+ Well Nourished | Improving Digestion Naturally

Improving Digestion Naturally – You are what you absorb

Due to the role that the digestive system plays in absorbing and making nutrients, as well as preventing the absorption of toxins, the effects of a poorly functioning gut are widespread.  As such, correcting poor digestive function holds the key to addressing a huge range of common health complaints.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine,  stated that ‘all disease starts in the gut’.  Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost sight of this wisdom.  I believe you are not only what you eat…but also most importantly, what you absorb.

Have you ever felt that you have a great diet, but don’t feel quite on top of your health? Perhaps you have obvious symptoms of poor digestion – indigestion, reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, wind, abdominal bloating. Or less obvious signs and symptoms like headaches, poor energy levels, frequent colds or infection, an autoimmune disease, dark circles under your eyes, anaemia, allergies, skin problems, hormonal imbalance, joint pain or poor mood and concentration.  Maybe you are intolerant to certain foods?  These are all indicative that your digestion system may need support.

Whilst consuming a nourishing diet greatly contributes to good digestion, health, and well-being, your ability to make the most of the nutrients available is solely dependent upon the proper functioning of your gut.  As a Naturopath, I inevitably found myself starting with digestion when treating many health issues.  This is because ensuring proper digestive function is the foundation for not only restoring, but maintaining good health and well-being.  I like to use the analogy of building a house.  If you start building walls without setting good, strong foundations, the house may stay upright and appear to be in good shape for a while, but it will eventually collapse.  When treating a person holistically, assisting the gut is often the first step to lasting health.

OK, I’m taking my Naturopathic cap off at this point.  If you suspect that your digestive system is under performing (or retired altogether), then I urge you to seek the help of a good Naturopath.  There are many aspects of digestion and stimulating it to do its job, and do it well, is an acquired skill!

However, there are many simple and highly effective things you can do to nurture and maintain good digestive function.

Stressors
To begin with, you need to become aware of the many everyday stressors to proper digestion.  These include –

Antacids – are devastating to digestive function.  Whilst they are able to temporarily ease symptoms, they do nothing to treat the cause of the problem.  In fact, most antacids include a disclaimer on their packaging to limit the duration of their use. And with good reason.  You see in order to absorb essential vitamins, minerals and proteins needed for good health, an acidic environment is necessary. There is much research linking antacid use and the development of nutritional deficiency, various illnesses, and allergies.  They are not harmless medications and their use at best should be strictly limited.

Antibiotics – need to be used only when absolutely required and always need to be followed by a good quality probiotic (yoghurt just isn’t enough to completely restore the gut flora).  All probiotics are not created equal, so only buy the best quality supplement (and remember to always keep it refrigerated).   Also, be very cautious of exposure to antibiotics in our food chain (of which we are at the top)…another good reason to investigate the meats you are ingesting.  For more information on antibiotic use in our meat production see here.

Chemical exposure – our gut is exposed to a cocktail of chemicals each and every day (in our diet and environment), which is all the more reason to ensure it is able to adequately deal with them.

Stress – ‘butterflies in our tummies’ demonstrates perfectly the impact stress has on our digestion.  With more nerve endings than the brain, the gut is extremely reactive to stress.  It also plays an important role in the functioning of the brain.  So if you are suffering from mood disorders, do not ignore your gut.

Overeating – jut think of how you feel if you over eat? Not great, need I say more? Overeating is no good.

Others – Processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, many medications (especially pain medications and worming tablets) and poor dietary variety are all gastric irritants.

Solutions
Solutions, well thankfully there are many…

Chew your food well…how simple can this get?  Digestion begins with proper mastication (chewing that is)!  Take your time and chew your food well to really ease the load on your stomach which receives the contents of every mouthful.  Always sit down to eat, and try putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls and chew, chew, chew.

Avoid liquids with or around meal time.  You need all of your digestive acids and enzymes at full strength and not watered down when you eat.  If they are diluted, they cannot efficiently perform the important task of breaking down food.

Apple cider vinegar (about 3ml) in a couple of ml’s of water prior to meals helps to support acid production and good gut flora.  I also love vinegar in dressings and as part of tomato based sauces.

Bone broths are amazingly nourishing and provide many nutrients that are very healing and repairing to the gut.

Variety – have lots of variety in your diet and avoid irritant foods.

Eat S.L.O.W (seasonal, local, organic and whole) foods to make the most of every mouthful and reduce the chemical load on your gut. Fruit and especially vegetables are by far the most nutrient-dense forms of fibre, which provides the best environment for your gut flora to flourish.

