10 simple ways to help your digestion
With one in four of us suffering from ongoing digestive issues, Ailin Quinlan spoke to nutritionist Ben Brown for his advice
About 40pc of people have at least one digestive symptom - constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or heartburn - at any one time, while one in four people have ongoing digestive issues.
New research has shown that not only can digestive problems cause physical discomfort or pain, they are also linked to fatigue and anxiety. Ben Brown who is qualified in naturapathic medicine, which is a combination of conventional medicine, nutrition, herbal medication and lifestyle counselling, has just published The Digestive Health Solution, which offers evidence-based natural treatments for digestive issues.
1 Avoid Refined sugar; Reduce Your Intake of Refined Grains
Cut out refined sugar - which is found in many processed foods such as soft drinks, breakfast cereals, breads and muffins - and reduce your intake of refined grains, such as white bread, pasta and rice. "These have no fibre or nutrients and are pure starch, which the body turns into sugar. As far as the body is concerned, eating a slice of white bread is the same as eating a tablespoon of white sugar," says Brown.
Both refined sugar and refined grains are believed to act as a sort of fertiliser, essentially "feeding" the bad bacteria in the gut and causing them to multiply.
2 Eat More Phytonutrients
Colourful fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in phytonutrients, which have a wide range of health benefits and are found in foods such as berries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and carrots. They encourage healthy gut bacteria.
"Phytonutrients encourage the growth of good bacteria which transform food into energy and keep your digestive system running smoothly," says Brown. "Good gut bacteria have been proven to help improve your mood, your metabolism and the strength of your immune system - and phytonutrients feed these good bacteria."
3 Try A Probiotic
Probiotics are live bacteria which have very positive health effects on the digestive system. They can be found in good natural, traditional yoghurts and in supplements, which can be found at your local health food shop or local pharmacy. "Probiotics put good bacteria into your digestive system, helping to restore the balance of good to bad bacteria," Brown explains.
He recommends the consumption of a few tablespoons of good yoghurt every day or recommended supplements - it may take at least four weeks before any noticeable results occur.
Eat mindfully, says Brown. "In our fast-paced society, most people eat on the run or in front of the TV. A lot of people are not chewing properly. If you're preoccupied, your mind is not on what you're eating so you tend to eat a lot faster than you would otherwise do.
"Chewing is a very important part of the whole digestive process. You should actually be chewing food down into a paste before swallowing, because that takes a lot of stress off the digestive system."
5 Try Going Wheat Free
Wheat, and gluten, which is the protein it contains, is one of the most common causes of food sensitivity, says Brown. If you suffer from the symptoms of a poor digestive system, speak to your doctor about having a test for coeliac disease, he advises.
You could also try eliminating wheat, barley and rye from your diet for about four weeks to see if it helps.
6 Go Easy On Dairy
Sensitivity to lactose (the sugar in products like milk, yoghurt and cheese) is very common, says Brown. Experiment with a dairy-free diet for four weeks to see whether your digestive system improves.
Brown points to a 1995 study which showed that 68pc of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were lactose-intolerant - and that after going on a lactose-free diet, 43pc of people with IBS became symptom free. "For some people, eliminating lactose alone is enough to resolve any symptoms they may have," he says.
7 Eat Clean
"There is quite a lot of emerging evidence that certain food additives and preservatives can adversely affect your gut health," says Brown. "They can affect the balance of your gut bacteria."
He points to a recent study on the effect of emulsifiers, a common food additive. Experiments with mice in research recently published in the journal Nature, and led by scientists at Cornell University in New York, found that emulsifiers were linked with inflammation of the bowel and obesity.
"Avoid processed foods with lots of additives, and eat organic produce where possible," Brown advises.
8 Eat Lean
One of the characteristics of IBS is that the gut nervous system becomes highly sensitised, explains Brown. "People with IBS have very sensitive nerve endings - they are very inflamed and even the processing of normal food can be painful."
As food moves through the digestive system, it touches these inflamed or overly sensitive nerves, causing discomfort, he explains. "When you eat high fat food it seems to increase that pain and sensitivity, so avoid really high-fat foods such as fatty meats or processed foods."
9 Stay Regular
Constipation affects one in 10 people, and is caused by several factors, such as a poor diet or changes or an imbalance in your gut bacteria. The answer is quite simple: "Eat high-fibre foods such as fruit and vegetables. Too much meat and foods low in fibre such as refined grains, cereals, processed foods as well as lack of exercise all seem to play a role."
Eat prunes, drink more water and take regular exercise - it can all help, he observes.
10 Try A Kiwi Fruit Cleanse
Kiwis are packed full of a really beneficial digestive enzyme called 'actinidin' which acts as a digestive aid. They also contain fibre, an extremely important element of good gut health.
Research carried out in 2002 at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found that kiwis significantly helped alleviate the symptoms of older people suffering from constipation. "The study found that two or three kiwi fruit daily for about four weeks will relieve constipation," Brown says.
* 'The Digestive Health Solution: Your personalized five-step plan for inside-out digestive wellness' by Benjamin Brown, is published at €21 by Exisle Publishing.
Ben Brown is talking on Thursday, April 30, in Clonakilty Co Cork. Reservations for the seminar, taking place at O'Donovan's Hotel in Clonakilty, can be made by calling The Olive Branch on 023 8835711.
Health & Living