What steps do you take to manage your digestive health?
Unless you suffer from a condition like irritable bowel syndrome or coeliac disease, the chances are that you rarely give your digestive health a second thought.
Yet, we should look after our digestive health in the same way we exercise to look after our heart and do numerous things to maintain our mental health.
Why is digestive health so vital to our overall wellbeing?
We need nutrients and energy from food and water to survive, and our digestive system is how these get into our body.
Such is the importance of our digestive health that some doctors argue that digestion is our most vital bodily function, ahead even of those of our respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems.
Excellent digestive health can help you look better, have more energy, and even improve your mental health. Looking after your digestive system doesn't just improve your gut health; it really does have a positive impact on your entire body. Below, you'll also learn that taking care of ourselves in other areas can positively affect our digestive health, too!
Ahead of World Digestive Health Day on 29th May, let’s look at what you can do to improve your digestive health.
1. Aim to manage your stress levels
We are all aware of the effect that elevated stress levels can have on our mental health. Yet, stress can affect how our whole body operates and severely limit the effectiveness of our digestive system to break down and absorb all the nutrients our body needs.
Try some of the following to manage your stress levels:
- Walk for an hour a day. If you don’t feel like walking, at least try and spend an hour outside, free from distractions or things that cause you stress.
- Decreasing your caffeine intake.
- Meditation, or Yoga if you prefer to do something more active.
- Spending time with friends and family members – assuming they’re not the source of your stress!
- Using essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser at home.
2. Ensure you get enough high-quality sleep
Sleep is a critical element of our wellbeing and often one that people neglect.
The most significant issue with poor quality sleep is that it leads to problems – in this case, an inefficient digestive system – that in turn cause poor sleep themselves. It's easy to get onto a slippery slope with sleep, and your efforts to get enough of it can quite literally become a nightmare.
Check out this guide from the United Kingdom's National Health Service to help improve your sleep quality.
3. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly
The less our gut has to do, the more efficiently it can work.
By eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing, you will help your gut by kicking off the process of breaking down food while it's still in the mouth. This means your body can digest your food better and absorb more of the nutrients in the food you eat, making you healthier all round!
4. Ensure you drink enough water
There are many reasons you should ensure you take care of your hydration levels, and your digestive health is another to add to the list!
When you consume enough water, you look after the lining of the intestines, which is vital for the efficient absorption of food and nutrients. Drinking water also helps maintain the balance of bacteria throughout your digestive tract, allowing good bacteria to thrive while limiting bad bacteria's presence and growth.
5. Consider taking a probiotic or prebiotic
Probiotic or prebiotic supplements may help improve your gut health. Still, you should only take these at the direction of a medical professional.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
- Probiotics are “live” good bacteria, which by consuming, you introduce directly to your gut.
- Prebiotics are “food” on which good bacteria can thrive, promoting their presence and growth.
Why should you only take supplements at the direction of a medical professional?
- You might not need them.
- If you suffer from bacterial overgrowth, probiotics could potentially make you very ill.
- Not all supplements are of high enough quality to deliver any significant health benefit. If you're going to take one, you should ensure it's the best available.
Instead of looking at supplements at all, you can manage levels of good gut bacteria yourself by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi.
6. Get checked (or check yourself) for food intolerances
If eating certain foods triggers symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, and fatigue, you may have a food intolerance. Experiencing these symptoms is your digestive system reacting to something it doesn't like being in there, which affects your overall digestion.
The first thing to do in this case is to remove the foods you believe are causing the symptoms. If the symptoms go away, you know you need to avoid those foods from now on.
If your symptoms persist, visit your doctor. They may diagnose you with a specific condition, recommend avoiding particular foods, or refer you for a food intolerance test.
It is also possible to arrange a food intolerance test privately in most countries, although these can be relatively expensive.
7. Review and make changes to your diet
Often, making simple changes to your diet is the most significant way to improve your gut health. Doing so is as straightforward as cutting out some foods and eating more of others.
Look to reduce:
- Processed foods, such as ready meals.
- High-sugar foods.
- High-fat foods.
Look to increase:
- Fibre intake.
- The volume of fruit and vegetables you eat.
If you eat meat, ensure it is lean, and avoid eating red meat too often.
The Bottom Line
Simple diet and lifestyle changes may help improve your digestion if you experience occasional, frequent or chronic digestive symptoms.
Finally, avoiding bad habits that may affect your digestion — such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and late-night eating — may help relieve symptoms as well.