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By Ernesta Stripeikaite
Digestive issues like IBS, heartburn, bloating and constipation are so common that many people simply live with the uncomfortable symptoms as the mainstream healthcare system does not seem to have any helpful solutions.
Like with any condition, there are no magic pills, and the whole lifestyle, diet and mind-set need to be taken into account when aiming to put the digestive system back into balance. Here are the main building blocks for a robust gut.
Breathe, slow down and enjoy
The digestive process starts with thinking about food, smelling and seeing it, which trigger signalling to the digestive organs to start preparing for food. Take a minute to appreciate your meal and relax before putting the first bite in your mouth. With relaxation, your body switches to the ‘rest and digest’ mode, in preparation for the meal.
Chewing is the mechanical process of preparing the food to be broken down so the nutrients, such as protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals can be absorbed. Taking time to chew slowly signals to the body to start producing the digestive acid and enzymes. Slow chewing can also increase the enjoyment of food as you get to ‘experience’ it for longer.
Stomach acid and enzymes
Contrary to popular belief, heartburn is often caused by too little hydrochloric acid in the stomach, rather than an excess. Sufficient stomach acid is critical in the digestive process as it starts breaking down the proteins into amino acids and acidifies the food. The acidity is also important for when food travels into the small intestine as it triggers the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
For the food to be passed down from the stomach into the small intestine, it has to reach a certain level of acidity. In cases of low stomach acid, undigested food sits in the stomach longer than it should and can irritate the oesophagus, causing the burning sensation.
The production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes is dramatically decreased by stress –another reason to eat in a calm environment.
There are wonderful foods and herbs that increase the flow of digestive juices. Bitter foods like rocket and radishes, also artichokes and apple cider vinegar support the digestive strength. Herbal remedies like dandelion, cumin or Fushi Digest Herbal Tincture Blend can be very helpful.
There are millions of various types of bacteria in our guts. In fact, these guys outnumber our cells 10 to 1, so really we are more bacteria than human! A healthy gut flora is absolutely critical to the health of the whole body, as it closely communicates with our immune system and even nervous system. Research keeps discovering links between gut health and brain health, how even symptoms of depression can be improved by healing the gut.
Traditionally, fermented foods and drinks have been a regular part of our diets, and thankfully we are seeing a comeback in popularity of sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.
Fermentation produces millions and millions of probiotics, which are powerful at replenishing our guts with beneficial microbes. You can have a go at making these healthy concoctions at home, or purchase at a health store. A daily good quality probiotic supplement can add an extra oomph to improving digestion.
Additionally, consuming enough fibre is also very important, it serves as food for the little good guys. Aim for at least 7 servings of vegetables a day, or even better 10, and make sure to include a wide variety of different types and colours. If possible, try to source organic, local and seasonal produce.
Gut permeability, also called ‘leaky gut’, is on the rise due to the modern lifestyle of stress, toxins and poor diets. Allergies, food intolerances, skin issues, autoimmune conditions can all indicate a compromised gut lining.
A good place to start at healing the gut is eliminating possible food intolerances which aggravate the intestinal wall. The most common are gluten and dairy products. Try a gluten and dairy free diet for a couple of weeks and monitor your symptoms.
One of the most healing foods for the gut lining is bone broth or stock. Our ancestors used to always boil bones and use the broth for soups and stews. Broth is rich in gelatine, collagen, glutamine and other amino acids. It is not only wonderful for the gut, but has also been known to have anti-ageing effects for the skin and even help to reduce cellulite.