I wanted to write to ask if you can offer tips for better digestion. I often get bloated and I suffer from IBS. I’ve tried a number of probiotics and have gotten different supplements. Nothing seems to help. I like the column and would love any advice you can give.
Thank you for writing in! Digestive health is something everyone can benefit from boosting, whether there’s pathology or not. With an IBS diagnosis this is going to be especially beneficial.
I read an article this week on digestive health that gave suggestions that are almost the opposite of what I recommend, so I caution readers against nutrition information without knowing and checking the source. My information is based on data plus clinical practice. The reality is, there are a lot of problems with only relying on published studies (data) for nutrition related information. In the first place, there isn’t enough incentive for private companies - which fund the lion’s share of medical research - to fund studies on whole foods. This is because whole, natural foods can’t be patented. To patent food you have to modify the genes. This is the primary driver of GMO foods in my estimation.
Another problem with food studies is that they rely on self reporting, which is notoriously unreliable. Rarely do we realize or accurately report what we eat.
Lastly, food studies are difficult because there are so many external factors that can skew the results. These are called variables and when you’re doing a study including various people from various backgrounds, the variables are going to be huge. For example, if a person has suffered a death in the family, the impact food has on his blood pressure may be skewed compared to normal due to the incredible stress of acute grief. If a person is going through a divorce her anxiety may not respond to food that would otherwise be very helpful for her condition. Environmental factors also factor in, as well as genetics and health history. All people with anxiety do not have the same health history or causes. So these are difficult to capture and reflect with any accuracy in food studies.
What this means is that data on how whole foods impact specific health conditions is in short supply. Add to this that nutrition is a very new science and it becomes clear that we must rely on clinical case studies and reports from practitioners as well as larger studies. So if this information conflicts with something you’ve read somewhere else I suggest you try the gold standard for determining truth: do a scientific experiment of your own. Try the various suggestions a practitioner makes and see for yourself the impact on your health! Science is not just for those in lab coats!
To answer the question, there are a number of things we can do to boost digestion that I have found to be very effective.
10 things you can do to boost your digestion
- Add probiotic foods
Probiotic pills may or may not impact our gut biome significantly, but probiotic foods certainly do! And these are relatively easy to make and tasty. I teach a class on making fermented foods via webinar if you’re interested in learning how to incorporate these at home.
- Be sure to eat healthy fats
Most mechanics know that lubrication is essential for passing any large product through a tube. Our digestive systems are primarily a large tube, yet we seem to forget the importance of lubrication! Adding coconut oil and chia seeds to our daily diet can help with even the most stubborn constipation.
- Eat more meat
Meat is very easy to digest compared to grains and starches if you suffer from dysbiosis. It relies on stomach acid to digest, which is easy to add via digestive enzymes if you are low. In addition, it does not feed pathological bacteria in the intestines the way that grains and starches do. Any client who is suffering from gas, bloat, chronic constipation, food intolerances, recurrent UTIs or yeast infections typically finds great relief in consuming more meat and reducing inflammatory foods.
- Avoid grains
This message used to be radical, but now a lot of health practitioners are catching on. Every week now I see new posts from nutritionists who were formerly vegetarians now cutting grains and adding meat because of the inflammation and digestive woes they began to suffer. Grains are very inflammatory and contain a lot of anti-nutrients, which makes them hard on our digestive systems. They really need to be grown and stored and processed carefully in order to release the nutrients without being a ruminant animal. It can be done, but in the presence of nutritionally superior foods it’s not optimal. Digestive issues often resolve when these are removed.
- Limit starches
Starches similarly feed the bacteria in the gut that typically is overgrown in our culture. This creates imbalance. The overgrowth causes gaps in the intestine and further degenerates digestive health, setting us up for leaky gut syndrome. Until the digestive system is healed I suggest limiting starches.
- Use therapeutic enemas
This suggestion used to be so well accepted as essential that hospital admissions included the administration of enemas. It was a standard procedure in the Merck manual for physicians. Today it’s been replaced with pharmaceuticals. But a lazy colon or constipated colon can be effectively stimulated with enemas and there are liver cleansing benefits to adding natural, quality coffee to the water. The benefit to digestion is undeniable. For readers who are interested in this issue I recommend reading the work of Dr. Bernard Jensen.
- Use digestive enzymes
These are easy to take in pill form to help those with digestion. If you need help with proteins you will have smelly gas. If you need help with starches you will have gas that doesn’t smell. Belching usually requires both. Supplements that contain betaine hydrochloride, pepsin, and proteases like papain and bromelain help digest proteins. Supplements that contain amylase help digest grains. It’s essential to make sure it contains lactase if you know dairy can be a trigger for you. I personally like NOW brand super enzymes.
- Use DGL
Deglycerized licorice comes in TUMS-like tabs and can help ease digestive stress incredibly for those with ulcers or stomach pain or acid reflux. Chew several with each meal. It’s a herbal extract from licorice, created to remove the element that can cause problems for some.
- Try Fibre Choice
This supplement is a gem, which I cannot live without. It’s a daily prebiotic supplement that works wonders those days when coffee gives you a tummy ache or something you’ve eaten does not agree with you. I reach for one of these. They are totally natural and again, very much like TUMS, with a pleasant flavour.
- Keep a food journal
This is a very small thing that can have a huge impact. It will enable you to understand if there is a pattern relating to any digestive issues. Simply write what you eat each day and any symptoms as they occur, morning to night. If there are a few foods that are triggering you, it should become apparent. If it is not apparent that does not necessarily mean there aren’t food triggers, they just may be hidden. If this is the case it’s best to get food intolerance testing, as I do in my practice.
Thank you for writing in, Hannah. If readers have nutrition-related questions they’d like answered, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me online at askthenutritionist.ca, where I offer 1:1 nutritional coaching and group based 90-day reboots.