5 Natural remedies for healthy digestion
A properly functioning digestive system is critical to good health. In fact, problems with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can cause more than just stomach ache or diarrhoea. GI issues may underlie several other chronic health problems that seem unrelated to digestive health, including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, skin problems such as eczema and acne rosacea, and heart disease (just to name a few).
1. Beneficial bacteria
Help beneficial bacteria flourish by ingesting probiotic foods or supplements that contain the so-called “good” GI bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species, and by consuming the high soluble fibre foods that good bugs like to eat, called “prebiotics.”
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms found in the gut that are also called “friendly bacteria.” Use of antibiotics kills both good and bad bacteria.
Probiotics in the form of supplements or food can be helpful in re-inoculating the gut. Probiotic powders are versatile and argued by some experts to be more effectively utilised by the body in a free powder of liquid form.
As more is understood about the complexity of the human micro biome, we are also recognising that strains of beneficial flora work best in synergy.
Look for complexes with multiple strains such as those containing lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and streptococcus strains.
Our Multi Strain Biotic is high strength and contains a unique complex of 8 strains of bacteria in powder form to support shifts in bacteria or flora.
Fermented foods, such as:
- Kefir Tempeh
are all food sources of prebiotics.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms already in the colon.
In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics. Prebiotics are available in many foods that contain a fibre called inulin, including:
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Edamame beans
Artichoke supplements produced an overall reduction in IBS symptoms in 71% within an average of ten days in a recent study.
Grains such as barley, flax, oats, and wheat are also good sources of prebiotics.
Another good prebiotic source is a supplement called “fructo-oligosaccharide” or FOS but use these carefully – FOS in supplement form has been shown to encourage the growth of some unwanted bacteria.
I recommend building FOS in through the diet alone.
3. Digestive Enzymes
Bloating and wind may be caused by ineffective digestion of food. A lack of digestive enzymes or hydrochloric acid may also contribute to poor breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Digestive enzymes are the catalyst of food digestion. Products are available as all-rounders and also specifics such as the enzyme amylase, for the digestion of starches and carbohydrates. They can be used in the short or longer term but I would recommend seeking advice from a qualified nutritionist if short term supplementation is not working to investigate the reason for this.
Stomach acid levels can be low for varying factors (age, prescription medication, over-alkalised diet) resulting in poor protein digestion and digestion in general. Stomach acid also acts as a barrier to harmful bacteria and other microbes as well as playing a vital role in the utilisation of minerals such as zinc from food.
Therefore those with low stomach acid may have a lower immune tolerance to bacterial and viral infection or experience small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Betaine hydrochloride mimics stomach acid and can be taken short term to re-establish stomach acid production.
4. Intestinal permeability “leaky gut syndrome”
Leaky gut is associated with many health conditions ranging from autism to auto-immune conditions.
Help the lining of the GI tract repair itself by supplying key nutrients that can often be in short supply in a disease state, such as:
- Antioxidants (e.g. vitamins A, C, and E)
- Fish oil
and the amino acid glutamine found in lean proteins such as:
- Fish Chicken
- Fresh meat stocks and broths.
Aloe vera is polysaccharides and may offer soothing qualities.
Slippery elm is categorised as a ‘mucilage’ and has been found in research to affect the reflux stimulation of nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased mucus secretion (needed to protect the gut wall). \
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in the mucosa (the lining of the gut) and supplementing can be especially helpful at restoring health gut permeability. It is easy and safe to use at good higher doses (around 5-10 grams a day).
Increased motility (the rhythmic flow again) of the colon during exposure to stressful situations, has been shown to occur in those with IBS.
The gut is also known as the ‘second brain’ because it has many of the neurotransmitters also found in the brain. This explains well the idea of having ‘butterflies in your tummy’ or a ‘gut instinct’ and further explains the link between emotions and gut function.
Psychotherapy in the form of relaxation therapy, biofeedback, counselling or stress management training has been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS.
Pay attention to lifestyle choices and consider adaptogenic agents such as Aswaghandha or Rhodiola rosea.
Incorporate liberal amounts of the following into your diet:
- Olive oil – contains oleic acid an anti-fungal agent. Choose cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.
- Raw garlic – allicin in raw garlic is also a potent anti-fungal.
- Lemon – lemon zest & juice into food or in hot drinks.
- Apple Cider vinegar – 1 capful in warm water or use as in dressings as per lemon
- Green Tea – loose leaf green tea (max 3 cups per day) has anti-microbial properties
- Herbs – rosemary, thyme, oregano.
For more on how to support your digestive health, see 'Is depression a gut reaction?'