If you are looking to improve your overall health, speed weight loss and increase energy the first place to start is the digestive tract.
Besides nutrient absorption and waste excretion the gut plays a major role in immune function, neurotransmitter development and appetite control.
When there is dysfunction in this organ there are usually issues elsewhere. We are learning new things about the digestive tract each and every day.
We know a diverse microbiome is important. We know poor digestion and gas production cause major symptoms like pain, bloating and altered bowel movements yet we still don’t fully understand completely how the digestive tract functions.
As an aside, to highlight how much we don’t know, a new (small) trial shows that fecal transplants could possibly be helpful in autism. They aren’t sure why but symptoms are significantly reduced after the transplant of probiotics via fecal source.
We know that major issues in the digestive tract can be caused by autoimmune diseases like crohn’s, colitis and celiac and we also know that a healthy gut flora confers a reduced risk of allergies, eczema and asthma.
All of this gives us great reason to make sure we are digesting, absorbing and clearing waste properly. Below we cover simple steps to take to ensure a optimal digestion.
12 Simple Rules for Healing the Gut
Avoid Food Sensitivities to Reduce Inflammation
Sensitivities are more prevalent since the widespread use of antibiotics and the increased consumption of GMO and processed foods. The stress inducing lifestyle we lead hasn’t helped either.
With an increased sensitivity to foods we are more at risk for poor digestion.
The inflammation that occurs can also contribute to worsening balance of good bacteria.
This imbalance can lead to worsening of overt symptoms such as gas and abdominal pain.
Discovering which foods we are sensitive to can be as easy as trying an elimination/challenge diet (or opting for food sensitivity testing). If done correctly we see great benefit from either of these methods for improving digestion. Symptoms are commonly reduced and healing can occur.
Consume Glutamine/Protein Rich Foods to Heal Mucous Membranes
Similar to how our muscles require a complex of amino acids from protein for healing (including glutamine) our digestive tracts need nutrients for healing when they have been disturbed.
Glutamine supplementation is extremely effective for gut healing. Note – it can cause agitation in the elderly if doses are too high. Always consult with a doc before starting.
Use Soothing Herbs When Necessary to Reduce Pain and Speed Healing
I commonly use slippery elm, marshmallow, aloe and others to help speed healing with my patients. These herbs are very effective, safe and easy to consume.
When there is an inflammatory process occurring, pain or delayed healing they help to move things along quicker.
Re-balance Gut Flora to Ensure Proper Species are Present
If there is a history of antibiotic use without re-population, testing to show an imbalance (contact me for more details) or symptoms like gas and bloating that can identify an imbalance we need to use probiotics.
The area affected and diagnosis tells us what dose to use. The colon requires higher numbers than the small intestine simply because of transit distance.
Consuming healthy whole grains is a great way to help good bacteria develop. The components of the grains doing the work are called prebiotics.
Make Sure Not an Enzyme Issue to Break Down Food Properly
If undigested food is present in the stool, there is abdominal pain after meals or heartburn is occurring digestive enzymes may be necessary.
If the food is not properly broken down throughout the first few hours of digestion inflammation is likely to occur.
Use Anti-inflammatory Foods and Supplements to Reduce Major Inflammation
Healthy oils like fish oil and anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric and boswellia can be effective at reducing the inflammatory process that occurs in the digestive tract. Ginger is also very calming for people.
Freshly ground flax can contribute to a healthy omega 3-6 balance and also act as a fiber when consumed with water.
Fruits and vegetables are important to mention in this category. Consuming things like red meat, high sugar foods and fried foods will significantly worsen conditions such as IBS or IBD.
Avoid them, stay hydrated and eat healthy.
Try Intermittent Fasting with the Sun to Resent the Immune System
Taking extended breaks (12-13 hours) from eating can help to keep the immune system functioning properly (by reducing the burden of sensitivities). Fasting with the sun makes this work even better.
Consume Nutrient Dense Foods
Nutrient dense foods such as bone broth, soups, stews and smoothies are easy to digest, don’t require significant digestive enzyme production and provide minerals and vitamins to the gut.
Rule Out Dangerous Conditions
If you are experiencing mucous, blood, undigested food or oil in stool see a doctor. If you have significant abdominal pain see a doctor. Workups are easy and so worth it when major symptoms are present.
Reduce Stress to Improve Digestion
Stress can negatively impact probiotic levels, increase stomach acid secretion, reduce the motility of gastric contents and increase the levels of inflammation in the digestive tract.
The gut and the brain are intimately connected via the enteric nervous system. Perceptions of stress or anxiety (or even depression) can cause IBS and the reverse is also true – having sensitivities, low enzymes, an imbalance of flora or any other cause of digestive upset can contribute to anxiety or depression.
Chew Your Food to Improve Breakdown and Increase Absorption
Chewing your food sufficiently can prevent bloating and gas but it can also ensure proper digestion and subsequent nutrient absorption. When we chew enzymes are released into the oral cavity that get digestion started. More of them is better than less.
Adequate chewing helps improve local immune function in the mouth and reduces the need for enzymes later on in the digestive process.
Consume a Low Sugar Diet to Prevent Flora Imbalance Issues
Processed (or added) sugar is not only bad for other overall health (all organs) but it can contribute to an imbalance in gut flora which leads to gas, inflammation and pain. Unwanted bacteria flourish on high sugar diets. When sugar is reduced their levels follow.
Following this guide will make dealing with an irritable bowel easier but consulting with someone about issues specific to you is optimal. Often testing is required to rule out serious conditions and to prevent major health problems down the road (don’t forget about h. pylori in high acid situations).
What has helped you with your digestion? Let us know in the comments below.