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Issue #1 – How Would Obama and McCain’s Healthcare Proposals Impact Medical Travel?

American Healthcare & Medical Travel

Today, more than 48 million Americans are uninsured, while millions more learn they are underinsured when they become sick. America spends more than $2.3 trillion, or 16% of GDP, annually on healthcare costs. By the year 2016, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services forecasts that health spending will be $4.3 trillion or 20% of GDP.

Though America spends more than any other country on healthcare, it is ranked 37th in overall quality among the world’s healthcare systems by the World Health Organization. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, healthcare spending accounted for 10.9% of the GDP in Switzerland, 9.7% in Canada and 9.5% in France, all countries ranked higher than the U.S.

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC Survey reported that the cost of healthcare is Americans’ number one economic concern. Growing numbers of underserved patients are turning to healthcare delivery alternatives such as traveling to foreign hospitals for necessary treatment. While the medical travel phenomenon started with cosmetic surgery, successes have emboldened patients who need joint replacements, cardiac surgery, spinal fusions and bariatric surgery to reach beyond America’s borders for alternatives. At the same time, health insurers and employers are noticing the opportunities for cost savings by outsourcing and the ability to reach new markets with tailored healthcare products.

Republicans and Democrats agree that current trends in healthcare are not sustainable. Not surprisingly, both presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have proposed equally radical remedies for America’s broken healthcare system. Though neither candidate addresses medical travel specifically, their healthcare plans suggest the likely impact on the medical travel market.

McCain’s Healthcare Plan

Sen. McCain would ask Americans to take on greater personal responsibility for their healthcare choices and rely on market forces to meet today’s healthcare challenges. According to Sen. McCain, increased competition and less government involvement will improve the quality of health insurance with greater diversity among plans, lower prices and portability.

Specifically, Sen. McCain would seek to make insurance more available by increasing variety and affordability of private plans. The Senator’s revolutionary idea is to eliminate the tax break that workers receive from employer-sponsored health plans, treating the benefit as taxable income, offset by a new tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. If the tax credit is more than the amount a person spends on healthcare premiums, the excess can be placed in a health savings account.

Sen. McCain believes that people who are covered by employer health benefits consume more healthcare services than is necessary. Presumably at least some of those excess services that can be redirected to the uninsured population. Putting patients in control their health spending will encourage competition among providers and insurers, reduce costs and improve the quality and portability of coverage.

Sen. McCain has proposed several policy initiatives to lower healthcare costs. These include: (1) greater competition in the pharmaceutical market; (2) improved systems for chronic disease prevention and management; (3) coordinated care among providers to render better outcomes at lower cost; (4) improved access through walk-in clinics in retail outlets; (5) use of information technology; (6) reforming the Medicaid and Medicare payment systems to pay for diagnosis and prevention but not treatment made necessary by preventable medical errors or mismanagement; (7) anti-smoking programs; (8) state spending flexibility; (9) tort reform to reduce frivolous lawsuits; and (10) improved transparency with better public information on treatment options, doctor records, outcomes, quality of care, costs and prices.

The Impact of Sen. McCain’s Plan on Medical Travel

The impact of Sen. McCain’s healthcare plan is to de-emphasize the employer-based health insurance system that currently covers 158 million Americans. Sen. McCain’s plan will likely encourage Americans to avoid taxation of health benefits and use their new tax credit to purchase health insurance on the open market. Young healthy people would likely be the first to switch from their employer plans and find cheaper alternatives in the open market.

Conversely, sicker older workers may initially choose to stay with the security of their employer-based plans. As the risk pool of employer-based plans becomes older, sicker and more expensive to insure, more employers will stop providing health benefits. Eventually, all workers will likely move to individual health plans.

Due to its focus on competition and free market solutions, Sen. McCain’s plan may encourage the medical travel market. Thus far, medical travel has been a completely consumer-driven phenomenon. By placing patients in control of their healthcare spending, and eliminating the tax incentive for workers to rely on their employers for coverage, patients will be encouraged to pursue treatment alternatives that maximize their healthcare dollars.

