Tag Archives: digestion

Pay Attention To Your Gut Instincts

Support your second brain

Tawnya Ritco, RHN

Modern gastroenterology suggests that our “gut instinct” stems from the 500 million neurons contained in the gastrointestinal tract, in the network of nerves contained in the walls of everything from our esophagus to our stomach and intestines.

That network—the enteric nervous system (ENS)—is what’s known as the “second brain.” And for good reason. The ENS is the body’s second-largest concentration of nerves behind only the brain (and ahead of the spinal column). In fact, there are 30 to 40 percent as many neurotransmitters identified in the gastrointestinal tract as there are in the brain.

The body’s prime source of serotonin

The ENS controls digestion, including everything from the biomechanics of the stomach and intestines to the alkalinity that allows digestive enzymes to work effectively. By producing 95 percent of the serotonin found in the body, this “second brain” does much to govern how we react to environmental stress. As a regulator of aging, learning, and memory, along with many organ functions and growth factors, serotonin affects our overall physical and mental well-being.

The ENS also produces as much dopamine as the brain—important for everything from motivation to motor control and the production of other key hormones. Working with the brain or independently, the ENS thereby plays a strong role in supporting the healthy functioning of the body.

Protecting the GI tract

The connectivity between the ENS and the brain is yet another reason why nutrition is so important: the healthier the digestive system, the healthier the body. More specifically, the healthier the epithelial tissue in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract, the better it will protect the nervous and circulatory systems from bacteria and viruses. The healthier the digestive system, the more likely the ENS will function optimally.

Nutrition, hydration, and supplements

Consuming fewer processed foods and eating more plant-based foods reduces the stress on our digestive system (and, by extension, the ENS). Hydration is also important, as is relaxation prior to and during meals.

The medicinal mushroom lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)—associated with optimal nerve health—may also assist in the proper functioning of the ENS and the way it communicates with the brain.

Nutritional supplements known to enhance tissue health are another avenue toward good digestion: by optimizing the integrity of the epithelial lining of the GI tract.

Everything from mood to decision-making can be affected when the GI tract is inflamed or otherwise under duress. Making the right decisions around healthy eating is one of the surest ways to sustain balance and good choices in every other facet of our lives.

Previously published in Alive Magazine.

Tawnya Ritco, R.H.N., is Director of Education for PURICA and promotes natural health education and finds inspiration in the connection between nutrition, lifestyle, and vitality.

Better digestion for better nutrition

Tawnya Ritco
Registered holistic nutritionist

Making the most of nutrition is not just about what we eat but how we digest what we eat. It relies heavily on how well we absorb and assimilate our foods so we can maximize their nutritive value.

We want the food we consume to fuel our body!

Eating well is one of the pillars of a vibrant lifestyle. Nutrition is also a key in the management of stress, especially for women in menopause. Yet it’s as important to focus on digestion as it is on nutrition itself. Take stock of how you feel after eating certain foods. Do you feel energized? Or do you often feel like you need to take a siesta afterwards? Feeling bloated and tired afterwards can be a sign that it’s time to start making some adjustments to our diet and to look for new ways to improve and support our digestive system.

The general rule of thumb is “80/20”: Aim to eat healthy foods at least 80% of the time. For the remaining 20%, be “gentle” on yourself. Stress plays a factor in our overall health. Worrying incessantly about doing things perfectly can create stress in itself. Relaxing on that 20% can help. One step at a time can help create new habits in a sustainable way.

Spending as much time thinking about what we can do to improve digestion is as important as what we actually eat. Consider the following ways to enhance digestion:

Preparing to eat

Preparing the body for digestion is one of those simple things that carries a big payoff when it comes to making the most of our nutrition. Start the morning with a glass of pure of filtered water at room temperature, ideally with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The lemon becomes alkaline in the body once ingested and works as a gentle liver cleanse.


Given that we learned how to chew food as soon as we were weaned off of our mother’s milk, this seems pretty basic. It is basic. Yet when we’re hungry, many of us shovel food into our mouth before it reaches our plate. Digestion starts in the mouth. Amylase is an enzyme secreted from our salivary glands and it works to break down starches and sugars. It’s the first part of the digestion process. That’s why it is important to not rush food through the mouth. Aim to chew each spoonful of food 30 to 40 times. Ideally, chew until the food in your mouth liquefies and your natural reflexes make you automatically swallow.


Are you eating under stress?  Are you in the car and rushing to a meeting or appointment?  Create an environment that promotes a calm and relaxed state before sitting down before each meal. It will make a difference as to how you digest your food.


With the average adult human body made up of 60% water, its importance is reflected in the fact that the average person can survive only three to five days without it. Water is a key factor in regulating body temperature, allowing nutrients to travel to our organs and tissues and in removing waste. Ensuring we are well hydrated with pure water is essential. The amount of additional glasses of water we need will also depend on the water content of the foods we eat, but a litre per day is a common baseline.

Healthy Gut

Fermented foods such as Sauerkraut or Kimchi can help with digestion, providing beneficial bacteria in your digestive system and improving bowel health. (For those of you who consume dairy products, Yogurt or Kefir are other options in terms of probiotics).


What is your daily intake of fiber? Are you getting enough?  Let’s put it this way: “What goes in must come out”.  How regular we are may be a good indication if you are getting enough fiber in your diet as well as your hydration level.  Excellent options for fiber are organic fruits and vegetables, especially due to their water content.  Other convenient options in the way of whole food supplements include PURICA Fiberlicious, which is a soluble fiber from chickory root, or PURICA Nopal, made from the prickly pear cactus indigenous to Mexico, a soluble and insoluble fiber that balances blood sugar and aids digestion and elimination.

Healthy Fats

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are EFA’s, known as Essential Fatty Acids. The correct balance of these fats plays an important role in cell health (too much of Omega-6, for example, can create an imbalance). These fats are essential for proper body and brain functions and they serve as an energy source. Fat helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Some ideal choices of healthy fats are plant sources such as: avocado, olives, chia, nuts and seeds.

The amount of protein, fats and carbohydrate percentages and caloric intake will vary according to gender, age, size and activity level. We should also consider limiting processed food, sugars, pop and stimulants such as coffee, all of which can have an adverse effect on digestion.

The real take away here is to optimize your vitality by eating a range of nutritious whole fresh foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals and to maximize their value by improving your digestion.

This two-part strategy will go a long way towards stress relief, not only during menopause, but throughout your life (and it applies to men as much as women).

Tawnya N. Ritco is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and product specialist for PURICA

At PURICA, we’re committed to empowering you with the best in whole foods, supplements and positive lifestyle solutions. We support all athletes and active living people whatever your dietary preferences, although we will always do our part to raise awareness about the benefits of vegetarian or vegan options.