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Optimizing Digestion Naturally

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

We know the importance of whole food nutrition for optimal health, however, properly digesting this nutrition is just as important! If we aren't digesting properly, then we aren’t getting the vitamins, minerals and overall nutrition our body needs to function optimally. We may even by causing unwanted bacteria/yeast overgrowth in the gut.


Some may experience symptoms of poor digestion including:

  • Belching

  • Gas

  • Bloating

  • Acid reflux

  • Heartburn

  • Constipation

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, there are many gentle and natural ways to support your body’s ability to digest your food optimally.


Belching, Bloating and/or Gas After Eating:


These symptoms can be a strong indication that your body is in need of some digestive support. There may be a lack of pancreatic enzymes or stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) or both. These two symptoms are also linked to:

  • Excess carbohydrate, sugar and refined foods

  • Chronic overeating or constant snacking between meals

  • Imbalanced gut flora

You may be someone who is eating small, frequent meals throughout the day and that is okay. However, keep in mind that it takes 3-5 hours to breakdown food in the stomach. Giving your body time to complete this process optimally is ideal.


When you are ready, see if you can move away from small, frequent meals to 3 meals per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Focusing on quality protein, healthy fats, lots of colorful vegetables and low GI fruits (cherries, grapefruit, pears, apples, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, guava) will keep you full and satisfied between meals while increasing your overall digestion.


What you can do to support this process:

  1. This may seem obvious, but way too many rush their meals. Eat sitting down and in a relaxed state. Enjoy the experience and chew, chew, chew!

  2. Add 1-2 tbsp. of lemon, lime or cranberry (no sugar added) juice to warm water and drink before and after eating.

  3. Utilize herbal teas like peppermint, ginger, cardamom, chamomile and lemon before and after eating. Or cut off a few thin slices of ginger root and steep it in hot water for 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and have this every morning when you wake up or prior to meals.

  4. Add a tbsp. of apple cider vinegar to warm water before eating.

  5. Include a professional grade probiotic to support your healthy gut bacteria and boost probiotic/prebiotic rich foods.

  6. Try to eat your meals around the same time everyday so your body gets use to a routine and prepares itself for meals and digestion.

  7. Utilize bitters prior to eating (good brands include Urban Moonshine, Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs, Designs for Health CarminaGest) and boost bitter foods (asparagus, artichoke, dandelion greens).

If you are still having symptoms, you can try supplementing with digestive enzymes 10-30 minutes before eating. You will want to look for words like lipase, protease, amylase, pancreatin, ox bile extract, bromelain, papain, and pepsin.


If upper abdominal bloating or excessive/uncomfortable fullness after meals is a main concern then you will want to make sure your digestive enzyme supplement includes Betaine Hcl (my favorite is Designs for Health Digestzymes).


Heartburn and/or Acid Reflux


One of the most common symptoms we hear from clients is acid reflux. There is a logical answer and it can be easily fixed, but so many people get too used to antacids for short term relief, or turn to proton pump inhibitors (or PPIs) like Prilosec, Nexium, and Protonix.

You may experience temporary relief because these medications reduce the effects of acid in your stomach or actually suppress the body’s ability to produce stomach acid altogether. However, here’s the big issue with this – we need stomach acid to digest our food.


In all actuality, it is very rare that these symptoms are due to too much stomach acid. 85-90% of the time these symptoms are due to LOW stomach acid! What seems like an acidic stomach can actually be an alkaline stomach. When we don’t have enough stomach acid – the valve connecting the esophagus and the stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter, becomes weakened and allows stomach acid to flow upwards.


Here are other symptoms you may experience if low stomach acid is the case for you:

  • Indigestion, burping, bloating, gas.

  • Tendency towards allergies, eczema, and asthma.

  • Excess fullness after meals.

  • Undigested food in stool.

  • Bad breath or halitosis.

  • Bowel movements that are painful or difficult, constipation.

  • Burning or itching anus.

  • Sneezing attacks and/or airborne allergies.

  • Extra sleepy after meals

  • Frequent skin rashes and/or hives.

  • Thin nails that easily chip, break and/or bend.

If we do not have enough stomach acid to digest our food properly, that food just sits in the gut, it ferments, and then it feeds unwanted bacteria and yeast in the gut. An overgrowth of these opportunistic bugs causes other issues and if left unaddressed, some can experience more serious nutrient deficiencies as well (magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron).


Which brings me to my next point. Another huge role of stomach acid is to eliminate bacteria and viruses in the stomach in the first place to protect your body from infection. Not enough stomach acid = low line of defense.


So, while these medications can be helpful in some cases, they really should not be used for longer than 6 weeks at a time. Though some people are on them for years!

