You may be a bit surprised to learn that you have three to five hundred various species of bacteria living and thriving in your digestive tract. It's your gut that helps your body ward off pathogens, absorb nutrients, and protect the many microbes essential to your wellbeing.
Of course, within your digestive system, there are both healthy and harmful bacteria. The more researchers learn about the functions of the bacteria in your gut; the more they understand the connections between your gut microbiome, your immune system, and the regulation of your moods and emotions. When the healthy flora of your digestive system is out of balance, natural detoxification can provide significant health benefits.
The Significance of Digestive Detoxification
Our digestive processes were once believed to function simplistically. Many of us were taught that food was broken down by enzymes, nutrients absorbed, and waste discarded, that was it, end of story. Today research shows that our digestive tract is remarkably complex. The bacteria in our digestive tracts can protect us from inflammation, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, and a long list of other potentially serious health complications.
Unfortunately, stress, sleep deprivation, antibiotics, and poor food choices can disrupt the balance of the microbiome in your gut. A highly processed, high-sugar diet typically results in poor intestinal flora and a leaky gut. Once you develop a leaky gut, pathogens are free to roam your body and cause inflammation. If you have an abundance of unhealthy microbes in your digestive tract, you may recognize some of the following symptoms:
- Frequent bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Frequent heartburn or acid reflux
- Constant fatigue or poor sleep
- Symptoms of depression or mood swings (most serotonin is produced in the gut)
- Allergy symptoms or food intolerances
- skin issues or joint pain
- Frequent headaches
- Sugar cravings and weight gain
- Autoimmune disorders or systemic inflammation
Understanding the Basics of Digestive Detoxification
Even if you are not currently experiencing the symptoms of an unhealthy gut, you could benefit from the health and wellness benefits of digestive detoxification. An unhealthy balance of microbes in your gut can impair nutrient absorption, and promote insulin resistance. Having a wide variety of healthy bacteria in your digestive tract enhances the function of your immune system, helps combat obesity, and minimizes your risk of depression.
Many people mistakenly assume that they will need to fast in order to cleanse and restore balance to their digestive system. While many detoxification enthusiasts promote periodic fasting, you can restore the digestive health without going hungry by simply adapting your diet.
A digestive detoxification diet involves a period of eating clean. Eating clean means nourishing your body with unrefined, unprocessed foods and natural probiotics. During a detoxification diet, you should avoid gluten, hydrogenated fats, sugar, coffee and most (unfermented) dairy. Instead, focus on unprocessed foods found in nature, including:
- Fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Unsweetened coconut milk, rice milk, or almond milk
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Gluten-free grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat)
- Green and herbal teas
- Fermentable fibers including sweet potatoes and yams
- Psyllium Husk (fiber to promote healthy bowel function)
- Fermented foods
Balancing Gut Bacteria and Promoting Digestive Health Naturally
While clean eating can help balance your digestive processes, your body also needs healthy bacteria, probiotics, to keep the digestive environment balanced and functioning efficiently. It is often difficult to get a sufficient amount of probiotics in your diet without a little help. Consider the health and wellness benefits of the following suggestions.
Turmeric is a vibrantly colored spice often used in Indian cuisine. This beneficial plant has been used for centuries to promote health and healing as a crucial element of Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. The bioactive component of turmeric, curcumin, is shown to relieve pain and inflammation. Turmeric is also shown to be beneficial for the treatment of digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. That's because turmeric is known to:
- Promote the growth of gut-friendly bacteria
- Relieve gas and bloating
- Boost the secretion of protective stomach mucus
- Stimulate the production of bile to assist in the digestive processes
- Relax the smooth walls of the intestine allowing food to pass
L-glutamine is the most abundant of your naturally-occurring amino acids. Amino acids are the essential elements that fuel your white blood cells, build and repair muscle tissue, and help your body metabolize the protein from the foods you eat.
While meat, fish, poultry and many protein-rich plants contain L-glutamine, many people choose to supplement this essential amino acid to boost their immune system and minimize exercise-induced muscle pain. You should know that L-glutamate also supports healthy digestion and detoxifies your digestive tract by:
- Helping to heal the walls of irritated intestines
- Reducing gut permeability (leaky gut)
- Restoring balance to intestinal microflora
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains fermented apples and natural pectin. Pectin is a fiber that promotes digestion by clearing excess fiber from your digestive tract. Apple cider vinegar also provides significant amounts of polyphenols and beneficial bacteria. Apple cider vinegar promotes gut health by:
- Providing probiotics to help restore balance to the gut flora
- Providing powerful antioxidants, defending your body from cellular damage
- Reducing blood sugar levels and cravings for sugar-laden foods
- Helping stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid to aid digestion
- Promoting PH balance and minimizing the burn of acid reflux
- Suppressing the production of body fat and promoting weight loss
To include apple cider vinegar in your detoxification plan, try drinking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water or splashing ACV on your salad. But keep in mind that apple cider vinegar is quite acidic. If you are not comfortable with the thought of drinking diluted vinegar or are concerned with the acids eroding your tooth enamel, consider the alternative of using apple cider vinegar in capsule form.
Prebiotics are the natural fibers found in the foods we eat. Probiotics rely on prebiotics for nourishment. While prebiotics and probiotics were abundant in the diets of our ancestors, our typically low fiber, sugar-ladened diets have left us more susceptible to many diseases than our predecessors.
It can be difficult to get an adequate amount of prebiotics and probiotics in your diet. The probiotics in apple cider vinegar, turmeric, and fermented foods restore balance (symbiosis) to your gut microbiome. Consider the benefits of adding the following fermented foods to your diet:
- Yogurt – fermented milk containing lactic acid and bifidobacteria
- Tempeh – a high protein meat substitute made from fermented soybeans.
- Kimchi – a spicy fermented cabbage dish containing lactobacillus kimchi and other beneficial lactic acid and bacteria
- Kefir – fermented milk made with kefir grains and milk (cow or goat) that contains several major strains of probiotics
- Unpasteurized Sauerkraut – finely shredded cabbage fermented with lactic acid (pasteurization kills the active bacteria)
- Miso – a Japanese seasoning made with fermented soybeans and a fungus called koji, miso is also considered a significant source of protein and fiber
Pickles- cucumbers fermented in distilled vinegar and naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria.
If you have been living on a diet that is high in sugar and processed foods, you may find that your body may temporarily rebel against your detoxification plan. You may experience a bit of mental fatigue or fogginess for a few days or notice a change in your bowel movements. You may also experience a few minor skin eruptions as your detoxification progresses. This is to be expected. You can anticipate that your symptoms will subside within 3-5 days.
It may be a bit unnerving to learn that the bacteria, viruses, and fungi of your personal microbiome outnumber your human cells 10-1. The probiotic bacteria colonizing your digestive tract help your body absorb nutrients and help regulate many important processes. You can keep this vital system balanced by reducing your sugar, enjoying natural foods, and supporting your digestive system with natural probiotics like turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and fermented foods.