14 Natural Tips for Better Digestive Health
Bloating, tenderness in the gut, constipation— the common symptoms of an out of balance gut are all too common and often overlooked. For many of us, poor digestive health has become an uncomfortable norm that’s swept under the rug and accepted. With so many important to-do’s on our list, like paying the bills, taking care of loved ones or focusing on work, it can be hard to remember that there is an entire ecosystem living right in our gut. Gut health is influenced by many of your daily choices, such as diet, exercise and more.
Since we can’t see them, it’s easy to forget that there are many microscopic organisms that play a huge role in maintaining our health. This is crucial to remember when taking into account gut health. Our gut contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms all living in an intricate ecosystem.5 When gut health gets out of balance, it is often times attributed to certain strains of bacteria overpopulating in the gut due to our daily living habits.
Why is Digestive Health Important?
The gut is more important to our health than it seems. Neurotransmitters that may have influence over depression, anxiety and mood are stored in our gut.7 In addition, gut health plays a vital role in supporting the immune system.21 Gut Bacteria are beneficial as they support the ability to absorb nutrients, activating & destroying toxins, and help the gut to maintain normal function. So, how might you begin to support your gut health?
1. Prebiotiotics & Probiotics
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? Prebiotics acts as a “food” or “fertilizer” for the already existing helpful bacteria in your gut. Typically prebiotics are in the form of fiber. Probiotics are typically live bacteria that you can introduce to your gut orally via supplements, yogurts or other fermented foods. Introducing prebiotics and probiotics to your health regimen can be a great way to support the helpful microflora in your gut. What many people don’t realize though is that probiotics in the form of supplements can often be temperature & moisture sensitive. Most probiotics in supplement form require storage in a colder environment such as a fridge to stay alive. However, some probiotics can survive room temperature conditions, such as Bacillus subtilis DE111. GutProtect is a great example of a probiotic containing Bacillus subtilis DE111 to promote gut health and regularity. GutProtect also contains EpiCor, a clinically studied ingredient supporting immune health, as well. It is crucial to learn what the correct storage conditions are for the probiotic strain you are taking requiring survival. Some other common probiotics include Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces boulardii.8
2. Cut Out Excessive Sugar
Although correlation is not causation, there has been a trend in developing countries of increased incidences of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Chron’s Disease and high sugar diets. This includes a high carbohydrate diet, as well as sugar-filled sodas and snacks.11 High sugar diets may result in a lower diversity in gut bacteria, increased fungus Candida, and gut inflammation.6
3. Quit Smoking
Typically when an individual thinks of the damage inflicted on the body through smoking, they think of lung and heart health. But smoking actually affects the body in a variety of unseen ways beyond that. For example, impacting gut health. When examining micro-biomes of the gut in smokers, non-smokers, and former smokers, it was seen that smokers have different levels of bacteria in their gut vs. those in former and non-smokers. For example, smokers have lower levels of Firmicutes and Proteobacteria in their gut in comparison to non-smokers. In addition, smokers have higher levels of Bacteroidites. The good news is the gut microbiota composition in individuals who never smoked in comparison to those of former smokers were practically indistinguishable. This means your gut microbiota can return to its original compositions overtime when quitting smoking.12
4. Eliminate Processed & Fast Foods
Fast foods are prevalent in our world today for many reasons—they’re quick, tasty, convenient and addicting. But studies show that fast foods & processed foods can be even more detrimental to health than smoking in some cases. Processed meats and foods high in N-nitrous compounds increase the risk of gastric cancer.11 Fast food often is fried and processed which can have a detrimental effect on the gut microbiome. These foods can also lead to inflammation in the gut, which can as a result have an impact on immune health.16
5. Cut Down on Drinking
Let’s be honest, a lot of individuals love to have a social drink here and there. It’s a great way to unwind and relax on a night out. But you may want to take into account the effects of drinking on gut health if it’s become a consistent part of your diet. Alcohol causes gut inflammation, which can have a variety of negative impacts on the body. Gut inflammation due to alcohol ingestion may lead to an increase in “bad” bacteria & decrease in “good” bacteria. It can also lead to leaky gut, as well as alteration in mucosal immune system in the gut.1
While acupuncture is still relatively new to the western world, its validity has stirred up some controversy. Studies on acupuncture and its impact on various aspects of health are still somewhat premature, but recent findings are promising in regards to acupuncture and its influence on gut health. Certain acupoints have the ability to support regulation in regards to GI motility and GI barrier for gut health. Acupuncture has also been able to promote pain relief from abdominal pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome. And more recent studies show that electroacupuncture has been able to support regulation of gut microbiota.19 More information and studies are needed in order to understand the underlying reasons for acupunctures ability to support these aspects of gut health.13
The benefits of exercise for health go on and on. Exercise supports gut health by enriching diversity in microflora in the gut. Exercise increases both the quality and quantity of gut bacteria that support better health. Not to mention, exercise reduced the chances of obesity or metabolic disorders. If you aren’t in the habit of exercising daily, you can start small by taking jogs or walks around the block, just try to get moving!15
8. Eat Foods that Support Good Bacteria in the Gut
Fermented foods can be a great gut health booster. Integrate foods like sauerkraut, yogurt with probiotic cultures, miso, kimchi, and kefir. Adding fermented foods to your diet can support intestinal health.9 Stewed apples can also be supportive of gut health, which are apples lightly boiled (natural spices like cinnamon may be added for flavor)!
