Tips For Digestive Health
As someone who suffered a myriad of digestive problems, i thought i would do an article on my favorite tips for improving digestive health. Like many others of this generation, whilst growing up i was exposed to alot of antibiotic use, which as you can guess didn’t do my digestive system any favors.
Chronic digestive disorders can really impact the quality of ones life, so i hope others find the tips below as helpful as i have. I would say overall the digestive bitters, prebiotics, artichoke leaf and fermented foods were the most helpful for overcoming my digestive ailments which included low stomach acid, bile insufficiency, lack of gut flora(bacterial/fungal overgrowth(candida) and very slow to no bowel motility.
To this day i still use digestive bitters regularly to keep my digestion optimal, although i make sure i have long breaks so that my digestion doesn’t become reliant on them. Fermented foods still play a part in my diet and i try to make sure i consume some at least a few times a week to support my gut flora.
This was one of the biggest issues that led to my poor digestion and one of the easiest to rectify. I cannot stress the importance of chewing food thoroughly until it resembles a mushy paste. This may seem like a very basic tip to some, but you would be surprised how few people actually chew there food properly.
Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth with the salivary enzyme (
Reduce Plate Size
Using smaller plates is a great tip not only in relation to digestive health but helping to maintain a healthy weight. Other than poor chewing habits and processed foods, the majority of digestive stress comes from over-indulgence i.e over eating.
We will tend to eat however much food is on our plate, so using smaller plates helps to naturally reduce portion size. Many experts will argue that smaller plates don’t help in regards to portion control and helping to maintain a healthy weight, but id argue otherwise as ive found them very effective at helping reduce my needless over eating due to excessive portions.
Low Stomach Acid(Hypochlorhydria)
Low stomach acid(Hypochlorhydria) is probably one of the most common digestive ailments and in my opinion one that is frequently misdiagnosed. The symptoms of low stomach acid are actually very similar to an excess of stomach acid(Hyperchlorhydria) with the sensation of heartburn, indigestion, bloating, belching, gas and nausea.
Often when these symptoms are presented to a GP the natural thought is that the issue is caused by an excess of stomach acid and gastric acid reducing drugs such as proton pump inhibitors are prescribed. The problem is that if the cause is low stomach acid then these drugs end up further reducing gastric acid levels, this can have a serious knock on effect to overall health and well being.
Another potential issue is that our stomach acid levels naturally tend to decrease as we age, which as i mention above can have a knock on effect in regards to nutrient absorption and general health. Maintaining healthy stomach acid levels will ensure proper digestion of protein and other nutrients that require an acidic PH for absorption.
Although many acid/alkaline theory sites would have you believe otherwise, our gastric acid is actually our first line of defense against food borne pathogens. Not only that but it is our stomach acid which prevents the overgrowth of opportunistic pathogens such as candida and bacteria in our digestive tract. So take caution against using strong alkalizing products which have the ability to neutralize our stomach acid levels.
Digestive bitters are my favorite remedy for poor digestion and traditionally they have a long history of use as a digestive aid and relieving indigestion. Bitter tasting herbs and foods stimulate receptors located at the back of the tongue, this in turn stimulates the vagus nerve to release stomach acid. Through reflex peristalsis the release of pancreatic digestive enzymes and bile are secreted to further aid the digestive process.
Overall digestive bitters are much safer than using digestive enzyme supplements which some theorize can weaken the bodies own release of digestive enzymes if used long term. Bitters stimulate the release of these digestive enzymes rather than substituting them such as in the case of supplementing with digestive enzyme products.
I don’t recommend the use of traditional Swedish bitters because they contain stimulant laxative herbs which can weaken bowel motility if used long term. There are many stimulant laxative free digestive bitter products on the market such as Grape Bitters by Planetary Herbs and Digestive Bitters by Herb Pharm.
To purchase Digestive Bitters check out our store – Digestive Bitters
Bile insufficiency is another common digestive condition, often induced by chronic consumption of high fat hard to digest foods coupled with poor nutrition. There are many different causes of bile insufficiency, as such professional diagnosis should always be recommended.
