Healthy digestion relies on a number of processes that break down the food we eat. Digestion actually starts in the mouth, rather than the stomach as many believe, with thorough chewing of the food. Our digestive juices then play an important role in further breaking down the food. This starts with hydrochloric acid in our stomachs and then digestive enzymes from our pancreas. Later, the friendly bacteria and organisms in our gut help further digest and absorb nutrients.
Why do we have poor digestion?
There are many reasons why digestion doesn’t work as well as it should. Stress, food intolerances, candida or yeast infections, leaky gut, low stomach acid or low digestive enzymes can all mean food is not being processed efficiently. This can lead to side-effects such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, muscle spasms or discomfort.
A crucially important concept in today’s world
One of the primary causes of poor digestive functioning in industrialized societies is dysbiosis: low levels of good bacteria in our intestines. Modern living and greater hygiene has meant that we are missing many friendly organisms we used to have in our system. This has led to digestive and inflammatory gut problems - the absence of friendly organisms to fight in our corner can mean pathogenic ones can grow uninhibited. When this happens we can get symptoms often referred to as IBS - an umbrella term that the medical profession use for unknown discomfort and symptoms of the gut.
Supporting healthy digestion
There is a lot you can do to help yourself and support the digestive process:
• Chewing your food well: the breakdown of food starts in the mouth. Sending food down the esophagus in a state that isnt chewed properly causes the stomach to work harder and carbohydrates without enough amylase to start the digestive process. Food should be mushy and slimy before you swallow. • Eat slowly: this will give time for your brain and stomach to send messages to each other that you are full and prevent over-eating. It also helps with the release of digestive enzymes. • Don’t drink too much liquid while eating: it can dilute your digestive juices and make them less effective at breaking down the food • Include fibre in your diet: unprocessed, wholesome foods such as brown rice, oat bran, barley, linseed, and plenty of gently steamed vegetables. Soluble fibre is so important for keeping your bowel moving. Have constipation? increase your soluble fibre - by that I mean veggies, fruit and seeds. • Include essential fatty acids: nuts, seeds, oily fish. The colon (like all cells in the body) require essential fats for healthy membranes. Keeping the cells of the colon in tip-top condition will help your digestive function. • Drink between 6 and 8 glasses of water (1.5 - 2litres for an adult) per day to ensure adequate hydration. Dehydration is often the reason for constipation • Try having a tsp of apple cider vinegar or the juice of half a lemon in water just before each meal. This will boost your stomach acid and help break food down
• Tea, coffee and alcohol as these aggravate the digestive process • Dairy and wheat are two of the most common culprits for digestive problems. Consider an elimination diet if you suspect you have an intolerance • Monitor sugar intake including citrus fruits and excess amounts of fructose (fruit sugar) and sorbitol (artificial sweetener), which can aggravate symptoms.
Digestive complaints: a comprehensive nutritional approach
The ‘4R’ approach to looking at your digestion aims to treat the root cause(s) of any problems you may be having, combined with natural solutions for symptom relief.
Remove – Pathogens and Dietary Triggers
Conditions such as IBS are often connected to infection in the gut by bacterial pathogens or yeast overgrowth such as candida. Identifying and removing any potential pathogens is an important first step. You may be asked to complete a stool analysis test. These tests are amazing and can tell us so much about your gut and how that relates to the symptoms you are having. They are so valuable, even if your digestive system seems ok to you. Very often there are things silently going on in the gut that are causing a host of inflammation elsewhere in the body, be it your joints, your brain or your energy levels.
Many common foods such as wheat and dairy products can act as a trigger for digestive problems. Identifying problematic foods and following an elimination diet whilst the gut heals is important before these foods are gradually reintroduced.
Optimising digestion through use of appropriate nutritional support. If you are deficient in digestive enzymes or stomach acid your food will not be broken down properly and symptoms such as bloating, heartburn or diarrhoea may result. Not only this , but many minerals require sufficient stomach acid and enzymes to cause a chemical reaction in order for them to be absorbed. If you are low in your digestive juices, you can low in minerals and B vitamins.
Ensuring a healthy balance of friendly bacteria and organisms in the gut is essential. Probiotic supplements containing microorganisms such as Lactoabcillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis can help restore bacterial balance in the gut. Probiotic products can also balance your gut biome (the living organisms in any ecosystem) to ensure balanced digestive and immune systems.