As a company whose focus is always on good health – particularly good digestive health – we are very excited that this month contains not one but TWO Digestive Health Awareness days!

World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Day is today, 19th May, and is soon to be followed by World Digestive Health Day on 29th May.

Tummy pain
Digestive disorders and Inflammatory Bowel Disorders are on the increase.

As a nutritional therapist, I was trained that ‘good health starts in the gut’, and I can’t stress enough just how important it is to look at gut health when trying to support any health condition holistically. Gut disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Diverticulosis are on the increase, and can make life miserable for those afflicted.

For those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from IBD, supporting digestive function is a daily priority, but we can all potentially benefit from trying to improve our digestive health. It doesn’t take much to make a positive improvement, and the following five tips are very simple ways to help improve the way we digest our food, whether we suffer from a digestive complaint or not:

1. Drinking:

Few of us drink enough water, but good digestive function requires adequate hydration. When we don’t drink enough, the colon draws water out of stools, which makes them hard to pass and leads to constipation. Drink around 2 litres per day to help form saliva, wash out toxins and allow for regular stool formation and passage. Drinking enough water can also help to stop us over-eating – our body can crave foods when in fact it’s the water in the foods that it’s craving. Keeping well hydrated can make us feel fuller and stop us eating those naughty snacks!

Drinking water
Make sure you stay well hydrated to keep your digestive processes flowing efficiently

2. Diet

What we eat is, of course, a key factor in good digestion. It’s not a huge mental leap to think that proper functioning of the body, including the digestive system, relies on us supplying it with the right fuel. We would always give our cars four star fuel, but often fill up on foods with a one star nutrient rating! Think about keeping sugary and very refined foods to a minimum, especially if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel condition. Sugar promotes inflammation and will feed the wrong sort of bacteria in our intestines. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to supply soluble fibre – this feeds the right type of bacteria and helps to absorb liquids to form healthy stools.

We can also tweak our diets to include anti-inflammatory foods such as salmon and flaxseeds which contain healthy fats, anti-inflammatory spices such as my favourite turmeric, and gut-healing foods such as stewed apple and bone broths. But, as with probiotics, we all have different dietary requirements, so I’d always recommend consulting with a nutritional therapist or naturopath for personalised advice on the best diet for our individual needs, particularly if suffering from a severe digestive issue such as IBD. Check out www.bant.org.uk or www.cnhc.org.uk to find a suitably qualified therapist near to you.


Salmon
Your diet is a powerful tool to help support digestion and reduce inflammation

3. Mindful eating

It’s not always about what we eat, but also HOW we eat. It’s vitally important for good digestion to eat in a ‘mindful’ way. If you eat on the run, gulp your food down, or simply don’t enjoy it, all of these factors will influence how you digest that food. So make time to eat, be conscious about what you’re eating, how it’s going to taste, and how it may benefit and nourish your body. This will start your digestive juices flowing – the first stage of digestion. Chew your food well – saliva contains enzymes that start to break the food down. Make sure you allow time for your body to digest the food after eating – digestion is a major undertaking for the body and we need to give it the time it needs to do the job properly.

A healthy mind and body help support digestion

4. Exercise

How can this help your digestion? Well, keeping your core muscles toned will help to support bowel function - if your core muscles are flabby and slack, then the whole digestive system may feel sluggish, and you may feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Gentle exercise is the key –yoga and Pilates are great for muscle tone and stress relief, and brisk walking, cycling or dancing are great ways to get your heart beating a little faster to enhance metabolism, bowel motility and stool regularity. Intense exercise regimes can be a stress on the body, however, and can have negative effects on the digestion, so if you’re a keen athlete it’s best to get professional advice from a sports nutritionist about how to avoid this.

NB: Always allow two hours after a meal before you exercise and don’t exercise on a full stomach.

Antibiotics
Presciption medications such as antibiotics can negatively affect the gut flora

5. Medication

Our gut flora is inherited from our mothers during birth, but then for the first couple of years of life evolves to form a unique internal ecosystem that’s as individual as our fingerprint. This on-board microbial army is one of our most powerful defences and is being referred to as the ‘invisible organ’. But many things can affect its delicate balance, including medications such as antibiotics that can wipe out good as well as bad bacteria. It’s common for digestive issues to begin after courses of antibiotics, so it’s a good idea to accompany any course of these drugs with a high quality live cultures supplement.

Good digestive health is achieved not through a miracle drug or pill, but by a combination of healthy living practices. Often it’s the simplest of health tips that can provide huge benefits – do feel free to share your own tips for good digestion with us below.

If you want to know more about each of these Awareness Days, click on the following links:

http://www.worldibdday.org/

http://www.worldgastroenterology.org/wgo-foundation/wdhd

For other blogs and information pages, healthcare professionals can click on the links below:

FAQ: Which probiotics are best for IBD?

FAQ: Which probiotics for IBS?

FAQ: Probiotics for diverticulosis

Blog: New study explores effect of Crohn's treatments on gut flora


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