Improve your digestion naturally. Is that possible?
The answer is yes. Through this article, I will share with you the reasons why you may be experiencing digestive problems and the easy ways you can improve them naturally.
You might have heard the phrase “You are what you eat”. In nutritional therapy however we say “You are what you digest and absorb”.
This is particularly relevant because disorders affecting the digestive tract (and subsequently the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients, as we will see) are on the rise and are becoming increasingly widespread.
It is in fact estimated that 4 in 10 people in the UK regularly suffer with at least one digestive symptom, the most common being stomach ache, indigestion, heartburn and changes in bowel movements (NHS source ).
But why is optimal digestion important for our health?
Optimal digestion is necessary for the breakdown of food and absorption of the derived nutrients, which can then be used in various bodily processes, from energy production to cell repair.
To put it simply, we could be eating the best diet in the world but if our digestive tract is not performing optimally and we’re not breaking down the food and absorbing the nutrients properly then we are missing out on all of the goodness derived from our meals.
Common causes of digestive symptoms
There are many factors that can impair our digestion:
- Low intake of fibre
- Low water/fluid intake
- Low stomach acid, as the result of:
- Infections, such as H.Pylori
- Low protein intake
- Medications (antacids, ibuprofen…)
- Low nutrients status, particularly B6 and Zinc
- Hiatus hernia
- Low pancreatic juices
- Low bile, as the result of:
- Low fat diet
- Lack of bitter foods
- Sluggish liver
- Unbalanced gut microbiome
When things aren’t working optimally in our digestive system, symptoms such as heartburn, nausea after meals, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation start to arise.
The good news is that there are lots of things you can try and implement to improve your digestion naturally.
Daily tips to improve your digestion naturally
Increase your fibre intake
Increasing fibre intake is one of the first steps when looking at improving digestion and gut health. Fibre will increase gut motility, it will get things moving in the final tract of the digestive system as well as feeding the trillions of bacteria that make up our gut microbiota. Fibre is only found in plant based foods, so we are looking at plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. While a good starting point is 30g of fibre daily, it’s important to start things slowly if you’re completely new to all these plant foods, as getting too much too quickly could cause some (temporary) bloating and flatulence.
Increase your fluid intake
It’s also important to drink plenty of hydrating liquids alongside the fibrous foods, as this will help with moving things along the digestive tract and ensure waste products (aka what is not absorbed) is excreted through the bowel movements and urine.
You can also include herbal teas. Not only do they count towards your water intake, some herbs are carminative and can relieve digestive symptoms. Try including ginger, fennel, dandelion, licorice, peppermint (avoid if it worsens or gives you heartburn)
Sticking to three main meals
And avoiding snacking in between meals. This is to support optimal pancreatic enzyme secretion and give your digestive system the opportunity to rest and “clean up” while no food is present.
Ideally you would want to try and have your meals at a similar time every day and your dinner at least 2-3h before bed
We’re always on the go and eating at the desk while you’re focused on your work might seem convenient but it could be the origin of your digestive discomfort. Next time you’re on your lunch break put away your phone and laptop and enjoy your meal with no rush or distraction. This will allow the body to switch to the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” state.
Something I suggest to my clients is to pack a lunch and walk to a nearby park to enjoy their lunch in some fresh air and they always notice the difference when they can really slow down!
Chew your food
Both mechanical and chemical breakdown start in the mouth so it’s really important to take the time and intentionally chew each mouthful, ideally 20 to 30 times.
I start with the tasks that MUST happen on that day to make the current projects move forward. This might be filming two classes for a new course or researching a protocol for a client. Then I schedule two other things that I’d like to achieve that day.
To keep my brain fresh and the ideas flowing I usually don’t spend more than 3h on one particular task at a time. Taking a 15 min break to do something totally different in between tasks can also really help, but of course, that may not be possible depending on your job.
Lastly, if like myself you have full control over your work or most of it, try to work in batches and ahead of time to anticipate deadlines.
Stress is a common trigger for digestive symptoms such as heartburn and indigestion. This is because stress shuts down our “rest and digest” state. If you notice you experience digestive upset during stressful times try and explore options that can help you cope with stress. It can be time in nature, meditation, journaling, focusing on your breathing etc.
- Bitters and Bitter mimetics – These can aid digestion by stimulating the production of certain digestive enzymes, like bile and pancreatic enzymes. Bitter herbs include dandelion greens, artichoke, gentian, rocket, endive, kale, and watercress. You can take these as whole foods or tinctures before a meal. Bitter mimetics include apple cider vinegar and citrus fruits, especially lemon and lime
- Zinc and B6 – Supplementing with Zinc and B6 can be extremely helpful at improving digestion if you suffer with low stomach acid. The production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is strictly dependent on these two nutrients. A nutritionist can help you identify the exact dose of both
- Betaine hydrochloride and digestive enzymes – These are supplements that go and substitute the digestive juices rather than stimulating them. They can be very helpful to alleviate symptoms while you’re working on the root cause of your digestive symptoms, but I would advise speaking to a nutritionist to find the right dose of betaine HCl for you.
Movement and Exercise
Physical activity increases blood flow to the digestive tract and peristalsis, with moderate intensity exercise being efficient at speeding up digestive transit (study). Alongside exercise, research has shown that a short, leisure walk after meals can help food transit and facilitate digestion.
I hope you find these tips to improve digestion naturally useful and start incorporating them straight away.
However if your symptoms don’t seem to get better it might be a sign that further investigation is needed.
You can get in touch for a 1-2-1 consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org.