Let’s use the average American family as an example. The average employer-sponsored family health plan currently costs about $12,000 in annual premiums. On average, employers contribute $9,000 and workers contribute $3,000 to pay the premiums. Under McCain’s plan, workers will be taxed on the employer’s $9,000 contribution as income (as if the employer paid the $9,000 to the employee as wages), thereby eliminating the tax incentive for an employer-sponsored plan. Instead, the family gets a $5,000 annual tax credit.

A typical high-deductible, low-premium family plan on the open market costs about $10,000 annually ($2,000 less than the average employer-sponsored plan). Workers may use the $9,000 that their employer would have used to purchase coverage, (about $6,000 after taxes) and the $5,000 tax credit ($11,000 total) to pay for health coverage. Money left over after buying health insurance can be put in a Health Savings Account.

Insurers are finding that high-deductible, low-premium plans incorporating foreign providers can be offered to previously uninsured markets. These cheaper plans attract cost-conscious patients or patients with cultural ties to featured providers in Latin America and Asia.

Informed healthcare consumers will demand choice, transparency, high quality and reasonable prices from their providers and insurers. Consumers who receive more complete information and better prices from foreign providers may be persuaded to go abroad for treatment. McCain’s plan encourages consumer-driven market responses.

Obama’s Healthcare Plan

The central tenant of Sen. Obama’s healthcare plan is that everyone should have quality, affordable and portable coverage. His plan reflects the philosophy that government should guarantee affordable healthcare to all Americans. While Sen. Obama would mandate that every child be covered, he would seek to cover adults through a combination of employer and government programs.

Sen. Obama’s healthcare plan encompasses two revolutionary initiatives. First, Sen. Obama would require all employers to “pay or play.” All employers, except small businesses, must either provide quality health plans to employees or contribute (a new tax) to the cost of a public plan available to all Americans. The public plan would be similar to Medicare and provide coverage similar to that given to federal employees.

Sen. Obama’s second revolutionary idea is to create a National Health Insurance Exchange (“NHIE”) where insurers would sell coverage to small businesses and individuals. To participate, insurers would have to disclose costs and benefits of various plans and the percentage of premiums that go to patient care as opposed to administrative costs. The goal is to create a transparent market for health insurance that will improve quality, efficiency and value.

Notably, small businesses are exempt from Sen. Obama’s “pay or play” plan. Instead, small businesses receive a refundable tax credit of up to 50% on paid employee benefit premiums. The Small Business Health Tax Credit is meant to incentivize small businesses to offer quality health plans without hampering their ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Sen. Obama also proposes that hospitals and providers be required to publicly report data on preventable medical errors, nurse staffing ratios, hospital acquired infections and disparities in care. Transparency is required of both insurers and providers and is meant to help patients make better choices. Finally, Sen. Obama’s healthcare plan would allow Americans to purchase medicine from other developed countries offering safe products at lower prices.

The Impact of Sen. Obama’s Plan on Medical Travel

The immediate impact of Sen. Obama’s plan would be to bring millions of uninsured Americans into government sponsored managed care. Sen. Obama’s plan may also encourage employers to avoid the financial risks of raising healthcare costs and opt to pay into the public plan instead. Workers may get better benefits under the government’s plan than their employers can afford. If healthcare costs continue to climb unchecked, under Sen. Obama’s plan, employer plans may disappear.

Under Sen. Obama’s plan health insurers will need to look for ways to reduce the cost of covering previously the previously uninsured. Medical travel offers quality treatment at a fraction of the cost of similar care in the U.S without sacrificing quality. Some may argue that sending a patient abroad for care is itself a reduction in quality. However, foreign providers can demonstrate international accreditation and credentials that rebut such criticism.

Sen. Obama’s 50% tax credit for small businesses may encourage medical travel. Often small businesses operate in local, often demographically homogenous, communities. People with cultural ties to provider destinations may be more likely to travel for care. Small business and insurers can team up to offer customized plans that enhance care while reducing the cost.

In his calls for transparency, Sen. Obama’s plan echoes the philosophy of medical travel. Patients who travel for care demand information about surgeon success rates, infection rates, and nurse to patient ratios. The information empowers patients to make informed decisions. American providers often resist collecting this information to avoid it being used against them in a malpractice lawsuit. Sen. Obama’s transparency initiative encourages consumer-driven demands for more and better information.

