If you're experiencing digestive stress as a result of the Covid-19 quarantine lockdown, you're not alone. It’s human nature during uncertain times to feel the effects of fear and anxiety in the tummy. Why? Because not only is the brain and gut connected via the vagus nerve (one of the largest nerves in the body), surprisingly the stomach and intestines themselves house more nerves than the spinal cord.
The good news is though with a few simple steps it's easy enough to overcome a little digestive stress. To help you do so, here’s 5 healthy tweaks for better digestion.
Quarantine Digestive Stress? 5 Healthy Tweaks For Better Digestion
1. Eat more fibre
Whichever wave of movement your gut favours when stressed - increased or decreased gut motility, or maybe fluctuating between the two it’s important to eat enough fibre. Fibre promotes regular elimination and healthy gut bacteria.
Fibre is exclusively a plant nutrient, as plants need it for structural support. Without fibre, balanced digestion is impossible. Aim for 35 grams of fibre per day. Excellent fibre sources include: leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, lettuce), cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, watercress), squashes, beans, lentils and whole grains. If you include a wide variety of plant-based foods in your diet, you’ll reach your fibre goals easily.
For additional help with elimination, you could try adding psyllium husk powder or ground flaxseeds to your diet. Be sure to buy a quality brand, read the instructions carefully and start off with just one teaspoon in a glass of water. Most people find a teaspoon or two really helps them get their bowels moving, or slow them down if necessary. It’s important to drink plenty of water with psyllium husks.
2. Eat more healthy fats
In addition to getting enough fibre, it's also important to make sure your diet contains a balance of healthy fats. That includes wild fatty fish like salmon and sardines, avocado, nuts and seeds, chia seeds, coconut oil, ghee, eggs and cold-pressed olive oil.
Good fats signal satiety which helps to prevent over-eating. Over-eating will put pressure on your digestive system, slow down motility and probably cause indigestion. As a result, you will create digestive stress. Not only are you likely to spike your blood sugar, bloat, feel tired and uncomfortable, but your ability to absorb nutrients will also be impaired.
3. Improve your probiotic diversity
Imbalanced bacteria in the gut, or elevated levels of unhealthy bacteria, can create inflammatory conditions. Over time this can become an internal stressor that inhibits stomach acid production and slows bile secretion, both of which affect your ability to absorb nutrients effectively.
Your gut is like an ecosystem and to work efficiently you want to support the balance of good bacteria (flora). Probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are good options, along with organic tofu and tempeh (my preference). Always check the label before buying as you don’t need additional ingredients.
Yogurt is another source of probiotics because it’s made by fermenting milk with live bacteria. But not all probiotic yogurt is the same, so again check the label before buying.
To give your gut additional support in times of stress, or not, take a high-quality probiotic supplement.
I take this probiotic you will find here because the strains used are scientifically shown to create a beneficial environment for the good bacteria to flourish. This probiotic also contains the strain - Lactobacillus rhamnosus and in one study, mice that were given this probiotic strain experienced increased GABA production and a reduction in stress, depression, and anxiety. GABA is a neurotransmitter that soothes stress.
4. Replace caffeinated drinks for calming teas
When you have irritation in your intestines, it’s best to eliminate caffeine (tea and coffee), as it's highly acidic and will aggravate your stomach. Instead, switch to calming herbal teas or even warm water.
Mint aids digestion by increasing gastric emptying, stimulating secretion of digestive juices and bile. It also relaxes any excessive spasm of the smooth muscle tissue in the digestive tract. Drink mint tea to rehydrate the body and relieve indigestion, abdominal cramps, flatulence and mild IBS.
Not everyone gets on with mint. If you suffer from reflux, you may not tolerate mint as it relaxes the lower oesophageal sphincter. But there are plenty of other calming herbal teas like, stress-soothing camomile, mood-stabilising lavender, lemonbalm which helps to boost GABA production, and then you have holy basil (aka tulsi), fennel and rose. All of which aid digestive stress by promoting the flow of serotonin (feel-good hormone) into the gut.
5. Switch stressful thoughts for relaxed vibes
In times of stress, many people experience digestive stress shifts. Think butterflies, uneasy feelings and cramps in your tummy. This makes for poor digestion.
The fact is, the brain and the gut communicate directly. Emotions and cognitive function affect the intestines and vice versa. Stress can disrupt your digestion — and your digestive health can affect your stress levels. It’s a “catch 22” situation I know, but it can be easily remedied with some calming notions.
In times of relaxation, we tend to experience positive digestive shifts. Think stomach gurgling, which means release of digestive fluids. This makes for optimal digestion.
First, tune out of stressful input, this includes reducing your level of exposure to the media. You don’t need to hear about fear-provoking stories that could invoke anxiety.
Also, make time for some kind of daily mindfulness or meditation practice, relaxation and breathing exercises, or yoga, whatever works for you. Just 15 minutes a day, can make all the difference to how you think and feel. If you already have a daily relaxation practice, I’m sure you’ll agree with me how powerful it is for your mind, body, day and productivity levels.
If your digestive problems extend beyond a bit of quarantine digestive stress, you might want to check out my 90-Day Gut Health Plan or Contact me here for some personalised help. There are many options for improving your digestion, so don't give up if you are struggling with chronic problems.
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