Why is the digestive system important?
The digestive system is an external organ (because it is exposed to the environment) and is the route by which we absorb the nutrients that make up the body’s structures, messengers, and fuels. It is also a potential site of infection from pathogens in food and water and so, is a barrier defense and has a large interplay with the immune system of the body. An important part of both the absorption of nutrients and the immune and defense role of the digestive system is the microbiome of the gastrointestinal tract which consists of both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria, fungus, protozoa, viruses which, when in balance, helps us to preserve health.
Digestion involves the breaking down of food into smaller components which can then be absorbed into the body. The process begins with mechanical digestion (chewing, swallowing, and churning) and chemical digestion involving acids and enzymes which breakdown large molecules in food to enable absorption into the body.
What is it made up of?
The digestive system includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestine. It also includes accessory organs of digestion (the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder).
How can I support the digestive system? – Digestion supporting ingredients in Nuzest Good Green Stuff
Probiotic supplementation can reduce diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain and bloating, and symptoms of lactose intolerance, (1, 2) and inflammatory bowel disease. (3) Probiotics also help to treat constipation. (4, 5)
Specifically, L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium species are able to bind with food-borne toxins like aflatoxin (from mould grown on food), effectively eliminating them from the body, (6) and also compete with and aid resistance to common food-borne pathogens like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio cholerae, Helicobacter pylori, Klebsiella, Salmonella, Shigella, Clostridium, and Candida. (7)
Interestingly, the combination of probiotics with plant phenols (like those found in Good Green Stuff) provides synergistic benefits, with greater survival, adhesion, and maintenance of beneficial bacteria and improved health benefits. (8)
Prebiotics, soluble fibre, and resistant starch
Apple pectin, in particular, has shown benefits for the improvement of bacterial status and increased production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the gut, (9, 10) and reduced incidence of colon tumours. (11)
Digestive and ‘tonic’ herbs
Digestive and ‘tonic’ herbs and vegetables are typically ‘bitter greens’ that have a long history of traditional use for encouraging more effective digestion. They are also very nourishing themselves.
Dandelion has a long history of medicinal use and is known to be a very nutritious herb-vegetable. Ongoing research suggests that dandelion has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and potential anti-cancer applications which demand additional research. (13, 14)
Ginger is also a tonic herb. The main role for which ginger has been studied is for reducing nausea. (15) and specifically nausea during pregnancy. (16-18)
The adaptogen (stress-modulating) herb Astragalus offers protection against intestinal inflammation, and the potential effects on reducing intestinal cancers are now being researched. (19)
Some traditional herbs are known for their soothing properties, helping to quench inflammation and pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
Slippery elm is considered soothing and anti-inflammatory and these properties are thought to aid digestive difficulties. (20, 21)
Human trials suggest a role for turmeric in reducing inflammation and possibly aiding the incidence of cancer (in the gastrointestinal tract) resulting from inflammation. (22, 23)
Gut-supporting vegetables, berries, and fruits
Many health benefits are claimed for wheat grass. As a nutrient-rich food, it is likely to help support general nutrition and health. Laboratory studies in animals are beginning to show additional clinical benefits and it offers promise for the adjunctive treatment of cancer, reducing effects of chemotherapy, along with improved immune responses and reduced oxidation. There might also be benefits from wheat grass for a diverse range of conditions, from IBDs to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity. (24)
Pre-clinical trials also provide evidence for the traditional use of the fruit Rosehip improved gastrointestinal health. (25, 26)
Zinc is important to help close ‘tight junctions’ in the gut wall that reduce the ability of pathogens and allergens entering the body. A combination of supplements including zinc has been shown to improve immune responses to LPS in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. (27) Zinc supplementation might also improve intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in inflammatory bowel disease. (28)
Food-based digestive enzymes
Pineapples and other tropical fruit have long been considered digestive aids in traditional medicine systems. Bromelain is now thought to aid protein digestion and be anti-inflammatory.
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2. Hungin APS, Mitchell CR, Whorwell P, Mulligan C, Cole O, Agréus L, et al. Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms – an updated evidence-based international consensus. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2018;47(8):1054-70.
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9. Licht TR, Hansen M, Bergström A, Poulsen M, Krath BN, Markowski J, et al. Effects of apples and specific apple components on the cecal environment of conventional rats: role of apple pectin. BMC microbiology. 2010;10(1):13.
10. Mallett AK, Rowland IR, Bearne CA, Flynn JC, Fehilly BJ, Udeen S, et al. Effect of Dietary Supplements of Apple Pectin, Wheat Bran or Fat on The Enzyme Activity of the Human Faecal Flora. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 1988;1(1):23-9.
11. Ohkami H, Tazawa K, Yamashita I, Shimizu T, Murai K, Kobashi K, et al. Effects of Apple Pectin on Fecal Bacterial Enzymes in Azoxymethane-induced Rat Colon Carcinogenesis. Japanese Journal of Cancer Research. 1995;86(6):523-9.
12. Naghdi Badi H, Dastpak A, Ziai S. A review of psyllium plant. Journal of Medicinal Plants. 2004;1(9):1-14.
13. Sweeney B, Vora M, Ulbricht C, Basch E. Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) by Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy. 2005;5(1):79-93.
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15. Nikkhah Bodagh M, Maleki I, Hekmatdoost A. Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials. Food Science & Nutrition. 2019;7(1):96-108.
16. Viljoen E, Visser J, Koen N, Musekiwa A. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Nutr J. 2014;13:20.
17. Ding M, Leach M, Bradley H. The effectiveness and safety of ginger for pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting: A systematic review. Women and Birth. 2013;26(1):e26-e30.
18. Viljoen E, Visser J, Koen N, Musekiwa A. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Nutrition Journal. 2014;13(1):20.
19. Auyeung KK, Han Q-B, Ko JK. Astragalus membranaceus: A Review of its Protection Against Inflammation and Gastrointestinal Cancers. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2016;44(01):1-22.
20. Christopher RW, Bernard r. Slippery Elm, its Biochemistry, and use as a Complementary and Alternative Treatment for Laryngeal Irritation. A J Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 2012;1(1):17.
21. Braun L. Slippery Elm. Journal of Complementary Medicine: CM, The. 2006;5(1):83.
22. Amalraj A, Pius A, Gopi S, Gopi S. Biological activities of curcuminoids, other biomolecules from turmeric and their derivatives – A review. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine. 2017;7(2):205-33.
23. Hosseini A, Hosseinzadeh H. Antidotal or protective effects of Curcuma longa (turmeric) and its active ingredient, curcumin, against natural and chemical toxicities: A review. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2018;99:411-21.
24. Bar-Sela G, Cohen M, Ben-Arye E, Epelbaum R. The medical use of wheatgrass: review of the gap between basic and clinical applications. Mini reviews in medicinal chemistry. 2015;15(12):1002-10.
25. Ayati Z, Amiri MS, Ramezani M, Delshad E, Sahebkar A, Emami SA. Phytochemistry, Traditional Uses and Pharmacological Profile of Rose Hip: A Review. Current pharmaceutical design. 2018;24(35):4101-24.
26. Hu XY, Corp N, Quicke J, Lai L, Blondel C, Stuart B, et al. Rosa canina fruit (rosehip) for osteoarthritis: a cochrane review. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2018;26:S344.
27. Maes M, Leunis J-C. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinology Lett. 2008;29(6):902-10.
28. Sturniolo GC, Di Leo V, Ferronato A, D’Odorico A, D’Incà R. Zinc supplementation tightens “Leaky Gut” in Crohn’s disease. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. 2001;7(2):94-8.