Blog Archives

Debunking Water Myths: How to Choose for Optimal Summer Hydration

With the heat of summer approaching full strength, there’s no better time to revisit the way you stay hydrated.

Water makes up a significant portion of our body, even comprising up to 30 per cent of our bones, and it’s especially important to keep that water bottle at the ready as we get older. This is because as we age, particularly past 65, our thirst mechanism starts to diminish, which means our bodies can’t be trusted to stay hydrated. In fact, adults in Canada over the age of 70 consumed about one-third of the amount of water of younger generations. Pair this with the fact that one of the leading causes of hospitalization in the elderly is due to dehydration, and it starts to become clear that making a habit of sipping is good practice throughout your life.

There are plenty of options for keeping your thirst at bay. Whether you’re looking for new ways to filter your water, new ways to carry your water, or delicious and natural beverages that hydrate, there are H2-oh so many ways to hydrate!

Is bottled water better or cleaner than tap water?

In Winnipeg, chlorine is added to water to prevent the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria while it sits in water towers and travels through pipes to your home. An easy way to de-chlorinate your water is simple: patience. Fill your reusable water bottle from the tap and let it sit overnight in your fridge. In the morning, the chlorine will have dissolved out of the water, taking with it that swimming pool taste and smell.

However, being the second largest country on Earth, many Canadians have tap water from wells or other sources, and rely on filters and pumps to ensure clean, safe drinking water. These include everything from in-line filters to UV to ozonation and reverse osmosis systems that can remove potentially harmful bacteria, as well as small particles, resulting in pristine, clean water.


When you’re looking for your perfect water bottle, there really is no shortage of options. What you need to be aware of is that if water is in contact with a material for an extended period of time, there will be naturally occurring reactions that dissolve substances.  Choosing a non-plastic container, such as stainless steel or glass, can avoid some of the questionable sealants and other chemicals used to make plastic water bottles, including the now-limited use of Bisphenol-A (BPA).

Filtration station: how to filter your water to perfection

There’s no shortage of ways to filter your water on the go. Some people swear by adding something as simple as a stick of activated charcoal, while others desire the high-tech re-mineralization and alkalizing effects of specialized “water sticks.”

Activated charcoal, sometimes called carbon filtering, uses natural carbon to remove contaminants in water. The way this works is through a process called adsorption, where small contaminants get trapped and locked away in tiny pores in the charcoal. Where these filters excel is in removing chlorine and sediments, and can help remove bad tastes from water. However, the pores are not small enough to remove minerals or salts, so these remain even after filtering.

A new and trendy product available at any of our Vita Health Fresh Market locations are mineralizing and alkalizing water sticks. Just pop one into your reusable water bottle, give it a shake and presto — you now have filtered, mineralized water. But what does that actually mean? Many people believe the process of adding minerals back into filtered water can provide tangible health benefits, while some find this process of mineralization and chlorine removal to improve the taste (who wants to drink pool water, anyway?).

What does the science say about the proposed health benefits of alkaline water? First, a mini-science lesson: whether water is alkaline or acidic refers to the pH, controlled by the dissolved elements. Pure water has a pH of 7.0, with alkaline water pushing that number slightly higher by having dissolved “alkalizing compounds,” such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate. Our bodies do an amazing job of balancing the pH of our blood and organ systems, so it’s questionable as to whether drinking alkaline water affects the pH of our bodies. However, there have been some evidence-based benefits of increasing the alkalinity of what we consume proposed for gut healthreducing acid reflux and as a way to improve endurance for long-distance athletes. More research is needed to fully understand the impacts and you should speak with your health care practitioner about concerns you have about your health.

Decoding plant-based waters

For those who prefer a little flavour along with their hydration, Canada is home to some exciting and wonderful beverages that rival the ever-popular and tropical coconut water, including maple water and birch water. These two tree-based waters have a natural sweetness from the sap of these majestic trees, along with hydrating minerals.


No matter what your taste buds desire, these drinks provide a source of rejuvenating and hydrating minerals, including magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. Research published in the Journal of Functional Foods has shown that maple water is also rich in organic acids and disease-fighting phytonutrients. Best of all, Canada is one of the leading producers of this patriotic, hydrating beverage.

Per 1 cup (250 ml) (estimates vary by product)


Coconut Water

Maple Water

Birch Water

Calories 45 20 8
Sugars 9g 5g 3g
Sodium 64mg 45mg 0mg
Potassium 400mg 15mg 35mg
Calcium 17mg 20mg 18mg
Magnesium 15mg 8mg

Water makes up most of our body and staying hydrated is essential for proper health. This summer, make sure you’ve got a reusable bottle to top up with your beverage of choice, whether it’s tap water filtered to perfection, or an electrolyte-boosting and naturally sweet plant-water.

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 7: The Large Intestine – Microbiome and the Last Watering Hole

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on

bacteria micro 2

Once you go through the next gateway (The ileocecal sphincter) on your adventurous journey, you find yourself in the midst of a majestic and magnificent forest. You can tell that you are still in some sort of tunnel, but it is completely different from the one that you just left. It is so much bigger! And instead of stalactites there are trees! Everything is so beautiful and an overwhelming feeling of harmony washes over you.

( Checkout part 1: You are Not Only What You Eatpart 2: Our Digestive Tract is Like the London Tubepart 3: The Mouth – Goes Chew, Chew, Chew; part 4: The Stomach – Gastric Food Processor; part 5: Small Intestine – Grand Central Station of Digestion; part 6: Intestinal Immune System – Your Personal Secret Service )

Then an elf-like creature springs out from behind one of the incredible trees. She too ends up in front of you and gracefully performs a deep and elegant bow in front of you.

Greetings Your Highness, I belong to a group defender and helper elves and it would be my greatest honor if I could act as your guide through this kingdom, the Large Intestine and introduce you to its inhabitants – the Colony of the Colon.

I am a species of beneficial bacteria. You have over 1000 species like me serving you, but this is where myself and most of the population of your beneficial bacteria reside.”

We are quite fortunate that our digestive process, at this point, is almost entirely taken over by handy little helpers. We just have to sit back and let them do the work and we reap the rewards. At this point we are quite happy to have such a pleasant tour guide showing us the features of the large intestine.

