If your digestive system is out of sorts you're not alone. It’s human nature during uncertain times to feel the effects of fear and anxiety in the tummy.
Not only is the brain and gut connected via the vagus nerve (one of the largest nerves in the body), surprisingly the digestive system houses more nerves than the spinal cord.
The good news is that with a few simple steps you can overcome a little digestive discomfort. To help you do so, here’s 5 healthy tweaks for your digestive system.
5 Healthy Tweaks For Your Digestive System
1. Eat more fibre
Whichever wave of movement your digestive system 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, 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 enough healthy fats
In addition to getting enough fibre, it's also important to make sure your diet contains a balance of healthy fats. This 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 overeating. Overeating will put pressure on your digestive system, slow down motility and probably cause indigestion. As a result, you will create digestive distress. 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 as the strains used are scientifically shown to create a beneficial environment for good bacteria to flourish.
It 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 digestive system, 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 tends to relax the lower esophageal sphincter. But there are plenty of other calming herbal teas like, stress-soothing camomile, mood-stabilising lavender, lemon balm 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 (your feel-good hormone) into the gut.
5. Replace stressful thoughts with relaxed vibes
Unfortunately, stress impacts your digestive system. Think butterflies, uneasy feelings and cramps in your tummy. This makes for poor digestion.
Basically the brain and 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 mass media. You don’t need to hear about fear-provoking stories that may 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.
There are many options for improving your digestive system, so don't give up if you are struggling with chronic problems.
Hi, I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Pain & Stress Management Therapist, and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.
I help people elevate their mind and body health by addressing diet, nutrition and lifestyle symptoms. Let's work together to optimize how you feel and function.
Gut Health Plan
90 Days of healing to optimise your gut function. Improving your gut health isn't just beneficial for digestive complaints. Did you know that 60 - 80% of your immune system and 90% of your feel-good hormone serotonin, resides in your gut?