Your Eating Habits and Your Health

Hippocrates is credited as saying “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” Food certainly has a powerful impact on health; you are probably well aware of this fact. What you may not be aware is that the way you eat also has a profound impact on your health. You may be choosing to eat some of the most nutritious foods on earth but in reality, the nutrition you consume is only as good as your ability to digest and absorb it. There are several habits surrounding food and eating that I want all of my patients and readers to know in order for them to build optimal health. These 6 habits are part of what I refer to as food hygiene. Before sharing these habits with you, let’s briefly discuss how and why digestion is an important foundation to optimal health and wellness.

As a naturopathic doctor, I am constantly looking at the interrelationship of different systems in the body, acknowledging that the health of one undoubtedly affects the health of the whole. The gastrointestinal system (GI or gut) is one the major organ systems in your body and I am often awed by the far-reaching effects this system has.  Conditions as diverse as arthritis, migraines, fatigue, anemia, allergies and depression are all impacted by the health of your gut. How can this possibly be? A large portion of your immune system and your nervous system are imbedded in the tissue layers surrounding your GI tract—it has even been referred to as the “second brain”! This is part of the explanation as to why the health of your gut, which depends greatly on your eating habits, can have an effect on so many other systems in your body.  The gut is also an important barrier.  Your GI tract is essentially a large tube extending through your body. A healthy GI tract is able to break down and selectively allow your body to take in needed nutrients and excrete unneeded substances and toxins. An unhealthy GI tract is not able to do this properly. Let’s look at two examples of conditions, anemia and arthritis, that can result from an unhealthy GI tract.

Anemia is a condition where your red blood cells are either lacking iron or vitamin B12 or there is a lack of red blood cells due to blood loss. Anemia can result in fatigue, shortness of breath and alterations in menses, among other things. In order for the body to absorb iron and vitamin B12 you must be producing enough stomach acid (which does not happen if you are on proton pump inhibitors or antacids) to break down the food you are eating, rendering these nutrients available. Additionally, the cells lining your gut must be healthy in order to carry the nutrients into your body.  Another condition often affected by the health of your gut is arthritis. This may seem surprising, but I have observed this to be true. The cells lining your gut should sit next to each other very tightly with no gaps in between. This is what allows your body to select what gets to come into your body and what should simply exit the tube without being absorbed through the cells. There are many factors that can cause these cells to separate from each other and become “leaky.” This results in the body absorbing substances that are either not fully broken down enough for normal absorption and utilization or to absorb substances that do not belong inside your body at all. Once floating around inside your body something has to be done with these substances and some people’s bodies choose to deposit them in their joints. The immune system reacts to these particles as foreign invaders and the symptoms for the condition termed arthritis start. A “leaky” gut can contribute to other conditions as well.

You might now be wondering how the GI tract becomes unhealthy. Many of the habits most of us have or have had around eating can actually contribute to its ill functioning. The main culprits are:

• Eating on the go
• Eating constantly rather than at set meal times
• Insufficient production of enzyme and other substances necessary to break down food properly
• Eating foods your body may be sensitive to
• Emotional eating and eating under conditions of stress.

Infections from bacteria, viruses and parasites can also disrupt the health of your GI tract. Ironically so can many of the common prescriptions for treating them. And even more ironically, a GI tract that is unhealthy in the first place can predispose you to these infections. But there is hope! Next week I will be posting 6 habits of good food hygiene that will help lay the foundations of optimal health by improving your digestive, immune and nervous systems all at once. Until then, be well.

4 Responses to Your Eating Habits and Your Health

  1. T says:

    Good information. I look forward to reading more of your blogs as they give me lots to look at within my own health beliefs – especially long time beliefs about digestion. The connection of the gut to arthritis is very eye opening! Definitely a lot to think about and digest 🙂 Thank you!

  2. susanne says:

    very good reminder about food and the body.
    thanks for writing it.

  3. AGB says:

    Dr. Enos,
    Your articles inspired me to take a walk down the path that Naturopathic medicine has played in my life. Naturopathic doctors have been a part of my life for about twelve years and I can say with absolute clarity that they have changed my life for the better. When I first began my quest to “get into balance” I didn’t really know what was in store for me but I did know that on some level, I was “out of balance”. The best thing was that my ND understood what I meant by this. When I look back through the years of trying to incorporate routines such as skin brushing, breathing, meditation, some yoga, exercise, green vegetables, castor oil packs, and a good nights sleep I have come to realize that most of this has crept into me and has become a habit. There were times I thought it never would because it was a process that didn’t happen over night. I have come to realize that my state of good health has come about very quietly and almost unnoticed over the years and sometimes it will be months before I realize that my joints haven’t ached or I have had 3 or 4 weeks of great sleep. This is what I have come to love about Naturopathic medicine. Among other things, it has alleviated poor digestion, yeast infections, a chronic rash, allergies, and most importantly, emotional issues that stemmed as far back as childhood. It has opened my eyes to the connection between emotions, spirituality, and physical health. Optimal health is a commitment—and it takes time but it is worth the effort. When I think about my life fifteen years ago and the maladies that were present and then look at it today, I realize that these chronic aliments, emotional upheavals, and “out of balance” feelings are no longer there. Having a Naturopath to help me understand my body and my emotions has been a worthwhile investment.

    • Dr Erika Enos says:

      Thanks so much for this comment. It sounds like you have had an worthwhile and amazing journey over the last 12 years. You make some great points about Naturopathic medicine. One being that the way it often works is on a very different timeline than most pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceuticals often work very, very quickly to take away a symptom. Sometime the immediate effect is necessary given circumstances and I am thankful for the ability of pharmaceuticals to do that. Most of us have come to expect instant gratification in this way and assume that if we don’t get it, whatever it is we are doing is not working. Natural medicine that is aimed at truly removing the imbalance and building optimal health doesn’t usually, although there are notable exceptions, work that way. The remedies I use are subtle but powerful in the way they make LASTING and MEANINGFUL changes over time. It also takes time and repeated encouragement for all of us to build the habits that will make and keep us healthy. Health is not something that happens over night, it is a process. As an ND, I am proud to be part of that process for my patients and to help them build wellness that is multifaceted, as you pointed out, including emotions and spirituality in addition to physical health.

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