“The role of the good people of this kingdom – the many species of beneficial bacteria, like myself, has been largely ignored by your ‘conventional’ science and medicine until recently. Fortunately, this has not been the case in many other cultures where fermentation with microorganisms has been taken seriously. In these cultures, it has become a part almost of their daily diet. The Okinawans that were mentioned to you earlier utilize fermented foods as a significant part of their diet. Our significance is being rediscovered in your modern science and medicine. Some modern studies have even coined the collection of colon microorganisms as “the lost organ.”

The average person has between 5 – 8 pounds (2.3 – 3.6 Kg) of microorganisms in their gut. As you were told earlier, this mass of microorganisms has been shown to be made up of over 1000 different species – a majority of which your scientists have not even given names to! The amount of microorganisms in your body outnumbers your human cells by at least a factor of 10, while our DNA outnumber yours by a factor of 100 times. Even though some of these organisms can be bad in certain situations, the vast majority of us are just another arm of your personal secret service. We not only protect you, but we do many of the housekeeping chores so that you don’t have to.


Now as Dr. Terry mentioned before, when you travel from the small intestine to the large intestine, the environment changes from alkaline to acid. This means that the organisms living in the large intestine are completely different from the ones in the small intestine. The large intestinal bacteria, like myself, are acid loving. We are also present in much larger numbers.

This means that you do not want the bacteria from the large intestine to leak backwards into the small intestine. This is why you have a sphincter called the ileocecal sphincter. You travelled through this sphincter when you moved from the smaller tunnel kingdom of the Small Intestine, to this kingdom of the Large Intestine. If the colon’s microorganisms get into the small intestine, you can get small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), which is a major cause of acid reflux, IBS and other health issues.

This means that you want us bacteria to stay in our native kingdoms. When my people, the bacteria of the Large Intestine stay in our kingdom (or colony of the colon), we can do great work and be incredibly beneficial for you. Some of the things that we do are:

  • Ferment carbohydrates that the human body is otherwise unable to process.
  • Produce biotin, vitamin K, and other essential nutrients.
  • Produce short-chain fatty acids that increase the gut’s absorption of water.
  • Regrow gut cells in the colon.
  • Provide defense against colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Rebalance the immune system when it gets off kilter.
  • Help train the immune system to recognize who the good microorganisms are and who are not.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce pathogens in the gut.
  • Stimulate and improve metabolic function.
  • Reduce gas production.
  • Prevent tumor growth, as we have antitumor properties.
  • Aid in weight maintenance.
  • Help mental and intellectual processing.
  • To help prevent the bad looters and vandal microorganisms from moving in and setting up shop.

Even though you can live without many of these microorganisms, most of us are incredibly helpful and we make life a lot easier and smoother for you! Living with even low numbers of us can quickly lead to all kinds of illnesses for you.

As you were told earlier, we are very sensitive to your diet and your environment. Different species groups can change in dominance in as little as 48 hours, when you change your diet dramatically. Again, it is significant to remember that your diet determines the ecological balance of your body. It is simple.  Eat too much refined dairy, flour, and especially industrial sweets and large amounts of alcohol, you will get an overgrowth of yeasts like Candida albicansReduce (and often completely eliminate these for while), and eat nutritious foods full of healthy nutrient and fiber, and balance can be obtained again. Often, you have to introduce large numbers of the friendly organism (called probiotics) into your system to train us other organisms to get back on track. You can do this easily with supplements or by eating fermented foods, like your ancestors did. In our modern era we often need to do both.

The large intestine also absorbs some of the vitamins both from the original food and from what is produced by the microorganisms. This is where most of the water is absorbed out of the mass so that your stool is not too runny (diarrhea), and to conserve your body’s water supply. If fecal matter stays in the large intestine too long, it becomes dried out, increasing the problem of constipation.

Now I must say good-bye to you. It has been an honor, and I hope you enjoy the knowledge that myself and the rest of my numerous people are working hard for you.”

Well, now that you have been familiarized with the territory of your large intestine, it is time for us to bring you back out of this journey. You have travelled far and long – this journey usually takes about 24 hours. And don’t worry, we don’t think it necessary that you make the high-dive jump into the toilet bowl. The purpose of this initial journey was to familiarize you with some of the geography (and anatomy) that we will use in the larger adventure of life that we will continue to travel . . .

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 6: Intestinal Immune System – Your Personal Secret Service

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on

bacteria maxresdefault

In previous blogs we saw our adventurous journey taking us from perceiving food and drink in our minds eye, mindful eating (part 1part 2), chewing our food in the mouth (part 3), swallowing it to enter the stomach part 4). In the last blog we saw the chyme entering the small intestine  is a very exciting part of the journey (part 5). It is wonderful to see all the activity in this stalactite filled environment. Then all of a sudden you see a small figure with a dark cloak and a pointed hood – suspiciously resembling the villi stalactites of the cavernous small intestinal tunnel. He magically enters into your coach on the subway so you can have a conversation with him. He comes right up to you, standing before you; he bends forward into a deep bow.

“Hello Your Majesty. I am a member of the IIS. Your Intestinal Immune System. We are the extremely capable and highly trained system that works to lower and keep out bad organisms and unfriendly insults that can constantly blast at you.

Dr. Terry asked us to meet with you to discuss our role in your body and the potential security threats that you may inadvertently allow to compromise the integrity of your system. You were initially under the impression that you only had to deal with the challenges and obstacles of this less desirable path because you did not chew properly. This is only partly true. There are many more habits that often creep in that make our job harder. We are up for the task, but if you could follow a few guidelines, it would make our job much easier and we can concentrate on making you feel better and enjoy the Majestic life you deserve.

