By: Anisa Abeytia
Your digestive tract is a self contained unit that does not (when working optimally) allow the food you consume to be absorbed and distributed to the body without first sterilizing, identifying and processing it. Without proper digestion there cannot be health. Not only is the health of the gut important for commonly known reasons, but the digestive tract is also home to a large part of the immune system.
During Ramadan, digestive issues can be put at the forefront due to the types of foods we choose, how fast we eat them, and the lack of sufficient chewing.
There are many steps you can take to ensure that digestive distress does not ruin your Ramadan this year. They are simple and can make a large difference if done consistently:
- Drink water. Water is needed for digestion as well as to make HCl. – Chew your food well. This will enable the body to do less work. – Eat in a calm and relaxed manner. – Do not combine carbohydrates and proteins. People with digestive issues find this combination difficult to digest. The classic example is beans. – Start with a salad. Salad prepares the digestive tract to work. – Take a full spectrum enzyme supplement right before your meal (make sure it is vegetarian).
- Do not over stuff yourself. Eat in stages. – Avoid white rice and white bread. They are inflammatory foods and can cause lose bowel movements and other digestive issues. – Avoid overcooked food. – Avoid black tea, coffee and soda as these are diuretics. – Have a cup of chamomile or mint tea after your meal. This will help ease digestion.
Usually, the symptoms of digestive distress are there before Ramadan begins, but surface with a vengeance during this time. Common signs of digestive problems are:
- Gas – Bloating – Nausea – Constipation – Diarrhea/loose stool – Burping – Food allergies/sensitivities – Poor appetite – Fatigue after eating – Abdominal cramps
- Indigestion up to three hours after a meal – Mood swings – Poor memory – Joint pain
- Hives, skin rashes and eczema – Chronic nasal congestion – Headache – Heart burn
- Sour taste in the mouth
Many of these symptoms are associated with a lack of gastric juice, beneficial gut flora (bacteria), or digestive enzymes. These are symptoms of a larger problem occurring in the body and should not be medicated away. If they are only masked by taking pharmaceuticals, the problem will become worse.
There are many reasons for symptoms associated with digestive problems. Some of the most common are:
- Food allergies/sensitivities – Leaky gut – Poor quality of gut flora – Insufficient digestive enzymes – Low hydrochloric acid (stomach acid)
Food Allergies/Food Sensitivities
What are commonly called food allergies are really not “true” food allergies, but rather food sensitivities. The reason for this is that eating a food your allergic to causes a very specific and immediate response, it can also result in a medical emergency.
Food sensitivities are relatively rare. They are not usually life threatening and many people develop them over time. The most common food sensitivities are to soy, corn, dairy and wheat, although one can have sensitivity to any food. There are lab tests that can determine if you have specific food sensitivity and which foods are causing it.
However many people have an idea that they may be sensitive to a food already. If this is the case, simply remove that food/foods from your diet and see if your symptoms resolve (see list of symptoms above).
Intestinal permeability or leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines has become damaged allowing the contents passing through them to “leak” out into the blood stream. The most common cause of leaky gut is food sensitivities.
Over time foods that are irritating to the digestive tract cause “openings” to appear in the lining of the gut. As this occurs, large food molecules enter the blood stream and trigger an immune response (causing inflammation).
Every time the offending food such as wheat, milk or corn is ingested, the body becomes conditioned to recognize it as a harmful substance and flu like symptoms occur.
Leaky gut can cause many complications such as malabsorption of nutrients and food allergies. It can also trigger an immune response and cause auto immune disorders.
Removing food sensitivities can ease the symptoms, but it does not resolve the problem or stop the consequences. In order to improve your condition and start the healing process you will need to seek out a competent nutritionist.
Our gut harbors many “non-native” organisms that can be beneficial, benign or harmful. The beneficial flora such as lactobacillus, which can be found in yogurt, help prevent opportunistic organisms, like yeast, from occupying the lining of the large intestine and causing an over growth, or pathogens from anchoring in the large intestine.
When this happens, these pathogens can compete with the host (you) for nutrients, causing a vitamin or mineral deficiency. The metabolic wastes of these pathogens can also overwhelm the body’s detoxification system and cause a toxic buildup in the body that can cause health issues.
There are many available probiotic supplements that will help restore the beneficial bacteria. You can also eat fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and olives. However, you will first need to find a holistic practitioner to work with in order to remove the harmful bacteria.
Low Hydrochloric Acid
Low stomach acid allows pathogens to enter the digestive tract. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) sterilizes the contents of the stomach and eliminates any harmful substances prior to entering the rest of the digestive tract. Many people that are diagnosed with acid reflux are surprisingly actually acid deficient, and often fall prey to chronic infections, like Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can cause peptic ulcers.
A quick home test to check if you have sufficient stomach acid is to drink a carbonated beverage and if within a minute you belch, you have enough stomach acid. You can also have a doctor check your levels of HCl.
Insufficient Digestive Enzymes
There are many types of enzymes in the body, but here we are concerned with the digestive enzymes that are made in the pancreas. These enzymes help us digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Raw and fermented foods contain the greatest amount of enzymes. When food is overcooked, the enzymes are destroyed and the food becomes more challenging to digest. In order for digestion to take place much energy is needed, when we supply the body with enzymes, it frees up the body’s energy to carry out other functions.
During Ramadan we are given a wonderful opportunity to allow the body to heal and carry out functions that it was not able to carry out due to excessive eating and digestion. Adding in a digestive enzyme (if you need to) will add to the physical benefits of fasting.