All of us experience digestive distress at one point or another. For many of us, it’s a continuing issue that just doesn’t seem to go away.
There are a multitude of causes and reasons for your digestive problems, many of which will require deeper investigation to resolve. Thus, I will not claim to heal you with these tips. What I will say, however, is that this advice can be extremely helpful for you; no matter what type of GI disorder you are dealing with. These are basic, foundational actions that will help improve the overall health of your digestive system.
The reason it is so essential to pay attention to digestion is that it affects every aspect of your health. If digestion is off, likely there are other dysfunctions in the body.
Digestion is how we absorb and assimilate nutrients in our bodies; if this process is not working properly, we set ourselves up for major deficiencies that can lead to any number of health problems. Our digestive systems are incredibly sensitive, and it is intimately tied with our immune systems. Digestive distress is often the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for more severe conditions down the road, digestive or otherwise.
Have no fear though, learning to listen to your body’s cues and supporting digestion will go a long way in making sure everything is running smoothly. The three tips I go on to describe below are a great starting point. Read on for details!
1. Have some Vinegar Before Meals
You might be surprised to hear me say this, but stomach acid is good for you. It really is! Just bear with me a minute, I know you often hear the exact opposite.
The thing is, stomach acid is a necessary element of digestion. Without adequate stomach acid, food does not get properly digested before moving through the rest of the GI tract. The acidic pH from the stomach as food moves to the small intestine actually triggers the pancreas to release pancreatic enzymes and the gallbladder to release cholecystokinin (CCK). Both are essential for healthy digestion and break down of food.
When you are taking acid blockers or simply do not have adequate stomach acid, these crucial cues aren’t being triggered. This often can lead to issues like leaky gut because improperly broken down food is rough around the edges; damaging our sensitive mucosal lining of the intestines.
If you don’t have enough stomach acid, you’re also missing out on nutrients. “Nutrients such as the peptide and amino acid components of proteins, minerals (including iron, copper, zinc, and calcium), as well as vitamin B12 and folic acid, all depend on adequate stomach acid for their digestion and absorption” (Lenard and Wright, 37-38). That’s a ton of nutrition you could possibly be missing out on! These nutrients are not only crucial to your overall health, they are also essential for your digestive health. Through supporting the health of the stomach, you support the rest of your GI tract and body as well.
So what to do about it?
The easiest one to get started with is to have a little apple cider vinegar about 15 minutes before each meal. Organic and unfiltered is the best option if you can spring for that. Start with one tablespoon diluted in a few ounces of water for a week or so and see how that feels for you. You can increase the amount to two tablespoons if you’re not noticing that much of an effect. You can also opt to use a squeeze of lemon or lime if you are unable to stomach (hehe!) the taste of vinegar.
A protip to know if it’s working: if you’re not burping shortly after your meal! A lot of us don’t give a second thought to an errant belch here and there, but it can be a classic sign of low stomach acid. Other symptoms to look for are bloating or gas after eating, heartburn, and feeling queasy when eating meat.
Note: Although low stomach acid is significantly more common, these symptoms can also be related to too much stomach acid. So just be aware of your body and how it feels. I’ve personally had this happen before. For a long time I had been taking a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar in the morning and felt completely fine. After a while, I noticed that a few days in a row I was feeling incredibly nauseous and actually threw up a couple times. It took me some time for my brain to catch up to my body when I finally realized – it’s the vinegar! My body’s production of stomach acid changed and I simply didn’t require the extra dosage anymore. Our bodies are constantly changing so like I said previously, listen to your body! It knows best.
2. Chew ’till you Can’t Chew No-More
Ahh, five words I hated hearing as a kid. I’m happily munching along, plowing through my dinner like a super powered vacuum cleaner. That is, until my mom punctuates my hyper eating ritual with “Slow down, chew your food!” in an exasperated tone. I look up at her, put down my fork, chew a couple times, swallow, take a sip of water, and go right back to shoveling down my food like it’s the last meal I’ll ever have.
Although I may have slowed down my eating habits between childhood and adulthood, I quickly learned I was still eating way too quickly.
Digestion is a slow, legato process and it behooves us to assist this as best we can. That means chewing. A lot. Why is chewing so important? I’m glad you asked.
