Digestion is a critical component of our health. It’s the process where food is broken down and absorbed so the nutrients can be used for various functions in the body. However, there’s something about digestion difficulties that people get embarrassed about and find it hard to discuss openly. Constipation, frequent diarrhoea, gas and bloating are just some of the signs digestion isn’t as it should but these days more and more people are taking these issues for granted, suffering in silence and with that short changing their health.
So what can you do to improve your digestion? First of all, start with the basics and what a foundation of good digestion is built on.
1) Sit down and take time to chew your food. Digestion starts in the mouth by both mechanical and chemical processes. By taking our time to chew our food, we are reducing the stress on the gut to breakdown food.
2) Manage stress. Chronic stress is one of the biggest culprits of digestive issues. When stressed, our nervous system is in a sympathetic state (fight or flight). During this state digestion is inhibited. For optimal digestion we want to be in a parasympathetic state (rest & digest) state where the stomach, liver and intestines have the correct conditions to digest food properly.
3) Ensure you are adequately hydrated. Water is crucial for helping break down food and clear waste from the intestines by softening stools. Look to spread your water intake over the course of the day aiming for at least 40ml per kg bodyweight.
4) Eat a broad variety of nutrient dense foods. By having a broad variety of fruits, veggies and whole grains in your diet, this will help offer fibre and micronutrients (specifically the phytochemicals) to your body which your gut microbiome thrive on.
After covering your basics and the problems still persist, delving a little deeper may be needed.
1) Follow an elimination style diet where you reduce or eliminate suspect culprit foods for a period and then reintroduce to assess your tolerance to these foods. Although everyone is different, common foods people are sensitive to include Dairy, Gluten, Wheat, Yeast, Eggs, Soy, corn or certain FODMAP foods which are short chain carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Any suspect food that you think is causing an issue should be pulled for a period before gradually introducing one food at a time and assessing how you react. If issues reappear from a certain food, then it’s best keep that food out of your diet and discuss with your doctor.
2) Cut down on Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Chronic use of NSAID’s can wreak havoc on your gut flora. If you experiencing constant digestive issues and frequently using NSAID’s, discuss with you doctor about cutting down your use of NSAID’s.
3) Introducing digestive aids such as digestive enzymes can help the digestion process and by improving the gut environment with probiotics and glutamine can also be beneficial.
The digestive process is such a critical part of a fully functioning body. It’s not just the calories you eat. It’s what your body absorbs