The health of your digestive system is critical in fueling your body with the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. When it’s not working properly, your physical and mental health can suffer.
Cece Davis Gifford, a licensed dietitian, encourages people to have literal gut checks to remain strong. As the owner and founder of Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa, Gifford is also a certified specialist in sports dietetics and a certified therapist in the dietary protocol called Lifestyle, Eating and Performance.
“We need regular screenings by a board-certified gastroenterologist to check for pathology, but other steps that people may not know about is to consult with a registered dietitian,” she says. “That health professional can check for nutritional disorders or deficiencies and food and food chemical sensitivities which are a great part of digestive health.”
When assessing the digestive system, Gifford emphasizes inflammation and dysbiosis (the imbalance of good to bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract). An important tool she uses is a mediator release test (MRT) of a patient’s blood.
“The MRT tests for non-allergic, non-celiac food sensitivities that cause mediators to be released from the white blood cells,” Gifford says. “These mediators, in turn, cause inflammation in the intestinal tract. The idea is to identify what food or food chemicals are causing that inflammation. It’s a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping those … having symptoms such as gas and distention or conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.”
Both inflammation and dysbiosis cause malabsorption of nutrients, immune system distress and a lack of serotonin production, which has been linked to anxiety and depression. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is believed to help regulate mood and behavior and contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract.
Gifford adds that dysbiosis has also been linked to obesity, risk of cancer and reduced effectiveness of cancer treatments.
“Taking a research grade probiotic, getting lots of high fiber fruits or vegetables, which are called prebiotics, and staying active will all help in avoiding dysbiosis,” says Gifford, adding that refrigerated probiotics are the best.
Gifford also uses the SpectraCell Micronutrient test, which measures the function of 35 nutritional components, including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids within white blood cells.
She says these tests eliminate guesswork when trying to identify causes of poor digestive health.
“These are tools in my toolbox that allow me to help people decrease inflammation and have a better nutritional status as a result of improving their digestive health,” Gifford says.