Soak grains and nuts where possible.  They are much easier to digest and more nutrients are available when they are soaked. Activating or sprouting nuts and grain is preferable.

Moderate your wheat intake.  As a child, did you ever make glue from flour and water?  Flour is very adhesive and can be very irritating to the gut.  For more about grains and how to incorporate a variety of grains in your diet see here.

Slippery elm powder is a very safe, healing and protective herb that can be included in the diet of anyone with any form of gastric irritation.  It also benefits the growth and maintenance of good gut flora.

Herbs like ginger, cinnamon and turmeric are very anti-inflammatory and healing to the gut.  Consume them in foods or as a tea.  Peppermint, fennel, lemon balm and chamomile tea also support digestion.

Coconut oil is a rich source of medium chain fatty acids and extremely healing and anti-inflammatory to the gut.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi greatly benefit digestive flora production. Also, try fermenting mayonnaise.

Natural yogurt (not flavoured or vanilla) or kefir yogurt helps to maintain (but not replenish) beneficial gut flora. For more on yogurt and clever ways to eat it, click here.  For more on lacto-fermentation and how important it is for your health, click here.

• ‘Probiotics – beneficial bacteria ingested either in fermented foods or in supplements – have been shown to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation; shorten the duration and severity of colds in children; relieve diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome; reduce allergic responses; stimulate the immune response; possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers; and improve the health and function of the gut’.  Read more here.  Note – only ever buy good quality probiotics (always found in a refrigerator, not on a supermarket shelf). It is best to consult your health care professional to determine the best strains for you.

Relax, exercise gently, sleep well and be kind to yourself.

Don’t’ take it for granted that your digestive system is able to function unsupported.  Nourish your gut daily and stand by tomorrow for a recipe for the most ‘super’ food of all.  Your body will LOVE you for it.

If you suffer from food intolerance then you may like to read this post, click here.

For two ABC catalyst reports on the promising science behind the importance of gut health, click here.

I love receiving your comments and questions – you can post one in the comments below.

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Fresh from my garden – a beautiful ginger root and shots of apple cider vinegar to kick start digestion.

  • Edina

    We have been trying to work on this, especially with my nephew who has autism, as well as mine and the kids. I have a bone broth simmering away right now but I wish I saw this post earlier, I would have waited to see how you suggest to do it just in case I’m missing anything…

    • Every one benefits from a well functioning gut, and especially children with autism. Well done, and you really can’t go wrong making bone broth Edina. The most important thing is using lots of bones and simmering for as long as possible.

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  • It’s difficult to find well-informed people for this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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  • Stacey Fisher

    Hi there,

    I loved this article, as I am very much here at the moment, have been suffering from gut and nausea problems for over a year now (h. pylori infection and gastroparesis) and are about to embark on the broth/GAPS diet.

    I just a quick question in regards to probiotics, I have been taking Inner Health plus for years now but after 3 stints of gastro this year decided to get a more potent probiotic however they made me very sick when I took them (2 weeks ago). I stopped them after a week of taking them however my gut is still very upset from it, is this normal?

    • Hi Stacey. Sadly you are not alone. Every day in clinical practice I treated a variety of gut problems. Inner health is a great maintenance formula, but it sounds like you need a treatment formula. You need to be taking a more ‘specific’ dysbiosis probiotic strain rather than more a ‘potent’ one. There is nothing that I know of available ‘over-the-counter’, the best probiotics are practitioner only varieties. It’s not normal to suffer severe adverse reactions of any kind. I think you need to be under the guidance of a skilled practitioner. My preferred way to cure gut problems was largely using liquid herbal tonics – customised to suit each individual. Slippery Elm is an amazing gut healing herb that you can safely take, available in any health store. Use the powder (not tablets), a tablespoon in water or yoghurt before each meal to really sooth and heal your gut and allow the probiotics do their stuff! Oh, and get stuck into bone broths! Good luck, G x

  • Stacey Fisher

    It was the bioceutical ultrabiotic 45 that I was given, is there a brand name and type that you recommend? Its funny you mention broths as I have been studying them all week, about to call my local butcher to get him to keep the organic chicken bones for me!!! Thank you for your response xx

    • Hi Stacey. Bioceuticals is a reputable company. The product you have named is not one I have experience with though. I love the Metagenics range of probiotics – very targeted strains for specific disorders or symptoms. Bone broths are AMAZINGLY healing. Get a couple of carcasses and a pack of wings, necks or legs. You will need to take daily for a full medicinal benefit. Use in your cooking, soups, casseroles or just drink it. My immune broth is delicious and worth a try, especially in the case of infective organisms being present. Happy to help. G x

