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Article adapted from Care2 JUL 20, 2012
You’re eating something that doesn’t agree with you…
One likely signal: Eczema
Background: First a little background about food intolerances. When the body doesn’t tolerate a food well, ingesting that food creates a chronic, low-level irritation or inflammation in the gut. Over time, with regular exposure, the irritation worsens and creates fissures in the spaces between the cells. (Picture the walls of the gut, once tightly knitted together, looking more like an old afghan.) These holes allow bacteria and their toxins, as well as incompletely digested proteins and fats, to “leak” out of the gut and into the bloodstream. Called leaky gut syndrome (or increased intestinal permeability), this condition sets the stage for myriad health problems, including rashes and skin problems, like eczema.
The skin is the body’s largest elimination organ, notes Dr Elizabeth Lipski, (PhD, CCN, and author of Digestive Wellness), so it’s not surprising that it comes under assault when toxins careen through the bloodstream. “A skin rash or eczema is a sign that the body is trying to slough out these toxins,” she says. “It’s trying to eliminate the problem the best way it knows how.
Other signals: Gas, bloating, fatigue, sinus congestion, foggy thinking
How to respond: An elimination diet is the best way to pinpoint the offending food, first starting with one or two foods you suspect.
Don’t know where to start? Foods that are most likely to wreak havoc on the gut include wheat and gluten-containing products, dairy products, sugar, soy, eggs, corn and yeast. If you’re uber-motivated, take Haas’s advice and go off what he calls “the big five” for a week: wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. “It’s not easy to do”, he admits, “but you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about your body’s signals.” You might also consider keeping a food journal. Spend a week or two writing down what you eat and how your body feels in the minutes, hours and days afterward (e.g., an hour after you eat dairy, you feel bloated). It’s all about finding the patterns, recognising the symptoms & then connecting the dots, this will in turn help you decide which foods to eliminate first.
You’re drinking too much caffeine…
One likely signal: Fatigue
Background: “Caffeine goes to an already low energy bank account and tries to lend it a little extra energy for the short term,” says Elson M. Haas, MD, (a San Rafael, Calif., physician with a natural-medicine approach and author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition). “But it’s getting that energy from your own stores, meaning you have less and less on reserve, leaving you less able to generate your own energy on an ongoing basis.”
Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system. Specifically, the chemical gooses the adrenal glands into releasing hormones — namely cortisol and adrenaline that tell the body to go faster. The short-term result can be increased focus and better hand-eye coordination. But overdo caffeine on a regular basis and, eventually, the central nervous system runs out of gas. “If you don’t restore yourself with sleep, nutrients and relaxation, you’ll quickly get into a cycle of whipping a weakened horse,” says Haas.
Other signals: Jitters, agitation, insomnia, heartbeat irregularities, frequent urination
How to respond: Weil advises limiting your daily dose of caffeine to less than 300 milligrams (mg). As a reference, a medium (approx. 473ml) cup of McCafe brewed coffee contains 145mg of caffeine, while Energy drinks contain a whopping 160-300mg of caffeine per 500ml serve. A 350ml cup of black tea, on the other hand, contains roughly 100 mg and green tea only 50 mg. “If you’re going to indulge,” advises Swift, “think about the quality of the source. Are you drinking green tea or a chemical-laden energy drink? What’s a healthy amount for you? Most people know what amount their system can handle,” she says. In the meantime, support your adrenal glands with B vitamins (especially B5/pantothenic acid), vitamin C and licorice. Also, fuel up on healthy, whole foods that boost and maintain your energy.
You’re low on stomach acid…
One likely signal: Burping and indigestion
Background: If you’re low on stomach acid, your body won’t digest foods efficiently, especially dense foods like fats and proteins. When food sits in the stomach, so does the air you naturally swallow when you eat. The air has only two options — get pushed down the digestive tract with food or catch the next flight up the esophagus and out the mouth. The longer food loiters in the stomach, the more likely you’ll burp.
Other signals: Gastric reflux, weak immune system, cracked fingernails, chronic infections, gas
How to respond: Boost the first phase of digestion by becoming a more “sensory-based eater,” says Swift. “That means enjoy the sight and smell of the meal before you dig in so that your gut has time to release digestive factors, such as hydrochloric acid, in anticipation of a meal.” Then, eat more mindfully. Chew your food so that it’s easier for the gut to digest, especially proteins and fats.
If you still feel like your food sits in your stomach like a rock, Haas recommends trying digestive enzymes, which can help you better digest your food. For example, he says, you might try a product called betaine hydrochloride with pepsin (a time-released protein digestant), found at health-food stores.
Hydrochloric acid is the main ingredient in stomach acid. By taking it as a supplement, you’re basically giving your stomach a head start, especially with proteins and fats, which are the hardest food stuffs to digest, meaning they require more stomach acids than carbs. After you begin eating a meal with protein and fat, for instance, take one capsule. See how you feel after a couple of meals. If you feel OK, you can try two capsules and gradually increase to three or four. If you have any sensation of burning or acid indigestion, cut back to a level where you didn’t experience any negative side effects.
You’re short on good flora…
One likely signal: Frequent colds
Background: The immune system‘s command center is housed inside the gut. “An ecological imbalance of organisms in the gut means the body can’t defend itself against unfriendly microbes,” says Swift. “The result is we get sick a lot.” Ironically, says Hyman, it’s often medicine, such as antibiotics, that wipe out the gut’s supply of good bacteria. “When we wipe them out again and again with antibiotics and then eat a poor diet, it’s a disaster for the gut.” That, in turn, can spell trouble for the rest of the body.
Other signals: Intestinal gas, bloating, loose stools or constipation, vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, skin rash, athlete’s foot, nail fungus
How to respond: The experts agree that one of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to restore the gut’s healthy flora is to eat more foods rich in good bacteria, such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha (a fermented Japanese tea), yogurt that contains live bacteria, and kefir (a fermented milk drink). “The gut houses 5 pounds of beneficial bacteria,” notes Haas. “We have to feed this stuff.”
If you think your gut needs more than food can deliver, Weil recommends taking a daily probiotic that contains Lactobacillus GG or Bacillus coagulans (BC-30).
Although many of the body’s messages can be decoded with a little guesswork and a lot of active listening, it’s important to remember that some of these same symptoms can be signs of more serious illnesses. If, after a couple of weeks of self-care, things don’t improve or resolve, it’s best to consult a health-care professional.
“A chronic ache or pain is an invitation to stop and take a look at your life,” says Lipski. “Your body is telling you it’s time to make a change. Respect its request and odds are you’ll be heading off a greater health issue down the pike.”