Heartburn, bloating, constipation, cramping, diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, and nausea. It seems like everyone I talk to has some kind of digestive problems, and it’s usually the 1st thing mentioned when someone opens up about their health issues. This isn’t surprising to me. We live in a world where it’s so easy to eat a diet that compromises our gut bacteria and where we are undergoing constant stress. All disease starts in the gut, and if you have poor digestion, it can lead to joint pain, headaches, autoimmune diseases, sinus issues, poor skin, and the list goes on and on.
While there are certain digestive dysfunctions that may need specific attention and protocol, there are small general changes we can all implement that may profoundly improve our digestion. I have suffered from IBS for years, and only by making dietary and behavioral tweaks did I finally start feeling better, and was able to live without sinus allergies, bloating, and anxiety. Suffering from digestive issues can be pretty dang awful, so I recommend you try the methods below if you are frustrated with your constant discomfort. Here are 6 ways to improve your digestion naturally:
1. Reduce your intake of sugar and alcohol.
This is probably the most obvious and the most difficult advice to follow. Sugar is just plain addicting, and many people feel socially obligated to drink alcohol when they are out. However, both sugar and alcohol compromise the immune system and feed the bad bacteria in the gut, which eventually lead to leaky gut, yeast, bloating, and gas. Leaky gut is the primary cause of all autoimmune diseases. Sugar and alcohol also create stress in our body, and deplete the body of important minerals that we need to produce appropriate gastric juices and enzymes necessary to break down our food.
2. Chew your food.
Your start physically breaking down your food in your mouth. When you break it down into smaller particles, it is less strain on the stomach to digest it and less strain on the intestines to absorb the nutrients. When food is improperly chewed and passes to your stomach, and then your intestines, the undigested materials can putrefy, which then leads to bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and all sorts of digestive problems. You know when your fart or poop stinks unusually bad? That’s the result of putrefied food in your intestine. NOT pretty to think about, and also unpleasant for people around you. So always make sure to chew your food thoroughly. Your saliva actually contains digestive enzymes that help break down food, especially carbohydrates, so it’s time to use it!
3. Practice deep breathing and positive thoughts before you eat.
Digestion only happens properly during relaxation. Relaxation and stress can’t live together. Therefore, you can’t digest your food when you are stressed. Repeat those words.
So many of us in the modern world are accustomed to eating on the go, in the car, or even stress eating. How can we properly digest our food when our body isn’t even physically ready to take in the food? Digestion begins in the brain. As soon as you relax your mind and smell food, your saliva starts working and your gastric juices in the stomach start flowing. When none of those things happen, you are unable to properly break down the food that enters your body.
Chronic stress impairs the immune system and digestive system. Before digging in to your food, put down the fork, close your eyes, and breathe deeply and slowly for 10 counts and try to think of positive things. Daily meditation is also incredibly helpful in optimizing your digestion.
4. Drink water.
It’s the most important nutrient in the body. Water removes waste and flushes out toxins in the body, while aiding in digestion. Many people who have digestive issues, especially constipation, are chronically dehydrated. They are drinking dehydrating liquids like soda, coffee, and/or fruit juices, and aren’t replenishing themselves with plain ol’ water. Other signs of dehydration include headache, dizziness, tiredness, dry mouth, dry skin, and if extreme enough, it can lead to chronic illnesses. Healthy digestion requires adequate amount of water. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces (if you are 160 lbs, drink 80 oz daily).
5. Drink apple cider vinegar.
You need proper stomach acid (called hydrochloric acid or HCl) in order to properly absorb nutrients, break down food, and kill bad bacteria and invaders. In most cases, contrary to what we have been taught to believe, heartburn and acid-reflux are not caused by having too much acid in the stomach, it’s because our acidity is too low.
The strong burning sensation you feel in your throat during acid-reflux is from the food coming back up through the esophagus, which is also acidic but not as acidic as the stomach. The stomach, knowing it cannot properly digest the food without its proper acidity level, rejects the food from entering and pushes it back up. These food particles carries with it the acidity of the esophagus, and that’s the burning feeling you experience when it comes up all the way back up to your throat.
This is why all those countless over-the-counter acid suppressors you see at every convenience store that aim to kill the stomach acid only worsen the situation instead of alleviating it. Instead, try drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s) with water 10-15 minutes before a meal or a snack. This increases HCl production helping you to break down food and absorb nutrients better, and you’ll alleviate uncomfortable digestive issues that results from low stomach acid.
6. Eat unprocessed, whole foods.
Cutting out packaged, man-made “food” that comes from factories and laboratories, should be the first step you take to improve your health in general, not just your digestion. Preservatives, trans fats and hydrogenated oils, GMO products, processed sugars, and other chemical additives all wreak havoc on your body, leeches minerals, and contribute to lowering the acidity of the stomach and damaging our intestinal lining. By consuming quality meats, fats, and vegetables, you give your body proper nutrients to support healthy digestion.
7. Include fermented foods into your diet.
Fermented foods have been part of the traditional human diet for thousands of years and for good reason. The probiotics in them are so beneficial for your gut, repopulating the good bacteria that we need for our health, while killing off the bad ones that cause all kinds of diseases. It’s estimated that almost 80% of our immune system is in the gut, so feeding it beneficial probiotics improves digestion and helps ward off diseases and inflammation.
While most people know about yogurt, there are so many other kinds of fermented foods that you try out. There’s sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto, miso, and some cheeses if you are not sensitive. They can easily be made at home, but if you end up buying them, make sure they are from the refrigerated section and that it’s labeled as fermented or has the words “probiotics” somewhere.
8. Eliminate common food allergens.
No matter how healthy you are eating, if your body is constantly being attacked by something it’s allergic to, your digestion will suffer, as well as the rest of your body. Food allergies or intolerances cause leaky gut and this can eventually cause a host of other illnesses including autoimmune diseases. If you have digestive issue, brain fog, acne problems, constant low energy, or mood swings, it’s likely that you are allergic to something you are putting into your body.
Try an elimination diet for 3 weeks, in which you take out all common food allergens from your diet. They include: gluten, dairy, eggs, grains, soy, nuts, and seeds. If there’s something you eat every single day, I suggest you eliminate that too as it’s common for us to grow intolerant to something we eat too often. After 3 weeks, introduce each food one at a time and see how your body reacts. You’ll notice a difference if you are allergic or intolerant to that food.
Lastly, and most importantly, you NEED to get enough sleep if you want to heal yourself and improve your digestion. The less sleep you get, the more compromised your immune system becomes as your body can’t deal with inflammation effectively. Your stomach acid lowers its production when you are sleep deprived and your stress level spikes up which inhibits your ability to digest food properly, even leading to weight gain. All of these components are interrelated and you cannot improve the entire system if you aren’t sleeping. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night and try to go to bed at the same time every day.
I don’t think many people realize how important digestion is for our overall health. If we aren’t digesting food properly, it leads to not just the obvious symptoms that we feel in the stomach, but it can also affect our mood, seasonal allergies, joints, ability to think clearly, and eventually lead to more serious conditions and diseases. If you improve your digestive health, it may clear up other issues you had no idea were related to your digestive issues. I encourage you to make digestion your health priority because it’s SO important!
“All disease begins in the gut.”
If you’d like to improve your health or if you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me. I’m currently taking clients and would love to help!
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