Friday Q&A: How do I improve digestion?
It’s Friday, and time for our answer and question session. This week’s question is:
Q: How do I improve digestion—aside from not eating fast food?
A: Well, first of all, I’m glad you understand eating fast food is not helping your digestion, so we don’t need to go there. Kudos!
Digestion is a finicky thing that gets finickier as we age. There’s no real way around the fact that things begin to “slow down” in our body as we get older, meaning our metabolism becomes more sluggish, cell production is no longer at its height, our tissues and organs have been dealing with our devilish ways for more years than we’d like to count. It’s about the cumulative impact, but also about things more out of our control – chemicals in our environment (including our cleaning supplies and body products), how many times you’ve taken antibiotics (not to mention drugs in our water), and of course, the dreaded stress factor.
Here’s the good news: there’s actually plenty you can do to help your digestion.
It would be remiss of me to start off recommendation section without pointing to something that underlies a lot of digestive issues that unless you are into functional medicine, you may not have heard about: leaky gut syndrome (sometimes referred to as “intestinal permeability.”) There is research that points to leaky gut playing a starring role in autoimmune disorders (read about it here, here, and here). This is something that alternative health practitioners have been saying for years, and allopathic medicine is just beginning to catch up. If you have leaky gut, your digestion will not improve until you heal it. Multiple food and environmental allergies, consistent diarrhea and/or constipation, skin diseases, and of course autoimmune diseases all point to leaky gut. SIBO and Candida overgrowth are often a part of the game if you have leaky gut. Here’s a quick quiz if you want to get a general sense of if this might be an issue for you.
Now onto the good stuff. First and foremost, cutting down on sugar and refined foods will without a doubt will help your digestion. Both of these food choices feed bad bacteria, zap vital nutrients that play key roles in digestion, and negatively impact your blood sugar levels, which in turn impact your digestion.
And yes, cutting down on or completely out when it comes to alcohol will greatly improve digestion. I know most of us don’t want to hear this, but it’s true. At least taking it down a notch when it comes to alcohol consumption gets you on the road to healing your tummy. Also, caffeine does a number on our digestion.
Eat more slowly. Chew your food thoroughly. So simple, yet so hard. I remember reading a story in my nutrition program about a woman who lost around 100 pounds from just doing this, not changing up her diet at all. We underestimate the power of the simple.
Take 3-5 deep, long breaths before eating. This triggers our body to go into our parasympathetic nervous system – which oversees digestion – instead of kicking it in our sympathetic nervous system, where most of us spend a lot of time. Sympathetic nervous system + eating ≠ good digestion.
Most of us need a little help beyond those basics, so onto the savior: digestive enzymes! If you are over 30, start taking them now. Use a quality supplement – you may have to try a couple of different brands to see what works for you. As long as you don’t suffer from acid reflux, I highly recommend getting ones that include Betaine HCl to help with your natural stomach acid production, and as long as you aren’t vegetarian, ones that contain ox bile extract. The best affordable brand I’ve found (and use personally) is NOW Super Enzymes, (vegetarian option without the ox bile or HCl is NOW Plant enzymes) though other quality supplement brands include Designs for Health, Metagenics, and Standard Process. Take them before EVERY meal, not just once a day.
Also, probiotics. Yes, probiotics. Did I mention probiotics? In food form such as sauerkraut, kefir (watch out for the sugar!), miso, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, other non-alcoholic fermented beverages. Also, most people honestly need it in supplement form, too. Try foods first, and if that doesn’t improve things enough, add a probiotic supplement (especially if you’ve taken antibiotics in the last two year and didn’t follow it up with a round of heavy duty probiotics). I’m a big fan of Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora probiotic for women; there’s also a men’s version.
Finally, but NOT least important, reduce your stress levels. They have a HUGE impact on your digestion.
TL; DR Simple ways to improve digestion include: eating less sugar and refined foods, reducing or eliminating alcohol and caffeine, consume fermented foods, eat more slowly, take 3-5 deep breaths before eating, reduce stress, start taking digestive enzymes and a good quality probiotic! If these don’t do enough for you, and you want to dive deeper into healing your gut, check out my Heal Your Gut self-guided program – it’s chock full of just about everything you need to know about what’s happening with your digestion and how to heal it.
Thanks for your question!