This is a list of things that can slow down our process:

  • Eating too much processed foods, high in sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, coloring agents and additives.
  • Eating a diet too low in fibers and healthy nutrients.
  • Exposing yourself to food allergens, or other offensive dietary components.
  • Allowing stress of a chronic nature in your life.
  • Not exercising enough, or even when you exercise too much.
  • Acquiring Fungal (yeast), viral, or bacterial infections.
  • Getting food poisoning or foodborne illnesses.
  • When you are overwhelmed by endotoxins produced by yeast, bacteria, etc.
  • Having an imbalance in other systems in the body such as thyroid issues.
  • Either too much, or too little, hydration of water.
  • Brain inflammation.
  • Allowing yourself to be excessively exposed to pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bizarre chemicals such as xenoestrogens, and the like.

We realize that some of these are unavoidable, but keeping them to a minimum will really help us make you live longer with a strong, prosperous disposition. When you consider the total load of all of these stressors in modern life, it is no wonder so many people have digestive issues. By taking care of us, your Intestinal Immune System, and not obstructing us in the course of our duties you have one of the best ways to assure healthy digestion and to create long-term health for your whole body.

How can you take care of us and give us the best working environment possible? I will gift you with a few tips that can help:

  • Protect your intestinal lining with choline (egg yolks), beta-carotene and or vitamin A (dark green, yellow, orange vegetables; fruits; egg yolks), Vitamin C (citrus fruits), zinc (pumpkin or other squash seeds, clams, free range pasture raised chicken and some fish), fiber (fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds)
  • Eat adequate protein – but not too much.
  • Maintain optimal stomach acids.
  • Balance your fats (usually meaning more omega 3 from cold water fish or algae), avocados, olive oil, coconut butter, olives, nuts and seeds.
  • Avoid food allergens and intolerances, such as wheat, dairy, corn, and soy.
  • Reduce your toxic load, by eating organic food when possible and to a detox diet 2 – 4 times a year.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Get enough good quality sleep.
  • Suitable vitamin levels, especially vitamin A, to repair the mucus lining of the digestive tract.
  • Adequate glutamine and our favorites bone soup to help with connective tissue.
  • Keep antibiotic and corticosteroids use to a minimum.

Your body has invested heavily in our secret service, with approximately 70% of the immune system residing in the intestines. I believe that I am not speaking out of place when I say that this only makes sense because the gut lining comes into contact with far more foreign organisms and molecules then any other part of the body. When the secret service that is the Intestinal Immune System is functioning well, we sort through hundreds of trillions of molecules, microbes, and toxins, allowing important nutrients, phytonutrients, proteins, and fats into your body, while keeping invaders at bay or destroying them completely. We do this 24/7 without complaint, as long as you enable us to do so without weighing down and obstructing our operations with the things that I mentioned. Remember, your health is dependent on your IIS, we are your personal security team.

It has been an honor to speak with you, I look forward to continue serving you. I will now return you to the journey that Dr. Terry is guiding you through.

You look around this shag carpeted cave, realizing that you never knew how important your secret service was. Up to now you have just taken it for granted and you vow to make a concerted effort to help out your secret service. You look up and see another gateway – The ileocecal sphincter. You then see a small army of hooded figures like the one that was just speaking to you. You raise your hand in salute, and they respond in kind. You then proceed through the gateway. Once you do, you find yourself in the midst of a majestic and magnificent forest. You can tell that you are still in some sort of tunnel, but it is completely different from the one that you just left. It is so much bigger! And instead of stalactites there are trees! Everything is so beautiful and an overwhelming feeling of harmony washes over you.

Then you see an elf-like creature springs out from behind one of the incredible trees. She too ends up in front of you and gracefully performs a deep and elegant bow in front of you.

“Greetings Your Highness, I belong to a group defender and helper elves and it would be my greatest honor if I could act as your guide through this Kingdom, the Large Intestine and introduce you to its inhabitants – the Colony of the Colon.

To be continued in our next Blog . . .

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 5: Small Intestine – Grand Central Station of Digestion

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on


As we continue on our adventurous journey through the digestive tract, we remember the first four (4) sections: preparing for the journeyentering the mouth to get on the subway, being swallowed on our descent into the amusement park ride of the Stomach. Once we are in the small intestine we notice that this is quite a different environment than what you have encountered so far on your journey. Up to this point, very little – except some simple carbohydrates and possibly a little bit of alcohol, has been absorbed. The first two stages of your physical journey were all about mixing and the starting of the breakdown phases. Well that is all changing rapidly, as you move through the Small Intestine – it is all about absorption here. Yes, the small intestine will continue to break down the chyme: both chemically with enzymes, and with the aid of microorganisms, but its major goal is to get down to the business of absorbing nutrients into the body. Remember, as long as it is in the tube (hole in the donut), it is not really in the body yet.

Here are a few of the jobs that the small intestine is about to do:

  • Break down food into small enough molecules so you can absorb them.
  • Segregate molecules that you can absorb from indigestible food particles and bad organisms, and shunt each into its correct place.
  • House as much as 70% of your immune system.
  • Protect the friendly flora that acts as your symbiotic helpers.
  • Absorb nutrients, fats, and proteins so you can build a strong and healthy body.

Now to do this, the small intestine has a few prominent helpers.

The Pancreas, Gallbladder, and Liver – Digestive Collaborators

Liver GB and Pan

This group plays a significant dual role in the process of digestion, and can be distressed with illness if digestion doesn’t go well.

The pancreas plays and important role in digestion, because it produces 40 – 50 oz. (1200 – 1500 ml) of digestive juices and enzymes a day. This includes a concert of players, acting as chemical scissors to snip apart proteins, sugars and even some fibers:

  • Pancreatic amylase (polysaccharides into di/trisaccharides),
  • Trypsinogen (which is converted into trypsin by enterokinase for proteins),
  • Chymotypsinogen (catalyzed into chymotrypsin by trypsin, breaking down proteins),
  • Procarboxypeptidase into carboxypeptidase by trypsin, pancreatic lipase (triglycerides that have been emulsified), ribonuclease (breaks down RNA),
  • Deoxyribonuclease (breaks down DNA),
  • Trypsin inhibitor (deactivates trypsin if accidentally released)

The gallbladder is a small bladder tucked in between the liver and the small intestine. Its basic job is to store bile produced by the liver, ready to be secreted when the occasion is called for. This is mostly due to fatty or oily foods, but just as important to help the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, A and E. Bile is a yellowish-brown to greenish-brown liquid of which the liver produces 27 oz. to about a quart (800-1000 mL) daily. It has an alkaline pH of about 7.6-8.6, and consists of water, bile acids, bile salts, cholesterol, lecithin, bile pigments, and several ions, which are comprised mostly of sodium and potassium salts. This will help to neutralize the strong acid juices coming out of the stomach.

