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Digestion: The cornerstone of good health.

We often don’t think about digestion unless we’re not feeling great or we’ve eaten something that doesn’t seem to agree with us. The usual course of action is to take well known antacids or indigestion tablets to gain relief until the next time it occurs. What we sometimes forget is that the main function of digestion is to break down the foods we eat and utilise the nutrients for energy, growth, repair and immunity, so it’s no wonder we don’t feel well when we eat things that aren’t good for us. Why is it that we eat too quickly or sometimes don’t chew properly? If only we did, it would make a big difference to digestion.

Here are some important factors that can contribute to poor digestion:

  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Eating rich, fatty or spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cucumber, melon, onions, beans

The importance of a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and water in conjunction with regular exercise can help to maintain good digestion; however, sometimes we need some additional support to improve things. Rather than turning to the medicine cabinet why not try some natural alternatives instead.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you might benefit from a digestive supplement:

Probiotics – the good bacteria
In the small and large intestines there are large amounts of bacteria or ‘intestinal flora’ present. Unfortunately not all of these bacteria are good, but provided you have enough of the good bacteria present they will benefit your health by acting as immune defence against more harmful bacteria and fungal infections.
Good bacteria also help to:

  • Produce vitamins and digest fibre
  • Repair and promote a healthy digestive tract
  • Fight infection
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce allergic inflammatory reactions

Sometimes we don’t have enough good bacteria which may be as a result of:

  • Antibiotic usage
  • Poor diet
  • Food allergies
  • Steroid drugs
  • The Pill
  • Non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen

Do you have enough ‘good bacteria’?

Are you prone to feeling too full and bloated after eating?
Sometimes when the body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes, symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps and wind can occur. Digestive enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of food into much smaller components so that the body is able to absorb it more easily. Therefore, supplementing with digestive enzyme supplement after a meal can help aid the digestion of food in a more natural way and address digestive discomfort.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
This is an extremely common blanket term given to a wide range of digestive symptoms including diarrhoea, constipation, wind and stomach cramps. It can be set off by a number of things including stress and irritating foods. It can appear as quickly as it can disappear and therefore makes diagnosis difficult. As well as following the tips for better digestion at the end of this article, you could also try taking peppermint oil in conjunction with probiotics to help symptoms. The muscles of the digestive system can become tight and go into spasm during a phase of IBS. Peppermint oil’s therapeutic properties help bring relief from bloating and tightness by reducing muscle spasms.

Ten tips for better digestion:

  1. Chew your food well to a pulp
  2. Eat slowly and don’t bolt food-the stomach has no teeth!
  3. Try not to eat when stressed as the digestive system is the first system to be affected when stressed
  4. Avoid drinking large amounts whilst eating as it may dilute stomach acid and cause bloating
  5. Avoid eating fruit after meals as it will ferment and cause bloating and gas.
  6. Eat a good variety of fresh unprocessed foods so that your digestive system doesn’t get bored of the same food –that’s how intolerances can start.
  7. Eat at least 5-6 portions of fruit and vegetables a day which are high in soluble fibre. Fibre is essential for detoxification and regular bowel movements.
  8. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol as they irritate the digestive system.
  9. Drink 1 ½ - 2 litres of bottled or filtered water per day
  10. Avoid ready meals and processed foods that contain artificial additives.

What if you are taking prescribed medication?
If you are taking prescribed medication for digestion or any other reasons then always consult your GP before taking new supplements.