Notably, Sen. Obama calls for all health plans to resemble the coverage offered to federal employees. The directive may limit the flexibility insurers need to introduce innovative cost cutting solutions like medical travel. If the government decided that traveling abroad for treatment reduced quality, insurers would have to eliminate medical travel from plans. Further, Sen. Obama has spoken out repeatedly against outsourcing. Medical Travel is the newest form of outsourcing. Given the reluctance of American doctors to embrace this trend in healthcare, it is unlikely that Sen. Obama would openly support medical travel.

Medical Travel and the Future

Side by side, Sen. McCain’s healthcare plan seems to be better for the medical travel industry than Sen. Obama’s. Sen. McCain’s focus on patient control of their healthcare spending and encouraging competition among providers and insurers is in line with the consumer-driven phenomenon of medical travel. Sen. Obama’s focus on universal coverage on par with that of federal employees suggests that it will be up to a government agency to determine whether medical travel meets baseline quality standards. With Sen. Obama’s plan, the future could hinge upon the outcome of that debate.

Flu Shot Scheduling Software – Helping Medical Practitioners, Facilities Improve Their Procedures

Seasonal flu may be the last thing many of us are thinking about as we enjoy barbeques, vacations, camping, the beach and other activities during these summer months. Medical practitioners and facilities nationwide, however, are looking ahead toward the fall months and planning for the pending flu season, which typically begins around October.

One important aspect of their planning is the actual scheduling of the flu shot vaccinations. It sounds easy enough, but just like any other service offered by an organization or business, efficient scheduling of appointment times is crucial to ensure an organized and time-saving process. And like other organizations and businesses nationwide, many healthcare professionals and facilities are turning in their paper appointment books and electronic calendars, such as those offered by Google and Microsoft Outlook, for a more effective way of managing their flu-shot appointments and patient information. They’re finding the answer in online flu-shot scheduling software applications.

The 2009 flu season exposed many of the challenges health departments, medical clinics, wellness groups and other healthcare facilities face when offering immunization shots. Continued new coverage of the of the H1N1 strain-also known as the swine flu-and its potential spread caused a sudden rush of individuals flocking to these sites seeking the vaccine. This resulted in long lines, vaccine shortages, flared tempers and administrative challenges for the administrators and staff at these facilities, especially for those locations that relied on a traditional manner of booking flu shot appointments, such as by phone, e-mail or on-site, in a first-come, first-serve basis.

Because of its versatility and functionality, online appointment-scheduling software applications such as Appointment-Plus were the answer to the flu-shot scheduling issues these facilities faced. As medical providers and vaccination sites begin planning for this coming flu season, online schedulers are playing a big role at flu-shot locations throughout the country.

There are numerous benefits for medical practitioners and facilities that implement an online flu shot scheduling application. For instance, an immediate result is a better-organized system of managing their flu shot appointment days and times, especially if the previous method involved a pen and paper appointment book. Administrators can decrease the likelihood of long lines or vaccine shortages by accurately assigning the number of appointments per day it can realistically handle. If can also require all customers to schedule an appointment before arriving at the shot-administration site.

Another benefit is the time and monetary savings. Allowing online self-scheduling can decrease the number of phone calls and e-mails from customers looking to schedule appointments. This frees up staff time that can be devoted to other pertinent tasks.

ONLINE FLU SHOT APPOINTMENT-SCHEDULING SOFTWARE: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT OFFERS

Most Web-based flu shot appointment-scheduling software applications are as easy to access and use as online banking, sending e-mail, or updating a social media site. Known as Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, they require only an Internet connection to access and utilize. Additionally, as they’re housed online on a secure server or other safe environment, they don’t require any additional hardware for facility computers or network, nor do they require any software downloads or uploads. Users simply access the service through a URL link in the same manner as navigating to any other Web site, log in, and then manage their scheduler.

