Most of us have heard the expression ‘You are what you eat’, but the reality of the matter is that ‘You are what you absorb’. You can eat a fabulously healthy diet but if you are not absorbing the nutrients properly you will eventually suffer from deficiencies and ill health.
So why would we not properly absorb the nutrients in our diet? There are quite a few reasons why absorption can be compromised. Often there may be undiagnosed food sensitivities leading to a chronic state of mild inflammation in the digestive tract. In a completely healthy person the inside of the small intestine looks like a towel, with lots of little villi increasing the surface area to allow effective absorption of nutrients. Where there is chronic inflammation the inside of the small intestine looks more like a worn out towel, with the villi being reduced or absent. This dramatically reduces the ability of the gut to absorb nutrients from the food passing along it. In addition to this a condition called ‘leaky gut’ tends to develop, where the once tight barrier between undigested food stuffs and the blood stream becomes ‘leaky’ allowing large partially digested molecules to pass through and circulate in the blood stream. This can give rise to a feeling of muzziness, lethargy, being ‘spaced out’ and more concrete symptoms such as headaches and skin rashes. Many people are so used to these symptoms that they no longer question them and feel it is ‘normal’ for them.
Even if we do not have food sensitivities the way that we eat our food can dramatically affect our ability to absorb nutrients. Food that is eaten on the go, while we are feeling stressed, will not be absorbed as well as food that is eaten in a calm relaxed environment. The absorption of B vitamins is particularly affected in this way. If you are someone who has been under long term stress you will definitely need to consider supplementing your B vitamins, well over the recommended daily allowance.
Regular consumption of alcohol and caffeine will reduce absorption of B vitamins as well as the minerals, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, selenium and chromium. Be under no illusion, small deficiencies of nutrients can make the difference between happily raring to go and dragging yourself through the day.
If you are run down and stressed your digestive system is likely to become less efficient, leading to uncomfortable symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion and bloating. With reduced digestive efficiency you will be absorbing less of your food, and the presence of partially digested foods makes the development of food sensitivities more likely as well as being more prone to candida overgrowth and parasite infections. Candida infections and parasites may generate localized inflammation which further restricts nutrient absorption.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also interfere with nutrient absorption. For example oral contraceptives lower your vitamin E levels and paracetamol lowers your level of antioxidants – not great if you are trying to fight off a cold or an infection. If your immune system is compromised by your reduced antioxidant status you may well end up being prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics reduce your absorption of B vitamins and various minerals, both of which will make you more prone to feeling exhausted and depressed after your infection is resolved.
So that was the bad news. The good news is that there is plenty you can do about it. Firstly you need to find out exactly what is going on in your unique case. Reduced digestive efficiency is a very common problem and this can be effectively treated with a combination of herbs and lifestyle changes. Internal parasites are surprisingly common and often lurk diagnosed causing all sorts of unpleasant symptoms. These can be sent on their way with herbal treatment too. If you are suffering from a lowered immune system which is causing you to need frequent courses of antibiotics a proper holistic health review would be time and money well spent.
In my clinic I take the time to understand exactly what is going on in each person’s case. Individually tailored treatment plans are created which include herbal prescriptions, dietary adjustments and in many cases supplementation with vitamins and minerals. Where deficiencies are suspected I go through a detailed nutritional analysis. Recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are a very inexact measure and it can be much more cost effective to find out exactly what dosage of each vitamin and mineral is required in a particular case. With the price of high quality supplements it makes no sense to supplement with nutrients which are not needed, however supplementing targeted nutrients at several times the normal RDA can make a huge difference to how you feel.
If you suspect that you are not absorbing your food properly and want help to create a sensible plan of action then do get in touch. Many of my patients say that they wished they had come sooner!
Lucy Jones MA MSc DBTh MURHP Registered Medical Herbalist
Lucy runs the Myrobalan Clinic in Cattistock. She treats patients with a wide range of health conditions including eczema, psoriasis, hypertension, rheumatism and arthritis, irritable bowel disease, depression and anxiety, hormone imbalances, menopause symptoms, migraines, low immunity, asthma, lack of energy, gastric ulcers, water retention and poor circulation to name but a few. As a holistic practitioner she always seeks to get to the root cause of a problem so that it can be treated thoroughly and permanently. For further information seewww.myrobalanclinic.com or telephone 01300 320277.