Tired of digestive problems like gas, bloating, poor nutrient absorption, heartburn, and indigestion? The foods you eat and the supplements you take can make all the difference when it comes to healing your gut — and alleviating the not-too-pleasant symptoms of poor digestion.
Too Little Digestive Heat
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, digestive issues are a result of “digestive weakness,” a condition that can be part of our constitution. More often, digestive weakness develops as a result of unhealthy lifestyle and dietary habits. This weakness is described as reduced digestive “heat,” or in other words, the digestive system is too cold.
In Western terms, this heat pertains to essential enzymatic activity and proper secretion of necessary digestive juices. Any actions that might further “cool down” the digestive system can contribute significantly to sluggish and impaired digestion.
Some of the most common causes of this type of cooling include excessive eating, late meals, rushed eating, and stress. Simply taking the time to slow down and mindfully eat your meals (as hard as it can be when you are busy) can make a big difference in your digestive health. But remember: the food that you eat is responsible for telling your digestive system what to do — and if it’s not receiving proper direction in the way of natural whole foods, it’s not going to function correctly. That’s why an enzyme and fiber-rich, nutritious, and balanced diet can go a long way in helping you to achieve this goal.
Digestion Affects Our Lives on Many Levels
Poor digestion can have much deeper consequences than a stomachache. The digestive tract’s primary purpose is to extract nutrition from food and discard the rest. How efficiently the stomach, intestines, and other digestive organs process nutrition has a profound impact on quality of life. People who eat healthy diets but have poor digestion may be allowing nutrition to pass them by. Those who eat primarily processed foods and have other unhealthy habits are just making a bad situation worse.
In addition to poor nutrient absorption, bad digestion can lead to acid reflux, indigestion, irritable bowel disease, and other uncomfortable conditions. It can also have a direct impact on the nervous system, emotional health, immunity, and hormones. In other words, nutrition offers a bounty of health opportunities. If we take care of the center, the rest will quite often take care of itself.
How Bacteria Keep Us Healthy
We’ve been trained to believe that bacteria are the enemy. We see this in our over reliance on antibiotics, antibacterial soaps, and the obsessive focus on cleanliness. While this can be justified by Covid and dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Salmonella, we can’t forget the crucial role friendly bacteria play in maintaining our health.
Humans and the bacteria that inhabit our guts have developed a symbiotic relationship over thousands of years. We provide them with a home, and they help us with digestion, immunity, and other functions. They manufacture vitamins, boost immune cells, and prevent us from absorbing harmful pathogens.
Top Foods and Supplements for Digestion
Probiotic and prebiotic supplements support the growth of healthy bacteria in two critical ways. Probiotics provide live strains of friendly bacteria that are crucial to digestive, immune, and neurological health. Prebiotics ensure that friendly flora have a nourishing environment in which to thrive.
Digestive enzymes support digestion and help improve nutrient absorption. In addition, enzymes, which break down proteins into their component parts, increase digestive capacity. For the best results, use a combination enzyme formula with enzymes such as protease, lipase, and amylase.
Zinc is a critical nutrient required to make many digestive enzymes. It is also involved in hormone regulation, immune health, and neurological function.
Herbs can also play a role in digestion.
- Chinese cardamom increases antioxidant levels and boosts immunity.
- Cinnamon soothes discomfort, improves digestive capacity, boosts immunity, and balances blood sugar.
- Ginger root improves digestion, reduces inflammation, increases antioxidant levels, and boosts immunity.
- Chamomile and mint are especially comforting for the stomach and contribute to healthy digestion. They ease stomach irritation and relax the smooth muscles of the digestive tract.
Fish oil reduces inflammation and helps heal the gastrointestinal tract lining, improve nutrient absorption, balance hormones, bolster neurological function, and boost immunity.
Fiber keeps things moving, which prevents the colon from collecting toxins that can build up and cause disease. Fruits, such as prunes, and gluten-free grains, such as quinoa, legumes, and flax seeds, all include ample amounts of healthy fiber.
