Nutritional and Functional Causes for Digestive Complaints

The body requires specific nutrients to function properly. When we don’t get adequate nutrition, our bodies begin to fight back and systems begin to fail. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is generally lacking in nutrient-rich foods, thus the obesity and health epidemics that are sweeping across our nation.

To keep gut function healthy, you need adequate amounts of nutrients including water, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber to name a few. Just eating too little of these nutrients will lead to slow digestion and constipation.

Fiber — Adds bulk to stools. The USDA recommends 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. Foods rich in fiber include: beans, berries, and dark, green leafy vegetables like turnip greens, spinach, and Swiss chard. I recommend a minimum of 30g of fiber a day. Fiber also is the food source for your good gut bacteria. When you eat less fiber you grow less of the good probiotics in the gut to keep your immune system and digestive system running smoothly. Nuts and seeds — particularly almonds and flaxseed — are also a great source of fiber. Other high fiber food sources include: kale, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage, sweet potato, and many fruits.

Magnesium — Relaxes smooth muscles and increases transit speed of food through the digestive tract. The minimum amount of magnesium you should eat in one day is 300 mg to avoid significant magnesium deficiency. Most people consume far less than that.   To be honest, most people’s nutritional tests show deficiency levels at 600 – 800mg daily. Some of the best sources of magnesium include: dark leafy greens; nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium!); fish like mackerel, wild salmon, halibut, and tuna; avocado; bananas; and dark chocolate.

Vitamin C — Vitamin C is a vital nutrient for immune function and it acts as a bowel irritant that can increase bowel frequency just like coffee and caffeine. It is recommended that adults consume 65 to 90 mg of vitamin C daily at a minimum. However, many people do not get even the minimum requirement and those with immune system problems, stress and poor gut health may need significantly more up to 2000mg daily in divided dose. Good sources of vitamin C include: red and green bell peppers, kale, broccoli, papaya, strawberries, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, kiwi, and mangos.

Other deficiencies may contribute to constipation. Hydrochloric acid (a.k.a. HCl) is a chemical released in the stomach when food is consumed. HCl and other gastric juices work to break down foods causing a release of enzymes to aid in digestion. HCl also aids in fighting infections and supporting the immune system. Too little HCl leads to slow digestion of proteins in the stomach, resulting in reflux and bloat and slowed transit time – constipation. Too much HCl can also cause reflux, increased gastric emptying, and diarrhea.

Additionally, enzymes in the pancreas also help support digestion. A pancreatic enzyme deficiency can lead to delayed digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates leaving the carbs available to the bacteria to ferment, or slowing small intestine breakdown of foods and malabsorption of nutrients and nutrient deficiency and ultimately Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO). Pancreatic enzyme deficiency can cause a host of digestive symptoms.  A stool test can be instrumental in detecting poor levels of HCL and enzyme production.

To keep your body functioning as it should — particularly the digestive system — you must fuel it with proper nutrients. An appointment with a functional medicine trained nutritionist can help you determine whether or not you are eating the right nutrients, and help you get more of the nutrients your body needs.

Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss.  You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.

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