“All disease begins in the gut.” –Hippocrates
Was Hippocrates right over 2,000 years ago? I would have to agree with him a majority of the time when it comes to chronic diseases. A healthy digestive system begins with excellent digestion so let’s go over some tips to help you improve your digestion. Firstly, I’d like to briefly cover the reason why your digestion may be out of balance.
What causes bad digestion?
Eating very quickly while on the run and not completely focusing on your meal will result in poor digestion. You must be in a parasympathetic dominant state which is your “rest and digest” branch of your nervous system. Many people are sympathetic dominant when they eat which is the “fight or flight” branch of your nervous system.
When your sympathetic nervous is revved up, your body produces adrenaline which takes blood away from your stomach and lowers stomach acid so you won’t digest food very well. Watching television, reading, texting, checking Facebook etc. while you’re eating will draw you out of your rest and digest state resulting in poor digestion.
Are there any conditions that cause bad digestion?
Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria in your stomach that overgrows when someone is under chronic stress resulting in low stomach acid, heartburn and poor digestion. This bacteria causes ulcers and it wreaks havoc on your digestion.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, is a condition where too many bacteria are in your upper intestine resulting in the signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. If you have taken a lot of antibiotics throughout your life or have eaten a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrates then you may have SIBO. Symptoms of SIBO include:
- Abdominal pain & discomfort
- Abdominal cramps
- Weight gain with difficulty losing weight
- Feeling like you don’t completely empty your bowel when you have a movement
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Inconsistently formed stools such as random changes in size, shape and color
- Passing mucus
- Sometimes feeling hungry shortly after meals
- Fatigue after meals
- Brain fog
Other conditions that can lower stomach acid and cause bad digestion include:
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease
- Adrenal stress
- Zinc deficiency
- B-vitamin deficiency
- Intestinal infections such as parasites, yeast or bacteria
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Food sensitivities such as gluten and dairy
- Celiac disease
If you have any of these conditions above then it’s best to be evaluated thoroughly by a functional medicine practitioner to find the root cause of your digestive system problems.
What can you do to improve digestion?
- Chew your food slowly and completely until it is liquefied before swallowing.
- Sit in a quiet and comfortable place without distractions such as TV, your cell phone, computer etc.
- Do not read anything while eating.
- Think about positive thoughts and how grateful you are to have the food.
- Do not eat “on the run”. Put time aside each day for healthy and relaxing meals.
- Keep your portion sizes about the size of your fist so you’re not eating too much.
- Lemon or lime squeezed in warm water can help digestion.
- Do not drink ice water with meals. Always ask for water with no ice.
- Betaine HCL, digestive enzymes, and Swedish bitters (herbal bitters) can help digestion.
- A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in water can help with digestion. Vinegar eats away tooth enamel so this is not recommended for long periods of time.
- Put your fork or spoon down in between bites.
- Ginger tea sipped with your meal is an excellent digestive aid.
- Breathe deeply into your belly while you are eating.
A word about probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods contain healthy bacteria and compounds that feed these bacteria which improve digestion. Foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut provide healthy bacteria which improve how you digest your food. Including some of these foods with each meal can really improve digestion. To read more about these foods check out this article on gut flora restoration.
Digestion requires a lot of energy and resources so you must do everything you can to take extra stress off of your body. You will be amazed how much better you feel when you begin to improve your digestion with these simple and effective tips.