Fermented foods: One of the easiest ways to enhance beneficial bacteria in the digestive system is with fermented foods. While the name may be a bit off-putting, the foods themselves are rather commonplace. Cultured, fermented foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi (a Korean vegetable dish). These foods are rich in digestive enzymes and beneficial probiotic bacteria strains. In addition, because these foods are “pre-digested” to some degree, they put less strain on the digestive system.
Alkaline foods: One of the most common digestive complaints is acid stomach. An ideal way to neutralize acidity is to eat alkaline foods. The body has mechanisms to restore alkaline/acid levels, but a chronically acidic state can tax these mechanisms and impair digestion. Alkaline foods include kale, kelp, spinach, parsley, broccoli, and sea vegetables. Keep in mind that in many cases, too much stomach acid is due to a lack of sufficient hydrochloric acid (HCL). Low HCL causes food to stagnate in the stomach, resulting in acid reflux and a feeling of hyperacidity. Taking digestive enzymes that contain HCL can help.
Hydration: Plenty of fresh, clean water is also key, as your body needs ample amounts of fluid to form saliva, as well as gastric and intestinal secretions that are crucial to digestion. However, you don’t want to consume too much water with meals, as it can dilute your own digestive fluids. Also, you want to avoid putting your water on ice — cold beverages will further reduce the “heat” you want to restore. Warm or room temperature beverages are best, since all ice-cold drinks are hard on the stomach.
Foods to Avoid for Better Digestion
Some foods are notorious for causing digestive discomfort and eating them can lead to long-term digestive problems.
Dairy is one of the top offenders because it’s just so difficult to digest. Specifically, the lactose found in dairy products contributes to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and digestive dysfunction, especially in people who have trouble metabolizing the enzyme. One way to get the nutrition of dairy without gas and bloating is with yogurt, which is much easier on the digestive tract.
Gluten-containing foods, such as wheat, barley, and rye, can interfere with digestive capacity. They have also been found to contribute to inflammatory conditions, heartburn, autoimmune disorders, neurological and behavioral issues, skin diseases, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, and other conditions.
If you have chronic digestive or immune issues, it’s possible that you may have gluten sensitivity or even celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where any intake of gluten damages the intestinal lining. Interestingly, however, a strict gluten-free diet sometimes clears up symptoms even in people who have tested negative for gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Processed food, with its artificial ingredients, can cause digestive problems. Sodas, coffee, alcohol, and certain pharmaceutical drugs can kill beneficial bacteria and generate acidity. Avoiding these substances can improve digestive health significantly.
Simple Ways to Support Your Digestion
It’s not enough to change what we eat; we must also address how we eat. Along with a poor diet, late meals, rushed eating, and stress can contribute to digestive issues. Simply taking the time to slow down and chew thoroughly can improve digestive health and relieve tension. Here are more simple ways to support your digestion:
- Avoid eating anything two to three hours before bedtime.
- Lie on your left side to enhance your digestion — the stomach’s natural position is on the left. Gravity helps move waste from the small to large intestine. Research has shown that people who lie on their right side have more heartburn.
- Have yourself tested for common food allergies and sensitivities.
- Avoid sodas, and drink plenty of filtered water and herbal teas to stay hydrated.
- Take a daily probiotic formula with prebiotics, along with a supplement that helps enhance digestive function.
- Find healthy ways to relieve stress, such as meditation, exercise, and laughter.
- Practice yoga: it will improve your digestion and reduce stress.
- Limit your intake of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
- Reduce the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume. They both damage friendly digestive bacteria.
Your Good Digestion Supplement Protocol
Expertly formulated by Integrative Medicine Expert, Isaac Eliaz, MD, ecoDigest is your go-to daily digestive enzyme supplement for fast-acting gut support and healthy digestion balance.
Specific ingredients include pomegranate seed, to strengthen bile flow and gastric secretions; lesser galangal, to facilitate digestion and relieve gas; black pepper, to help neutralize excess stomach acid; cardamom fruit, to strengthen bile flow and warm the stomach; and cassia bark, to reduce gas and diarrhea. Tangerine peel, licorice, ginger, Henon bamboo stem, and sacred lotus seed extract are included as Traditional Chinese herbs used for centuries to aid digestion.*