Digestive System 101: Q&A with Dr. Cooke

Digestive System 101: Q&A with Dr. Cooke

Q&A between Brightland + Dr. Elke Cooke, MD.


Brightland: What are the negative effects of an unhealthy digestive system?

​Dr. Cooke: The gut and digestive system play a central role in our health. We are not only what we eat but more importantly what we digest. Our gut hosts over 70% of our immune system, makes vitamins and neurotransmitters, determines our metabolism and communicates closely with our brain. It is therefore not a far reach to see that a breakdown of this system can lead to a wide range of health issues such as arthritis, depression, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, reflux and more. But even before full-blown health problems develop, an unhealthy digestive system can lead to more subtle symptoms such as acne or seasonal allergies that significantly impact our quality of life. Our body operates as one whole interconnected being. The center of this being is our gut.

Brightland: Why is a healthy digestive system important?

​Dr. Cooke: Because of the central role that our gut plays, it has far reaching effects on our well being. By improving the health of your gut, you can improve many other areas of your body that are seemingly not connected to your gut. Increasing your gut health is the single most important thing you can do to improve your vitality, your life force and your overall health.

Brightland: What are common foods/habits that take a toll on our digestive system?

Dr. Cooke: Our industrial food system drives many of the modern day problems with our digestive system. We are fed convenient foods that are sugary, starchy, overly processed, nutrient-depleted but laden with pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics and other harmful chemicals. Food is not neutral on our health. With every bite that we eat we either create health or promote disease. There is no in-between. So the answer is simple: eat real food, not food-like substances! Skip foods that contain artificial colors and sweeteners, additives and preservatives. Skip the sugar and alcohol. Food is more than calories. Food is information to every single cell in our bodies. Food interacts with our genes. When we eat whole foods that are nutrient-dense and colorful, the messages that our cells receive are those of repair and healing. But we have to look to more than just our food system. Good digestion starts with slowing down, being fully present with your meals, breathing and chewing your food well. Start with the basics of getting adequate sleep, movement, hydration and stress reduction. This will be your foundation on which you can build health.

Brightland: Why is olive oil good for our digestion?

Dr. Cooke: Consuming lots of healthy, natural, whole-food based fats such as olive oil is critical for good health. Olive oil aids in absorption of Vitamin A, D, K and E. Olive oil is also a potent releasing factor of several digestive peptides such as cholecystokinin, which aids in digestion. Numerous studies have shown benefits of olive oil in serious health problems such as gastric or duodenal ulcers by decreasing gastric acid secretion.

Brightland: What are actions we can take to aid our digestive system?

Dr. Cooke: In summary, here are 7 simple steps you can take to build a healthy foundation for your digestive system:


•Eat high quality fats such as wild caught fish and extra-virgin olive oil. Avoid processed fats such as canola oil.


•Eat whole foods that are local, in season and mostly organic.


•Focus on getting a rainbow of colors on your plate as these phytonutrients contain valuable information for your cells and genes.


•Relax while eating. Turn the TV off and make family dinners a priority.


•Eat lots of vegetables and fruits.


•Increase high fiber foods e.g whole grains, beans, legumes. Try adding ground flaxseeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds.


•Drink lots of clean water. Our bodies are made up of 70% water. Without adequate water intake, our cells don’t function properly.

Elke Cooke, M.D. practices anti-aging and preventive medicine at BodyLogicMD of Sacramento where she uses individual, customized wellness programs tailored to address each patient's specific, personal needs. Dr. Cooke is trained in Emergency Medicine as well as Functional Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine,A4M, the Kalish Mentorship Program and the Clinical Development Program with Dr Kara FitzgeraldYou can find her on www.elkecookemd.com