We have written quite a few posts about the gut and the imporant role the digestive system plays in general health and wellbeing. East London based nutrition advisor, Lee van Breda, agrees that more and more evidence and research is showing that certain symptoms and diseases like eczema, infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis and migraines, could all be linked to a disrupted digestive system.

(RELATED POST: The importance of gut health for general wellbeing)

digestive system

Our digestive system in influenced by many things most of all our diet. “The word ‘diet’ comes from the Greek word Diata which ‘means our manner of living’. So how did the meaning gets so skewed over the years?” asks Lee. When we hear the word “diet” it often conjures up associations with restriction, guilt, deprivation and weight loss. When it should actually be associated with the philosophy of how we live our lives.

Lee likes to look at diet from two angles: food and lifestyle. According to Lee, our digestive systems are less stressed when we eat whole foods that are home cooked, don’t contain artificial colours or flavours, have healthy fats, no refined sugars and contain lots of fibre. Our digestive system is also influenced by our lifestyle choices. Less stress, regular exercise, a sense of community and spiritual fulfilment all play a role.



“When you’re bloated, constipated, have heartburn and an otherwise upset tummy you generally don’t feel your best, […] and a conscious awareness of what you’re choosing to feed yourself is the first step to digestive health,” says Lee.

Small changes can make a big impact and Lee recommends compiling a food diary and notes of how you feel after a meal. “Take notice if your energy drops or your mood changes and write it down. Once you have kept a food diary for between 3 – 10 days then you can see if there are links between foods and symptoms you may be experiencing.”

(RELATED POST: Kombucha vs Kefir – which is best gor gut health?)


I’ve always struggled to maintain a healthy digestive system. Bloating and reflux were part of my daily life. Sometimes it was so bad that I needed to “sleep” sitting upright. I had been taking prescribed medication that decreases the amount of acid produced in the stomach for 12 years when I learned of new research that indicated that these types of medications could potentially increase the risk of stomach cancer. Whether this has been proven to be true or not I’m unsure, but it spurred a course of action to reduce my reliance on the medication.


I got expert advice

I went to Gastroenterologists, had exploratory procedures and scopes done, and nothing could pinpoint why I had such severe reflux. My last option was to test for food allergies and intolerances. The doctor had already tested for lactose intolerance, a 3-hour long test involving little sips of a mixture and blowing into an apparatus, which came out negative. I was not lactose intolerant.

I then consulted a Joburg based Nutritional Therapist who advised me that there are two ways in determining food intolerances or allergies. Similar to Lee’s advice, the first is to choose one of the most likely allergy culprits e.g. wheat, gluten, dairy etc., and eliminate it completely from my diet for 30 days. During this time, I would need to observe if I feel any better. After at least 30 days I would then reintroduce the food and see if I feel worse again. This method could obviously take some time. The other option was to do a detailed blood test. I opted for option 2 which is an expensive but far quicker way to get answers.


The blood test

Unfortunately the test came back saying that I reacted to almost everything other than protein and vegetables (even some vegetables like peas where on my “red list”). However, by far my biggest issues seemed to lie with dairy which was strange because I had already tested negative for lactose intolerance! As it turns out I react to the protein casein, not lactose, in dairy. I was heartbroken. I simply love cheese and yoghurt but eventually found substitutes and eliminated diary for my diet completely. It would’ve been very restricting to eliminate ALL of the items on my “red list”. So I started with the food I reacted to most according to the test.


The changes really worked

It took almost 6 months, but the results were remarkable. I managed to ween myself off the reflux medication and unexpectedly could also stop taking my chronic antihistamines. I felt less tired and had less eczema.

Every now and then I still have a weak moment and order a cheese board. But, if I do it seldom, my gut seems to be able to cope. Of course, everyone is different and what worked for me may not for others. But it seems the gut really does control more aspects of our wellbeing than we think. If you suspect an issue, be sure to consult an expert for advice.


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