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  • Sarah

    Hi, is there a vegetarian equivalent to bone broth? (To support gut function). Love your blog x

    • Hi Sarah. Thanks for your feedback. You can make vegetable stock much the same way as bone (just minus the bone) and always with sea vegetables like a strip of kombu for example and some shitake mushrooms (simmer for 1.5 hours, remove the vegetables and simmer for a further 30 minutes if you want to concentrate the flavour). It is nutrient and mineral dense but lacking the collagen compounds I refer to as healing the gut. Look at Slippery Elm powder or Sauerkraut/ Kim Chi for extra vegetarian support. If you do eat fish, fish bones can be used as with the chicken stock (and do donate collagen compounds). Hope that helps, G x

  • Shea

    Hi Georgia,
    Wow! I am so happy to have come across you and your website. You’re wealth of knowledge is astounding and I am finding myself referring to your recipes and nutrition advice daily. I am presently experiencing a few gut issues and have been slowly changing my families diet to a whole food one while incorporating some extra healing foods for myself. In your experience is there generally a kind of ‘detox’ period initially after changing to raw milk, more yogurts, bone broth and more seeds, nuts and meat protein?
    Your website is so fabulous… I have already recommended it to all my friends and they already love it too :)))))

    • What a lovely message Shea. Thanks so much for your support and for sharing my good health message. I really appreciate it.
      In answer to your question – it’s a little tricky to be specific as everyone is very different. Some people do feel a little worse for wear when working on their gut. Especially when there is a bit of a war between good and bad bacteria – some practitioners call this die-off where the good guys kill off the bad (pathogens) and this process of re-establishing a new equilibrium (balance) leads to a period of adjustment for the body. Working with a practitioner to avoid any discomfort is a good idea. Small, incremental changes will help to avoid any ‘detox’ symptoms. Hope this helps, G x

  • Kerri

    Thanks for another great article Georgia! As always I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and have learnt a lot 🙂
    You mention worming tablets in your article – do you recommend another safer/healthier alternative?
    Thanks again!

    • Kerri, sorry for the late reply, I seemed to have missed your comment. Yes i have always wormed patients (who need worming) with herbal medicine. There are many herbs that are tremendously effective with no nasty side effects – wormwood, black walnut hull and some Chinese herbs are favourites of mine, seek the advice of a herbalist or naturopath. Even still, it is important to go the extra mile with gut support if any parasite is in play. If your gut is strong, they are much less likely to infest, G x

  • Bianca Sands

    Great article thank you Georgia – it’s amazing how far we have moved away from some simple basics….like you said it doesn’t get much simpler than chewing your food properly and yet this is something we all need to be reminded of. Thank you for inspiring so many to come back to basics and take responsibility for their health and wellbeing, Bianca

    • You’re very welcome Bianca. Yes it is amazing how profoundly important to health the most basic things are. I have treated so many people who have been taking cupboard-loads of supplements, only to be overlooking the obvious causes of their ill health. G x

  • Absolutely loving on your work here! I just purchased some digestive enzymes and I am going to start my kefir up again, adding some kimchi/sauerkraut to my mid day salads and when I am back from holiday will start on my virgin coconut capsules!

    I adore fennel tea, ginger shots and hot lemon water❤️ I love the vast amount of information you have provided!

    Much love to you X

    • Thanks so much. glad you enjoy it. Just go easy with digestive enzymes, in my experience they are fine short term (say after you’ve overindulged), but I find your body can get a bit lazy producing it’s own if you are taking them a lot. I prefer herbs to stimulate the process as opposed to ‘enzymes’. Probiotics you can’t go far wrong with though and the rest is perfect G x

      • Thank you G for the response 🙂 I have started the digestive enzymes in hopes that it increases digestive efficiency to help heal my intestines (I was thinking a 2-3 month term max), but now I am worried that after the enzymes I am going to be dependent? I really just want to be able to absorb nutrients – I eat so healthy, only wholegrains, no wheat, all unprocessed and I just have no energy still after all my careful meal prepping!

        Which herbals would you recommend to aid villi function and adequate absorption/digestion?

        Thank you again, I have struggled with this for 8 years now and I really need to find a solution soon! xxx

        • Use the enzymes as you would a painkiller – as needed to bring relief. Herbal medicine is a very holistic treatment so what is best for one isn’t always best for another. So I can’t really offer individual recommendations, perhaps speak to a naturopath or herbalist for advice tailored to your needs. All the best, G x

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