At some point or another, we all have faced digestive issues. That annoying tummy aches you likely experienced as a kid may have evolved into a digestive problem in your mid-thirties! The result is indigestion, acid reflux or heartburn, constipation, you name it.
It is estimated that in the United States, 11% of the population suffers from a chronic digestive disease, with a prevalence rate as high as 35% for those 65 years and over. In 2010 alone, a reported 60 to 70 million people in the United States suffered from a digestive condition.
Most people get by on a trial-and-error basis and experimenting with food compatibility. If digestive woes are bothering you lately, you don't have to live in a constant fear of bloating, heartburn, and others! Often simple lifestyle changes and healthy eating habits could do the trick. Before we get to that, here is a quick primer on the digestive system.
Your digestive system is complex
The process of digestion follows a series of steps that happens in tandem. It begins when you chew food, releasing salivary enzymes amylase (breaks carbs/starch) and salivary lipase (breaks fat). The food breaks down into smaller particles in the chewing process, mixes with saliva, and travels to the stomach. Most of the work happens here with gastrointestinal fluids working to break down the fat, protein, and carbs in your food. This creates an acidic environment in the stomach which triggers the release of another set of digestive enzymes such as bile, numerous pancreatic enzymes (trypsin, nuclease, etc.) to facilitate further digestion and absorb nutrients.
What factors affect the digestive process?
- Not chewing your food well
- Undercooked meat
- Not drinking enough water
- Aging (secretion of digestive enzymes decline with age)
- Lack of specific digestive enzymes or insufficient secretion (genetic factors)
- Certain medications, inactivity, and poor diet could also play a role.
Natural ways to improve digestion
Choose natural foods: Processed and refined foods are typically high in carbs, saturated fat, and additives are linked to digestive issues. Avoiding such foods and choosing wholesome, natural foods puts your digestive system at ease and aids digestion.
Chew to aid digestion: Chewing is often underestimated, yet it is the first and most powerful in the entire digestive process. Digestion begins in your mouth; not chewing thoroughly gives more work for your stomach, which impedes completed digestion. It could lead to issues like bloating, constipation, and even stomach aches. Besides, chewing food at least 30 times is said to improve satiety. A 2011 study revealed that thorough chewing of food about 40 chews led to reduced food consumption. Researchers found that the subjects ingested 11.9% less after 40 chews than after 25 chews. Hence, researchers concluded chewing well is a possible tool for combatting obesity. Additionally, poor chewing is linked to decreased absorption of nutrients from food.
Add raw foods to your menu: Raw foods such as fresh carrots, apples, etc., naturally contain enzymes that promote digestion. Including enough of these foods stimulates digestive juices in the stomach and improves the overall digestive process. For instance, the enzyme bromelain from pineapple helps break down protein. Bromelain is traditionally used in Central and South America to treat indigestion and inflammation. Consuming small quantities of raw food a few minutes before a heavy meal helps kick start the digestive process.
Hydrate well: Water and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb nutrients. Drinking water during meals and after meals promote better digestion. Since it also helps soften stools, it eliminates constipation.
Eat warm foods: Naturopathic and Ayurvedic practitioners recommend taking warm foods because it makes it easier for our digestive enzymes to break down food properly. Besides, eating cold foods may impair spleen function and its secretion.
Avoid late-night eating: Eating late at night causes poor digestion and leads to weight gain and sleep issues. There is strong evidence that lying down after eating is linked to increased reflux symptoms. Lying down soon after a meal causes the stomach's contents to rise up and lead to heartburn. It is best to wait a minimum of three hours after eating before hitting the bed, so there is enough time for the food to move from your stomach to the small intestine.
Take probiotics: Incorporating probiotic foods like kimchi, kefir, etc., promotes better digestion. Probiotics contain healthy bacteria that improve digestive function, help absorb nutrients and promote regular bowel movements.
Rest and relax: Although, resting and relaxing are often overlooked when it comes to digestive health. Getting enough sleep and consuming your meals in a relaxed state are simple ways to boost your digestion. Relaxing your mind and body during mealtimes stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which optimizes the digestive process.
If digestive woes are bothering you lately, taking a digestive aid could ease your symptoms and make mealtimes more enjoyable. Check out these high-quality digestive-aid supplements.
Panplex 2-Phase by Integrative Therapeutics: Integrative Therapeutics Panplex 2-Phase is a dual-action formula that supports both the gastric and intestinal phases of digestion. This dual-phase supplement provides support for more complete digestion in both the stomach and intestinal tract. Phase I gastric support includes hydrochloric acid and pepsin. Phase II intestinal support includes pancreatin and bile salts which help protect against the deactivation of enzymes by stomach acids. The formulation combines pancreatic enzymes with hydrochloric acid and pepsin for healthy digestion support. The recommendation is to take 1 or 2 tablets with meals twice daily or as suggested by your healthcare professional.
AllerGzyme by Deigns for Health: Designs for Health AllerGzyme™ is a synergistic combination of enzymes that break down hard-to-digest proteins. It is designed to minimize the adverse effects from the occasional consumption of gluten, dairy, soy, egg, whey, casein, almond, peanut, rice, pea, and fish proteins in sensitive individuals. It is important to note that the supplement is not intended for those with celiac disease or food allergies, but rather, for individuals with milder sensitivities and intolerances, to foods mentioned. The recommended use is to take one capsule with each protein-containing meal per day or as directed by your physician.
Ultrazyme by Douglas Laboratories: Douglas Laboratories Ultrazyme™ is a dietary supplement that helps the body digest foods efficiently and extract nutrients, resulting in less digestive discomfort and more nutrient absorption. Specifically formulated with bile and active digestive enzymes from animals and plants that act synergistically to assist in fat, protein, and carbohydrate digestion in the stomach and small intestine. Ultrazyme™ provides high levels of catalytically active pancreatic enzymes (Lipase, Amylase, and Protease) specific to fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Bromelain acts to help prevent allergens from crossing the gastrointestinal tract and assists in the breakdown of large macromolecular protein complexes. The supplement is available in 60ct and 180ct tablets. The suggested use is to take 1 or 2 tablets daily at mealtime or as directed by a healthcare professional.
Digestive Enzymes Ultra by Pure Encapsulations: Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes Ultra contains a high-strength mixture of vegetarian enzymes supporting enhanced protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, and dairy digestion and promoting optimal nutrient bioavailability and absorption. This formula also offers numerous enzymes to support fiber breakdown, including cellulase, hemicellulase, beta-glucanase, and phytase. Additionally, alpha-galactosidase promotes the breakdown of certain complex carbohydrates, such as raffinose and stachyose, found in some vegetables, grains, and legumes, helping relieve occasional bloating or gas. The recommended dosage is 2 capsules with each meal or as directed by a healthcare professional.
Frequent digestive issues can be very disruptive to life. This could be the primary reason why many of us get easily fixated on digestive problems and feel helpless. Keep in mind that you can overcome most of the issues with healthy tweaks to your lifestyle choices. For some food sensitivities and gut issues, it still could be ongoing. However, with healthy lifestyle habits and digestive aids in the form of high-quality supplements, it can be easily resolved, and you can improve your digestive health.