You are what you eat. But to be completely truthful, you are what you digest and absorb. Digestive health is the foundation for obtaining optimal health. What you eat becomes part of every living cell and takes part in every biological function in your body; therefore how your digestive tract absorbs the nutrients you eat, dictates your digestive health and ultimately, how healthy you are.
Digestive issues can be disruptive and cause significant health concerns and discomfort. Waking up to stomachaches, pains, and cramps that intermittently prod you throughout the day can be irritating, create pain, and produce inflammation that can severely impact the quality of your life. Controlling the factors that invariably affect your digestive system can help provide sustained relief and optimize your health. You can have the best diet possible, but if your body can’t adequately absorb the nutrients you eat, due to intestinal permeability, then your digestive health will suffer. Before we get into how you can improve your digestive health, we need to understand what the digestive system is and how it works.
How The Digestive System Works
Your digestive system is comprised of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), the liver, the pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs that stretch from the mouth to the anus, which include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and the anus. When you eat food it passes through the digestive system and the hollow organs of the digestive tract [R]
One of the most important aspects of your digestive health is the bacteria found in the GI tract called the gut flora or the microbiome. The GI tract is colonized by nearly 3 million gut microbiota that helps with digesting the food you eat, absorbing the nutrients and vitamins your body can utilize, and boosting your immune system health. Scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Genome Institute of Singapore recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that gut flora has a significant impact on brain development and subsequent adult behavior. [R]
The main concern with digestive health, which acts as a catalyst for digestive issues is specifically correlated to intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut is when materials and nutrients can easily pass from the gastrointestinal tract through the cells lining the gut wall, into the rest of the body. Intestinal permeability can lead to much bigger gastrointestinal and digestive disorders such as Chrons, Ulcerative Colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. How you can improve digestive health, is through strengthening the gut lining. We’ll get to this topic a little bit later.
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How To Naturally Improve Your Digestive Health
Improving your digestive health will ultimately improve your overall well being and mood state. Here are some natural ways to improve your digestive health and optimize your nutrient uptake to power your active lifestyle.
1. Eat More Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain a ton of probiotics. What are probiotics you ask? Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that create a healthy gut flora, or environment for a healthier digestive system. Adding fermented foods to your diet such as Kimchi, kefir, miso, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt will help build your body’s reserves of healthy bacteria to absorb the vital nutrients you need. Adding more fermented foods to your diet will definitely help improve your digestive health, as well as boost your immune system.
RELATED ARTICLE Why You Should Add Kombucha To Your Diet
2. Supplement With A High-Quality Probiotic
If you don’t like fermented foods, and you can’t stand Kombucha, then take a supplement. Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic is a great way to deliver the healthy bacteria your digestive tract needs to improve your digestive health by building a healthy gut flora.
GMO's, pesticides, and other environmental toxins have a direct effect on the degradation of food you eat, which attributes to the health of the microflora in your gut. Supplementation of probiotics is crucial to delivering the healthy bacteria our bodies need for proper digestion and improving your digestive health.
Furthermore, A Good Gut, Means A Healthy Brain - Good gut health is directly correlated with optimal brain function. Absorbing the nutrients you need will help with better digestive health, therefore, giving your body vital and key nutrients for a healthy gut biome, and optimal brain function.
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3. Be Physically Active & Get Your Heart Rate Up
If you’re not physically active on a regular basis, then your body is restricted of the oxygen, blood flow, and energy that courses through your immune system, which translates into slow, stagnant, digestive function. And just moving around, won’t do the trick. When I was a trainer, I used to have clients tell me, “I’m active, I garden!” Gardening is all well and good, BUT! Without getting your heart rate up, your immune system and digestive health will suffer. Find a fitness program that challenges you and that you’ll stick with. We’ve all heard the old adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Well, it’s true. Use it! Otherwise, improving your digestive heath, will be a lot more difficult.
4. Remove Inflammatory Foods
One way to naturally improve your digestive health is by removing inflammatory foods, which will help your digestive tract absorb vital nutrients and boost your immune system. Foods that have a ton of sugar can create micronutrient deficiencies and chronic inflammation. When you ingest too much sugar, excess glucose is expelled into the bloodstream, releasing increased levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
Other foods that cause chronic digestive inflammation also include but are not limited to
- Fried foods
- Vegetable oil
- Processed Meats
- Trans fats
Try to limit these types of foods and replace them with whole grains, healthy fats, and lean grass-fed proteins. By removing inflammatory foods, your stomach will thank you, and you’ll drastically improve your digestive health. [R]
5. Include more Prebiotics
Prebiotics are foods classified as non-digestible fiber. Since they cannot be digested and broken down by the stomachs gastric acid or digestive enzymes, they make there way through the small intestine. After they reach the colon, they are fermented by the gut flora, which provides fuel for good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics play a fundamental role in preserving good health by maintaining balance and diversity of intestinal bacteria and increasing the number of good bacteria, called Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Foods that are rich in prebiotics, include but are not limited to
- Chicory Root
Pack some of these prebiotic-rich foods into your diet, and you’ll improve your digestive health faster than you know it.
6. Supplement With L-Glutamine
L-Glutamine is the most abundant conditionally essential amino acid in the human body. Conditionally essential meaning the body can synthesize them under certain conditions. Glutamine is a vital nutrient for aiding in the process of rapidly dividing cells from the immune system and gut to rebuild and repair [R] L-Glutamine is also proven to help fight intestinal inflammation and help those with food sensitivities.
Among the various tissues using glutamine at high rates, the intestine utilizes about 30% of total glutamine indicating that it is a key nutrient for the intestine [R]
So how does L-Glutamine help improve digestive health? The specific mechanism of action and role of L-Glutamine is in utilizing nitrogen atoms. Glutamine helps direct the body where and when to place nitrogen atoms in order to rebuild and repair the gut lining. This can be extremely beneficial to improve digestive health and for those that have gastrointestinal issues such as leaky gut, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chron’s, IBS, and Ulcerative Colitis.
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7. Drink More Water
Eating more fiber and fermented foods is all well and good, but without a way to move that material through your colon, you'll still experience bloating. Water breaks down particles and helps absorb insoluble and soluble fiber to sweep through your system more clean and effectively. Drinking water is vital to your digestive health, bowel movements, and maintaining regularity.
So, How Do You Improve Digestive Health?
The takeaway is this - if you want to improve your digestive health, you don't have to incorporate all six of these practices into your diet and everyday life. But, if you can eat more fermented food, drink more kombucha, be more physically active, and supplement with the right ingredients, then you can definitely improve your digestive health, and your overall quality of life. Drink more water, eat more fiber, and be conscious of what you put in your body.
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