|There are actually more nerve cells in the overall digestive system than in the peripheral nervous system. Furthermore, major neurotransmitters found in the brain—including serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine and nitric oxide—occur plentifully in the gut as well. Enkephalins—described as the body’s natural opiates—also occur in the intestinal tract, as do benzodiazepines, psychoactive chemicals similar to mood-controlling drugs like Valium and Xanax...
Many modern foods, such as processed milk products, breads and soy foods, are extremely difficult to digest; but traditional preparation methods made food easy to digest and facilitated assimilation of nutrients. They include:
Preparation of grains by soaking and sour leavening to neutralize difficult-to-digest components and nutrient blockers.
Long soaking and cooking, or even fermentation, of legumes.
Fermentation of many types of tubers, such as casava.
Lacto-fermention of condiments and beverages to provide beneficial bacteria for the digestive tract.
Consumption of protein foods (meat, eggs, fish and milk products) with plenty of fat.
Use of gelatin-rich bone broths. Gelatin acts not only to bring food into contact with digestive juices, it also soothes the intestinal wall.
Cooking of most vegetables (and even some fruits) to neutralize toxins and break down cell walls.
Proper aging of meat to initiate the breakdown of protein. With proper aging and/or fermentation, meat is quite digestible either raw or carefully cooked at low temperature.
Soaking and/or roasting of nuts to remove irritants and toxins.
Nutrients for the Digestive Tract
Vitamin A, our favorite vitamin, is absolutely critical to the health of the intestinal mucosa. Without sufficient vitamin A, the mucous membranes become hardened and, paradoxically, more easily penetrated, leading to “leaky gut, ” ulceration and irritable bowel syndrome. Vitamin A is also necessary for the assimilation of minerals and protein and plays an important role in the repair process. It has been used successfully to treat gastritis. Best sources are cod liver oil followed by liver and other organ meats, and butterfat and egg yolks from grassfed animals.
Vitamin B Complex is important for fat metabolism and liver health; B vitamins play a role in the production of bile. They are necessary to maintain muscle tone, stimulate digestive secretions, support the nervous system and ensure normal carbohydrate metabolism. We recommend Frontier brand nutritional yeast as a supplement along with a diet of whole foods to ensure adequate B vitamins.
Vitamin C complex contributes to the health of all the epithelial cells as well as the integrity of the blood vessels that nourish the intestinal tract. Vitamin C is necessary for biochemical repair. Lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables are especially good sources.
Vitamin D plays a role in fighting inflammation and strengthening the immune system, as well as in the assimilation of calcium and other important minerals. Crohn’s disease is associated with vitamin D deficiency. Best sources are cod liver oil, lard from pastured pigs, oily fish, fish eggs, shellfish, and butterfat and egg yolks from grassfed animals.
Vitamin E is needed for muscle tone and a healthy nervous system. Deficiency has been linked to digestive problems such as peptic ulcers, colitis, constipation and cancer of the colon. Best sources are small amounts cold-pressed oils (too much polyunsaturated oil can deplete vitamin E), whole grains, butter and other animal fats and a supplement of wheat germ oil.
Protein is necessary for the maintenance of the mucous membrane in the stomach, particularly the amino acids cystine, lysine and arginine. Deficiency leads to muscular weakness and many other problems. Bone broths are an excellent source of arginine, and cystine and lysine occur in meat, milk and eggs.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC) has been studied by German researchers who found that PC is highly beneficial to the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, preventing or healing lesions and reducing the incidence of stomach ache. They found that PC was more effective than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) in reducing gastric mucosal lesions. The researchers used PC derived from soy, but the best dietary sources are egg yolks and butter.
CoEnzyme Q10 is critical for healthy muscles. The importance of good muscle tone is often overlooked in discussions about digestion. The best source is meat, especially heart.
Cholesterol plays a role in intestinal health. The cells lining the digestive tract are particularly rich in cholesterol. Cholesterol is also the precursor to bile. It is provided only by animal foods.
Salt is key to digestion. Salt provides chloride for hydrochloride, necessary for the digestion of protein; and salt activates an enzyme needed for the digestion of carbohydrates. [Jane note: get good sea salt, there is NO issue with high blood pressure as it contains all natural minerals and mixes properly with the blood, unlike processed salt which does cause edema. My current favorite is Redmond.]
Calcium prevents cramps and spasms, protects against inflammation and supports both the muscles and the nervous system. Best sources are raw dairy products and bone broths.
Potassium supports the nervous system and connective tissue, as well as the production of hydrochloric acid. Best sources are meats, whole grains and vegetables.
Zinc deficiencies have been associated with problems of fat metabolism, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. Best sources are red meat and oysters.
Beneficial Bacteria help maintain a healthy ecosystem in the gut. Best dietary sources are natural yoghurt and lacto-fermented condiments and beverages. Supplements such as Primal Defense from Garden of Life can help repopulate the digestive tract very quickly in cases of digestive disorders.
Coconut Oil for Digestion
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids that provide unique benefits for the digestive process. They have anti-microbial properties; that is, they fight against pathogenic viruses, yeasts, bacteria and parasites in the gut. These special fats are also the preferred food for beneficial bacteria in the colon.
For those who have gall bladder problems and difficulty in digesting fats, coconut oil can be very useful because the medium-chain fatty acids do not need to be acted on by the bile salts. And for those who have trouble digesting milk and cream, coconut milk and coconut cream can serve as substitutes.
Best of all, the body uses the medium-chain fatty acids for energy and rarely stores them as fat. Coconut oil aids digestion and boosts metabolism—wonderful benefits that come in a delicious package.