Understanding how our GI system works is half way to ensuring it keeps doing so smoothly.
"The best way out is always through.” ― Robert Frost
While it’s easier said and done when it comes to babies and to a large extent in adults, the cancer journey roughens up the process a fair bit. Cancer treatment can often feel like “Trying to eat, trying to sleep, can’t poop. Repeat.”
"First we eat, then we do everything else” ― MFK Fisher
Our body has 5 organs through which we eliminate. These are the lungs, kidneys, skin, liver and colon. The colon or large intestine is part of the digestive system and is like a personal plumbing system that removes waste from the body in the form of poop. Out of all the elimination processes, the inability to poop regularly is the one that makes us the most uncomfortable and frustrated.
On the whole, what we eat is naturally connected to how we poop. As a cancer patient however, surgery, chemotherapy, and pain medications can also affect the colon and the body’s ability to ensure regular bowel movements. This can result in constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome or even inflammation of the colon.
The intersection of the food you eat and the bacteria in your digestive system is complex and plays a major role in your gut health. This in turn impacts how you excrete waste through the large intestine or in other words, poop.
Lets’ first focus on the bacteria in you, called the microbiome. Your microbiome is the collection of trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses living in and on your body. This collection contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria that coexist in a delicate balance and are essential for maintaining health. They synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids that you do not have the genes to make, they extract nutrients from what you eat that you need to survive, rev up your immune system to fight infections and protect you by making certain products that can destroy other disease-causing bugs.
Again, while your genes, where you live, and your medications all contribute to the composition of your colon bacteria, your diet, by far, plays a major role in making sure the good bacteria in your colon thrives. A high-fiber diet in particular affects the type and amount of bacteria.
Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from your microbiome living in the colon.
This brings us to high fiber foods, prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotic foods feed the bacteria already living in your gut. They include asparagus, banana, oatmeal and beans or legumes. Probiotic foods, on the other hand, contain live bacteria. It is considered ‘good’ bacteria because it helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. Yogurt with live or active cultures, sauerkraut, miso and pickled vegetables are examples of probiotics.
We eat not just for ourselves but more importantly for the millions of microorganisms that live inside each of us. How you feed your microbiome has a profound effect on your general health and even your response to treatment. More on that in the next blog – a good gut check on what really works!