We’ve all heard the saying “listen to your gut”, and while this tends to mean “ listen to your intuition” it could just as well apply to paying attention to the digestive function in the gut. Do you suffer bloating after eating, with loose stools and/or tummy cramps? Are you feeling tired, have no energy and just generally don’t feel well nourished?
What you eat, drink and think can deeply affect the workings of the gut, having a huge impact on health, wellbeing, strength and vitality.
The digestive tract is more than just a tube that holds and processes food. It also houses a part of the immune system (in the form of a barrier of good and bad bacteria in the gut mucosa), absorbs nutrients, fights off bugs by identifying toxins, viruses or allergens that can make you sick, and also eliminates waste. Usually a greater proportion of good bacteria keep things in balance and under control, but stress, poor diet, medication, toxins, or illness can allow bad bacteria to overrun and brng disharmony to the good, resulting in chronic health issues throughout the entire body.
Usually we don’t notice all of these inner workings but when something goes awry and we get a twinge or a cramp, gas or explosive diarrhoea it’s hard to ignore
1. Eat as healthily as you can
Choose whole foods and avoid white, refined processed foods. The first place to start is your diet as what you eat each day will have an impact on good digestion and overall health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which are nourishing and excellent sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Eating smaller portions, eating at regular times, chewing your food properly and stopping to enjoy what you eat are all ways to help your body do its job. Some people feel better avoiding wheat, as the gluten in it can cause bloating and stomach problems.
Many of us are eating in front of the TV, on the run, or simply just bolting food down to get on to the next task in our day. Little do many of us realize, digestion is a highly complex process, starting with the digestive juices which process the food we eat, and the release of digestive enzymes and saliva to help break food particles down into smaller pieces. The slower you eat, and the more you chew your food, the less work your digestive tract has to do to process it.
2. Help the good bugs
We have around 400 different kinds of friendly bacteria in the gut. Adding probiotics and prebiotics increases the levels of good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are friendly bacteria, and the more there are of them, the less chance bad bacteria have to take over. Take a good probiotic supplement and add prebiotic foods such as the OM Ginger Kombucha, yoghurt, miso, kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut to your diet. A glass of warm water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice on waking gives the digestion a good kick start for the day.
We all need fibre! Fruits, vegetables (think broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, carrot) whole grains, beans and lentils have plenty of it! Drink ample water and fluids. This helps to soften the stool and lubricate food waste in the digestive tract. Add wholemeal bread, wheat germ, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, prunes, oats, potatoes, lentils, figs, and bran, linseeds and psyllium.
4. Lessen stress
Exercising is a great relaxant and stress reducer - walking, yoga or pilates help to stimulate the activity of the intestinal muscles. We know that the digestive tract is influenced by the nervous system, so if you are feeling emotional, anxious, frightened or stressed, the nervous system can shut the digestion down for a time till the perceived threat has passed. Sometimes the reaction is severe enough to cause diarrhoea and tummy cramps so cultivating a calm attitude with exercise, mindfulness practises, meditation and good breathing practise can really help.
5. Herbs to try:
Slippery Elm - a fantastic demulcent, soothes the gut and coats the gut walls. Great for soothing ulcers and inflammation.
Chamomile – prevents or relieves stomach cramps, calms the nerves, gas and bloating, helps nausea, heartburn and headaches.
Lemon balm – calms the digestive system, contains many vitamins and minerals, helps abdominal pain, gas and bloating.
Ginger – Improves the digestive system, stimulates, helps in the absorption of nutrients.
Fennel seeds – relieve nausea, gas and stomach cramps, helps indigestion and bloating.
Peppermint – relieves upset stomachs, calms digestive spasms, relieves gas and reduces pain and discomfort.
By Joanna Loveys BNatMed HbT MNZAMH