Bile is essential for breaking down and aiding the absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins. So its little wonder when bile flow is insufficient that we often feel symptoms come on after consuming high fat foods. Some of the common symptoms of bile insufficiency include grey or tan colored stools, inability to tolerate greasy, high fat or fried foods, pain between the shoulder blades, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and Steatorrhea, or the excessive excretion of fat in the feces.
The digestive bitter herbs we mentioned above have shown in studies to increase bile flow and aid the digestion of fats. There are many herbs with proven choleretic(stimulate bile) properties, my favorite would be artichoke leaf. German researchers have confirmed in multiple studies the bile increasing and cholesterol lowering benefits of artichoke leaf.
Many of my health problems and in particular digestive issues where due to sluggish liver and gallbladder function. Blood work showed that i was severely deficient in every fat soluble vitamin i.e A, D, E and K, so it was little wonder i was feeling poorly. What annoyed me was how little my doctor understood or cared about this issue in relation to my chronic health issues at the time.
As mentioned briefly above, the balance of our intestinal flora is very important not only in regards to digestion but general health and well being. Around 80% of our immune system is thought to be located in our gut, so it makes sense to consume foods that help strengthen our digestive system.
Fermented foods are in my opinion the best source of good bacteria and are generally cheap to produce which is a bonus. Good sources of fermented foods include kefir, cultured vegetables, sauerkraut, kim chi and miso. I am always of the opinion that if we can get something naturally from a food source then we should do over the use of supplements if possible.
One of my favorite probiotic supplements is VSL#3 which contains around 450 billion live bacteria per sachet. Some studies have shown that VSL#3 causes ulcerative colitis to go into remission in some individuals. Personally ive had very good results with the VSL#3 probiotic at high doses. Its not a product we stock ourselves as it requires refrigeration during shipping, so it comes direct from the manufacturer.
Prebiotics are non-digestible type of carbohydrates which stimulate the activity and growth of gut bacteria. Prebiotic fibers are found in our diet in foods such as banana’s, wheat bran, onions and even garlic all help to support our bodies natural gut flora balance.
Prebiotics may be even more important than probiotics in regards to supporting the gut flora. There are literally thousands of different strains of gut bacteria and we can only repopulate so many through the use of probiotic’s. So it makes more sense to provide the preferred food these good bacteria need to grow.
If you are looking for a little extra prebiotic support then Bimmuno is an effective over the counter supplement which contains a proven prebiotic, studies showed that it increased levels of certain strains of beneficial gut bacteria in as little as 7 days.
Rice bran is also an effective prebiotic and has the bonus of being rich in nutrients such as the B complex vitamins and unique antioxidants such as gamma-oryzanol. One to two tablespoons daily is generally the recommended dosage for extra prebiotic support.
Check out our video below, which shows the 10 richest prebiotic food sources by weight.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is the name used to describe a condition of altered or increased intestinal permeability. Increased intestinal permeability has been linked to a number of conditions including auto-immune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and even heart disease.
Bone and vegetable broths are a very effective natural aid for healing leaky gut and maintaining general health. Bone broths in particular contain many gut healing nutrients such as gelatin, minerals and amino acids.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid which has shown potential in not only helping heal leaky gut but preventing it from occurring in the first place. Whilst L-Glutamine is effective for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining and preventing increased permeability, the inflammatory element of leaky gut still needs to be taken care of.
One of the best herbs to tackle inflammation in my opinion is Licorice Root. Licorice root is an adaptogenic herb with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Licorice root is an effective adrenal support herb and prevents the breakdown of cortisol in the liver, which keeps levels elevated for longer. Supporting our adrenal glands is very important for treatment of any inflammatory condition, because it is our adrenals which produce our bodies own natural anti-inflammatory steroid hormones.
Often DGL Licorice is recommended for those suffering from leaky gut. DGL Licorice is a deglycyrrhizinated licorice supplement and as such doesn’t contain the vital anti-inflammatory component needed for treatment of leaky gut.
Demulcent herbs such as Slippery Elm Root and Marshmallow Root are often used to soothe the intestinal lining and protect it from further irritation. These herbs are great mixed with a small amount of licorice or yucca root to add additional anti-inflammatory and leaky gut support.
Research has linked gluten as a cause of increased intestinal permeability. Gluten is a protein found mainly in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Many experts recommend following a gluten and sometimes grain free diet as part of a leaky gut treatment plan. Make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids daily which have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
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