By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Digestive problems are one of the most common reasons people come to see a naturopath. Symptoms can be mild or they can be severe and disrupt a person’s entire day. Suffering with chronic digestive problems is stressful because the continual discomfort can put a dark cloud over your day and make it difficult to focus on your work or leisure activities.
Digestive problems can be caused by a range of different factors. Some of the most common ones include:
- Coeliac disease
- Food allergy or intolerance
- FODMAP sensitivity
- Parasitic infections
- Insufficient water intake
- Digestive enzyme, stomach acid or bile insufficiency
If you have seen your doctor and a medical condition has been discounted, you might find the following tips give you some relief:
- Try to eat in a calm and relaxed manner. Sit down to have a meal. Don’t eat while standing over the kitchen sink, while doing housework, while driving or answering emails. Try also not to eat while feeling stressed or upset. It is better to delay a meal than to force food down in a hurried way.
- Don’t drink too much water or other fluid while eating. Water, tea, herbal tea and coffee are mostly good for you but try to have them between meals rather than with meals. Consuming liquids with meals will dilute your stomach acid and other digestive secretions. That means you won’t be able to extract as many nutrients from your meals or supplements. Improperly digested food can also leave you feeling bloated, gassy or burping after meals.
- Apple cider vinegar is a simple and effective way to improve digestion and nutrient absorption. It helps to support stomach acid production, therefore particularly helps with protein digestion. You can use it as a salad dressing along with healthy oil such as extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil or avocado oil. Alternatively you can put a tablespoon of vinegar in ¼ mug of warm water and sip that before meals.
- Try eliminating common problem foods that can cause digestive upsets. Gluten, wheat and dairy products cause digestive symptoms in a large number of people. If you have tested negative to coeliac disease you might still feel unwell after eating wheat or gluten. When it comes to dairy products, many people find goat and sheep milk products (particularly cheese and yoghurt) to be easier to digest than cow’s milk.
- FODMAPs could be a problem for you. FODMAPs are various types of carbohydrates found in many foods that can cause irritable bowel symptoms in some people. Going on a low FODMAP diet can bring immense relief for a lot of people, but it’s a restrictive diet that can be quite stressful because eating out can become impossible. Fortunately there are usually only a few foods that produce symptoms in most people. The most common ones include onion, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and apples. Try avoiding those foods for a couple of weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
- Try to get some movement each day. Sitting all day is a necessity for many of us because of our job but it isn’t natural or healthy. Doing intense exercise after meals is obviously not healthy but going on a gentle stroll, or just moving around the house can improve digestive health. Sitting for hours after lunch can make you feel bloated and gassy. Going for a gentle walk after work can help to relieve those symptoms. If you are prone to constipation, regular exercise can make a world of difference to bowel regularity.
- Try to eat more cooked vegetables rather than raw ones. Raw vegetables are certainly very good for you, but they can be harder to digest if you have a sensitive tummy. Cooking vegetables helps to break down their cell walls, making them easier to digest. So try eating steamed vegetables, roasting them in olive oil or making a stew or casserole. Juicing vegetables also helps to make them more digestible, as long as you sip the juice slowly.
- Include beneficial bacteria in your diet. Fermented foods are a wonderful source of probiotics that help to normalise bowel function. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso and yoghurt. Many people with dairy sensitivities can tolerate yoghurt and kefir made from milk. Alternatively yoghurt can be made from coconut milk. There are many free recipes on the internet.
For more information see the book Healthy Bowel, Healthy Body. If these remedies don’t help you, please see your healthcare practitioner.