If you have had reason to remove your gallbladder, you can still digest some fats and oils, but in much smaller amounts, and separated over a longer period of time. Since the gallbladder doesn’t really produce the bile (the liver does), bile will still ‘trickle out’. When the gallbladder is functioning optimally, it can produce surges of bile necessary to emulsify oily meals like bacon, French fries, or those eggs benedict you like on special occasions. Good reason to keep it, hey? Eating lots of greens and roughage on a regular basis and detoxification will help to clear it out. Smaller proportion of fatty and oily food will be OK if you have lost your gallbladder. Some people take fat digesting enzymes with fatty food, to assist in this process.

The liver is a significant player at this point of the production as it is what actually produces the bile but it plays an even more important role after absorption of food.

Now not only do your surroundings in the small intestine look different, once you left the stomach, the atmosphere and environment were quite different as well. The stomach is very acidic, but the small intestine produces it own alkaline digestive fluids – and with the help from bile and the pancreatic juices, its environment is quite alkaline.

As an observant and seasoned adventurer, you start to perceive a trend. The environment started out alkaline (in the mouth), became acid in the stomach, and back to alkaline in the small intestine. The yin (alkaline) and yang (acid) pushing and pulling on the food is an interesting sequence – a sequence that will be continued in the large intestine, whose internal environment is acidic.

Now that the bile has emulsified the fatty material, breaking the surface tension – much as soapsuds do to the grease in a frying pan, and the enzymes have broken down the chyme into smaller components, we are ready move on to absorption.

The small intestine is somewhat poorly named, as it isn’t small at all when it comes to length. It is about 22 ft. (6.7 m) long. This makes it nearly four times taller than you are.  Its length has nothing on the surface area though, which is the size of a doubles tennis court. Those little projections that looked like stalactites with smaller stalactites growing out of them, and the folds that you observed around you can really make up a large surface area. The reason that this intestine is called small, even though it is much longer than the colon, is because it is small in diameter.

small-intestine villi

The small shag carpet-like projections are called villi and, as eluded to earlier, they have microvilli on them. The villi and microvilli are where the real action happens. This is where most of the absorption takes place. The villi surface is kind of like a specialized skin that is extremely thin. It is only one cell thick, and has about 150 times the surface area of your external skin. It has a pretty sophisticated job: it has to keep pathogens out while letting in as many nutrients, phytochemicals and other food components as possible.  It does this by employing the ‘gut-immune system,’ which can be considered similar to a secret service organization – just on a very personal and small scale.


We will look at this Secret Service in more detail in our next blog. . .

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 4: The Stomach – Gastric Food Processor

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on


When most people think of digestion, they immediately think of the stomach. When a patient comes in and says they have a stomachache and I ask where, they usually point to their lower abdomen. The stomach is actually much higher – just under the left lower rib and diaphragm, crossing over the midline toward the right. The stomach is one of the major centers of the digestive tract. As we will see, this is where the next stage of disassembling the food starts. The giant food processor that is your stomach is quite a bit different than the one you might have on your kitchen counter, because, unfortunately it doesn’t have a blade. This means that it can’t break down large food particles that might have been impatiently swallowed too soon by the mouth. In fact, it is more like a cement mixer. This mixer is a strong, elastic, and muscular sack, which has the ability to change size and shape depending on the need. This mixer is not a namby-pamby sack; it is really quite tough, with ridges that are several millimeters thick.

Back to your journey, so far you remember going through the journey of chewing and swallowing – being carried down a canyon by Peristalsis. You remember approaching a gateway and it opening for you. You now remember moving through it and as you do, the ground disappears beneath you. You find subway falling into what appears to be a great cavern. Once you land on the concave ground of the cavern you look around and realize that you are in the middle of some sort of cosmic-looking amusement park. You look out through the thick glass windows of the subway, happy that you are not exposed to the strong acids in this amusement park. Then the walls move and you start moving rapidly from side to side while it turns in circles. It seems to you that part of the ride must involve a water feature because you are constantly sprayed with acid liquid of some sort. But unlike water which is neutral, this liquid is highly acidic. The ride is so thrilling, that part of you wishes it would never end. But then an hour goes by. Then two hours. You are starting to get really tired of this ride. By hour three you have almost nothing left in you to even keep yourself upright anymore. Hour four rolls around and you collapse, completely incoherent and then you faint.

What you are remembering is your experience of being in your stomach. The average stomach can hold approximately 1 quart (950 ml), but can hold much more if you force it too. It secretes a stream of gastric acids powerful enough to burn your finger if you were to touch it, and digestive enzymes strong enough to rip apart the first bonds of proteins and fat. As we will see later, we need this strong acidic environment in the stomach. Its robust muscular action bounces the food from side-to-side, banging it against the stomach wall to assist with mixing in the juices and to break down the food as much as possible.

As exciting and fun as this part of the journey might be, the stomach is quite hard at work with three major tasks:

  1. Storing the swallowed food and liquid.
  2. Being a mixing machine to stir up food, liquid, and the digestive juices the stomach produces.
  3. Emptying its contents slowly into the small intestine.

The average time you should expect this stage to take to be completely finished is about 4 hours.  This can vary quite a bit. The time it takes is determined by many factors, but some of the most significant ones are:

  1. The size of the meal ingested.
  2. How thoroughly the food is chewed.
  3. The contents of the food ingested.
  4. The amount of gastric juice available.
  5. How much the acids are diluted with other liquids while eating
  6. The amount of stress a person is under.
  7. How long ago, and how much, you ingested in your last meal.
  8. The motility (speed) of the digestive tract in general.

The first point, “eating until you are full” is a relatively modern occurrence and a product of Western culture. In Ayurvedic medicine – a Tradition from India, it is suggested that it is best to only eat until you are two-thirds full. The Okinawans (from a small island in southern Japan and considered to have one of the best life expectancy in the world) have a very specific diet. They use a principle called hari hachi bu, which translates to mean, “eat until you are 80% full”.

