Good Digestion, it’s the key!!!

It’s been said that ‘You are what you eat’ but ‘You are what you absorb’ might be closer to the truth. If your diet is top class and your digestion poor you’re still at risk of being malnourished so, as well as saving ourselves from potential pain and discomfort, it’s in everyone’s interest to keep our digestive systems in good shape and to take appropriate measures, and fortunately there are many such measures that can be taken without recourse to drug therapy, when something goes wrong.

Firstly let’s look at the obvious checklist for digestive health.

Are you eating the right dietary balance of foods? Nutritionists recommend that a healthy diet be comprised primarily of healthy whole grains such as oats and brown rice and their byproducts such as whole grain pastas, breads, crackers etc, lots of fruit and vegetables both green and coloured and high quality protein such as eggs, organic meat and oily fish. Highly refined carbohydrates such as white flours and sugars and processed foods containing them do us no nutritional favors and should be kept to a minimum.

Are you drinking enough water? For an adult two litres a day would be desirable but not with or after meals when it might dilute the digestive ‘chyme’, the beginnings of digested food in the stomach.

Are you sleeping enough? Research has shown that a single night of lost sleep can significantly increase digestive discomfort next day. If your sleep isn’t as much or of the quality you’d like try getting to bed at an earlier and regular time and consider a natural, nutritional nightcap such as the amino acid glycine or cherry juice (available together in powder form) or a calming herbal tea based on valerian, camomile or lime blossom.

Is stress a factor for you? If the answer to this is yes then your digestion could be one of the first things to suffer, closely followed by your vitality levels and immune system and very quickly a viscous circle with stress feeding symptoms feeding stress can become part of your life, not a good situation! Try taking time out for relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Also why not try this every time you eat: stop, breath deeply a few times, clear your mind and give thanks for the food you’re about to eat. This short, calming meditation may be just the thing your digestion needs.

Food intolerance and sensitivity – do your symptoms flare up when you eat certain foods. Avoidance of highly processed foods is a good first step but some people need to look at allergies and sensitivities. Common offenders are wheat, dairy and soya. A test might be advisable but consult your GP before omitting any major food groups from your diet long term.

Are you getting sufficient exercise? Did you know that light exercise such as walking can significantly decrease IBS symptoms within three months.

Do you smoke? Smoking is very disruptive to good digestion. There’s another reason to quit.

So you’ve looked at the above and started to implement lifestyle changes where necessary. What’s the role of supplements on the road to better digestion? Here are the main ones to consider.

Probiotics. These are of primary importance, they ARE your digestive team! These little guys are thought to account for between 1 and 3% of our body mass. There are lots of them and it’s important to make sure they’re the right ones. A strong probiotic (look for at least 30 billion organisms per capsule) with a broad range of strains with documented health benefits will often bring benefits.

Fibre. Gentle fibres that help to combat gut stagnation include psyllium husks and powdered linseeds (also known as flax seeds). Both should be taken with liquid.

Digestive enzymes. These are simply the substances our body produces to breakdown proteins, fats and carbohydrates from food. Some of us, however, just don’t produce enough of them so supplementation can plug that gap. Lactase is a specific enzyme which digests the proteins in milk products and some enzyme formulas include it. They’re best taken with food and requirements differ from one to three daily. See what works for you.

Betaine hydrochloride is stomach acid and again some of us just don’t produce enough of the stuff! Common symptoms include feeling full after even small meals, belching, flatulence, constipation, indigestion and the sensation that food sits for a long time in the stomach. Low stomach acid becomes increasingly common with age. If you fit this bill try a 650mg capsule with meals to see if symptoms improve.

Aloe Vera. Taking this in juice form has a long history and research has proven that it can restore bacterial balance, enhance digestion, increase nutrient absorbtion and reduce inflammation. Juice made from the plant’s inner leaves is of higher quality.

Bitter herbs have a long traditional use in many cultures to stimulate and support the digestion. They include meadowsweet, gentian and angelica and are available in tincture or capsule form to be taken with meals.

L Glutamine is the amino acid which is literally used as repair fuel by the cells in the gut wall. Its effects are to heal the gut and combat gut permeability where a compromised digestive system allows particles of undigested food to pass through the gut wall into the blood stream where an inflammatory immune reaction is triggered. Glutamine is commonly taken in powder form, 4 – 5 grams twice daily in water is a common dosage.

Peppermint is the herb of choice for a very upset digestion such as a serious bout of IBS. It’s a natural anti-spasmodic and quickly calms the muscles and nerves of the digestive system bringing much needed relief. Look for an enteric-coated capsule form. This doesn’t break down until it’s passed through the stomach and reached the intestine where it’s needed. Typically this is taken three times daily and IBS sufferers can expect significant results after about a month’s use.

Kiwi, either the fruit itself or now in concentrated powdered kiwi capsules, is a real kick start for a sluggish digestion on a number of levels. It contains an enzyme ‘actinidin’ to directly stimulate the digestive process, it contains prebiotic fibres to regenerate gut bacteria health by literally ‘feeding’ them and thirdly it’s rich in several phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants which may directly improve digestive health. Its gentle fibre content makes it the ideal alternative to harsh laxatives when bowel function is at a very low level. Two to three fruit or two to four capsules daily for four weeks may help to improve regularity and reduce digestive symptoms. A ‘Kiwi Cleanse’ might be just the way to kick start your digestive health.

Much of the information I’ve given in this post has come from Ben Brown’s new book ‘The Digestive Health Solution’. Ben is the chief technical advisor with responsibility for product innovation with Viridian Nutrition and you can also check out just what makes Viridian special and why we feel proud and privileged to work with them on our blog. Also, if you enjoyed reading this you may be happy to know you can hear Ben himself talk about the subject he’s so knowledgable and passionate about when he brings his ‘Digestive Health Solution’ lecture to White’s Hotel in Wexford on Friday 26th of June.
See you there!