“I’ve been paleo for 5 years but I still struggle with digestive issues”
“I did the Whole 30 and felt better at first but now I’m still struggling with an untrustworthy stomach”
“I worked with another practitioner but she just sold me $700 worth of supplements and told me to do the AIP diet and I’m still running to the bathroom or feeling constipated every day”
Do any of these quotes sound like you? If so, you’re not alone! In fact, you have plenty in common with the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the last 3 years.
The top issue I see with virtually every client I’ve ever worked with is an inability of the digestive system to properly breakdown and assimilate nutrients.
Optimal digestion has very little to do with the “perfect” diet you’re consuming or the hundreds of dollars you’re spending on supplements, and EVERYTHING to do with your digestive system’s ability to take a meal, break it down into individual nutrients, and assimilate those nutrients to our cells.
Why does this matter?
Every single cell in your body is reliant upon your GI tract’s ability to breakdown and properly assimilate nutrients. Think about this for a second:
A cell is the smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Our cells bind together to create tissues, our tissues are used to make organs, groups of organs with a common function create our organ systems, and the entire human body is made from these complex organ systems.
Poor digestion = lack of nutrients = poor overall health
Likewise, if we are having an issue properly digesting and assimilating our nutrients, not only will we have stomach problems and discomfort, but we’re also setting ourselves up for poor overall health in the long run.
Here’s the top 10 things you can do to support the funcitonality of your digestive system:
- Get into the habit of taking 5 deep belly breaths before meals to help your body get into a “rest + digest” or Parasympathetic nervous system state. Digestion starts in the brain- if we are not in a relaxed state and instead find ourselves in a “fight or flight” or sympathetic nervous system state, the brain cannot properly signal to our digestive organs to start preparing for digestion. We can end up with a lack of digestive juices to properly chemically breakdown foods (ie: Hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, bile, etc.) and end up feeling bloated, overly full, having diarrhea and seeing undigested food in our bowel movements. Always take time to relax before eating.
- Chew your food at least 30 times before swallowing. The act of chewing has two major roles: chewing physically breaks down our food while our salivary amylase (saliva) is released from various saliva glands to start to breaking down carbohydrates in our mouth. This is one of the most important parts of digestion- your grandmother was right! Undigested food in the GI tract can cause a whole host of issues, like bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut, and microbiome imbalances, so be sure to drink your solids and chew your liquids!
- Take some HCL (hydrochloric acid) to help breakdown proteins and avoid getting bloated or feeling overly full after meals. Things like stress, not being in a parasympathetic state, nutrient deficiencies, and alcohol can all cause a decrease in our stomach acid and affect digestion. HCL supplementation is one of the most helpful ways to support the functionality of the digestive system because it helps to properly breakdown proteins and other macronutrients in the stomach. Most people do not have enough stomach acid which can cause bloating within an hour after eating, acid reflux, and poor overall digestion. One of my go-to supplements for HCL is called Betaine HCL+ and can be found at Natural Grocers. Never take HCL on an empty stomach! (*If you are currently taking PPI’s or over the counter ant-acid medications, talk with your doctor first before supplementing with HCL)
4. Take digestive enzymes with each meal to help your GI tract breakdown macronutrients properly. In optimal digestion, the pancreas releases various digestive enzymes into the duodenum to help with the final chemical breakdown of our food after food leaves the stomach and right before it enters the small intestine for nutrient absorption. Just like HCL production can be inhibited by stress, worry, and not being in a parasympathetic state, so can pancreatic enzyme secretion. Again- digestion starts in the brain! Taking digestive enzymes 10-15 minutes before every meal can be a helpful way to optimize digestive function. I love using 1-3 capsules of Digest Gold by Enzymedica from Natural Grocers (pictured below).
5. Take bile supportive supplements or foods with meals to optimize fat digestion. The low-fat diet craze, stress, on-the-go lifestyle, and amount of toxins in today’s world have put a lot of stress on the liver and gallbladder for most people. If you’re dealing with clay-colored, floating, smelly bowel movements- you may have an issue with fat digestion. The liver produces bile and the gallbladder stores it, then the gallbladder will release bile when we consume fat. Bile acts as an emulsifier – similar to how dish detergent cleans a greasy pan- and breaks down fatty acids into small, digestable fat molecules for easy absorption. Stress, low fat diets, and toxin build up can slow down our bile flow or make our bile too viscous for excretion. Taking a supplement to help support healthy bile flow like Bile Acid Factors from Natural Grocers can be a great way to support fat digestion and overall digestive function. Consuming things like beet juice, taurine, and vitamin C can also be helpful.
6. Start taking a high-qualtiy, daily probiotic to bolster your microbiome. Probiotics are the collection of healthy bacteria that live in our intestines and have been proven to inhabit the gut of healthy individuals. The gut microbiome itself is a very delicate ecosystem all about balance and quality of microbes. If we have an imbalance of bacteria or not enough good bacteria, it can affect our mental, physical, and emotional health. I really like taking 1 capsule of Primal Defense probiotics because the bacteria are from soil based organisms and are efficient at repopulating the gut.
7. Consider using digestive bitters before meals to stimulate digestive juices. Digestive bitters have been used for hundreds of years all around the world to help with digestion and are made from bitter herbs that stimulate our digestive secretions like our saliva, HCL, digestive enzymes, and bile. If you have trouble breaking down and digesting your food but dont want to take capsule supplements, digestive bitters are a great option! I really love Better Bitters by Herb Pharm and I like to buy mine at Natural Grocers!
8. Consider using gut healing nutrients like collagen and l-glutamine to heal the digestive tract. If you’re like most of my clients, you’ve had digestive issues for quite some time. Often when this is the case, we can develop an irritation or inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining (and even leaky gut) over time, so it’s important to provide our gut with healing nutrients like Vital Proteins collagen and L-Glutamine to “heal and seal” our intestinal lining. When the intestinal lining is compromised, it can also compromise our ability to properly absorb and assimilate nutrients. Again, making sure we’re providing the digestive system with functional support is key to overall optimal health. You can find both of these supplements at Natural Grocers- pictured below.
9. Drink plenty of water throughout the day- body weight divided by 2 in ounces at minimum. Drinking enough water isn’t just “good for you”. Water has plenty of roles in the body, especially in regards to the digestive system. To name a few, water helps eliminate toxins, softens bowel movements, and is one of the most important components of our gut mucosa. A mucus membrane lines our entire digestive tract and is a major part of our immune system, so it’s important to keep this tissue hydrated and functioning well. I suggest people aim for drinking half their body weight in ounces each day and adding a pinch of sea salt or mineral drops to help with electrolyte balance.
10. Manage your stress!!! This is the most simple step to understand, but the hardest to implement. Everyone deals with different types of stress, so it’s important to take a bioindividual approach and manage the unique stressors in your life. See a therapist, get monthly massages, spend time meditating each day, take time to get outside, spend time with friends you love, take deep breaths before meals and throughout the day… the list for addressing stress is endless. Stress is the number one way we mess up our digestion because when we’re stressed out, we’re often in sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system state. If we’re not managing our stress and we’re constantly in this state, our digestion will not be functioning properly and we’re setting ourselves up for poor overall health. Every organ system takes a hit when we’re under prolonged periods of stress, especially digestion.
If you guys have any questions about the content in the blog post, feel free to leave a comment below!
This post is sponsored and paid for by Natural Grocers, a local grocery store I visit frequently and truly love! All opinions are my own.