For this week’s Friday installment of the “Let’s Talk” segment, I wanted to touch on an area that has generated a lot of questions recently in my office. These have mostly been about dietary fibre supplements, especially psyllium. It’s very easy in North America to consume a diet that is fairly processed and lacking in the fibre department. (Note: this article is based only on information that I am confident is accurate, and is not meant to diagnose or recommend treatment of any shape or form for any medical condition). (Disclaimer).
Your body is formed not only of cells and organs, but also of “systems”. (ex: the nervous system, which is made up of your brain, nerves, spinal column, and all the things that cause it to function correctly). Not only do these systems require several component to work correctly on their own, but each system is dependent upon all the other body systems as well. If one begins to function incorrectly, all the other systems begin to attempt to compensate to pick up the slack. (This compensation part can get very technical very quickly, so for the sake of today’s discussion I am going to keep it as straightforward as I can. If you want to discuss more, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below!).
Today the system we will touch on briefly is the digestive system; which includes all the body parts, organs, excretions and secretions, enzymes, hormones, and conditions that are required to get food from its outside state into useful nutrients for the body. Digestion is a pretty important part of your everyday life, and if something isn’t going well, your body is not shy about telling you so. There is no way that today’s discussion could even remotely do justice to the complexity of the digestive system, but there are a few really important things I want to share that I know definitely helped me, and I hope will help you as well!
→ What is dietary fibre and what is it for?
Fibre is the insoluble (read: indigestible) “dietary material containing substances such as cellulose, lignin, and pectin, which are resistant to the action of digestive enzymes.” (Cambridge Dictionary). It gives bulk to your digestive system and helps to carry everything else along. It also assists peristalsis (the wave-like rhythmic muscular contractions of the gastrointestinal system) through this bulk-forming function.
→ Fibre is only part of the team, not the star player.
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on consuming dietary fibre, but this is only part of the issue. If your daily water consumption is low, eating lots of things with fibre in them may not be helping your cause. Sufficient water intake on a regular basis has a direct impact on your digestive system and how it works. Don’t fall into the pitfall of eating a lot of fibrous foods and then skimping on your water. The two go hand in hand.
→ Psyllium isn’t necessarily the answer.
Right now psyllium hulls are a very popular method to get a natural fibre injection into your daily routine. Lots of companies sell them in different forms (capsules, powders, etc). However, it’s sometime not the best idea to just run out and buy psyllium if you’re having digestive motility (movement) concerns. Psyllium is sometimes the correct route, but other times it can cause a lot of discomfort and not be the best option for a person to be taking. If you are having recurrent gastrointestinal concerns, go to see your primary healthcare professional. There are a lot of options that can be investigated for you, and they may recommend something completely different for you. Ex: People who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) usually experience a lot of discomfort (cramps, bloating, minimal results) when taking psyllium, because it is a fairly assertive form of dietary fibre, and there are a lot of other, more gentle and useful methods (not only supplements) that can provide a great deal of assistance. Remember, dietary fibre is only one piece of the puzzle.
→ Gut motility tip of the day: physical activity isn’t only about your weight – Your digestive system will reap huge dividends as well!
I’ve worked a lot in post-surgical and critical care areas in the past, and I can’t tell you enough about how important it is for your intestinal health to be as active as you are able to. You secretly are thinking that everyone with a health-based professional designation behind their name is promoting physical activity because they think everyone is too heavy (that is a different topic for another time), but really, you would be surprised about how many health complications can be avoided just by walking a little every day. Let me give you an example: after surgery they don’t make you walk because they think you are lazy. They want your digestive system to start working again at moving things along. (And all your other body systems as well).
(Photo Credit: Brooklyn Morgan)
Your body can work impressively well when it is in balance (homeostasis). It’s easy to get into the habit of just taking supplements and medicine (western or otherwise) without considering what other factors might be at play. This is where your primary care provider can be an invaluable resource to you. Take an opportunity to ask them questions and for their input, even about easy things like dietary fibre. You might be surprised at what is available to you!
What interesting articles have you read recently? Let me know in the comments below!
Take care, and have a great day!
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