Many health complaints, inability to lose weight and underlying causes of disease, can be attributed to poor digestive health. The digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food we eat into tiny particles that can be used for energy, maintenance and repair. The digestive process also involves creating waste to be eliminated.
You can be eating the healthiest, organic diet, but if you’re not breaking down, absorbing or assimilating your food properly, digestion can be compromised, which can negatively affect your weight, immune system, accelerate age-related disorders, and influence overall health and quality of life.
20 simple solutions
1. Make sure vagal tone via the vagus nerve to the stomach is stimulated. The parasympathetic branch of the nervous system influences rest and digestion. Efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system relies on the health and stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve regulates breathing, heart rate and digestion. Those with low vagal tone are more sensitive to stress and disease and tend to have challenges such as difficulty swallowing, increased heart rate and weak digestion. You can naturally and effectively activate the vagus nerve with slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing and various relaxation techniques.
2. Be mindful and fully present during mealtime. The digestive process is 30-40 percent less effective when you’re tuned out and eating mindlessly.
3. Before eating, take a few deep, full breaths. Full, deep, diaphragmatic breathing activates the relax and digest response in the body.
4. Eat slowly. Chew your food thoroughly until it’s liquefied so food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed. As a bonus, you’ll eat less and your brain will receive signals from digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract that you’re full.
5. Avoid foods you’re sensitive to, which creates inflammation in the intestinal tract by stimulating the immune system to attack your cells causing digestive dysfunction. The main culprits: dairy, soy, gluten, wheat, grains, corn, sugar and artificial sweeteners. In addition, avoid all vegetable oils and trans fats, GMOs, chemically-altered frankenfoods and processed, packaged foods that your body does not recognize, which cause digestive distress.
6. Pay attention to how you feel 30-90 minutes after eating. Keep a food journal to help identify foods that are stressing your digestive system.
7. Avoid eating under stressful conditions. The digestive process is impaired when you’re stressed out and when there are unresolved emotions in which the mind is improperly digesting life experiences.
8. Don’t drive and eat. Instead, sit down during mealtime, turn off the television and your cell phone, stay off the computer, avoid listening to chaotic music and engaging in stressful, complicated conversations.
9. Eat organic, locally-grown food that is in season whenever possible. At minimum choose grass-fed, pastured-raised poultry over conventionally-raised. Familiarize yourself with the highest pesticide “dirty dozen” vegetables and fruits and buy those organic.
10. Include more probiotic (beneficial gut bacteria) and prebiotic-rich (food for gut bacteria) foods in the diet. Probiotics help reduce inflammation, improve digestion, ensure healthy gut flora and support immunity. Prebiotics are fuel/food source for probiotics.
11. Include more soluble-rich fiber foods in your diet such as dandelion, kale, chard, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli.
12. Sip on tea away from meals that help soothe the gut: peppermint, ginger, chamomile; pau ‘d arco, slippery elm.
13. Rule out gut pathogens, infections, virus, parasites, fungus, Candida, dysbiosis, H.pylori.
14. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdomen, which can encourage acid reflux.
15. Avoid aspirin and NSAIDs, which can tear up the gut lining and cause gastrointestinal stress. A study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology reported that even low-dose aspirin (as low as 75 mg daily and up to 325 mg daily) increases the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. Taking aspirin regularly not only increases risk of GI bleeding, it increases risk of micro-bleeding in the brain by 70 percent. According to the American Journal of Medicine, approximately 107,000 individuals are hospitalized every year for NSAID related GI complications, and at least 16,500 deaths occur.
16. Increase stomach acid. Drinking water with fresh lemon or apple cider vinegar 10-30 minutes before meals improves digestion and increases stomach acid.
On the flip side, it’s best to avoid drinking water during mealtime as it can weaken and impair digestion, and dilute natural levels of HCL and bile, which help properly breakdown and digest food.
17. Avoid antacids. Instead, consider supplementing with hydrochloric acid (HCL) and digestive/pancreative enzymes. Avoid HCL if you suspect you have an ulcer and instead use Gastrazyme, vitamin U (raw cabbage juice) and other nutrient components for digestion. HCL is essential to protein digestion and the assimilation of B12, folate, plus 15 minerals. Many people with low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) or no stomach acid (achlorhydria) often complain of bloating, belching, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating, or feeling full after eating only a small amount of food. Individuals with low stomach acid may experience constipation, while others have diarrhea. And then, there are those with little or no stomach acid who experience absolutely no symptoms at all. The two main causes of hypochlorhydria and achlorhydria: stress and the normal aging process. Take the HCL test to determine your personal dose.
18. Consider other nutrients to heal, restore and support intestinal health and function (although specific to each individual and their unique biochemistry): Aloe vera, L-glutamine powder, pre- and probiotics, Beta-TCP, zinc carnosine, curcumin, ADP, chlorophyll, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) Note: if you take probiotics, take them at the end of your meal (not at the same time as HCL or digestive enzymes).
19. Address vitamin and mineral deficiencies, specifically zinc and B vitamins (especially thiamine) that can affect digestion.
20. Read the steps to the 4R Gut Restoration Program in the Chapter on digestion for a hot ‘n healthy body found in my book, Fat Loss Revolution.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, “The Power of 4” and “Fat Loss Revolution.” She is a nutritionist and fitness expert with more than 25 years of experience. Visit Paula at www.PaulaOwens.com.