How to improve your digestion naturally…

Digestion is such an integral component of optimum health, and you would be surprised at how many people I see in my clinic that have low digestive function.

Decreased digestion can occur for a few reasons:

  • Medication (especially proton pump inhibitors)
  • Inflammation – due to an infection or auto immune condition
  • Auto immune disorder- Coeliac, Crohn’s, Fibromyalgia, SLE, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Food intolerances- lactose, fructose, wheat/gluten intolerance (let’s just call it carbohydrate intolerance)
  • Age- Decreased nutrient absorption can decrease when you get older
  • Low stomach acid
  • Pancreatic malfunction
  • Stress
  • Parasites
  • Gut dysbiosis- leaky gut, SIBO, IBS (you don’t have enough of the bacteria that help you digest your food)

These causes can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable, but can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, brain fog, irregular bowel habits and lack of energy.

Before we get stuck into what you can do to improve your digestion naturally. I would like to cover the basics of digestion, and what parts of the digestive system are needed for complete absorption.

The Digestive System Team

Mouth- The first portal of entry….food is chewed so you can make it smaller to swallow (duh!) and this process also helps your digestive system absorb it better.

Your mouth has salivary glands which produce an enzyme called amylase. Amylase breaks down starch (a type of carbohydrate).

Stomach

I always think of the stomach as a big mixing bowl. Food and liquid is churned and made smaller by waves produced within the stomach cells, and lipase is released to start digesting fats. The stomach is also the home of hydrochloric acid and pepsin. These along with other gastric juices help break down protein.

Pancreas

The pancreas has such an important role in the digestion process. Pancreatic enzymes digest fats, carbohydrates and protein (all 3 together are called pancreatic juice). Up to 1200-1500mL of pancreatic juice is released from your pancreas PER DAY! Your pancreatic juice is released into your small intestine.

Liver & Gallbladder

The liver has many jobs to do; but today we are talking about digestion. So I will keep it simple!

The liver makes bile and the gallbladder stores the bile (and then releases it when needed). Bile is released to help breakdown fats and turns cholesterol into a soluble form.

Small Intestine

This is where all the action happens! Digestion AND absorption occur within the small intestine. The intestinal wall houses brush border enzymes, that help digest carbohydrates and proteins. Most of the enzymes mentioned earlier are released in the small intestine as well.

The small intestine also house a small amount of gut microbes. These microbes assist with breaking down foods via fermentation and make much needed Short-Chain-Fatty-Acids (SCFA). 90% of absorption of nutrients occur in the small intestine; the other 10% occur in either the stomach or colon. Any unabsorbed foods left in the SI, pass onto the large intestine.

Large Intestine

The colon completes the rest of the food absorption and produces vitamin K and some B vitamins. The other key role of the colon is for defecation of your stool. Majority of your gut microbes live in your colon, and they help break down foods further and decompose bilirubin (which gives you the brown colour!)

Obviously there is a lot more involved than this, but it does give you an overview of where enzymes and gastric secretions occur.

Natural Treatments 

I always suggest to use what you have at home first, or try and incorporate some natural digestive support to assist with digestion. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer…..

Chew Your Food

This one if FREE! I know I very often don’t chew my food enough before I swallow. How often have you worked during your lunch break or picked at food while in the kitchen preparing the main meal for the day (and not actually sitting down and taking rest while doing so)??

Not only are you helping your digestive system by making your food easier to digest, but you’re also slllllooooowing down…….digestions slows down when you’re on the go!

Mindful eating has gained some attention in the last few years. This is where you take note (no, don’t get your note pad out), and appreciate the food that you are eating by being aware of the smell, taste and texture. This process definitely slows you down and will ensure that you aren’t rushing.

Meal Timing

This doesn’t really effect your daily meal times. This is only a problem if you eat late at night and go to bed soon after.

What Can Increase Digestion?

Pineapple

Pineapple contains the phytochemical, bromelain. Pineapple contains natural enzymes, by supporting the pancreas. Studies have shown that bromelain has anti-cancer properties, reduces inflammation, and inhibits the growth of the gram negative bacteria E.coli (which can cause diarrhoea).

Recent studies have demonstrated that bromelain can relieve dyspepsia symptoms such as stomach pain and flatulence.

Herbs

There are SO MANY herbs that support your digestion. Here are just a few:

Many of these are available in a herbal tea form. Otherwise you can either find them in a capsule form or seek a naturopath that can make a herbal tincture up just for you!

Probiotics

As I mentioned earlier; bacterial microbes in your gut are needed to break down food in your small intestine and colon. If you have low levels of gut microbes, you can easily add probiotics to your diet. This could be as easy as introducing yoghurt to your diet or taking a probiotic supplement. Just remember not all probiotics will assist with your digestion. They need to be strain specific to match your condition.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics feed your gut microbes (so they grow happy and strong!). Prebiotics are found in the form of fibre. So by eating more fibrous foods you will not only assist digestion, but you will also be feeding the gut bacteria that helps you BREAK DOWN food. Prebiotics not only help with digestion; they also create short chain fatty acids. Studies have shown that SCFA’s help with obesity, diabetes and non alcoholic fatty liver disease. Prebiotics are found in:

  • Berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry)
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Legumes
  • Flaxseeds
  • Almonds
  • Inulin

Reduce Stress Levels

Stress can work in a couple a ways….it can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and slow down the digestive process, because you are in ‘flight’ mode of the stress response. Or stress can stimulate the release of bile, which then can feed gram negative bacteria in your gut and cause an imbalance (dysbiosis).

Knowing your stress triggers is beneficial; but also adapting mindful eating, using your breath and making time for you are essential.

Of course, sometimes it’s not so black and white. To find out if you have adequate digestive enzymes and short chain fatty acids, you can have a stool test done. If you would like more information, contact me below.

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