Features can vary among the many scheduling providers, but generally, they offer such standard functionality as:

• Online customer self-scheduling. This can be the most beneficial feature of an online scheduling application, as it will automate the entire appointment process. Flu-shot providers can place a “schedule now” button on their Web site, newsletters or other promotional materials to direct customers to their online scheduler. As it’s accessible in the same way as any other Web site, they can also simply provide the URL link to customers who call in or e-mail the facility. Once a customer schedules a date and time for his or her flu shot, the system will automatically confirm the appointment and adjust the schedule to reflect the transaction. (Some facilities will schedule a flu shot every few minutes or so, while others may offer multiple appointments per time slot. Research a specific provider to see if it offers this functionality.) No additionally steps are necessary on behalf of the flu shot administrator.

• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. Some online flu shot scheduling software providers give facilities the ability to schedule and send e-mail and text message reminders automatically prior to a scheduled appointment time. Not only are these appreciated by customers, they can also reduce the number of “no-shows” that fail to make their appointment.

• Record-keeping and reporting capabilities. Keeping track of hundreds or thousands of flu shots and customer information can be a frustrating and tedious task. For some, it involves maintaining numerous spreadsheets, files and other documents. Online appointment-scheduling systems centralize this data, making it easy for medical professionals and administrative staff to access appointment details, notes and customer contact information.

• Online payment options. A facility that charges a fee for a flu shot may wish to offer customers the ability to pay for the service when they schedule their appointment. Some online scheduling providers allow sites to incorporate an online payment module on their system.

• E-marketing and communication. Healthcare providers and facilities often communicate to their customers and patients on upcoming clinics, events, news and other pertinent information. Since flu shot scheduling software maintains e-mail addresses in an easy-to-access format, it can provide the perfect tool for e-marketing campaigns. Some schedulers give users the option of sending it directly through the application or compiling e-mail addresses for use in other marketing materials, like sending e-newsletters.

Administering and properly managing flu shots can be a daunting task, especially in light of the high demand many medical practitioners and facilities faced last flu season. Proper preparation is key in ensuring a well-organized and efficient manner of scheduling these important vaccinations. Fortunately, online appointment-scheduling software gives these individuals and locations the interactive tools they need to automate, streamline and improve this process.

Foundation to Good Health

Few people are kind to their digestive system, often abusing them and then ignoring or covering up the signs of discomfort, stress or pain by taking medication.

Digestion begins in the mouth – enzymes in your saliva mix with our food and begin to work on it, particularly on carbohydrates. Chewing increases the surface area of our food making it easier for our enzymes to do their job further down the digestive tract. Chewing also alerts the digestive system further down the line, getting the pancreas and gall bladder ready. So if you chew your food well it gives your whole digestive system a better chance.

Here I should mention about chewing gum – chewing gum alerts your digestive system and certain things are set into motion, but the digestive system is fooled, no food! I have come across many people who constantly chew gum and have digestive problems. Once they give up chewing gum, more often than not their digestive problems disappear.

Many people confess to gulping down their food, hardly stopping to chew or taste their food. Often paying little attention to what they eat or how much they eat. It is a difficult habit to break and will need a conscious effort.

The health of your mouth and teeth is so very important at any age, as it is vital to be able to chew our food properly. As we get older it is even more important that we look after our teeth and gums. Find a dentist you like and trust. going to the dentist for regular visits is very important; I would say that you need to do this at least every 6 months. A good dentist can even alert you to any health problems just from the state of your gums.

Many people have over the years got into the habit of not chewing well, for many different reasons. You are not going to chew your food properly if you have painful or sensitive teeth, sore gums or indeed if you have broken or missing teeth. You could be making poor food choices, purely due to the state of your teeth.

Grinding your teeth at night, many people grind their teeth and have no idea. The dentist can detect the tell tale signs of wear and tear. This grinding can cause people to have jaw aches, headaches, neck aches or many times just have sore teeth and gums making them sensitive to everything you eat or drink. Having a mouth guard can eliminate this problem for some people. Get a mouth guard made especially to fit your teeth and mouth it’s much more comfortable if you do, so when you grind your teeth there is a cushioning to reduce the impact and pressure. Calm your anxieties with herbal teas and try to avoid caffeine as it can heighten your anxieties.

However, for most people the problem isn’t their teeth – it’s too being busy, or distractions, eating on the run etc. These are some of the things you need to consider. Do not eat -

a) while standing
b) while reading
c) if you are angry
d) while watching television
e) while on the phone
f) while driving

Concentrate on what you are eating, chew well and savor your food. In truth few people pay much attention to how much they have eaten or to what they have eaten, as they are too busy doing something else while they eat. The small amount of extra time needed is well worth the investment, it will make a big difference to your digestion and ultimately your health.

