Many people suffer with some sort of digestive discomfort. Symptoms often include:
- Trapped wind
- Abdominal pain
- Alternating constipation and diarrhoea
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.
There`s lots of things that you can do to help yourself at home.
Chew your food properly
There`s good reason why your parents told you to chew your food properly. 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.
Chewing our food thoroughly starts the breakdown process as the saliva in our mouths contains enzymes. If you rush this first step, you have already negatively impacted your digestion. Chewing not only coats the food in enzymes, but the action of chewing actually stimulates the digestive juices in our stomach to be released.
The stomach cells release hydrochloric acid to digest the food before it travels down into the small intestine. This is especially important for protein digestion. Many people have small amounts of hydrochloric acid and so their food is not digested adequately before travelling on through the rest of the intestines. Surprisingly, low stomach acid symptoms are the opposite of what you would expect. They often include heart burn, reflux, bloating and a heavy feeling in your stomach. Unfortunately, many people are told that they have too much stomach acid at this point and are put on proton pump inhibitor drugs to lower their stomach acid. This actually has huge implications to the persons long-term health as stomach acid is essential for the absorption of key nutrients like Calcium, zinc, B12 and proteins. It is also worsening the problem for the person on the drugs.
Once the food has been digested by the stomach acid, it passes through a valve into the duodenum where the pancreas also secretes pancreatic enzymes into. The bile that is stored in the gall bladder also is released into this area of the small intestine. both the bile and pancreatic enzymes work on the food by further digesting them. Some people don`t make enough pancreatic enzymes or may not secrete enough bile in this section of the intestines. This can cause bloating and digestive discomfort.
What can you do to help?
- Stomach acid secretion is inhibited by stress. If you are stressed before you eat, you will not make as much hydrochloric acid. Take a moment to take 4 or 5 deep nasal breaths before eating and think of something you are grateful for. This will help put you into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) so that you will be relaxed enough to secrete your digestive juices
- Before you eat, drink an inch or two of warm water with a desert spoonful (10mls) of apple cider vinegar diluted in it. This will help the production of your stomach acid. If you don`t like the vinegar, try the juice of half a lemon in the same amount of water.
- Be like the french and eat a small green salad before your main meal. Bitter leaves like rocket or chicory help to stimulate the gastric juices. Our mouths and intestinal tract have receptors for bitter flavours which when stimulated cause the gastric juices to be released.
- Don`t drink anything else alongside your meals. Drinks dilute your digestive juices.
- Always chew your food thoroughly. Make sure that food is mushy and well coated with saliva before you swallow.
- Whilst you are chewing, put your fork down and don`t pick it up again until you have swallowed. Eating slowly and mindfully reduces the amount of air that is gulped down with the food. Excess air will cause bloating and abdominal pain.
- 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 - 2 litres for an adult) per day to ensure adequate hydration. Dehydration is often the reason for constipation
• 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.