These simple ancient rules can be scientifically supported. As you most likely already know, it is better to leave some space in your blender. Think about when you make a smoothie, it always works better if you leave some space and not fill it to the top.

If the stomach is too full, you will end up with large undigested food particles travelling into the small intestine and we have already seen what that means. Eating too much, or even too near bedtime, can put pressure on that esophageal sphincter, possible to end up with that reflux we saw earlier. By eating smaller amounts and giving enough time between eating and lying in bed, can dramatically reduce the reflux.

I really like the old adage:

  1. Eat breakfast like a King
  2. Lunch like a Prince
  3. And suppers like a university student that is coming the end of the month and is wondering how they are going to pay rent.

OK, I put a bit of a modern twist on the old adage.

The second factor also plays a huge role in digestive health. Various foods digest at different speeds. For example, simple carbohydrates move through the stomach relatively fast, while proteins and fats take a much longer time. This is very simple to understand, as simple carbohydrates only have one bond to break and can even be broken down in the mouth if you chew long enough. It takes only 15 – 30 minutes for these simple carbohydrates to be ready to leave the stomach.

Complex carbohydrates are, well much more complex to digest and thus take longer, but proteins and fats take the longest. It can easily take 3 – 6 hours before they are ready to be released from the stomach. This contributes to the reasoning of one of the basic concepts of food combination. If you combine simple sugars with proteins or fat, the sugars will have enough time to start fermenting in the stomach, while waiting around for their slower partners to be ready to leave. Consider how exhausting the amusement park ride was for you, and imagine what it would have been like with young children with you, anxious to go on even more rides when you just want to take it slow and even just sit down for a minute to catch your breath. You can imagine that this might irritate and agitate you. In the case of the simple carbs and proteins, this agitation creates gas, putting pressure on that esophageal sphincter again, and we already know were this is going – up the reflux road. So, it is better to eat your simple carbs 30 minutes before the proteins, or three hours after. So, growing up, this is probably the only time your mother was wrong and you were right. It actually is best to eat your dessert first, or maybe three hours later – but what kid has that kind of patience?

The third factor of digestive processing – the amount of gastric juices – can be equally as important to many people’s familiar friend – well, acquaintance – reflux. If you do not have enough gastric juices, of course, it is going to take longer for the stomach to do its job, thus slowing the whole process down. This lag period in the stomach can be caused by many factors, some of which are eating too fast, stress, age and taking antacids. Yes, that last one is quite interesting, because if you watch TV, or even worse, go to your medical doctor and complain about reflux, they will suggest an antacid, or even a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). It doesn’t take a medical degree to understand that this is not very productive for you. If the problem is already one of too low a level of gastric acids, how could lowering it make the problem better? The thing is that it relieves the symptoms, but makes the problem worse in the long run. When I said this wasn’t very productive, I was not telling the whole truth, because it is very productive – for the pharmaceutical companies and the visits to the doctor to get the prescriptions. This, of course, assures more significant health issues in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) later on down the road. The first one to be seen is usually irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is a long list of health issues that can occur from too many large food particles getting into the small intestinal tract. The major ones include:

  • Candida (yeast infection)
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraine headaches
  • Rosacea or other skin conditions
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Food intolerances
  • Immune imbalances

Back to the theme park in the cavern that is the stomach. You remember starting to regain consciousness and feeling completely limp, just as your subway comes away from the ride and, on a wave of liquid, takes you to another gateway. Above the gateway, you remember noticing a sign that says ‘Pyloric Gateway – Authorized Chyme Only’.

What happens when the stomach has broken food down as much as it can, the pyloric sphincter opens at the bottom of the stomach and lets what is called ‘chyme’ pass into the first stage of the small intestine.  Chyme is the food broken down into a consistency of toothpaste, mix with digestive enzymes. This stage is called the duodenum (“doo-wah-de-num”).

As you pass through the gateway, you recall arriving into a long cavernous tunnel with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The subway keeps moving you along, with some of the liquid from the stomach cavern pooling on the ground around you. You tried to look down the tunnel, but could not look far because not only does it apparently twist and turn, but its walls also seem to constantly fold inward. You remember looking around, and feeling an enormous sense of awe as you observed the wonderland full of marvelous flora (plants) that live amongst the magnificent magnificent stalactites. When you looked closer the stalactites, they even have what look like smaller stalactites on them! Wait, on second look they seem much more flexible, almost like a 1970’s shag carpet. These formations and microorganisms, along with a host of digestive enzymes, are what help to break down the proteins, fats and complex sugars to be absorbed into the body.

Suddenly you feel a vibration under your feet and a tidal wave of greenish-yellow liquid comes surging in. This juice is full of bile and pancreatic enzymes to aid in the next stage of digestion.  Again you are happy to have those thick windows to observe through, as the environment is changing rapidly from acidic to alkaline.


The next blog is the adventures of the Small Intestine . . .

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 3: The Mouth – Goes Chew, Chew, Chew

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on

Digest Pic

Back to our journey; even though our journey starts in the mind, (as we saw in our previous posts part 1 and part 2), all the excitement and anticipation we have built up is realized when we get on the subway at the first station. Our journey begins with food entering into the mouth as we embark on the subway called Peristalsis.

Now, imagine yourself eating the first forkful of your favorite dish that you just prepared for yourself. Your tongue is awash in a symphony of beautiful flavors as you chew. At this point in the process of digestion, the teeth chew, and the tongue delightfully mixes the food with a sea of alkaline saliva. Food is ready to leave the ‘mouth station’ when it is a smooth and pasty texture. Allowing large chunks to leave the platform of the mouth will strain the system further down the line. Don’t forget, one of the greatest benefits of mindful eating is enjoying the wonderful tastes of the food before it is swallowed, which plentiful chewing supports.

If you gulp your food down in a few minutes – like millions of people do, you are compromising your digestive transit system. This is unfortunate because not only do you not get to enjoy the wonderful deep taste of the food, you have cut out the first two stages of physical digestion: chewing, and the salivary process where enzymes break down starches. This means you have started your adventurous journey in a difficult and arduous way. As soon as you swallow the food, it is outside of conscious control until it is ready for recycling, when it comes out the other end.

