Supporting Your Digestive System for Optimal Health
Many people suffer from digestive complaints such as constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, general discomfort and heartburn. These conditions can be persistent and may greatly affect your quality of life. Digestive complaints such as the ones listed are a symptom of underlying problems that can more often than not be addressed naturally.
To have optimum digestive function you must have adequate stomach acid, digestive enzymes and beneficial flora. This will ensure that you absorb essential nutrients and eliminate toxins and waste. Here are some common factors that can wreak havoc on digestive function:
Stress reduces stomach acid and enzyme production. When we are stressed our bodies are in “fight or flight” mode – all our energy goes to our limbs, heart and lungs so we can fight the threat, or run away. When we relax our bodies can afford to spend energy in order to “rest and digest”.
But it doesn’t stop there. Stress has also been shown to alter our beneficial bacteria and cause inflammation or ulceration.
- Digestion actually starts before you even put food in your mouth. This important step in digestion, known as the cephalic phase, starts when we think about and smell our meal, and continues while we chew and taste our food. It sends a signal to our digestive system to prepare for the meal. When you chew you also produce enzymes in your mouth that starts to break down the food you’ve ingested.When you prepare your meal enjoy the process – notice the smell of the food cooking and how it starts your stomach rumbling. When you eat, take time out from what you were doing before – step out of the office and away from your computer! Chew your food properly and enjoy the taste, texture and smell of your meal.
- Utilise tools to manage stress encountered throughout the day such as journaling, breathing exercises, meditation or prayer.
- Exercise promotes healthy digestion and also reduces stress, so get moving!
- A nutrient dense diet, with adequate protein, will improve your stress response.
- There are many herbs and nutrients that can help us through stressful situations and with chronic stress management and recovery. If you struggle with stress, anxiety or depression, a naturopathic consultation may be appropriate.
Food intolerances are becoming more and more common. Sometimes food intolerances appear to be present from birth or a very young age. Others develop over time. These may be developed due to impaired gut function or damage caused by poor diet, toxin exposure, stress or infections.
- The first step is to identify which food may be causing the problem. For some people it’s blaringly obvious, for others symptoms could be delayed or more subtle, and sometimes there may be more than one culprit. A naturopath can help you find the most likely cause, or test for intolerances if necessary.
- Removing the problem food/s is recommended. Sometimes after a period of avoiding the food/s along with some digestive repair through herbs and nutrition people can re-introduce the food/s without any further problems.
We live in a world where it’s hard to avoid toxin exposure. Unfortunately this can have adevastating effect on our digestive function – particularly our digestive flora. The pesticides and herbicides in our food, the chlorine in our water, even the air we breathe. Drugs, such as antibiotics and the oral contraceptive pill, although sometimes beneficial or even necessary, can also wreak havoc on our flora.
- Reduce your toxin exposure by giving your fruit and vegetables a good wash in the skink with cool water and a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar. This will help to remove some of the pesticides and herbicides
- Buy organic when you can – starting with animal products.
- Avoid antibiotic overuse – colds and flus often are self-limited. Herbal and nutritional medicine can reduce symptoms and speed recovery.
- Include raw fermented foods in your diet such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir or kimchi. Fermented foods have an abundance of beneficial flora and enzymes that will improve your digestion and general wellbeing.
- Drink filtered water.
- Take a probiotic – this can help replenish your flora.
These are just some of the common problems that can cause digestive complaints. Sometimes we can resolve or reduce symptoms by just reducing stress, improving diet and reducing toxin exposure. Other times, partially if your condition is more chronic or serious, a more targeted approach is needed. It is often helpful to see a naturopath who can develop a tailored treatment for your needs, lifestyle and condition.