stability, and hormonal balance. Certain herbs and extracts have been used for thousands of years to ease menstrual- related issues—like chaste-tree berry and dong quai root extract. The combination helps women feel healthier and more energetic throughout the month.
Similarly for men, formulations that contain a common base of powerful cleansing supplements, along with gender-specific ingredients, can protect and rebuild elimination systems leading to overall better health. This includes saw palmetto for prostate health, as well as Asian ginseng and sarsaparilla-root extract to support male vitality.
“Whether you are taking fiber, detoxing, or doing a total body cleanse, it is all about taking care of your digestive health so you can look and feel your best each and every day,” concludes Hays.