If you swallow your food whole, you can’t expect to digest it fully. This is both a mechanical issue and a chemical issue as the saliva produces alpha-amylase that starts to break down starches. If this doesn’t happen, you can get symptoms of carbohydrate maldigestion and malabsorption in some cases. While chewing, the mouth also produces lingual lipase – secreted by a gland under the tongue. Its job is to start the process of digesting fats.

Back to your journey, unfortunately, we were in such a hurry that we didn’t get off to a good start. When we are not mindful of the foods we ingest and swallow them in such large particles, we can hardly expect them to be broken down by the stomach (our stomach does not have teeth). The food particles will then be deposited in our intestines not fully broken down. Here they will become the breeding ground for bad bacteria and yeast. This can cause a wide range of symptoms, but the most common ones are gas, and bloating. If you experience these after a meal, it could be a sign that you are not chewing enough.

It is pretty silly when you think about it. One of the greatest joys of eating is the wonderful taste. But in our modern hectic life, we are in such a hurry that many of us do not even allow ourselves the pleasure of mindful eating and swallow our food before it has been thoroughly chewed. This, of course, causes uncomfortable symptoms later on down the line. What’s up with that?  We just need to learn to slow down and be more mindful; by doing so we will enjoy life far more. At first this might be hard, but we can develop this good habit just as much as we developed the habit of gulping our foods in the past. Remember it is not a race and no one is going to steal your food.

After the chewing stage of digestion, when you swallow, it is a pretty short trip (9 ½ inches or 24 cm). This is propelled along by a muscle wave called peristalsis – or a wave like contraction and relaxation of the tubular muscles that make up the digestive tract. This portion of the journey takes about 8 – 9 seconds if all is working well. Sometimes this journey is interrupted, or even reversed, by several factors including: stress, infection, and environmental factors. Other things to influence this are factors further down the line that we will see in the intestinal tract. This can result in food and stomach juices coming up the one-way tract, as we have already seen. This is not usually a good thing, but is experienced by far too many in Western society.

Fortunately, even though you were in too much of a hurry to chew your food thoroughly, you were not stressed or sick when you began the journey. This is why you now remember that your trip down the throat canyon on Peristalsis was quick and quite smooth and uneventful. Once you reached the bottom of the canyon, you  find yourself in front of a gateway. As soon as you neared it seemed to sense you and magically opened for you.

What happens when food travels all the way down the esophagus, is it encounters a gateway of the lower esophageal sphincter (aka cardiac sphincter). This sphincter is almost like a valve that opens up for the food to welcome it into the stomach. This is one of the major powerhouses of the digestive process.

We will continue our journey in Stomach for the next Blog . . .

Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 2: Our Digestive Tract is Like the London Tube

Written by Dr. Terry Willard. Originally Published on

For those of you who missed Dr. Willard’s visit to Winnipeg, check out this 7 part blog series to learn more about optimizing your digestion.

Digest Bloaded

No wonder digestive health is deteriorating in North America. Our digestion is already off to a bad start before we put anything into our mouth. In our last blog we saw that most people don’t enough time at the cephalic phase of digestion. Fortunately, you are a well-informed traveler, so you can avoid this pitfall by simulating sensory input through mindful eating. Mindful eating is creating a sacred connection to your food. This can be aided by blessing your food. And, while mindful eating is always beneficial, if you have not been involved in the preparation of the food, it is even more important to take a minute to enjoy the aromas that come off of it, the display, the texture and way the food makes you feel. If it fills you with joy, you will digest it better. No that doesn’t just mean taking a picture of your food to post to Facebook or Instagram later. It means ‘connecting with the food! Being conscious and mindful is the first stage of digestion, much as it is in the first stage of any journey.

A great metaphor for the process of digestion is provided by a book on this is called The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health. The authors of this book have created a food’s-eye view of digestion, using an analogy of riding the London subway (otherwise known as ‘The Tube’).

London Tube Digestion

The reason this metaphor is so great is that the digestive tract’s main purpose is similar to a subway system in that it has to efficiently “transport food from station to station so it can be broken down into its component parts, absorbed by your body, and eventually transformed into the building blocks that make up your body”.

Also, just like the immense size of any subway system in any large city, our digestive tract is one of the largest systems in our body. End to end; it is approximately 30 ft. (over 9 meters). If you took it out of the body and stood it on its end, the digestive tract would be as tall as a telephone pole.

Just like the intricate timing of a subway, digestion is a complex and highly coordinated effort. Various branches of our nervous system accomplish this coordination. Just like if there is trouble on the track in a subway, the whole system comes to a halt, digestion is significantly hampered by various stresses in both the mind and the physical digestive system itself. Many health conditions arise from stress and lack of digestive coordination. One of the easiest places to see this is acid reflux, or GERD (Gastro esophageal reflux disease). This is where the upper digestive sphincter (the esophageal sphincter) stops working properly. This relaxed sphincter lets foods and enzymes travel up the esophagus – the wrong way. When this happens people suffer from heartburn and stomach problems.

This is one of the most common problems we see – material going up a one-way street, the wrong way.  Unlike a subway, our tube is a one-way street, producing biodegradable and recyclable material at the end.  One of the major things we do in the clinic is encourage peoples’ digestive tract to direct traffic down its one-way track in the right direction and in a coordinated fashion. We start doing this with a Herbal D-tox.


Many of my patients used the feeling of heartburn or GERD as a sign to do the D-tox again. Often that is all it takes. We suggest doing a D-tox 2 – 4 times a year to keep the digestive system clear and to be ready for the adventurous journey we start in the mouth of our next blog . . .

Posted in Blog |

Supplement Pairings for Men: What You Need and When

It’s no surprise that men and women have unique nutritional needs. Knowing which supplements to take can sometimes be confusing.

Below are three powerful supplement pairings for men that can lead to a health boost, whether you’re interested in heart health, mental health or exercise recovery.