Drinking lots of water with meals is not a good idea as you dilute your digestive juices, but drinking water 20 to 30 minutes before a meal is really good for the digestion.

Saliva also helps to neutralize acidity in the mouth (protecting teeth) from acid in foods and drinks that most people consume most of the time. Then saliva also prevents infections by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. A dry mouth can be very uncomfortable, disturbing sleep, causing a sore throat all having a direct or indirect effect on your digestion. There are several causes of dry mouth could be due to a certain diseases, however, the most common cause is the side-effect of medication in particular anti-histamines and diuretics (in simple terms these drugs dry up the body). Other causes are dehydration, from chronic (more than short lived) vomiting, chronic sweating, chronic diarrhea and fever. If you have a dry mouth you need to consider making some life-style changes.

Herbs – Sage or Thyme, the herbs found in your or dried from supermarkets can be made into a natural mouth wash. Take 1 tablespoon of sage or thyme per mug of boiled water – allow it to stand for 10 minutes then strain, do not swallow. This strong infusion can be used for bleeding gums, infections, and mouth sores. Once the infusion is made keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days only. The fresh leaves of sage can be rubbed into the gums for gingivitis.

Vitamins – take 1000mg of vitamin C each day, to prevent infection and bleeding gums, maintaining healthy blood vessels.

Foods – sugary foods and drinks as we all know are detrimental to your teeth and general health. Foods that strengthen your teeth and bones, and at the same time maintain a good acid-alkaline balance – any dark green plants/herbs/vegetables.

Buckwheat is a seed that is used like a grain. It contains a compound called rutin. Rutin is an antioxidant, vitamin-like substance that protects against capillary fragility and bruising (typical of many people with high blood pressure), as well as bleeding gums. Buckwheat flour can be used to make great pancakes. ‘Crepes’ made in Brittany where traditionally made from buckwheat. This flour is gluten-free.

Avoid drinking black tea with food as it will hinder the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron etc due to its high tannin levels.

Taste and smell are extremely important to digestion as they alert the organs to excrete digestive enzymes and hormones. People who are short of zinc do not taste and smell their food particularly well, and should consider taking Zinc with a B complex. A common reaction to lowered sense taste and smell, is an increased use of salt and sugar.

Once we swallow our food it ends up in our stomach, where the lining of the stomach secretes hormones, enzymes and hydrochloric acid. Have you ever wondered why the stomach doesn’t digest itself? This is due to the fact that it has a very thick layer of protective mucus. In the stomach Pepsin – breaks down proteins. The stomach lining produces several types of pepsinogens, which lay dormant until they are mixed with hydrochloric acid. If you do not have enough hydrochloric acid, the pepsinogens cannot be activated into pepsin, making protein digestion very much more difficult. Hydrochloric acid is produced by the parietal cells in the stomach lining. Besides helping to break down proteins, it’s vital in the break down and ultimately absorption of minerals, especially calcium and iron. Having enough hydrochloric acid is important to our general health, as it kills bacteria, fungus etc. Generally, our hydrochloric acid levels drop as we get older. Gastric lipase splits down fats. Amylase continues to break down carbohydrates. Instrinsic factor, without it we could not absorb vitamin B12, causing pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is not the same as the anemia that is caused by iron shortages. Food will stay in your stomach anything from 1 to 5 hours, depending on what you have eaten.

Some people get heart burn, what does this mean? This means they suffer a lot of pain and reach for antacids that may or may not work, have side-effects and only treat the symptoms? Heart burn can have several causes – a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES for short), the muscle (valve) that rings the base of the esophagus and the top of the stomach. Swallowing opens the valve allowing food to enter the stomach and is supposed to prevent the stomach acid seeping back up into the esophagus, called “reflux”, causing burning and pain in the esophagus. Some antacids reduce the stomach’s acidity so it burns less. Others reduce the stomach acid secretion so there is less in the stomach. Both of these do nothing to encourage the valve to function better, and certainly hinder digestion and absorption.

