Integrative Health and Wellness
Integrative Health and Wellness
Better Digestion in Five Steps
Some of the indicators of poor digestive health—stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, constipation, and even night sweats and unexplained weight loss or gain—are conditions many people regularly live with and accept as a normal part of life.
A 2013 study found that 74% of the participants had experienced digestive discomfort for six months or more, but only 37% sought help from their doctor. More than half (54%) of those who experienced discomfort didn’t seek medical help because they didn’t believe their symptoms to require medical attention.
Sometimes, digestive distress can be a sign of a greater medical issue. However, if a diagnosed digestive disease is not the reason for your symptoms, it’s often possible to improve your digestion with some diet and lifestyle changes.
1. Chew Your Food
The first step to better digestion goes back to the basics: chewing your food properly. Eating too quickly, while distracted, or on the go are often the biggest culprits of not chewing our food well enough. Chewing your food properly helps support the digestive process and helps your body better absorb the nutrients from your food.
Mechanically, food is broken into smaller pieces to increase its surface area so your digestive enzymes can work more effectively. Chemically, chewing triggers saliva production which contains the first digestive enzyme in a cascade of different enzymes, which help ensure complete digestion and nutrient absorption.
2. Digestion-Focused Diet
A digestion-supporting diet includes:
- High-fiber foods, which absorb water and other foods to form a gel-like substance that feeds the good bacteria in your gut and soothes the intestinal wall. This helps provide bulk and eases the passing of waste through the intestine.
- Fewer irritants like sugar and caffeine, which can lead to gas and cramping.
- Probiotic-rich, fermented foods (e.g., unsweetened probiotic yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso, sauerkraut) which help combat bad bacteria in the digestive tract, lower pH levels in the colon, support the gut lining, and aid in nutrient absorption.
- Healthy fats (e.g., avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish) which encourage gallbladder function and support the absorption of minerals from your food.
3. Water Consumption
Water is needed to prevent constipation and produce digestive enzymes, move nutrients from your food into your cells, and keep soluble fiber hydrated so it can “sweep” the digestive tract. Water is also a crucial part of muscle movement, as the gut is a long tube made up of muscles that need to contract in a coordinated wave-like motion.
4. Less Mealtime Stress
The body needs to be in a state of calm for digestion to occur, so be sure to put your body into “rest and digest” mode by slowing down at mealtimes, sitting down at a table to eat your meal, turning off any screens, taking slow, deep breaths, and paying attention to the food and any company you are eating with. In “fight or flight” mode, the body redirects water from the digestive system to serve the immediate survival need, and over time, high stress can lead to constipation and other digestive symptoms.
5. Move Your Body
Researchers have found that exercise can improve the rate at which you digest food, as gravity and movement help to trigger “fullness” receptors in your colon, which stimulates peristalsis (constriction and relaxation of the muscles in the intestine) to push your digested food through the digestive tract at a regular pace.
Digestive Health Tests & Supplements
Sometimes, a little help is needed to bring digestive balance back, even after taking the aforementioned steps. An integrative, functional, and/or naturopathic provider can run laboratory tests to evaluate your digestion and uncover issues that may be the root of your symptoms, including:
- Stool testing to check your microbiome of bacteria and yeasts
- Markers of inflammation
- Pancreatic enzyme levels
- Food intolerances, immune markers, and celiac antibodies
- Nutritional deficiencies, diabetes indicators, liver function, and stress hormones.
Your provider can also help find the right digestive supplements for your symptoms, including:
Brady, D. (2022, March 29). 4 steps to better digestion. https://drdavidbrady.com/4-steps-to-better-digestion