Here Are 15 Natural Ways to Tackle Your Digestive Issues
By Alysa Bajenaru, RD
In this article:
We’ve all dealt with unpleasant digestion issues at times. Whether it’s nausea, constipation, gas, heartburn, or just an upset stomach, none of us are completely immune. The good news is, there are simple things we can do to help ourselves feel better when these issues come up.
Here are 15 ways you can naturally improve your digestion.
Convenience foods, typical in a Western diet, can contain high amounts of sugar, excess sodium, unhealthy fats and added chemicals. Consuming too much of these foods can cause inflammation in the body, wreak havoc on your gut bacteria, and can even be addictive, causing you to eat too much overall. Replacing highly processed foods with more whole foods can improve digestion and protect against digestive diseases.
Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and incorporate whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds into your diet on a daily basis. As you switch to eating more whole foods, you might want to keep a food diary to identify any foods that may be giving you digestive trouble. If you’re having a hard time narrowing it down, working with a registered dietitian on an elimination diet may be a good option.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important because they help your digestive system differently. Soluble fiber helps add bulk to your stool and insoluble fiber helps keep everything moving along. Good sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Insoluble fiber comes from wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. When adding fiber into the diet it is important to start slowly and increase your water intake to avoid bloating and cramping.
Fatty cuts of meat and fried foods can lead to digestive discomfort including heartburn and gas. Choose lean cuts of meat and healthy fats like avocados and olive oil to help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins without the bellyache.
Constipation is often caused by dehydration. Aim to drink at least 2 liters of water a day to prevent constipation, and to help fiber do its job. The easiest way to get into a good habit of drinking water is to carry a reusable water bottle. Having water with you and in front of you all day makes it more likely you’ll remember to drink it!
All three of these beverage types can upset your digestive system. Regular alcohol intake can lead to heartburn, acid reflux and even stomach ulcers. Caffeine and soda can also irritate the gut and make any existing symptoms worse. Replacing these drinks with water and herbal tea can help soothe the gut and reduce painful digestive symptoms.
If you tend to rush through meals, eat on the go, or multitask through the lunch hour, it might be a good idea to try a more mindful approach to eating. Do your best to sit down at the table and focus on what you’re eating. Put down the phone or turn off the screen, and give your attention to the food in front of you. Even if you can set aside 10-15 minutes to truly focus on the meal at hand, it could help improve your digestion.
The digestion process actually begins in your mouth with the act of chewing. If you’re eating too quickly to properly break down the food before it goes into your stomach, your stomach has to work harder to digest it, and this can lead to excess gas production and an upset stomach. Chewing food thoroughly is a simple way to help prevent indigestion and heartburn.
Lying down with a full stomach can make it easier for stomach acid to splash back up into your throat. If you’re suffering from any symptoms of heartburn (a burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone after eating, chest pain when you lie down, burning in the throat, sour or acidic tasting fluid in the back of the throat), avoid eating anything for at least three hours before lying down in bed.
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve digestion because it increases blood flow and helps food move through the digestive tract. Exercise can also help improve symptoms of heartburn, gas, stomach cramps and constipation. Just make sure to time it right so you don’t do an intense workout directly after a heavy meal, although after-dinner walks are highly recommended.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that keep your gut healthy, help with digestion, and reduce inflammation. Prebiotics are the indigestible fiber that the probiotics eat. Both are important for healthy digestion. Good sources of probiotics include fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha, or a daily probiotic supplement. Good sources of prebiotics include garlic, leeks, onion, and asparagus. They are also available in supplement form, sometimes combined with a probiotic.
You already know smoking is bad for you but did you know that smoking has been found to increase the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and pancreas? Smoking also increases the risk of heartburn, reflux, peptic ulcers, Crohn's disease, colon polyps, and pancreatitis. The good news is, quitting smoking can reverse some of the effects of smoking on the digestive system and improve symptoms of some digestive diseases.
If you regularly chew gum and find yourself uncomfortably bloated, you may want to try giving up gum for a while. The act of chewing gum leads to swallowing air, which can cause gas. Many people (myself included) also react to the sugar alcohol that is in most brands of gum these days. (Look for the words ending with -ol on the label such as sorbitol). Sugar alcohols ferment in the colon and are not completely digested, leading to gas, bloating, cramping and even diarrhea. While some people can tolerate sugar alcohols just fine, others cannot. Try cutting out gum and see how you feel. If you do feel better, but still want fresh breath, search for a natural gum or mint that is free from sugar alcohols.
Physical manifestations of stress are very real, especially when it comes to the gut. If you’re in a high-stress environment and are experiencing digestive distress, consider employing some stress-management techniques. Some studies have found success with meditation and relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and yoga. Getting enough sleep can also help tremendously.
Mint tea can help soothe an upset stomach and reduce bloating. There are also many teas based on ayurvedic home remedies that include fennel, cardamom, aniseed, and ginger. You can even make a simple tea yourself by brewing whole fennel seeds in water and adding a drop of honey. A nightly cup of tea is a good habit to get into and can help soothe your digestive system after a long day of work.
I hope one or more of these tips are helpful. Please note that while everyone struggles with digestive issues from time to time, if you have symptoms that persist, it is important to see a doctor to make sure nothing more serious is going on.