Garlic and Fish oil

Benefit: Heart health


Heart disease is currently the second leading cause of death in Canada and men are two times more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than women. Practising a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and a well-rounded diet are important steps to reduce your risk of heart disease. Additionally, there’s a powerful nutritional combo that offers significant benefits in this area.

The heart-health benefits of fish oil have been widely observed and reported. This anti-inflammatory good fat can reduce high triglyceride levels in the blood. However, one of the concerns with fish oil or omega-3 supplements is that it can raise cholesterol levels in men who are already at risk of heart disease.

A study from the University of Guelph found that when garlic and fish oil were supplemented together, there was a significant reduction in total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, a key indicator of heart disease risk. Garlic has been repeatedly shown to have cholesterol-lowering benefits, providing a beneficial boost to your fish oil supplement. A recent meta-analysis confirmed these cholesterol-lowering properties of garlic supplement.

When to take:

  • Take fish oil and garlic supplements with a meal that has some fat in it, such as oils or avocados. The fats in the foods will help your body absorb the fish oil. Taking these supplements with food will also reduce the likelihood of fishy or oily burps.

EPA/DHA (Omega-3) and Vitamin D

Benefit: Mental Health


Many Canadians are directly or indirectly affected by mental illness at some point in their lives: 20 per cent of Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness. The reasons for this are complex, and if you’re experiencing mental distress, it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner, as over 30 per cent of Canadians don’t seek services for confronting and treating this problem.

However, much research has observed a correlation between depressive symptoms and a low omega-3 intake and omega-3 ratio in the blood. EPA and DHA are the long-chain omega-3s from marine sources that have been associated with a number of health benefits.  Studies with higher supplemental EPA (over 50 per cent of the supplement) have been observed to be associated with benefits for mental health, in some cases decreasing depressive symptoms by approximately 30 per cent.

Vitamin D pairs well with an EPA/DHA supplement for a number of reasons. Specifically relating to mental health, a study from the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute showed that omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA paired together with vitamin D helped maintain healthy levels of serotonin, otherwise known as the “feel-good” hormone. Supplementation with vitamin D has also shown benefits for reducing the severity of depressive symptoms as measured by common tools.

When to take:

  • Take EPA/DHA and vitamin D with your evening meal. These supplements go hand-in-hand because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and absorption is improved if taken with a fat, such as an EPA/DHA supplement. As our evening meals tend to be more substantial, the natural fats in these foods can also improve the absorption of both the EPA/DHA and vitamin D.

Probiotic and Casein

Benefit: Improved exercise recovery


If you push yourself too hard when doing a strenuous workout, you can end up stiff, sore and possibly injured. Many people turn to a protein supplement to assist with both building muscle and speeding recovery.

With all the different types of protein at your local CHFA Member health food store, there’s something for everyone. One of the common protein supplements is casein, a dairy-based protein often used post-workout. Casein is released into the blood stream slowly, which allows your muscles to absorb and use that protein to build muscle.

Recent research has found that a Lactobacillus probiotic supplement in combination with protein tended to reduce muscle damage, improve recovery and maintain physical performance after a hard workout. The reason for these extra benefits is that probiotics help to support intestinal digestion and absorption of nutrients while reducing overall inflammation to help your muscles heal faster.

When to take:

  • Probiotics should be taken regularly for at least a week leading up to a particularly strenuous activity (for example, that half-marathon you’ve been training for). Casein is slow-release and absorbing protein, so it’s often recommended to be taken before bed to provide a long supply of protein to recovering muscles overnight.

Whether you’re looking for a powerful supplement pair to support your cardiovascular health or mental health, consider adding garlic or vitamin D to your omega-3. If you’re looking for something to help with muscle recovery, consider adding a probiotic supplement to your post-workout protein powder for added benefits.

Visit your local Vita Health Fresh Market for a wide variety of products. Remember to speak with your health care practitioner before making changes to your healthy regimen.

Posted in Blog |

Supplement Pairings for Women: What You Need and When

It’s no surprise that men and women have unique nutritional needs. Knowing which supplements to take can sometimes be confusing.

Should you take your probiotic on an empty stomach? How often should you take your vitamin D? Which supplements are important for women?

It can be difficult to know the ins and outs of supplements, which are best to take, and when. If you feel like you’ve been left scratching your head with what actually works for women, here are a few easy tips for getting the most out of common women-focused supplements.

Iron and Vitamin C

Iron deficiency and anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around the world and persists in Canada. Many women of child-bearing age suffer from chronically low iron due to menstrual cycles. Iron is essential for many body systems, including the immune system and energy production.


Tips for better absorption:

  • Take iron 30 minutes before a meal with a glass of orange juice or tomato juice. An acidic environment keeps supplemental iron in the form that is most readily absorbed by the digestive tract. Taking iron before a meal while your stomach is very acidic will help with this initial absorption. Interestingly, if your meal then contains meat, fish or poultry, this animal-based protein can nearly double the absorption of iron and decrease gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Vitamin C, which itself is an acid, has been shown to increase the absorption of iron, in some cases by nearly three-fold!

Don’t take with: Calcium or magnesium

  • Iron doesn’t pair with other “divalent” mineral supplements, including calcium and magnesium. These minerals compete for the same absorption enzyme in the intestines. If you’re taking both as supplements, take iron in the morning when your stomach is most acidic after a long night’s sleep, and your calcium and/or magnesium later in the day at meal times.

Omegas and Vitamin D

These two supplements are a match made in heaven, delivering benefits for gorgeous skin, brain health and bone health.

Omega-3s from marine sources have been shown to improve cognitive health and vision in women over the age of 45, and have even been shown to assist with anxiety reduction while reducing inflammation. These good fats are also shown to help prevent UV photo-damage in the skin, retaining healthier and more youthful skin.

Vitamin D, which is produced in the skin in response to sunlight, is crucial for absorbing calcium from the digestive tract and helps to build strong bones, which is of particular importance for females. According to Statistics Canada, women in Canada are five times more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis than men, especially later in life. Research in animals has shown that a diet rich in long-chain omega-3s, the same variety connected to cognitive benefits, can improve bone health.

