four R’s of digestive health


I can hardly believe it – it’s been a month already since I cycled 2 x 600km bike rides almost back to back! However as I mentioned in my post on healthy digestion, my GastroIntestinal (GI) health has been impacted by the physiological stress of endurance cycling.

Stress like this can in turn trigger food intolerances (for gluten and legumes). The result is malabsorbtion of nutrients arising from irritation to the GI tract. To deal with this, a simple solution is needed and one that is the very best for digestive health – and that’s the Four R approach detailed here.


If you suffer from gas, bloating, diarrhea or undigested particles of food in your food, you also may be suffering from malabsorption. This results from problems in breaking down food into absorbable molecules and caused by:

  • Allergenic foods and toxins
  • Stress or activation of sympathetic nervous system that disrupts chemical and mechanical digestion
  • Lack of chemical production of either HCl, enzymes or bile in chemical digestion
  • Lack of sufficient chewing

Incompletely digested foods may cross intestinal lining leading to an immune response. This in turn causes inflammation and disrupted absorptive function of villi of intestine. To avoid this as well as to heal naturally from this, firstly I recommend following my guidelines for healthy digestion. In addition to this, and for a thorough and complete recovery from malabsorption, use the 4 R approach:

Four R’s of digestive health

Remove – pathogens, allergens and toxins from food intake

  • Allergens (eg gluten)
  • Medication and toxins
  • Bacteria, pathogens, parasites, fungi
  • Oxidative stress
  • Supplements – excessive use, or those that are not bioavailable
  • Processed food products
  • Foods prepared outside home: What is in it? How much do you know about the ingredients or cooking methods? How clean is it?

Replenish – digestive enzymes in the pancreas and other digestive factors, such as stomach wall secretions (Gastrin, HCl) and bile secretions

Reintroduce – friendly bacteria, using prebiotics and probiotics

Repair – involving direct nutritional support to intestinal cells via nutrients critical for intestinal wall structure and function

  • L-Glutamine
  • Clean, low irritant diet
  • Adequate protein
  • Anti-oxidants: Vitamins E, C, A, Glutathione
  • Vitamin support: B vitamins, Vit K

Healing Foods

  1. L-glutamine: amino acid that is useful in intestinal repair due its function in providing fuel for rapidly dividing cells (such as those of the mucosal lining of the intestines) and also being a precursor for the anti-oxidant and liver detoxifying Glutathione. In addition, it is the preferred respiratory fuel for GI mucosal cells and immune cells. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and helpful with colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome possibly due to lowering levels of interleukins, inflammatory messaging molecules, in the intestines. Present in most foods, but highest in high protein foods especially eggs and whey protein.
  2. Licorice root: anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-toxic (ie supporting and protecting the liver), anti-biotic, anti-cancer and laxative. Also softens and soothes intestinal tissues and mucus membranes. Helps with stomach and intestinal problems such as indigestion, nausea, constipation. Licorice also helps protect liver from toxic damage, and helps protect intestinal walls through anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial action
  3. Boswellia: herb that has anti-inflammatory properties as well as being used to treat GI problems
  4. Spices and herbs to aid digestion: try adding carminative (soothing) spices to help your digestion recover. For more details about these spices see my post here

This post is adapted from a study paper I have posted which has complete details about digestion

In my forthcoming post on allergies and sensitivities you will find an in depth exploration of allergy issues and how to recover from them. Come back to learn more!

Adapted from:

Marieb, E.N. (2009). The essentials of human anatomy and physiology. San Francisco, C.A.: Pearson Education

Murray, M. (2001). Total body tune-up. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Press

Murray, M. (2005). Encyclopedia of Healing Food. New York, N.Y.: Atria Books

Murray, M. (1998). The complete book of juicing. Roseville, CA: Prima publishing

Haas, E. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkeley, Ca. Celestial Healing Arts.

Bland, J., Costarella, L., Levin, B., Liska, D., Lukaczer, D., Schlitz, B., Schmidt, M., Lerman, R., Quinn, S., Jones, D. (2004). Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach, Second Edition. Gig Harbor, WA: The Institute for Functional Medicine.

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