Many health complaints we don't think of as "digestive problems" are, in fact, related to issues in the gut - from headaches to muscle spasms to joint conditions and more. Links between the gut and brain, gut and immune system, and gut and inflammation have been scientifically proven. So keeping our gut in shape is critical to good health and longevity! Luckily, there are many simple strategies you can use to improve your gut health - some of which you've probably never heard of before.
Digestive Problems and Solutions You've Never Heard Of
Herbalists, traditional practitioners and medical doctors have long maintained that good digestion is the source of good health while poor digestion leads toward disease. These beliefs have been confirmed through modern science revealing the intimate connections between, among other things, the gut and the brain, the gut and the immune system, and the gut and systemic inflammation which can eventually cause serious diseases. (See references.)
So we all need to keep our gut in good shape!
Digestive issues may be caused by weak digestive organs, unhealthy microorganisms in the gut, or the types of food you eat. They can also be caused by emotional problems or immune dysregulation.
Obvious signs of digestive problems include gas, bloating, belching, loose stools, constipation, and the like. Other clues include having undigested food in the stools; food cravings; eating too much but not feeling full or satiated; fatigue, lethargy, or a general lack of energy; and feeling tired after eating.
In addition to the above, there are a variety of health complaints that may seem completely unrelated to digestion but which, in fact, are often intimately related to gut problems.
These include brain and mood issues (brain fog, headaches, anxiety, sadness, sleeplessness, etc.), skin conditions (itching, hives, rashes, or other skin irritations) and various systemic inflammatory conditions (redness or heat in the body that isn’t associated with a current injury or infection, joint problems that aren’t associated with a current injury, miscellaneous aches and pains, etc.). Much of this is a two-way street: Your gut can be negatively impacted by things happening elsewhere in the body, and also your gut can cause things elsewhere in the body to go off-course.
What are the solutions?
The good news is there are simple strategies you can use to improve your digestion and gut health, and thereby improve your health overall. Many of them you've probably never heard of!
Here are some things you can try:
1. Pay attention to signals from your body while you’re eating. Ignore your parents’ words echoing in your head from childhood urging you to “clean your plate.” Wasting food may feel like wasting money – but the costs (both in terms of health and ultimately in healthcare dollars) of continuing to eat too much or the wrong kinds of foods will be much higher.
- When you feel full, stop eating.
- If you start feeling disinclined to eat more of a particular food even though you’re still hungry, stop eating that food – find something else that actually appeals to you.
- If you notice yourself having a slight gag reflex, irritation in your mouth or throat, slight cough or need to clear your throat, discomfort or pain in your stomach, or mucus discharge in your nose or throat, stop eating. These are classic signs that your body is having a negative reaction (intolerance) to a food.
2. Eat more slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Put your fork or sandwich down while you chew. Think about how the food will make you feel once it’s past the taste buds in your mouth. Your gut can taste things too, and will signal your brain based on what it finds! You can usually get a sense of whether the food is good for you beyond how it tastes in your mouth.
3. Avoid very cold foods and drinks. Digestion involves a complex array of chemical reactions, and all chemical reactions are slowed down by cold temperatures.
4. Eat a diverse diet of high-quality food, minimally processed and with minimal chemical additives.
- Eat enough fiber, preferably as a diverse array of whole vegetables.
- Moderate your consumption of sugars, including from fruit, as well as white rice, white bread, and similar starchy foods. These should preferably be replaced with more vegetables and proteins. Excess sugar and starch are bad for your health not only due to their direct effects on the body (e.g., blood sugar spikes, weight gain) but also because they promote the growth of unhealthy microorganisms in the gut.
- If you eat whole-grain products, be sure they’re cooked thoroughly with more water than you’d use for processed grains. Note that whole grains are more difficult to digest and not everyone tolerates them well.
- Eat fermented foods with live cultures on a regular basis such as yogurt, cheese, raw fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, and the like. This will help keep your gut populated with healthy bacteria.
- Experiment with your consumption of fermented foods, including those that don’t have live cultures like wines (especially with sulfites), soy sauce, and bottled fermented hot sauce. Not all fermented foods agree with all people; you should try adding/removing from your diet not only different types of foods but also different brands of the same food, to see how they affect your health.
5. Figure out which kinds of foods you don’t tolerate.
- Although outright allergies are not that common, we know from experience with our patients that many people are negatively affected by certain kinds of foods. The signs of this can be subtle.
- If you get a slight cough; irritation in your mouth, throat or lungs; mucus production in your nose or throat; muscle spasms in your mid-back; or an upset stomach soon after eating then this often means your body isn’t happy with something you recently ate.
- Headache, brain fog, sleeplessness, bloating, joint discomfort, and hives or other skin irritations can occur hours to days after eating something you don’t tolerate.
- Pay attention and see if you can find a pattern in when these symptoms occur; then try eliminating the foods you may be reacting to.
- Some of the most common sources of food intolerances include dairy, eggs, seafoods, nuts, corn, soy, wheat, citrus, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers), and fermented foods like wine (especially sulfited) or cheese. However, any food can cause an intolerance, especially if your body is exposed to it on a frequent basis. Even water can be a problem (probably due to trace contaminants) – try switching to a different water source or brand for a few weeks, both for drinking and cooking, and see if it makes a difference.
- If you really want to get serious about finding your food intolerances, keep a food journal or go on an elimination diet.
- You may be quite surprised as digestive, brain, skin, and joint conditions you’ve been living with for years can clear up within a few weeks!
6. Only use antibiotics when your doctor is sure you have a bacterial (as opposed to viral) infection. (Antibiotics are useless against viruses.) If you must use antibiotics, be sure to eat a range of fermented foods with live cultures both during the course of antibiotics and afterward, so your system is repopulated with good bacteria to compete with any bad bacteria that may try to invade.
7. Exercise regularly. Yoga, in particular, can have excellent benefits for the gastrointestinal system by stimulating the vagus and other nerves and promoting circulation of blood and lymph to the digestive organs.
8. Use meditation, breathing exercises or other techniques to calm your mind and emotions. The gut-brain linkage goes both ways; an upset mind can quite literally cause an upset stomach. So if you’re affected by anxiety, anger, sadness, or other strong or negative emotions, getting them under control can benefit your digestion.
9. Last but not least, try Digestiv alone or in combination with AllerDx. Digestiv strengthens and balances the digestive organs; AllerDx in combination with Digestiv can help with food intolerances.* (However, it is better to eliminate the source of the intolerance by avoiding the foods in question.)
For more information, check out the following:
Do you have experiences with food intolerances or digestive issues? Or any questions? Let us know in the comments!