Boost Your Digestion for Better Health

Life for most people I see in my clinic is busy and stressful. We often don’t have time, or don’t allow ourselves time, to sit and eat in a relaxed manner. We do not eat Mindfully. The digestive process requires a great deal of energy, and if that energy is being directed elsewhere, digestion will suffer.

If you experience bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, burping, fullness after meals or acid reflux, then the following simple measures may help to ease your symptoms.

Try to feel relaxed before and during a meal. Pay attention to your food. Give yourself a chance to switch off and take some time out of your day to just eat. The digestive process is energy intensive and requires your brain to be engaged. If your mind and body are busy doing something else then digestion will be impaired.

Sit down, preferably at a table, with your back nice and straight and your legs uncrossed.

Chew well. The digestive process is lengthy, but it begins in the mouth. If food is not broken down properly here then it will be more difficult to digest fully in the stomach and intestines.

Eat slowly. Mealtimes should not be a race. Enjoy and savour your food. Give your body a chance to digest as you eat. Notice when you are full and stop eating in order not to overload your digestive system. Eating slowly may in fact cause you to feel fuller sooner, reducing the tendency to overeat. The stomach and the brain control when you feel full. When food enters the small stomach and intestines, the hormones cholecystokinin (CCK), as well as glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucagon-like-peptide-2 (GLP-2) are activated. They send satiety signals to the brain, but this is not immediate. If you eat slowly you give these hormones a chance to kick into action before it is too late!

Try to sit and stay relaxed for a while after a meal. The digestive process will continue for some time. If you leap into action as soon as your food in finished your body will immediately start directing energy away from the digestive system and the whole process will slow down. Fast, efficient digestion is vital for optimal health

Do not consume more than a few sips of any drink with a meal. It is better to drink away from mealtimes so that you do not dilute the digestive acids and enzymes that your body needs in order to break down your food. Think of digestion as a furnace – you do not want to dampen the flames and slow the whole process down. Ideally do not drink too much just before a meal or for up to 1 hour after a meal.

Do ensure however that you drink enough fluids throughout the day, away from meals. Approx 1.5 to 2 litres of water is ideal for most people. Good hydration is especially important if constipation is an issue. It sounds obvious, but so many people are dehydrated and suffer because of this. Keep drinking little and often throughout the day.

Nurture your good bacteria. Bloating and IBS may indicate a poor balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. We all have trillions of microbes living within us – some beneficial, some not. It is a balancing act, which can easily be disrupted by numerous factors, including a poor diet, high stress levels, illness and some medications such as antibiotics and The Pill. Reducing sugary foods and drinks, and eating a diet full of wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables and lean protein can help to boost your good bacteria. Plain live yoghurt is full of beneficial bacteria which helps to improve digestive health. You could even try fermenting your own yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt is even richer in beneficial bacteria than shop bought. Other homemade fermented foods that are easy to make include sauerkraut, sour cream and kefir.

If you implement all of the above and are still having digestive discomfort then it may be that you are intolerant to certain foods, in which case a trial elimination may be helpful. Or it may be beneficial to take digestive enzymes or supplemental hydrochloric acid to support better digestion. These are possibilities I will consider in a full NT consultation with a client.