Did you know that your digestive system is essential to the function of every organ in your body?
- It is responsible for the digestion, absorption and assimilation of the life-sustaining nutrients found in our food
- 70% of the immune system is in the lining of the gut wall
- It is responsible for transferring wastes into the bowels from the blood stream
- Rids the body of toxins
- It plays a huge role in our nervous system function as a lot of our neurotransmitters are produced in the gut
- Poor gut health can lead to inflammation which can lead to a host of chronic and debilitating diseases
For those of you who are not exactly sure what the gut is, it’s everything from your mouth to your colon, from entry to exit and all the bits in between; so your stomach, your small intestine, your large intestine and all the little critters that live in there including bacteria, fungi, viruses and cells.
If you have poor gut health, you will probably feel the effects however, sometimes you might not even know that your gut isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. Some symptoms of poor digestion include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, urgency to empty the bowel, reflux or indigestion, brain fog, fatigue and urgency to go. If left untreated, over time these can lead to inflammation and disease.
Conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, obesity, Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression, skin disorders, endometriosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, asthma and even heart disease are all now known to be largely influenced by the health of our gut.
Ultimately, having a healthy gut is the key to optimal health and vitality and that is why it is so important to do what you can to look after your gut and improve digestion.
So let’s look at the top ten things you can do starting today:
1. Eat A Balanced Diet, Preferably Organic
It’s important to eat a rainbow of colours and a variety of foods daily to make sure you’re receiving a wide variety of nutrients. A poor diet can lead to shortages of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids. These shortages can affect our ability to produce enough enzymes and gastric acid secretions which help us break down our food and absorb the nutrients required for energy production, thyroid function and pretty much every other function in your body.
Eat organic as much as possible as it is more nutrient dense and significantly reduces our exposure to harmful chemicals. Choose lean protein sources such as tofu, legumes, unsalted raw nuts and seeds and fish and decrease refined carbohydrates. Avoid as much as possible all stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar and smoking which can adversely affect your digestive system. Avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, transfats and fried foods as often as possible will also help to improve your digestive health by reducing inflammation.
2. Address Food Allergies And Intolerances
Don’t continually expose yourself to foods that you’re hypersensitive to as it can result in inflammation, pain and damage to your gut wall. The most common offenders are wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, corn and peanuts. Symptoms you may experience are bloating, wind, diarrhoea and other digestive disturbances as well as headaches, sinus issues, coughing, fatigue, stiff and achy joints and eczema. Chemicals, preservatives and additives in food are also responsible. If you’re not sure what foods are causing you problems, try an Elimination Diet or consider doing food intolerance testing.
3. Balance The Bacteria In Your Gut
One of the most important ways to improve your digestion is to improve the balance of your microbiome (good bacteria). Your body contains ten times more bacterial cells than human cells! Healthy bacteria regulate immune function, assist in digestion and detoxification, improve mood and reduce inflammation. You can improve your microbiome by consuming fermented products such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and yoghurt.
A more targeted approach may be needed through a probiotic supplement (with specific strains) especially if you’ve been exposed to antibiotics. Make sure you are consuming prebiotic foods too as they feed the probiotics. The best known sources of prebiotics include Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, banana, pears and leek. A functional stool test may also be required to identify the presence of pathogenic microbes, bacteria or parasites.
4. Eat Plenty Of Fiber
Get your bowels moving by eating plenty of high fiber foods such as vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans and lentils to encourage daily bowel movements. It will lower the chance of intestinal gas, bloating and cramping. A vast amount of recent research also shows that fibre energises your gut microbes to create short-chain fatty acids which have been scientifically proven to promote weight loss, repair leaky gut, strengthen the microbiome, optimise the immune system, reduce food sensitivities, lower cholesterol, reverse type 2 diabetes, improve brain function and even prevent cancer.
5. Keep Your Stomach Acids At A Healthy Level
Low stomach acid is the main cause of indigestion. Hydrochloric acid in our stomach is essential for us to break down proteins into amino acids and nutrients. It also prompts the release of digestive enzymes into our intestine. To do this, avoid drinking excess fluid around mealtimes so you don’t dilute your digestive juices. Take apple cider vinegar or lemon in water before a meal to get your digestive juices flowing, or consider enzyme supplements. Bitter herbs in the form of herbal teas such as Dandelion, Fennel, Ginger, Peppermint, Gentian, Agrimony and Meadowsweet may also help.
6. Drink Filtered Water
Total body water comprises approximately 45–75% of a person’s body weight, therefore keeping well hydrated and knowing what and when to drink are essential to health. Drink about 8 glasses (2 litres) of water daily although some people may need to drink more. Also, make sure it is filtered as chlorine, fluoride and other heavy metals and contaminants in our tap water can harm our microbiota and damage our gut lining, not to mention affect our nervous system function.
Herbal teas, juices or smoothies are all great ways to increase your water intake. Another way to get more fluid is consuming high-water content foods like watermelon or cucumber or making a soup with your favourite vegetables.
7. Heal And Seal Your Gut Lining
Your gut lining is responsible for digestion and assimilation of nutrients as well as providing a protective barrier. If your gut lining is damaged (hyper permeability or ‘leaky gut’), proteins, pathogens, and antigens slip into our blood stream, causing various sensitivities, allergies and inflammation. There are some great powders formulated to heal and seal your gut and thereby reduce inflammation. These include glutamine, slippery elm, aloe vera, quercetin and turmeric.
8. Manage Your Stress
Stress in small amounts is ok but when it becomes chronic, that is when our health suffers. Stress can impact our digestion by increasing acidity, changing our gut motility and increasing intestinal absorbency. It can subsequently lead to adrenal fatigue, hormonal disruption, immune impairment and overall inflammation.
There are many factors in our lives that can cause stress. Things like work deadlines, financial troubles, congested traffic, and relationship problems can cause stress. Knowing how to manage your stress is pivotal to healthy digestion. Some ideas to get you started are:
- Make regular times for fun and relaxation
- Journal your thoughts
- Ground yourself in nature to help decrease too much positive charge that can build up in our bodies over time leading to both physical and mental health problems
- Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)- combines mindfulness, meditation and yoga with a particular focus on reducing stress
- Connect with others around you and don’t be hesitant to ask for help if you need it
9. Eat Consciously And Mindfully
Try to eat sitting down in a relaxed environment, chewing your food until it is completely pureed. Also try to avoid consuming large amounts of liquid 20 minutes before and after your meals, as this will dilute your digestive secretions and render them less effective. These strategies will assist in optimizing your digestive function, maximizing nutrient absorption from each meal and reducing unwanted gastric symptoms. You could also try taking a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon juice or 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar about 20 min before your meals as this will help to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices ready for absorption.
Last but not least, exercising regularly and staying active for at least 30 minutes per day, six times per week is beneficial, not just for your overall health, but also for your digestion. Regular exercise reduces stress which we have already seen is essential for healthy digestion. It also helps promote peristalsis of the intestines, or in other words, the movement of food through your digestive system. Exercise outside as much as you can as sunlight is extremely important for the body’s metabolism and hormone balance as well as for vitamin D which is essential for a healthy gut.6