Poop Is the Most Important Indicator of Your Health
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Sugar is yet another villain, as are antibiotics, which wipe out nearly every bug in sight -- which saves lives but leaves guts thinking What the hell?
And they do think, insists Chicago colon therapist Alyce Sorokie, the author of Gut Wisdom: Understanding and Improving Your Digestive Health (Career, 2004). "The gut is always speaking to us. It has more emotional receptor sites than anywhere else in the body. The gut is filled with neurons and neuropeptides, the same things that are in our brains, so it can take in information. It can learn. It can respond to events even more rapidly that our brain does," says Sorokie.
"You feel something in the gut, and the vagus nerve brings that 'gut feeling' up the spinal cord to the brain, and the brain makes up a story about it. The brain can always rationalize, but when we feel something in the gut, it's unedited. It's very primal. That's the gut's voice, and the more we don't listen, the louder it gets."
And that is why Sorokie says her clients get emotional during colonics, as filtered water flowing through a hose inserted into the anus bathes the colon, bringing out with it accumulated fecal matter that can be viewed through a clear portion of the mechanism, foot by wiggly, rubbery, slippery, corn-kernel-studded foot.
Releasing stored material from digestive tracts releases stored material from hearts and minds as well, Sorokie says.
"It lets everything come out. These clients say they wish they could bring the hose along with them to their psychotherapy appointments. Nobody wants to think, 'I harbor toxic thoughts and toxic waste within me,' but then there's a liberation: Here it is and there it goes. This was part of me, and now it's not," she said.
Short of anal hoses and doctor-supervised starvation, we can give our bowels a break by eating prebiotics. Found in dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, milk and a few other natural sources, these are soluble fibers that we can't digest, but our beneficial flora can. In other words, prebiotics (which aren't alive) fuel probiotics (which are), making them more active and fighting-fit. So, eating prebiotics is like sprinkling fish-food into a tank full of hungry fish.
"Most people are already comfortable with the idea of fiber in their diets," says microbiologist Mary Ellen Sanders, who belongs to the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics.
"Now you can start to think of eating fiber not just for the traditional fiber effects, but to feed beneficial members of your bacterial community," she explained.
These communities, which are unique to each of us, remained almost a total mystery until recently. Only in the last few years has DNA research brought the identities and functions of much of this flora to light. Up to 80 percent of the various types of human bacterial microbes have still never been grown outside the body under laboratory conditions, Sanders says. "It will be very interesting to see how all this develops in the next five years."
In the meantime, she says eating probiotics and prebiotics "lets us feed the right microbes in the right way." As it would be difficult to eat enough chicory and dandelion greens to get the recommended five to eight daily grams of prebiotics, we can start looking for prebiotic-fortified food products and supplements, often identified by the presence of oligofructose and/or inulin on their labels.
We'll be seeing those words more and more, as products containing prebiotics are among the food industry's fastest-growing sectors. New ones keep popping up, such as the Jamba Juice frozen sorbet and yogurt bars that hit stores this month. The bars' marketing material promises that Coconut-Pineapple Passion Smashin' and its fellow treats-on-sticks "contain prebiotic fiber, allowing customers to satisfy their sweet tooth without feeling guilty."