Does any of this sound familiar?
- Do you suffer painful indigestion after eating?
- Do you put up with frequent bouts of bloating and gas?
- Do you have to endure bouts of diarrhea or constipation?
- Do you think that these symptoms are worse after eating certain types of food?
If you answer Yes to any of these questions then you may be suffering from a digestive problem.
For many people symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, acid indigestion, tummy cramps and alternating constipation and diarrhoea are a normal part of their daily lives. However, these symptoms should not be ignored because many digestive problems can be easily relieved.
By understanding and dealing with contributing factors, symptoms can be alleviated allowing you to live without discomfort and enjoy better health and more energy. Conversely, persistent digestive problems can lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), skin problems including acne, furry tongue and unpleasant taste in the mouth, bad breath and body odour.
What is the digestive system?
The digestive tract, sometimes called the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) or gut, starts at out mouth and ends at the rectum. It is a complex system whose purpose is to process food, allowing the digestion and absorption of food by extracting all the vital nutrients needed for optimum health and eliminating any waste material.
How does it work?
- Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are broken down into simpler substances before being absorbed into the blood stream. Enzymes, acids and salts carry out this chemical breakdown:
- Saliva in the mouth begins the break down of carbohydrates
- Hydrochloric acid (Hcl or stomach acid) and pepsin break down proteins in the stomach
- Digestive enzymes also help to digest and absorb proteins, fats and carbohydrates
- The small intestine produces bile acids to help emulsify fats
In order for all these chemical reactions to take place it is essential for the body to have the right factors including a healthy functioning liver, a good amount of friendly gut bacteria and the right vitamins to produce digestive enzymes.
Factors that can impair digestion
Low stomach acid: as we age we produce less stomach acid (Hcl) which plays an essential role in digestion. It helps us to absorb vitamins and minerals, protects against bacterial infections such as food poisoning and breaks down proteins. A dessertspoon of lemon juice (or cider vinegar) in a small amount of warm water about 15 minutes before eating, helps encourage the flow of digestive juices.
Stress: stress can have a huge impact on digestion. There is a strong link between the mind and gut (think of butterflies in the tummy or “nervous tummy”). Try to eat in stress free environment ie not in front of the telly or eating lunch at your desk whilst working. Get into the habit of eating in a relaxed and unhurried manner chewing each mouthful of food thoroughly.
Low gut bacteria: friendly bacteria that live in the lower part of the gut are essential for good gut health; they stop the proliferation of bad bacteria and are part of our first line defence against disease. Look out for Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. These can be found in natural bio yoghurts and drinks but beware the amount of sugar in the latter.
How can I improve my digestion?
- Try to identify any foods that may be contributing to poor digestion: wheat, dairy, coffee, alcohol and sugar are often implicated.
- Eat smaller meals and eat reduce the size of portions of foods such as meats and dairy that can be difficult to digest.
- Eat meals that are low in refined carbohydrates avoiding sugary breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits.
- Try peppermint and fennel teas after main meals which help digestion and reduce bloating.
If constipation is a problem then increase fibre gradually to help normalize bowel movements.
- Support the liver by including bitter greens such as rocket, chicory and endive in your diet
Drink adequate amounts of fluid including plain water, herbal and fruit teas. Reduce caffeinated drinks, fizzy drinks and alcohol.