It is alarming how many people suffer from poor digestion, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, bowel irregularity, dysbiosis, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). As a young teenager I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome in the form of chronic constipation and bloating, believing that because this ran in my family, it was my cross to bear in life. How wrong I was! From practising a number of techniques and with a lot of patience, my digestion is now smooth, bloating is non-existent, bowels are regular, and pain has been abolished. Let this be music to your ears!
This article will discuss a number of techniques I have personally used and have also used with my clients. Keep in mind that everyone is different so not one technique, or one particular combination of techniques, will work for everyone. However, these methods are general enough that they will have some effect on most people.
Although our digestive tracts are resilient, they are also very sensitive. In many ways the health of our digestive tract is the gateway to our overall health. I can’t implore you enough to get on top of your gut health now, it will set you up for a thriving future. Please realise that healing the gut can take a number of years for some people, but don’t become dismayed. It is possible!
Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates, meaning that when all other food is liquidised in the stomach, prebiotics remain intact all the way through to the colon. Prebiotics are food for your microbiota, which is the community of bacteria in your gut. The consumption of prebiotics establishes a higher quality bacteria lining our intestinal wall, and therefore a healthier gut. This makes them very important for people suffering from dysbiosis or SIBO.
Prebiotics are found in plant matter, specifically; seeds, bananas, potatoes, some whole grains, sweet potatoes, and most vegetables. By consuming prebiotics daily, our microbiota feeds off prebiotics regularly, producing a short chain fatty-acid called butyrate. Butyrate is then absorbed into the blood and becomes a friendly fuel for the brain. Butyrate also increases metabolism, reduces inflammation, and helps the body resist stress. Butyrate is crucial for the cells that line our colon providing food so the cells don’t die, thus they support a healthy colon. Butyrate also has the power to increase our energy levels.
Once our gut bacteria have had their “fill” of prebiotics, the indigestible plant matter easily passes through the colon, and is eliminated from the body. Sorry I have to go here, but it is this particular matter that supports a healthy bowel movement and healthy stool.
Take home point: Eat prebiotic-containing foods, especially plenty of diverse vegetables, to support gut health.
This point almost goes without saying, but I include it here because often people forget to drink water. Staying hydrated is key to aiding digestion and healthy bowel movements.
I suggest drinking no less than 2 litres of water each day, over the course of the day. This can be in the form of herbal teas, sparkling water, or tap water, but not black tea or coffee. Hydration is very important for people suffering from constipation or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
The one warning I have with water is to avoid drinking it during meals as it can actually have an adverse effect on digestion. Water dilutes our stomach acids, making it more difficult for our body to break down our food. If you drink water during meals and have digestive disturbances or poor bowels, then stop drinking water 20 minutes either side of eating. It can take a while to get used to not drinking during a meal, but it will do wonders for your gut!
Take home point: Drink 2 litres of water throughout the day and avoid drinking water during meals.
The quality of our food impacts our body’s ability to digest it. A poor diet consisting of processed foods, take-out, refined white flours, and high doses of sugar will disturb our digestion. The body is not well equipped to breakdown added chemicals, industrialised seed oils, trans-fats, and excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars. Our stomach and intestinal tract digest more effectively when they are feed real food; vegetables, meat, unprocessed dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and whole grains. I can't stress this point enough, if you suffer from IBS, dysbiosis, SIBO, other intestinal parasites, or leaky gut, eating a diet that consists of processed and refined foods will exacerbate your condition. In many ways, the power is in your hands.
A recent client of mine came to me with a diet consisting of store-bought meals, take-out, sugary beverages, fast food desserts, and white bread. We swapped out a lot of these foods for real food options and after a month of following her Nutritional Plan she had significantly improved digestion. She no longer had abdominal pain, food didn’t ‘sit’ in her stomach after meals, she was less gassy, and most significant to her was that she no longer experienced diarrhoea.
Take home point: Real food supports effective digestion and healthy bowel movements.
Change Your Thoughts
This may come across as a strange point, and many of you may read over this without giving it a second thought. But no matter how you take this, the truth is that how we think and feel about our digestion and bowels has a significant impact on them.
