How To Improve Digestion Naturally
By Marilee Nelson |
A strong digestive system is an essential part of a good foundation to health. Yet in our fast-paced "eat and run" society, we can take our digestion for granted by eating and not thinking much about it. However, when digestive issues become chronic they can quickly and silently undermine our health. Per the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 1 in 4 Americans suffers from dyspepsia (indigestion) with 3 in 4 of those being diagnosed with "functional dyspepsia" (indigestion that occurs regularly for over a month with no apparent reason) upon seeing a physician.
While many view their digestive issues as “normal” (stomach aches, constipation, heartburn, etc.) and turn to over-the-counter medicines, we should always aim to investigate the cause! Medicines won’t fix the real issue and can cause more digestive disruption,
Common Causes Of Indigestion
Given the enormous impact digestive and gut health have on our immunity,
After eating you should feel energized, satisfied and uplifted. If you still have cravings, painful bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea, constipation or are feeling down more than occasionally, then it's time to look at possible causes. Below is a list of common reasons for digestive problems.
16 Reasons For Indigestion
- Eating while stressed can reduce stomach acid production and slow digestion.
- Eating GMO foods impacts our digestive system, immunity and health. But keep in mind, GMO free food doesn’t guarantee no pesticides!
- Eating non-organic food disrupts our microbiome.
- Eating refined sugar creates an inflammatory response as well as a stress response which impacts our digestion, immunity, and hormones.
- Eating processed food with harmful chemicals is harder to digest, makes us gain weight and causes disease. Watch this video!
- Lack of soluble and insoluble fiber impacts our digestion. Increased fiber intake (such as complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, pulses, fruits, and vegetables) is associated with improved digestion.
- Insufficient chewing reduces food contact with essential salivary enzymes like starch-digesting amylase, which initiates a healthy digestion process.
Drinking iced water with meals puts out your "digestive fire".
Poor food combining may complicate digestion.
- Eating poor quality fats bog down your liver which produces bile that helps digest fats. Learn more in our article The Hard Truth About Refined Oils.
- Insufficient digestive enzyme production may be due to a variety of factors including low HCL production, liver/gall bladder toxicity, pancreatic stress or disease, gut health issues, age and processed food.
- Thyroid issues are closely associated with digestive disorders like GERD, constipation and low HCL production.
14 15 16 Plus, poor digestion winds up depleting nutrients so it become a double-edged sword.
- Low stomach acid/HCL production is a cause of gas, bloating, indigestion, reflux and other digestive health ailments.
- Antacid use depletes your stomach acid and has side effects (you still need adequate stomach acid even if you have acid reflux!). Long-term use is also associated with a variety of kidney health issues, lowered immunity, musculoskeletal ailments, Candida overgrowth and more.
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- Candida or fungal overgrowth is a natural yeast that exists in the digestive tract, throat, mouth and vagina. If it becomes imbalanced in the GI tract it overgrows, causing bloating, food sensitivities, gas and a variety of other digestive health issues.
23 Candida overgrowth of the esophagus has also been associated with use of proton pump inhibitors (antacids). 24
- Undiagnosed infections such as H. Pylori, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and SIFO (small intestinal fungal overgrowth) can hang around for years and impact stomach acid production and overall digestive health.
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Natural Solutions To Improve Digestion And Reduce Bloating
After you've determined what the root of your digestive issues may be, it's time to take action! Below are natural solutions to help improve these issues:
- Reduce inflammation by grounding - One of the fastest, no-cost ways to reduce inflammation and congestion in the digestive tract is to get outside in the morning, kick-off your shoes, put down your phone, take off your glasses, and go barefoot for a walk on dew-covered grass or the beach! No grass or beach? Become a tree hugger! Simply hugging a tree will also have amazing grounding effects.
- Get some sunshine - Exposure to sunlight boosts good gut bacteria and vitamin D levels.
- Do targeted exercises - Walking is "movement medicine" for the large intestine. Take a relaxed walk after meals to reduce blood glucose levels and aid digestion.
- Turn on your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) with this simple left nostril breathing exercise before eating.
- Eat intentionally - Avoid eating while distracted or stressed. Sit, relax and really enjoy your food and company.
- Chew! Digestion begins in the mouth - Digestion requires a great deal of energy, especially if forced to digest improperly chewed food. Chew your food thoroughly (liquify it!) to maximize food contact with salivary digestive enzymes and optimize digestion in the stomach.
- Don’t overeat - smaller well chewed meals put less stress on digestion.
- Eat organic - Pesticides in food disrupt the gut and digestive system. If you eat organic you automatically avoid GMO foods.
- Toss the Toxins in your pantry and refrigerator. Eat whole, unprocessed foods - This is the easiest (and tastiest) way to ensure you're getting plenty of high-quality nutrients in your diet! Focus specifically on "eating the rainbow". Colored fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that are important for healthy digestion.
- Increase soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber especially is used in medicinal cooking to help treat digestive issues. For example, beans are used to help resolve diarrhea, constipation, and bloating (when carefully added to diet), as well as hormonal, heart, and toxicity issues.
- Eat resistant starches to improve the microbiome, lower blood sugar, aid weight loss, and have therapeutic effects on the colon.
- Chew food until it is liquid and have warm soup with meal to aid digestion. If you are a gulper of your food, sip purified warm water during your meal to help aid digestion.
- Eat healthy fats - The appropriate amount of fat varies from person to person, so experiment and see how you feel.
- Improve digestive enzyme production and utilization naturally by eating more raw foods (which naturally contain enzymes), eating cultured foods with meals, and thoroughly chewing your food.
- Address what your gut is absorbing - If your gut health is suboptimal, you won't be absorbing nutrients properly. All of the tips in this article will help, but if you need more assistance we recommend finding an integrative health practitioner who specializes in gut health.
- Take steps to increase stomach acid production (HCL). Learn more in our article 11 Ways To Rebuild And Support HCL Production.
- Experiment with grains - Some people do not digest grains well, but the reasons differ. Grains start their digestion in the mouth. Chewing until each bite is liquid ensures the least stress on the digestive system. For some, eliminating gluten changes everything. For others, soaking grains in water to remove phytic acid does the trick. For others still, eliminating grains in favor of starchy vegetables is the best course of action or food combining helps. Try chewing well first, and if you're still having issues try out different approaches for a couple weeks to see if grains can work for you!
- Consider identifying and addressing underlying infections - Infections such as Candida, SIBO, H. Pylori could be the issue if digestive problems persist. This usually requires the help of an integrative or functional medicine practitioner that specializes in digestion as they can help pinpoint the type of infection, which saves a lot of time and guesswork.
- Toss the Toxins in your home. Reducing exposure to products with harmful chemicals takes a load off the digestive system and can be a key point in optimizing digestion
Wondering where to start?
If you're unsure of where to get started, the first step is to relax and choose steps you can easily take! Be intentional and calm when preparing and eating your meals, and you'll notice some immediate improvements in your digestion. Stress directly impacts our gastrointestinal system via the gut-brain connection, which is why you hear so many say "it all starts in the gut."
Plus, by Tossing the Toxins in your pantry and refrigerator, being mindful about what you eat (organic, whole foods), and how you eat (chewing food until it is liquid), you'll naturally tune in to how you feel after consuming certain foods or combinations of foods. From there, your next steps will be more clear. Read our post What Traditional Foods Can Teach Us About Healthier Eating for more insight into the best food to put into our bodies.
And remember, even when health problems seem complex, the small, simple changes often create the most significant difference in the long run! Start small and listen to your body. You can do this!
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.