Tips for better absorption:

  • Any fat-soluble nutrient, like vitamin D and omega-3s, do well when taken with food, particularly when that food has some type of fat, like avocado, fish, or olive oil. When pairing these supplements together, the good fats of the omega-3s help the body absorb vitamin D, and natural, healthy fats in a meal help stimulate the body to release enzymes that enhance absorption.

When to take:

  • If you search the Internet, you will find every possible answer to the question of when the best time of day to take vitamin D or omega-3s is. However, time and again, there does not appear to be a definitive or conclusive answer besides “take it with a meal.” Some people may be sensitive to vitamin D’s effect on sleep and find taking their dose of D at lunch more pleasant.

Prebiotics & Probiotics

Gut health is top of mind for many Canadians these days and probiotics also offer benefits specific to women. Research has shown that supporting gut health with a balanced probiotic can also support vaginal health and reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections.

The term “probiotic” refers specifically to the bacteria in a particular food or supplement, which, when taken, provide a health benefit. “Prebiotic,” on the other hand, refers to the food that bacteria consume — dietary fibre and soluble fibre in particular. Most Canadians do not consume the recommended intake of dietary fibre each day. Inulin, obtained from the chicory root, is one of the more common prebiotic fibre supplements that support gut health.


Tips for better absorption:

  • Providing both probiotics and prebiotic fibre at the same time, whether from the diet or as a supplement, may help to ensure the good gut bugs have what they need to survive the harsh conditions of the upper digestive tract and colonize the colon.
  • Look for a probiotic supplement with an “enteric coating.” This is a protective shield that helps the bacteria survive the stomach acid and reach the lower intestines.

When to take:

  • It’s generally best to follow the instructions on the bottle for your probiotic supplement. Often, supplements are recommended to be taken with a meal to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Try taking your probiotic toward the end of the meal. This will expose the bacteria to a slightly less hostile acidic environment.

These are just a few of the power couples when considering how to get the most out of your supplements. Speak with your health care practitioner to see which natural health products are right for you.


Posted in Blog |

Tongue-to-Bum Part 1 – You are Not Only What You Eat

4.7 Digestive

I have been asked by several people to go into a more in depth look at the parts of the digestive tract. So I have decided to do a series on an adventurous journey from your Tongue-to-Bum to help you understand the basics of digestion.

Before I embark on this exciting journey, I must start with a bit of an apology because I didn’t tell you the whole truth in earlier blogs. We used the old common-sense axiom “you are what you eat.” Well, that is not really true. You are not really what you eat, but you are what you absorb. Of course, we can even go a bit further than that…

I will start at the beginning with one of the basic concepts that our students learn in their first few weeks of the 3 – 4 year process of becoming a Clinical Herbalist at Wild Rose College.

It is the principle of IN-DO-OUT. You are what you eat, and absorb (IN), along with what you metabolize (DO) and what you do not eliminate (OUT). The digestive tract deals with the IN, and part of the OUT aspects that are so important to most healing systems.

This principle, of course, deals with nutrition (the food and drink we ingest) – but it goes way beyond this. It also encompasses mental and emotional states, which can dramatically affect digestion.  This concept can be seen in our language, as the ancients understood this system well. It is from this ancient understanding that expressions like: “he has a lot of gall”, “venting your spleen” and “having a gut feeling” originated.  Yet, modern medical perspective states that the brain is the repository of the mind and emotions, thus contradicting the experience of feeling emotions viscerally and not in the head. However, because recent research indicates that there is an important link between digestion and the brain, medical science now recognizes the existence of an enteric nervous system – or the “brain of the gut”.

Enteric nervous-system-33-638


This means that our level or state of stress can play an important role in: how we digest food, what we get out of food, and whether the food will be beneficial or harmful to us.

With all of that said, we can now set forth on the epic adventure of exploring your digestive tract! You might think that digestion starts in the mouth, and who could blame you; most biology and medical texts state that to be the case. In reality, digestion begins well before that. It starts in the mind. Just think of preparing for a holiday trip: it starts off as a concept, then you go on to prepare, and then you pack and get ready for the trip. Well, eating is no different: the sights, smells, and sounds elicit signals in your brain and you initiate actions to prepare your digestive tract for a meal. These actions include those that go back even to buying the ingredients at the store, or if you are really prepared, to planting the ingredients in your garden. As most of us know, the more prepared you are for a journey, the better equipped you are to enjoy the various adventures you encounter.

So, right now, picture yourself in a kitchen preparing your favorite dish. Now allow us to clone you and shrink you down so small that you are invisible to the human eye. All around you are big flying objects. Grab onto one. It will pull you very quickly inside of a big black cave. You have just hitched a ride on an aromatic molecule and are going inside of your own nose, on your way, via your olfactory center, to your brain. What you have just been a part of is one of the first direct digestion stimulating actions. Now jump back to yourself preparing your favorite dish.

aroma limbic diagram

In this food preparation stage of digestion, the chopping, and cooking of the meal create aromas that further help us to ready our digestive tract for what is to come. Even if you haven’t been involved in the preparation of the food, just walking into the kitchen and breathing in the fantastic bouquets of scents, will most likely create a salivation reaction for you. Marketers have utilized this experience to their benefit, filling malls with scents of cinnamon buns, French fries, and coffee –and let’s not forget the tantalizing smell of popcorn in a theater. Has it ever made you impulse-buy?

These sensory signals come to your brain and travel down your nervous system via the vagus nerve and stimulate your appetite. This first stage is called the cephalic phase and it is what tells the digestive tract: “get ready because something wonderful is about to be eaten!” This system is quite efficient (not just for the marketers, but for you), as the amount of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid necessary for breaking down the food can increase by as much as 40% before you take your first mouthful! Insulin secretion can increase by just smelling and even looking at those cinnamon buns.

This has become a big problem in modern society, or should we say the fast food society. Most people are not involved in the preparation of their own food and by the time they eat it, they wolf it down so fast that they haven’t let the cephalic phase of digestion engage, even partially, in its operation. This means they will not have as much of the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid available to utilize, and thus the IN (digestion and absorption) becomes compromised.  Not a good start!

To be continued . . . get ready for the digestive adventure.

Posted in Blog |