Cognitive neuroscientist, Caroline Leaf, teaches that 75% to 95% of today's illnesses are triggered by our thought life. She explains how the emotion of fear activates over 1400 physical and chemical responses in the body and 30 various hormones. Through her work she has found that changing our thought patterns away from toxicity and towards freedom and gratitude directly changes our physical state. Furthermore, M.D. Christiane Northrup, has demonstrated how changing the way we think about certain parts of our bodies has a direct effect on that part of the body. For example, after a number of meetings with one of her patients that presented with ovarian cancer, they discovered that this woman had a negative association with her genitalia. This patient underwent emotional healing around her femineity and how she felt about her female genitalia, and shortly after, her doctors announced that her cancer had gone. These are extreme and rare cases, but they carry truth all the same. By changing the way we think and feel about our gut, digestion, and colon we could possible see change in how they function as well.
If you’re like me and think, “this is the way I am – someone who will forever have bad bowels and digestion,” then I am almost certain you will always be like this. Part of my process for healing my gut involved me changing my thoughts of frustration, fear, discomfort, and anger towards my poorly functioning gut and irregular bowels, to focus on how I was thankful for my gut, and acknowledging that it has a big job to do, which requires my support. This support involved positive talk towards my gut and sometimes I would rub my abdominal area affectionately. I understand that this sounds crazy, but the science shows that it works and I couldn’t implore you to try this enough. Along side various techniques, this particular practise was very beneficial, even if just to release my frustration around a poorly functioning gut, especially for people suffering from constipation or IBS.
Take home point: Change negative thoughts and feelings about your gut to positive and supportive thoughts and feelings.
Digestive Exercises & Relaxation
Practicing relaxing exercises and resting techniques helps to relax the mind and the muscle around the intestinal tract. One of these resting techniques involved learning to breath well. Using your diaphragm to breath is essential for releasing tensions. Breath in for three counts as you expand your diaphragm, then exhale for three counts as you contract your diaphragm. Try this everyday, whether you’re sitting at your desk, lying in bed before you get up, or sitting on the couch reading a book or watching television.
Practising yoga is another great way relax the muscles surrounding the intestines and practice diaphragmic breathing. I personally found this very helpful as part of my healing process. I lay down on a yoga mat every day for 15 minutes and followed this youtube clip.
Take Home Point: Implementing relaxing practices into your daily routine will support a healthy gut.
Many of you may roll your eyes at the phrase ‘liver cleanse.’ I know I always did. But after I personally committed to a cleanse, I noticed a huge change to my bowels. Research shows that often people have poor digestion and/or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because their livers are struggling to function efficiently. Here’s how it works… After years of throwing harmful substances at our livers, its pathways become overworked. Unfortunately, this can cause liver cells to die, and although our livers are good at producing new cells, if this goes on for long enough, its cell development will dissipate. Where there once were healthy busy liver cells, little fat globules will take their place. The liver becomes sluggish, congested, and less effective. The liver is responsible for eliminating harmful and unwanted substances from the body via our digestive tract, but if it becomes lazy, our digestion has a much more difficult time. A congested liver can often be a major reason for constipation and IBS.
Reasons for poorly functioning livers can include; poor diet of high refined carbohydrate, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and a history of medication and/or antibiotics. If you have a history (or present) or either of these, I suggest you spend three weeks doing a nutritious, simple, and effective liver cleanse.
Here are the ‘what-tos’ and ‘what-not-tos’:
1. Eat loads of vegetables and some fruit, chicken and fish (but not every day), some legumes, seeds, nuts, coconut oil, drinking water with a squeeze of lemon every day, herbal teas, some honey, 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar before eating, and cook with turmeric when possible.
2. Avoid dairy, except for organic butter, avoid all caffeine, red meat, alcohol, and sugar (except for a maximum of 2 teaspoons of honey each day).
Many people don’t want to commit to this kind of strict dieting. I usually don’t suggest dieting ever, but in this case I have found it to be extremely beneficial for poor digestion and IBS, so I will leave it up to you!
Take Home Point: The liver needs to be supported in order to have healthy digestion - consider doing a three-week liver cleanse.
Specific Foods & Herbs
Lastly, there are a few key dietary elements that help with constipation specifically.
Kiwi fruits are loaded with fibre that help to feed your intestinal bacteria and the edible seeds help to bulk out stool. Studies show that kiwi fruits promote regular bowel movements.
Camomile tea is a great way to relax the muscles around the intestines, allowing them to effectively undergo peristalsis and move food through the bowel.
Dandelion herb (tea) has been known to have a positive effect on constipation as well, although research is nonconclusive.
I hope these practices prove to be helpful. If you would like more personalised help, please do not hesitate to get in touch or book a consultation. You don’t need to struggle with poor digestion and irregular bowels for the rest of your life! I would like to remind you all that for the month of February I am offering 25% off an Initial Consultation, including a personalised plan, for all my readers. Email me if you are interested.
Feed, nourish, value yourself.