Digestion disorders are one of the main reasons patients come to see me. So very common, digestive problems are uncomfortable and disruptive to our everyday lives. Poor dietary habits, taking antibiotics, and chronic stress cause the digestive system to malfunction in several ways. Because digestion plays such a central role to the human body, dysfunction causes a chain reaction that contributes to everything from autoimmune disease to depression, obesity, and skin disease. There are some guidelines you can follow to promote healthy gut function and protect against these diseases.
Reduce your intake of (or avoid) the following substances:
Processed Foods: Processed foods, industrial seed oils (canola, corn, peanut, grape seed, etc.), sugar, and refined flour all have a negative impact on gut health (and your health in general). Not only do these foods have no nutritional value, they also are harmful to the bacteria living in our gut, causing inflammation and intestinal permeability.
Gluten and Grains: Many people with digestive problems are intolerant of gluten, one of the proteins found in wheat, and find relief from a gluten-free diet. Grains—even those that are gluten-free—can also cause digestive upset in some people. If you have issues with your digestion, avoiding all grains, including wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, etc. for 30 days can be very helpful.
Insoluble Fiber: Insoluble fiber is fiber that does not absorb into our digestive tract, but instead feeds our gut bugs. While this is a good thing, if you are suffering from some digestive dysfunction, insoluble fiber can cause excessive gas and bloating. Give it a rest for a short period of time and see if you get some relief. Beans, greens, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and garlic are all examples of foods that have a lot of insoluble fiber. Peeling and seeding vegetables, cooking them very well, blending, and fermenting these foods can help break down the insoluble fiber and make them easier to digest.
Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the gut. Limit your consumption or completely remove it from your diet until your gut heals.
Medications: Several medications—such as NSAIDs, aspirin, antibiotics, and (paradoxically) acid-suppressing drugs—have an adverse effect on your gut over the long term. While these drugs are sometimes necessary (and even life-saving), you should minimize your use of them when possible. Please speak with your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
Increase your intake of the following to help your gut heal:
Bone Broth: The newest magic bullet, broth is rich in nutrients that have a soothing and healing effect on the gut. You can make bone broth at home by simmering bones in water with any vegetables you’d like for 24-plus hours. You can then use the broth to make soups, stews, or sauces, or even just drink it plain like tea! Aim for 1⁄2 to 1 cup of bone broth per day.
Fermented Foods: The fermentation process makes food more digestible, but it also produces healthy bacteria that are beneficial to the gut. Fermented foods include: sauerkraut (and any other fermented vegetables), beet kvass, kombucha, yogurt, kefir (water or dairy), kimchi, and more. Aim for one to two tablespoons at each meal, plus other fermented foods like kombucha or yogurt throughout the day.
Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber is soothing to the gut. Foods that have a lot of soluble fiber are typically our root vegetables, like carrots, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips, and winter squashes.
It’s also important to address your lifestyle, since stress and lack of sleep can also contribute to digestive problems. Daily meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night are essential not only to your digestive system, but to your body as a whole.
If, after trying these things you are still suffering with poor digestion, reflux, stomach pain, or irregular bowel function, give me a visit! I am seeing patients, new and old alike, inside the Vail Valley Pharmacy.