There is a huge problem with this sort of treatment, as we need normal amounts of stomach acid to digest our food properly, lowering it sets up all sorts of health problems in the long run. There are foods and drinks that contain compounds that encourage the body to increase the production of a hormone that relaxes the LES valve. These include chocolate, tea, coffee, alcohol, and greasy foods (from processed fats). Being overweight increases physical pressure on the stomach, and can force acid up into the esophagus. This is why heartburn is so common amongst pregnant women.

Some people are in pain and take regular pain-killers, needing antacids to counteract their side-effects, but they too have side-effects! Get help changing some aspects of your life and diet, you will suffer less pain, take less medication, your body will naturally have less inflammation and will start absorbing more nutrients, which has a positive knock-on effect.

The stomach’s contents empties into the duodenum where its acidity needs neutralizing immediately. The pancreas produces about 2.5 liters of pancreatic juices/enzymes a day. The first thing that must happen is the production of a substance rich in sodium carbonate, neutralizing stomach acid, as the lining of the duodenum cannot cope with such high acidic levels. If this doesn’t happen you will be prone to duodenal ulcers.

The pancreas releases digestive enzymes – amylase, lipase and three proteases, digestive enzymes that further break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

There is a direct relationship between our enzyme reserve and the health of our immune system. The better our enzyme reserve, the better our immune system can cope with everyday battles, of which there are many, including your eating habits.

White blood cells are responsible for seeking out and destroying foreign invaders that manage to infiltrate our blood and lymph. Studies have shown that these white blood cells have proteolytic, amylytic and lipolytic enzymes similar to that produced by the pancreas for digestion. These enzymes break down larger molecules of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that have managed to get into the blood stream. These substances are dealt with before they cause too much havoc or destruction in our system. Interestingly, studies show depending on what you eat, directly affects your white blood cell activity.

Eating dead processed foods causes your immune system to use up large amounts of its vital enzyme reserves. Eating live natural foods doesn’t use up such reserves, and even adds to this the reserve. As your enzymes become depleted over the years and as you continue to eat dead food your digestive system struggles more and more (even if you are not aware of it). The gradual depletion of enzymes means most of our food is not being digested properly. This situation along with eating nutrient poor foods can lead to all sorts of chronic problems. Dead food is not just void of enzymes but more often than not also co-enzymes (vitamins, and minerals) that enable the body to manufacture more enzymes.

Studies have shown low levels of enzymes in diabetics. The pancreas has another function besides producing digestive enzymes, it also produces insulin. People suffering from liver problems have also been found to have low levels of digestive enzyme activity.

All food must be broken down into simpler molecules by enzymes. The more enzymes we get from your food the less your system has to manufacture, borrow or steal from other activities within your body, like the immune system. The enzymes provided by the food we eat, aid in their own digestion, leaving the body’s own reserves in tact to get on with other metabolic jobs that are so vital to your health.

Enzymes are the key to life, needed for every reaction in our bodies, otherwise we are like a machines without batteries. Vitamins and minerals are also known as co-enzymes, the building blocks to enzymes, sure our bodies can make enzymes providing we are absorbing enough co-enzymes (all the vitamins and minerals needed), this is not always the case.

After a cooked meal our white blood cell count goes up considerably, they would appear to aid in the process by providing much needed enzymes. However, when we eat raw foods there is no such substantial increase in our white blood count. Raw foods bring with them plenty of their own enzymes and co-enzymes, reducing our immune system’s involvement.

The gall bladder releases its stored bile salts, which break down fat into smaller parts allowing lipase to do its job more efficiently. Bile is a greenish yellow colored fluid that contains cholesterol, fatty acids, lecithin, bilirubin, and bile salts, produced by the liver. It’s the bile salts that are important to digestion as they help to emulsify fats, by lowering the surface tension it allows large particles to be broken down into tiny ones. Bile salts also help with the absorption of fatty acids from the intestinal tract. Bile gets its color from the pigment called bilirubin, which come from spent and worn out red blood cells that are removed from the blood stream for disposal.