What you can do to support this process:

  1. You can protect and calm the lining of the esophagus with natural supplements like aloe and DGL. You then add digestive enzymes with Betaine Hcl to help balance pH levels. You can also add apple cider vinegar or lemon, lime or cranberry juice (no sugar added) to water before each meal.

  2. Reduced overall healthy gut bacteria can also cause acid reflux or chronic heartburn, so boost probiotic and prebiotic rich foods. Adding a professional grade probiotic can be a nice addition in balancing the body.

  3. An infection called H. Pylori can be the cause of your acid reflux or GERD symptoms, as it likes to suppress stomach acid. We can help you test for this at home.

  4. Food allergies and/or sensitivities can be a huge trigger for heartburn and reflux also. The main food sensitivities include dairy, eggs, and gluten. Other foods that can cause irritation include citrus fruits, fried foods, coffee and tea, tomatoes and sauces, chocolate, onions and garlic, and fatty fast foods. Avoiding the foods that can cause irritation is ideal while your balance your gut.

  5. Adding fermented veggies can help support stomach acid levels (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi)

  6. Include ginger - slice, grate and steep into tea and foods.

  7. The lower esophageal sphincter can also get pushed out of position due to an odd movement and even just high stress. Hiatal hernias can also be a cause – this is when the upper part of the stomach moves through a small opening in the diaphragm. Either way, a chiropractor can help you with these situations as well as teach you what you can do at home on an as needed basis.

Constipation


Constipation is a subjective symptom where stools are too hard, too small, too infrequent, difficult to pass, or incomplete. In functional medicine, if a full day passes without a bowel movement there is constipation.


The most common cause of constipation is lack of dietary fiber and adequate hydration though it can also be due to insufficient pancreatic enzymes and hydrochloric acid, gallbladder congestion with a need for bile salts, magnesium deficiency, unbalanced gut flora or dysbiosis and even food sensitivities.


What you can do to support this process:


1) Stay hydrated! Try to drink half your weight in ounces every day (150 pounds = 75 ounces), at most 100 ounces of water a day or 12 (8 ounce) cups a day. It may be easier to remember your water intake if you have a large water bottle with you at all times and sip throughout the day.

2) Consume a high fiber diet (at the very least 30g/day and increase this slowly over time to 40-50g/day ideally). High fiber foods should be mostly vegetables and fruits, but some grains and legumes are good as well if properly soaked and prepared.


Recommended fiber foods include:

  • Sautéed greens (kale, dandelion greens, Bok choy, beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens)

  • Avocado

  • Artichoke

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Berries like raspberries and blackberries

  • Lentils, beans and hummus

  • Quinoa

  • Chia and flaxseeds

3) Work towards eating 3 meals a day rather than frequent small meals or snacking for optimal digestion.

4) Avoid refined/processed carbohydrates and sugar (white flour, breads, pastas, bakery items). Switch out dry foods for moist foods (soups/stews/smoothies).

5) Exercise is a bowel stimulant. Try to move daily to counteract any bodily stagnation.

6) Utilize probiotic and prebiotic rich foods and include a probiotic supplement. Helpful foods include:

  • Fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickled ginger and veggies like pickles and beets), Unsweetened coconut yogurt

  • Unsweetened kefir

  • Miso

  • Asparagus

  • Jerusalem artichokes

  • Leeks and onions

  • Garlic

  • Chicory root

  • Green bananas

  • Dandelion greens

7) Include a Magnesium Citrate supplement (400-600mg/day taken at night).

8) Utilize apple cider vinegar, lemon, lime, or cranberry juice (no added sugar), hot ginger and/or lemon tea, bitters or digestive enzymes (with Betaine Hcl and Ox Bile) prior to meals.

9) Coconut oil - start with 1 tsp and work your way up to 1 tbsp as needed.

10) Utilize Castor Oil Packs!

11) Utilize herbal teas before/after meals: burdock root, chamomile, dandelion root, slippery elm, fennel.

12) Include bitters before meals and boost bitter foods: cabbage, dandelion, artichoke, lemon.

13) Include healthy fats to stimulate the liver/gallbladder (avocado, grass-fed butter/ghee, fatty fish, olive oil, olives).


Try these recipes for constipation relief:


1) Mix ground flax seed (start with 1/4 cup), puréed prunes (start with 4), apple cider vinegar (1 tsp is fine) - add enough to make it a thick paste. Consume 2-3 tablespoons every evening.


2) Take an apple with the skin (can add skin from another apple as well), sauté at low temperature. Add cinnamon and ghee as well as some coconut yogurt if you want.


Remember that we offer functional testing to further investigate food sensitivities and overall gut health. If you feel as though you could benefit from the use of digestive enzymes, magnesium, probiotics and/or bitters you can check out our supplement store HERE.



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