World Digestive Health Day
29th May is an important day for guts everywhere. It’s World Digestive Health Day. So lets talk about digestion and seven helpful tips to get your gut feeling the way it should!
Our stomachs are emotionally sensitive, often referred to as our little brains, and more serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) is actually created in our guts (95%!) than in our brains!
Digestion is the body’s way of breaking down food. Although it is a delicate process, a healthy digestive system is something that many of us take for granted. If our digestive system gets out of sync or it working sub-optimally, the entire body can feel the repercussions. Modern lifestyles with sedentary jobs, not enough exercise, the consumption of processed foods and stress can all take their toll on the gut. Over time, sluggish digestion can become a chronic problem. It can cause emotional issues, like anxiety, and physical issues such as bloating, reflux, gas, constipation and diarrhea.
So how do we maintain good digestive health, comfort and wellbeing?
Digestion starts in the mouth, where enzymes in our saliva begin the process of breaking down food. In order to start this process off on the right tooth (foot), make sure to chew every mouthful and aim for at least 15 chews per bite (some well-known clinics recommend you should chew 30-50 times, but who has time for that!). Mindless eating can lead to indigestion, as instead of chewing, thinking and enjoying each bite, we end up speedily eating. Without chewing our food properly, we put more stress on our oesophagus and stomachs, leaving them to have to work harder to break down the food we eat.
Staying hydrated is crucial for each and every one of our body systems, and key for bodily functions. This includes digestion. Our stomachs need water to stay lubricated and flexible, allowing food to pass through our intestines and be soft enough to be excreted. However, a note that drinking large amounts whilst eating can dilute our gastric juices and impair digestion. For proper digestion and to avoid bloating or indigestion, you should avoid drinking large amounts just before, during and after large meals. Instead, focus on taking a few sips of water, and hydrate properly at least 30 minutes before or after you eat.
Take a Probiotic
Although few pieces of research have shown most probiotics to actually survive the acidity of the stomach in order to reach the gut, qualitative feedback shows that they do help. A good quality, multi-strain probiotic may help reduce bloating, increase absorption, increase the breakdown of foods, lessen cramping and indigestion, resulting in better long-term digestion.
Lunch time spent at your desk sound familiar or catching up on missed Instagram posts? Answering urgent emails, taking business calls or even scrolling on social media can all raise our cortisol levels and put us in the infamous ‘fight or flight’ mode. When we are in this mode of survival, our bodies turn off or slow down our digestive process, as in order to fight or flight, we don’t need digestion!
If we eat when we are stressed our digestive function may be impaired leading to poorly digested food. Salivary excretion needed to breakdown foods may be reduced, peristalsis which helps move food along our intestines slows and production of stomach acid is reduced.
Additionally, feelings of anxiety can irritate the gut and can cause muscular spasms and contracting which can interfere with absorption. So, take a moment to focus, enjoy and concentrate on the food we are eating. Those emails can wait!
Fermentation takes place when naturally occurring yeast and bacteria convert the sugars in foods like milk, fruits and vegetables into acids. As well as preserving the food these bacteria may have beneficial effects on the gut, strengthening immune function. Fermented foods tend to have a tangy and somewhat fizzy texture. Try experimenting with kefir and kombucha drinks, add sauerkraut and kimchi to salads or commit to a daily dose of live yogurt.
There are two types of fiber – insoluble and soluble. Our bodies can’t digest insoluble fiber, so it works like a broom, sweeping waste through our digestive system. Soluble fiber dissolves in the digestive system, becoming almost sticky, which helps soften our stools.
Most of us are aware that fiber can help increase our bowel movements and prevent constipation, but fiber is also important for feeding our gut bacteria. As fiber is not digested in our small intestine, it passes into the large intestine where it feeds our bacteria. Increasing our good gut bacteria can help with the digestion of our foods and prevent gas, leaky gut and other bowel symptoms.
Studies show eating a fiber-rich diet can boost the numbers of helpful bacteria in the gut, whereas not getting enough fiber can have the opposite effect. This can lead to a less diverse gut microbiome. Therefore, we should all aim for a minimum of 30g of fiber a day in the form of vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, nuts and seeds.
Exercise can help encourage the bowel to keep active, as well as helping in the release of gas that may have settled. It can also get the blood flowing to the gut and stimulate the internal muscles. Just make sure not to exercise on a full stomach, as this can do the opposite and lead to indigestion and nausea.
For further help on digestion or if you suffer from any digestive symptoms or issues, please email me at email@example.com for a free 20-minute assessment or visit my Consultations page to learn more
 Camilleri M. Serotonin in the Gastrointestinal Tract. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity. 2009;16(1):53-59.
 Chilton SN, Burton JP, Reid G, Reid G. Inclusion of fermented foods in food guides around the world. Nutrients. 2015. p. 390–404.
 Tap J, Furet JP, Bensaada M, Philippe C, Roth H, Rabot S, et al. Gut microbiota richness promotes its stability upon increased dietary fibre intake in healthy adults. Environ Microbiol. 2015;17(12):4954–64.