How to Improve Your Digestion: 6 Ways You Need to Know

Are you experiencing digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, belching, or gas? In this blog, we’re going to dive into six specific ways on how to improve your digestion.

We’ll also explain the importance of a healthy digestive system and how to achieve it through natural practices.

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What You Need to Know About Digestion

Digestion is a complex process with many variables, but there’s a lot we can control. The breakdown of food starts in the mouth with enzymes from saliva. The stomach uses hydrochloric acid and pepsin to break down proteins. The pancreas releases enzymes to break down carbs, proteins, and fats. The liver and gallbladder produce bile to aid fat digestion. The small intestine has enzymes to complete digestion. 

When digestion breaks down, it can lead to gut issues like dysbiosis, leaky gut, inflammation, and even pathogens.

So, what are some tips to improve digestion?

6 Tips to Improve Digestion

1. Bringing yourself to a parasympathetic nervous system state

This means ‘rest and digest.’  When in fight-or-flight mode, blood flow moves away from the digestive tract. If we’re multitasking, like reading or looking at our phone, we’re increasing cortisol and diverting blood flow away from the digestive tract, which slows digestion. I recommend a nervous system practice before eating. 

If you’re stressed or anxious, you might need to do a somatic practice to get rid of excess energy. This could be shaking, bouncing, or body drumming. Follow this with diaphragmatic breathing: in through the nose, out through the nose, tongue at the roof of the mouth, allowing the abdomen to expand and contract fully. This helps bring blood flow back to the digestive tract. You can also take a moment of gratitude or mindfulness to be present with your food.

2. Limiting your water intake around meals or fluid intake

If you’re having digestive issues, try to limit water intake to 15 minutes before, during, and 15 minutes after meals. Increased fluid around meals can decrease stomach acid and reduce digestion efficiency. From an Eastern medicine perspective, drinking cold water can also negatively affect digestion. Plan your fluid intake to avoid excessive drinking during meals.

3. Chewing your food 20 to 30 times

Chewing is crucial for optimizing digestion because it breaks food into small particles before it reaches the small intestine. Even if the food is soft, try to chew as much as possible. Ensure your diet includes food that requires chewing and isn’t all soft processed foods. Modern society’s shift toward softer foods has affected jaw structure and chewing ability.

4. Walking after your meals

A short walk, even as brief as 2-5 minutes, can significantly aid digestion. This is preferable to eating a large meal and then lying down on the couch. Walking helps support the digestive process, so it’s a great habit to form.

5. Meal spacing

This is important for people with digestive issues. Meal spacing is vital for the migrating motor complex (MMC) in the small intestine, a wave-like action that moves food through the digestive tract and aids in bacterial transport from the small intestine into the large intestine.  Eating too frequently, like every two and a half hours, can disrupt the MMC and slow digestion.

To optimize our motility in our gut, we want to space the meals out. Aim for at least three to four hours in between meals and an overnight fast for 12 hours.

Everyone’s day will look different based on activity, interests, and preferences, but try to focus on spacing the meals out instead of frequent grazing and snacking.

6. Nervous system regulation

Regulating the nervous system is crucial for digestion, not just around mealtime but throughout the day. If you’re constantly in fight-or-flight or freeze mode, it affects digestion. Try nervous system-regulating practices like breathing exercises, shaking, body drumming, or swaying. Before bed, you can do abdominal massage techniques to calm your nervous system and enter a state of social engagement, connection, and safety, which can optimize digestion.

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What is SIBO?| Is this the cause of your digestive issues?

Have you heard about SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) but you don’t know what to do about it? You may be wondering  if this is the cause of your digestive issues? Is this what’s making you feel so terrible? Let’s start by saying that SIBO is very complex and there is not one easy roadmap to treat SIBO. It is really important to understand what it is, the anatomy behind it, the risk factors, some of the symptoms that you could experience, and most importantly, the underlying causes. SIBO is exactly what it sounds like, an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. It is not necessarily an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria, although it can be pathogenic, it is in essence, an overgrowth. The small intestine is meant for digestion and absorption of nutrients, where the large intestine is meant to house our beneficial bacteria. When we have a backflow of this bacteria into the small intestine, that’s when we can begin to overpopulate and have an overgrowth.

Let’s go over some brief functional anatomy so that you understand what’s happening. When you start chewing your food, you produce salivary enzymes to help begin the digestive process. The food is then passed through our esophagus, i.e. the food pipe, into the stomach. The stomach begins to produce hydrochloric acid (HCL) to break down the food even further. We have our gallbladder that releases bile to help break down the food moving into the small intestine. Our pancreas is also releasing enzymes to help further break down this food. Once the food moves into the small intestine which is 18 to 25 feet long, so it’s not small, digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs. The small intestine connect into our large intestine. There’s an ileocecal valve that prevents any backflow. From here, we then move the food into our rectum for waste removal. We can think of the large intestine as the house for the good bacteria and our storage for waste and excretion.

What symptoms can you have with SIBO?

One of the most frequent complaints is bloating. This is when the gases build-up from the bacteria eating the food. When the gas is releases, it causes pressure or distension in the abdomen. The small intestine is not made for any kind of buildup. When this buildup occurs and we’re not able to process it or digest it properly, this is when you can begin to have symptoms of nausea and acid reflux. The other two symptoms that are very common are constipation and/or diarrhea. You may have both and it could be alternating, or you could gravitate more towards one or the other. This can often be referred to as SIBO-C or SIBO-D. In addition to all the common digestive complaints associated with SIBO such as constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, cramping, and abdominal pain, you can also have other health issues. This can range from skin issues to significant fatigue to anxiety or depression, and the list goes on.

What are the risk factors for SIBO?

1. Disease states. That can be an autoimmune disease or any other chronic disease that can be a driving factor.

2. Surgery. Specifically abdominal surgeries that create adhesions from scar tissue. This can impact the motility of the small intestine.

3. Medications. This can be any kind of pharmaceutical drugs or antibiotics that you may have been taking, chemotherapy, etc. All of these can drive SIBO.

Now, what are the underlying causes of SIBO?

This is often much more difficult to figure out, and sometimes requires a lot of investigation. The underlying cause essentially is when the system fails. When this protection mode and the normal process of digestion is not happening the way that it should. This can happen for various reasons.

1. If we do not have the appropriate amount of stomach acid in the stomach to be able to begin to break down food properly.

2. If there is an enzyme deficiency, which means that you do not have the capability of being able to break down food and absorb the nutrients.

3. The immune system. Seventy percent of the immune system is in our gut specifically in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). You can appreciate that if this system begins to fail and our immune system becomes more heightened, this can be an underlying cause of SIBO.

If you have IBS or have chronic digestive issues, you may look into this as a possible cause. You can get tested for SIBO here.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact to schedule a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation.

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