The stomach is typically thought of as the beginning of the digestive process. This is not true; it actually begins with the brain. The essential intermediary step between the brain and the stomach we’ll talk about here is the mouth. How well you chew your food directly impacts how well it is going to digest as it travels through the rest of your GI tract. Sloppily chewed food makes your stomach and every other digestive organ work harder and less efficiently down the line.
In addition, your saliva contains an enzyme called salivary amylase, which helps break down carbohydrates. Slower chewing = more exposure to this enzyme.
Slower chewing also helps prime your stomach for digestion by not overwhelming it with a ton of food all at once. Remembering that digestion is a slow process, unhurried chewing will help match that pace.
Personally, learning to chew properly has been the hardest challenge for me. I mean, when I’m eating delicious food how can I possibly have the self control to put down my fork for even a second?! It just seems like it takes forever to eat, and who has the time for that either? I honestly didn’t see the point, could it really make that much of a difference?
Once I put in the effort to tone the chewing down though, I began reaping the rewards. I noticed I actually began to appreciate my food more and taste the subtleties in flavor when I slowed down my eating. I became more engaged in conversations with my spouse and other friends/family if they were around. It seemed like simply slowing down my eating pace nourished me from the inside out.
When I take the time to properly chew, I feel calmer, more satisfied, and I can feel my digestive system having an easier time. There’s no bloating or bellyaching like I would normally experience; I can tell that the food in my system is just being processed better.
It might seem like a pain, however I really encourage you to try it! It’s the simplest things sometimes that give you the greatest results.
Dr. Mercola lines out proper chewing perfectly here:
- Take smaller bites of food to begin with (it’s easier to chew smaller morsels)
- Chew slowly and steadily
- Chew until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture
- Finish chewing and swallowing completely before taking another bite of food
- Wait to drink fluids until you’ve swallowed (Mercola, 2).
3. Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day
I know, I know. You’ve heard about the importance of hydration ad nauseam. I wouldn’t bother to mention it if it wasn’t important! Our bodies are composed of 60% water after all.
Many warn that drinking water during a meal will dilute your stomach acid and so this should not be done as it will hamper digestion. Many also claim the opposite.
I’ve only found one small study so far that validates drinking water will raise gastric pH (making it more alkaline). According to this study, one minute after drinking 200 mL (about 3/4 cup) water the gastric pH of participants raised to greater than 4 and lasted for three minutes (3). For reference, stomach acid should typically have a pH of 1.5-3.5.
Based off of this information, there is a notable change in stomach pH however it only lasts for three minutes. Overall, it may not be a huge concern. I would still say though if you’re experiencing severe digestive problems, it may still be a good idea to avoid chugging a bottle of water with dinner just to ensure you give your stomach as much opportunity to succeed as possible.
The fact is, however, that water is necessary for the creation of stomach acid! So ensuring that you are hydrated throughout the day will make certain that your stomach acid levels are optimized when you’re ready to eat food.
Another impact of hydration down the line of digestion is proper bowel movements. If you’re dehydrated, you are likely to experience constipation. Water facilitates movement of food through the intestines and without enough things can get a little… backed up. So drink your water, folks! It’s like nature’s drano!
Plain water won’t do the trick though. What makes hydration hydration, are the electrolytes. I could write another entire blog about this and probably will, but the key point here is that electrolytes balance water levels in the body. Electrolytes are what actually allow water to enter the cells and thus, hydrate us.
My favorite way to ensure that I’m getting enough electrolytes is in a glass of water I will add:
- A pinch of sea salt
- A squeeze of lemon, about a quarter usually
- 4-8 drops of trace minerals. The one I purchase you can find here.
This drink is super refreshing and actually causes me to look forward to drinking water! Definitely give it a try 🙂
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you’ve learned some valuable information about our vastly underrated digestive systems and some tips to support it the best you can. It may seem like a lot, but once you start to implement these changes you’ll find that it’s really quite intuitive! Thanks for reading, now grab some water!
- Wright, J. V., & Lenard, L. (2001). Why stomach acid is good for you: Natural relief from heartburn, indigestion, reflux, and GERD. New York: M. Evans.
- 7 Reasons Why Chewing Your Food Is Important. (2013, July 31). Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/31/chewing-foods.aspx
- Karamanolis, G., Theofanidou, I., Yiasemidou, M., Giannoulis, E., Triantafyllou, K., & Ladas, S. D. (2008, December). A glass of water immediately increases gastric pH in healthy subjects. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18473176