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The Stress of Poor Digestion

By Ellen W. Cutler, D.C., with Jeremy E. Kaslow, M.D.
Authors of MicroMiracles: Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes


These days, everyone seems to be climbing on the nutrition bandwagon. Books and articles offering dietary advice abound, and health food stores are thriving. The trouble is, much of the available information is contradictory at best and inaccurate -- and potentially harmful -- at worst. Too often, it overlooks one very important fact: What we digest is just as important as what we eat.

Proper digestion can't occur without the necessary enzymes. If they aren't present in foods, they must be synthesized by the body, a process that requires tremendous metabolic energy and machinery. When we evaluate the healthfulness of any diet, we must consider the magnitude of the burden that it will place on the body through the digestive process. This burden is what's known as digestive stress.

The issue of stress figures prominently in our current understanding of health and disease. Stress involves the gradual depletion of the reserve capacity to respond and adapt to challenges to the body's systems. The more reserve capacity the body has, the better able it is to cope with stressors that it encounters. By the same token, depleted reserve capacity means that the body is highly vulnerable to the damage that stress can cause.

To better understand the interplay among stress, reserve capacity, and damage, think of the tires on an automobile. Driving causes stress on the tire treads, gradually removing rubber and depicting the reserve capacity of the tires -- that is, the thickness of the treads. The resulting loss of traction increases the risk of structural damage, especially in the presence of extreme challenges such as uneven road surfaces or sudden maneuvers. Reducing the wear and tear on tires through regular maintenance and driving safely on paved roads minimizes the stress on the treads and extends their longevity.

To reduce digestive stress, your best bet is to build your meals and snacks around foods that are rich in enzymes and don't overtax your digestive system. Then your body can extract and utilize the necessary nutrients with minimal energy and effort.

The Low-Stress Diet

Simply stated, a low-stress diet is one that minimizes digestive and systemic stress. The ideal diet would consist of organically grown, pesticide-free foods, with substantial amounts of raw foods in at least two meals per day, since only raw foods contain active enzymes.

Consider what happens when a freshly picked apple remains uneaten for several days. The "meat" of the apple becomes soft and liquefies due to the action of enzymes -- the same ones that help your body digest the apple when you eat it. The work of the enzymes reduces the burden of enzyme secretion on the pancreas, and thus digestive stress.

While eating nothing but raw foods would be a challenge, incorporating them into your meals and snacks whenever possible can minimize the workload for your digestive system. When you add enzyme supplements to help digest cooked and processed foods, you'll improve digestive function and nutrient absorption.

The High-Stress Diet

Unfortunately, the typical American diet is almost entirely cooked or processed fare, with very few raw foods and therefore very few food enzymes. Responsibility for picking up any slack in the digestive process falls to the digestive system and, on a larger scale, the entire body, increasing the likelihood of digestive and systemic stress.

In general, a high-stress diet has one or more of the following characteristics.

  • It contains foods that cannot be adequately broken down because they are loaded with preservatives or are highly processed.
  • It triggers an immune response in a susceptible person.
  • It contains too much or too little carbohydrate, protein, or fat, so the nutrients are substantially out of balance with the body's metabolic requirements.
  • The nutrients are not available to the body because the necessary enzymes are in short supply.

All of these factors cause the digestive system to work even harder to squeeze whatever nutrients it can from the foods that are eaten. Over time, the combination of poor nutrient absorption and digestive system overload can trigger a host of symptoms, including:

  • Lack of energy
  • Bloating, indigestion, and gas
  • Poor elimination (constipation or frequent loose stools)
  • Poor weight control (underweight or overweight)
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Dry or oily skin
  • Thin and/or brittle bones, as in osteoporosis
  • Frequent illness resulting from a poorly functioning immune system

In our opinion, persistent digestive stress is a leading contributor to many of the chronic health problems that are on the rise in this country. The body does its best to keep up with nutritional demands without adequate enzyme support, but it can tolerate these conditions for only so long. Eventually, your health begins to falter, and illness sets in -- the long-term consequence of enzyme and nutrient deficiencies.

What's Best For You

When considering the ideal diet for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, please keep in mind that what's "ideal" can vary from one person to the next. It depends on a number of factors, including metabolism, current health status, and any existing food sensitivities.

The vast majority of our patients are either carbohydrate intolerant or protein/fat intolerant. Often, these intolerances are behind the symptoms that bring people to the office in the first place. Steering clear of the offending foods -- including some that they may consider healthy -- can go a long way toward minimizing digestive stress.

Reprinted from: MicroMiracles: Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes by Ellen W. Cutler, DC with Jeremy E. Kaslow, MD. (October 2005; $15.95US/$21.95CAN; 1-59486-221-4) Copyright © 2005 Ellen W. Cutler, DC. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc.,

Authors
Ellen W. Cutler, DC, has more than 20 years' research and clinical experience in the use of enzyme supplements. She is the founder of BioSET, an innovative healing system that combines enzyme therapy with other complementary medicine disciplines to treat chronic illness and achieve optimum health. She resides in Marin County, California.

For more information, please visit www.bioset.net.

Jeremy E. Kaslow, MD, runs a thriving private practice in southern California, specializing in individualized biochemistry and nutrition. A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, he is board-certified in allergy and immunology.

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