A good working liver and gall bladder are very important to the digestion and absorption of fat. I hear some of you say, I don’t want to absorb fat. Oh, yes you do. Some fats are essential to our health and weight maintenance, so much so they are called ‘essential’ fatty acids. The liver and the production of bile is a very important part of controlling your cholesterol levels. Spent hormones and cholesterol are broken down by the liver and released into the gall bladder, from there cholesterol ends up in the large intestines.

Put simply, if your diet has enough natural fiber (from whole foods) and enough nutrients it will bind with the cholesterol and will be removed from the body via the bowels, thus maintaining good cholesterol levels. However, a diet void of enough fiber and nutrients, will allow cholesterol to be reabsorbed back into the blood stream, for the liver to deal with again.

In the jejunum and ileum is where most of our absorption takes place. Enzymes play a vital role in the process of absorption from the small intestine into the blood stream. To encourage maximum absorption the lining has microscopic finger-like protrusions, called villi. These villi give our intestines an enormous surface area to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients.

How to ensure your body has enough enzymes? At first you could take digestive enzymes in the form of capsules/tablets, these are only a temporary solution while you change your diet and your digestion improves. Take more live foods that are full of enzymes – fresh fruit, vegetables, natural plain yogurt etc. However these should be eaten raw or lightly steamed. Too much cooking easily destroys enzymes.

By the time the food has reached the large intestine (bowel or colon), a lot of what was worth absorbing will have already been absorbed by the time it reaches here. Though the entire digestive tract contains bacteria, here in the large intestine is where the majority of bacteria exist, the good, the bad and the terrible. These guys produce enzymes that continue to work on the remains of digestion. At this point water is re-absorbed and the longer the waste remains in the large intestine the more water is removed, and reabsorbed into the blood stream. This is called auto-intoxication. The more constipated a person is the drier their stools become.

Somehow, many people think that they can eat what they like and the digestive system just sorts it all out. I often hear people say – a little of this or a little of that, and a little of the other, will do no harm, not really stopping to think of all the accumulative effect it all has. Bit by bit, week by week, year by year!

The large intestines should contain a large abundance of the correct bacteria ‘the friendly bowel flora’, in order for these good guys to survive and flourish, they need the correct nourishment. These beneficial bacteria, contribute to our immune defense system, and help to produce some nutrients.

Modern eating habits and certain medications contribute, encourage and feed the unfriendly flora. Antibiotics are an example – disrupting the balance. Antibiotics should be taken as a last resort, they do undoubtedly save lives, but too many people are taking them for minor reasons. This approach really isn’t a good idea especially if you are not in a high risk category – being elderly, very young or have asthma etc. Just because I am a Naturopath doesn’t mean I am against pharmaceutical medication, however they are not a good idea for simple conditions or first resort (if the condition is not life threatening). Worldwide scientific news has been reporting for many years that antibiotics are being overused and misused, which is causing ‘drug resistant bugs’ and health problems.

Yeast or fungal infections are more prevalent as the bowel flora becomes out of whack. Symptoms are varied – including headaches, aches and pains, skin problems, respiratory problems and mucus problems, tiredness, more susceptible to infections and so on.

As a practitioner of natural medicine it is impossible not to think of the body as a complete entity, everything you do has a knock on affect on every single cell in the body.

Feed the bad guys – eat plenty of white rice, plenty of white flour products like white bread, when throw in some sugar for good measure, from so many foods like cakes, cookies and sodas. Plenty of products contain something worse, ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup’. This is not to be confused with the fructose that comes packaged in whole fresh fruit, is not the same thing at all, far from it.

Feed the good guys eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (remember 5 a day is a minimum recommendation), plus garlic, beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, millet, plain yogurt, ground flax seeds also know as linseeds or psyllium can be found in the supermarkets, add a teaspoon or two to a glass of water.

It is important that your bowel are functioning well, constipation is not good for your overall health. To prevent auto-intoxication, to balance cholesterol levels and hormones you need to consume enough natural fiber from whole foods, which will bind with cholesterol to successfully remove it from the body before it is reabsorbed back into the system. Hence why the adverts on lowering cholesterol extol the virtues of the soluble fiber found in oats. However, fiber from all sorts of natural whole foods will enhance your health, ensure a good working digestive system, feed the correct bowel flora, balance/lower cholesterol and so much more.

Be kind to your digestive system its your foundation to health.