9. Don’t Stress
Believe it or not, there is an important relationship between brain and digestive health. An understanding of the importance of this relationship, the gut-brain aixs, is actually quite new. Cortisol is a hormone in the adrenal glands which releases in the response to stress. Consistent high levels of cortisol can not only have a negative impact on brain function, but the balance of microbiota in the gut.3 The relationship between the gut and brain is especially interesting as both influence one another. For example, microbial populations in your gut also has the ability to influence your response to stress.4 To manage stress, try taking deep breaths when you notice stress building in the body. It can be helpful to divert your focus just to your breaths when you’re doing this. You can also try a physical activity like running, dancing or martial arts to get out any pent up energy your body might accumulate from stressful situations.
10. Drink Enough Water
Dehydration makes it difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis or remain in balance. For some individuals this can lead to constipation. Hydrating has may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of constipation. However, this is typically not the case for individuals who are already hydrated and still experiencing constipation.17 If you have a hard time staying hydrated throughout the day, introduce new flavorful drinks to your diet. Coconut water is known to be a great hydrating drink while it contains natural electrolytes. Flavored seltzer waters can also hydrate you just as much as regular water. You may also want to try flavoring your water naturally with mint and cucumber.
11. Get Enough Rest
In Western culture, being able to work and operate on no sleep is glorified. Getting good sleep can mean more than feeling rejuvenated and well rested, though. Not getting enough sleep has the ability to increase the body’s ability to move into a stress response more easily. In turn, lack of sleep and circadian rhythm disorders can throw gut microbiota out of balance.14 Changes in the gut microbiome due to lack of sleep can cause metabolic disorders, reactive inflammation, compromised immune function, and the ability to influence your mood. Try getting to bed on time consistently & leaving electronics outside of the bedroom for a better night’s sleep. When it comes to health, good sleep certainly counts!
12. Add Fiber to your Diet
If you’ve ever had issues with constipation, it’s possible you’ve been recommended fiber. Fiber can come in the form as a dietary supplement or you can eat fiber-packed foods like bananas, beans or nuts. You may have also heard that fiber can promote regularity. But what really is fiber? Fiber is actually a carbohydrate, but a non-digestible one. This means that it’s a carbohydrate that doesn’t break down into simple sugars for your body to digest. And with all the flack that carbohydrates get, surprisingly enough, fiber is great for gut health. Fiber actually acts as a prebiotic, as well as provides individuals with energy. Fiber is able to support the growth of certain types of bacteria in the gut that actually are beneficial to overall health. For example, fiber that is also rich in wheat bran & whole grain can support the growth of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. These types of bacteria have the ability to improve the mucosal barrier in the gut and promote anti-inflammation in the gut.18
13. Cut Down on the Extra Salt
Typically when the consequences of a high salt intake are thought of, heart health is the first aspect of health that comes to mind. Strangely enough, a diet with high salt intake has the ability to influence your intestinal bacteria as well. In studies testing the gut bacteria through fecal matter in both human men and mice after being introduced to a high salt intake diet, several types’ of bacteria were affected. More specifically, there was a noticeable decrease Lactobacilli bacteria. However, studies on this topic are relatively premature and further extensive studies are needed in order to understand the effects of a high salt intake diet in greater depth.20
14. Eat a lot of Fruits & Vegetables
Eating fruits and unprocessed vegetables can actually have a protective effect on your gastric health. In one particular study, individuals consistently drank fruit and vegetable for 3 weeks straight.11
The study revealed an increase in microbiota diversity in the individuals. In addition there are indications that the increase of vegetables and fruits in the diet could help to alleviate fatigue as well symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There is a need for testing this matter with larger samples sizes.2
Recipe for Stewed Apples: Supporting Better Digestive Health
Apples are rich in Pectin, which is a fiber that helps to support good bacteria in the gut.10 Stewed apples are a comforting, healthy snack supporting digestive health. Not to mention, it is simple to make!
4 Apples (of your choice), peeled and cored
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup of water
Combine all ingredients in a medium pot. Place pot on stove top and turn to medium heat. Boil ingredients for 8 minutes with a lid on. Take lid off and boil for another 15 minutes. May be eaten as is, or served with yogurt or oatmeal.
It’s easy to forget about an aspect of health that is not visible. However, digestive health can have a bigger impact on quality of living than realized. Not only can poor digestive health result in bloating, constipation and fatigue, but it also has the ability to impact mood and mental state. There is still much room for new learning on the topic of psychobiotics, which is the relationship between gut microbiota and mental health. However, early findings are promising in regards to the direct relationship between the two aspects of health. Try shifting your daily routines one habit at a time to move in the direction toward better digestive health. If for any reason you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, you should follow up with a healthcare physician.