"All disease begins in the gut" - Hippocrates
Digestion is one of my absolute favorite topics in the realm of health and nutrition, and arguably, the most important. Don’t be shy! Prepare yourself for a little TMI.
To put it simply, you can have the most balanced, nutrient dense, seasonal, whole food-based diet in the world; but if you aren’t digesting and assimilating those nutrients, it doesn’t matter. Our digestive state must be addressed first in order to truly improve our bodies nutritional status.
First, lets look at a few common digestive symptoms that people frequently struggle with:
- Acid reflux/ heartburn
When these symptoms present themselves, our first reaction may be to grab an over-the-counter “cure” i.e Prilosec, Immodium, Pesto Bismol, etc.
Although the symptoms may be quickly relieved, often times they will return in a few days or even after your next meal. Nutritional Therapy (what I do!) aims to uncover the root cause of why you are having acid reflux, bloating, or any other digestive symptom for that matter.
If you are committed to reaching optimal health through nutrition, digestion is a VITAL aspect, along with the foods you choose and the mindset that you maintain.
One important thing to remember is that digestion is a North to South process; meaning that a symptom further south *cough* constipation/diarrhea *cough* often has a root cause that begins further north in the brain, mouth or upper GI system. Each person has very individual needs based on their lifestyle habits, history and current dietary choices, but in my experience, there are a few digestion basics that can help anyone troubleshoot their digestive symptoms.
- Mindset - Before food even reaches your mouth, the digestive process begins when we see and smell the food we plan to eat. During this time, it is very important to be in a parasympathetic state where we are able to successfully ‘rest and digest' our food. This is unlike the sympathetic 'fight or flight' state that many of us find ourselves in during the day due to stressful jobs, traffic etc. Getting into a parasympathetic state allows our heart rate to slow, while increasing intestinal and glandular activity. Tip: take deep breaths before beginning each meal
- Chew slowly - It is important to chew food thoroughly enough so that the brain receives the signals from your pituitary gland to trigger proper digestive processes. If the proper digestive processes are not enabled, saliva is not produced in the appropriate amounts and a heavy burden is placed on the stomach leading to things like 'leaky gut'. Remembering to relax, breathe, and slowly chew my food has been one of the biggest game changers for my clients (myself included!) in improving digestive problems, mainly reflux and bloating. Tip: try to chew each bite 10-30 times before swallowing.
- Increase stomach acid (HCl production)- This tip sounds completely counterintuitive, but a vast majority of people suffering from acid indigestion, bloating, and various other stomach issues actually suffer from lack of stomach acid, not overproduction. In simple terms, the stomach needs a certain level of acidity in order to digest food properly. If the correct pH level is not present in the stomach, a few things may occur. One; microorganisms in food are not properly digested as they should be, often leading to overgrowth of bacteria like candida or SIBO. Or two; the food eaten will ferment and rancidify due to the pH of the stomach being too alkaline, leading to bloating, heartburn and gas. Tip: Sip warm lemon water or warm water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with meals to increase stomach pH.
- Consume high quality fats - Low-fat and fat-free diets are a thing of the past! Without high quality, appropriate fat consumption, the gallbladder does not receive the proper signaling to release bile. Over time, this can cause increased levels of gallbladder disfunction like malabsorption of fats and gallstones. We need bile to absorb and assimilate fats- without which we would have no substrate for hormones, cell membranes, or energy!
- Other herbs, teas - If digestive distress is already present, there are plenty of natural remedies that I use frequently and suggest to my clients. Indigestion: Peppermint, ginger, and licorice teas are a must. Acid reflux/ heartburn: I swear by kombucha (look for flavors with no added sugar) and Kevita probiotic drinks. Constipation: Try supplementing with a magnesium citrate (I like Natural Calm) at night. Diarrhea: Start taking a good-quality probiotic regularly as well as identify any food triggers. Our digestive tract needs a sufficient amount of beneficial bacteria in order to create good bowel movements. Other probiotic- rich foods such as sauerkraut and kefir (if you tolerate dairy) are a great addition. Remember that although these are great remedies to relieve digestive problems if you are already suffering, the goal is the prevent these symptoms in the first place!
- Are your symptoms not listed? Have you tried these tips before to no avail? I would love to help you get to the root of your digestive problems and I am currently accepting new clients - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 15 minute consult.