Proper digestion connects us with the life force energy and gifts of our planet.
Complete digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients create the building blocks our body needs to be well and to thrive. Sadly, today our body's internal eco-systems reflect the depleted ecosystem of our world. We need to be intentional to heal both, and I believe our attention and focus on healing our own bodies will contribute to the healing of the world at large. Building a strong and balanced system within is the place to start.
Food must always be thought of as the first medicine, and should be the foundation for well being. However, simply choosing healthy foods will not guarantee that you will be fully utilizing the nutrients these foods offer. Yet, a calm trust is the first step in the right direction.
Pre-digestion is stimulated by sight, smell, and thought. These senses initiate the digestive process. This is why time spent lovingly preparing food, or being in a space that is making the food you will be eating, is so valuable. Meals prepared this way will be better digested than a convenient food version. It is important to feel gratitude for the food you have available and to honor the people and place that grew the food and prepared it. Eating in a grateful and present state is ideal. In addition, we should be sitting down and not distracted to be most nourished and fulfilled in our body, mind, and spirit.
Our sense of smell can trigger feelings of comfort and calm, or make you feel sick to your stomach. This response can help you to identify foods that are rancid or not welcome in your body. Our senses should be fully engaged when eating. Most are aware that the sense of taste is involved in the process of digesting foods. The sour and bitter flavors are especially important in stimulating digestion. Sadly, these are the foods that are lacking in the typical american diet. We need to start embracing these flavor profiles and bring them back to the plate. In the process of developing our tonic beverages, we made the choice to leave the complete profile of our flavors by avoiding ‘natural flavors’ that act as bitterness blockers.
The Mind Body Connection
The foods we choose to feed our bodies contribute to our mental health, and our mental state while eating affects the way our bodies process the food we feed it. Our digestive system and nervous system are integrally connected. From our mouth to our anus our digestive system is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is responsible for the secretion of digestive enzymes and fluids that allow proper digestive function. The ENS is what responds to our senses that trigger digestion. This system is considered one of our three brains, and can function independently of the central nervous system. The health of our nervous system is as important as the health of the individual organs it interacts with. This gut brain is why we have gut feelings, our memories are stored here, so often when one has digestive imbalances they will experience foggy memory, tiredness, anxiety, or fear.
In addition, when we are anxious or stressed some of the hormones and chemicals released by our bodies enter our digestive tract, and can interfere with the process and negatively affect the microbiome, decreasing antibody production. The number one place to start with improving digestion is to look for ways to decrease stress and nourish the nervous system.
One of my favorite formulas for this is Sea of Serenity. It is full of soothing alterative and adaptogenic herbs that help bring the body to a state of balance and promote emotional resiliency. In addition to the benefits of the nervines, the hemp in this formula is specifically beneficial for gut health. It interacts with and supports the endocannabinoid system, and one of the many ways this system is important is in its relationship with the digestive system to help to modulate inflammation and bridge communication between the gut and brain. Also, cannabinoids can improve the microbiome by helping beneficial microbes to flourish and inhibit undesirable bacteria that could compromise the gut barrier.
What Is a Healthy Microbiome?
The microbiome within us affects who we are (given its massive presence within us, it certainly is a major part of who we are), and how we care for it influences our potential for who we can become and what we can offer of ourselves to the world at large. To truly be well we must support this ecosystem within and around us. I believe following an anthroposophic lifestyle is best for encouraging growth and abundance in our inner and outer worlds.
The first thing I think of when I think of a healthy microbiome is healthy soil, and Rudolf Steiner's deep understanding of how the soil microbiome interacts with and influences the microbiome of the body. He developed biodynamic farming in 1923 to heal the earth's microbiome and grow nutrient dense foods from living soils. Now more than ever we need these practices to build diversity in our worlds.
The most important thing we can do for ourselves and our land is to demand food without antibiotic poisoning. Antibiotics deplete the microbiome of our bodies and our earth. Increasing consumer demand for organic food can impact the practice of spraying commercial crops. In addition, if you choose to eat meat, please choose for yourself, and for the earth, antibiotic free. We should not request cheap food; we should demand nutrient dense foods that contribute to health. The quality of the soil directly affects how nutritious the food grown in it is and what it can offer you. Those nutrients, the health of our farmers, the health of our soil, the health of our bodies are worth the extra cost. Also, don’t forget about the hidden costs in the end, medical interventions and pharmaceuticals accelerated by the poor health and disease that comes from a depleted world (individually and at large). If our country can make a shift towards caring where our food comes from, quality foods can become more widely available. Who are the farmers in your area working to heal the soil? Where are the biodynamic farms?
If you have a patio, porch, or yard. Take the time to grow and experience the process of growing some of your own foods. Even a couple plants will contribute to your well being. Participating in this process helps you to feel the connection of our food system, and the act of gardening is building your microbiome. I like to imagine what it would be like if everyone had a little garden to care for. It's a beautiful image to see. If we all start where we can it will make a big difference. Even growing one plant or committing to choosing organic on the “dirty dozen” foods list. Start where you can and grow.
Since we know that antibiotics destroy our microbiome that contribute to optimal health and well being, what else can we do to regenerate that community within us? We can try our best to avoid prescription antibiotics by focusing on preventative health. Building your microbiome is the best place to start. Feeding our bodies should not be counter-intuitive, but today many people are sensitive and have allergies to foods that should be nutritious. I believe this is reversible, and with time and attention to building our inner world we can be well. Generally, a diet that is seasonal and organic will be best for your microbiome. Eating a large variety of plant based foods is ideal. The most building foods for your microbiome are fermented foods, soluble fiber, fatty acids, and polyphenols. The foods that are most depleting to the microbiome are processed foods, sugar, GMO fruits and veggies, and factory farmed meats.
The microbiome in our mouth affects the population in our gut. We can take care in this way to clean in a way that is supportive. My two favorite tools for encouraging a health microbiome in the mouth are tongue scraping and our Mouth Moon immunity mouthwash. Tongue scraping should be done first thing in the morning before drinking water. As you sleep your mouth accumulates toxins and bacteria and this needs to be cleansed, try to expel them rather than drinking them down with water. In addition this practice massages the tongue, which then connects to the organs in the digestive tract. Avoid commercial antibacterial mouthwashes that deplete the good bacteria in the mouth. We need to keep and support the good bacteria and diminish the bad. Mouth Moon is made with herbs that have been traditionally used to support oral health, reduce inflammation, and support the digestive system. The cannabinoids in this blend are highly bioavailable and absorbed sublingually.
Another important way you can support your microbiome is by engaging with nature in varied experiences. This is especially important for children as they are building and growing the community of who they are, yet valuable for all people. Children should have access to outside play for a minimum of three hours a day (ideally six). Exposure to diverse landscapes is of great value, and should be prioritized over sterile environments with artificial light and screens. Animal companions are also beneficial for building our microbiota and offer opportunities to grow in love and calm the nervous system.
Lastly, moderate exercise is great for supporting your microbiome. I would recommend eurythmy, yoga, and outdoor activities such as hiking or biking.
As the Earth moves in predictable cycles we should create predictable cycles for our body. In addition to waking and sleeping at consistent times our bodies respond best when fed at predictable times. We also should be mindful to eat with the seasons. Above all, humans need more ways to feel a connectedness and through healthy digestive habits we are able to care for ourselves and build communities in our inner and outer worlds.