3 Natural Ways to Improve Digestion

Oh those dreaded days when you want to look your best, whether it be for a special occasion or a work presentation, but you just can't imagine putting on that tight dress or pants due to uncomfortable bloating...Too many of us have been there, myself included. 

Digestive issues, including bloating, gas, constipation or heartburn are such common complaints and so often something I see in my practice. No doubt you have heard the term IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, or even been diagnosed with it. The problem is, usually when given this diagnosis there is no clear direction on how to improve your symptoms. The reason being is that IBS is very much an umbrella term for a number of different things that could be going on. When it comes down to it, the most likely root cause for indigestion of any kind is that your body is using resources to support the "fight or flight" part of your nervous system, and therefore taking focus away from our "rest and digest" component of our nervous system. We need our nervous system to turn on those lovely digestive juices to properly digest and breakdown our food, absorb necessary nutrients and eliminate toxins and inflammation. When we are too busy being just that, too busy, causing stress, insomnia and avoiding that (necessary) breakdown we can ultimately wreck havoc on our digestive systems. Some people may end up with too little stomach acid, causing heartburn, or SIBO causing constipation, and others an overgrowth of Candida causing more bloating, as well as skin issues and mental fog. We are all individuals therefore our bodies respond differently. 

Luckily there are a few things you can do today to start improving your digestive symptoms:

  1. Take a deep breath! I know it sounds simple, but a couple deep breaths can go a long way to decrease cortisol levels and shift your body back into “rest and digest.” This is especially important before eating any meal. If you tend to work through your lunch break or run out the door with your breakfast, you are not giving your body the much needed time and support to properly digest that meal. I love meals with loved ones as we tend to slow down and be present while we eat (with the exception of holidays where there seems to always be too much food! :)). So whether it is simply taking a few deep breaths before your next meal or a plan to eat with a friend at work, you are taking a step towards better digestion. 

  2. Drink chai tea. Herbal medicine can work wonders to decrease bloating! Carminative herbs, such as fennel, ginger and cardamom work to calm the digestive track by decreasing muscle spasm, eliminating gas and soothing the gut lining. They are best used after eating. A carminative tea you can make at home that tastes great is this caffeine free chai tea. Boil 4 cups of water with 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp crushed cardamom pods (5-6 pods), 1 tsp black peppercorn and 2 tbsp sliced ginger for 10-15 minutes. Strain this and drink after a meal on its own or mixed with nut milk and a little honey. Yum!
  3. Get your twist on. These days we are quite sedentary working at a desk or computer all day. Our digestive track is ultimately one big muscle that benefits from being massaged once and awhile with abdominal twists. It is like ringing out a towel to relieve any excess gunk we don’t want. Try a few twists at home such as the one shown above or find a yoga class near you that will most likely incorporate a few twists in a class. 

Additional testing, food elimination and more detective work may be helpful to uncover the root cause of your digestive concerns, in order to create a more individualized treatment plan. Looking for more support? I'd be happy to help. I offer free 15 minute consults to see if Naturopathic Medicine is the right fit for you!

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen

(Photo credits: divalikes.com; corepoweryoga.com)

Bloating be Gone: A guide to digestive health Part 1

It is that time of year when we become both excited and stressed about the sunshine and bathing suit season. Even with all the confidence in the world, it can be a scary thing to de-robe by the water. We want to look our best but bloating may be one thing standing in our way. Does your stomach commonly feel hard and distended later in the day, your pants feel a little tighter after work, still hungry but can't think to eat anything in fear of making it worse? Yes, bloating is a pain and never makes you feel good! Well, let's start to get to the bottom of it...

Common culprits:

  • Food sensitivities - There are some foods that our bodies just aren't able to process.The most common food sensitivities I see that cause bloating are dairy, gluten, eggs, and red meat. You may not be sensitive to all of them, or it may be something different, such as prolonged exposure to processed foods, but eliminating them for 3 weeks, monitoring symptoms, and re-introducing them one at a time may give you some answers. (More on food sensitivities and elimination diets at a later date.)
  • Low stomach acid - In most cases I see, heartburn is due to low stomach acid instead of high stomach acid. Yes its true...mind blown! Your digestion starts mostly in your stomach and therefore if it is impeded here, it can lead to issues further down, such as bloating. 
  • Low digestive enzymes - Your stomach and pancreas are the main organs that secrete necessary digestive enzymes, such at pepsin, protease and lipase. If there are not enough enzymes, food does not get digested as completely causing issues.
  • Dysbiosis - A fancy term that means an imbalance in your gut between the good and bad bacteria. Probiotics (the good guys), have many health benefits, including regulating your bowels and decreasing inflammation.
  • Stress - All of these issues can lead back to stress. It goes back to the "fight or flight" and "rest and digest" idea of our nervous systems. If we put all our energy into fighting stress, we prevent adequate blood flow to our digestive system, which can lead to inflammation, poor organ function and a "leaky gut". Organs that can be affected are your stomach, liver, gallbladder and intestines. 

As it can be any one, or all of the above, its best to understand your digestion from the start. So...

Let's start at the very beginning...A very good place to start.

Digestion actually begins even before you take your first bite. Salivation, stimulated by hunger or smell, sends signals to your digestive track to start producing enzymes, stomach acid etc. You then take your first bite...yum! However, if your stomach is not able to produce enough stomach acid, or HCl, digestion is impeded. Heartburn is a common symptom of low HCl. At the end of the esophagus is a sphincter (an elastic band per say), and it opens and closes to let food into the stomach. Ideally, adequate stomach acid sends a signal to the sphincter to tighten, preventing any acid and food from irritating the esophagus while breaking down your food. This sphincter can become weak or lazy due to low acid (but also such things as overuse of ant-acids, stress, obesity and pregnancy), and symptoms may arise.  Protein is broken down first by HCl. Have difficulty digesting red meat? This may be why! If food is not broken down properly in the stomach, your intestines have to work harder and inflammation can arise, causing bloating. 

What can you do?

apple cider vinegar.jpg

Bitters, such as the herb Gentiana lutea, will initiate digestion and help eliminate bloating very successfully. However, one of the best at home remedies for bloating and heartburn is organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Instead of suppressing stomach acid, it actually stimulates your bodies natural ability to produce stomach acid, while prepping your body for digestion. Even 1 tsp in water 10 minutes before meals will do the trick. Note that apple cider vinegar will not give relief if you have an ulcer or too much stomach acid. An HCl challenge, with your ND, is a useful tool to decipher if you have high or low stomach acid. 

If you have any questions about elimination diets, testing stomach acid, using apple cider vinegar or your bloating concerns please don't hesitate to book an appointment with me or your local ND. (More to come on bloating in the coming month.)

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen