Poor digestion is one of the most common things I see in my practice that leads to compromised health. We lead the charge of celebrating busy – busy working, busy moving, too busy to catch up, too busy to not be glued to social media, too busy to take care of ourselves. Funny enough, this is the exact thing that is leading us to greater dis-ease. Here are some ways to take a step back and optimise your digestion.
1. Take 3 deep breaths
Breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, that beautiful mechanism that is ruled by our vagus nerve. It is in charge of “rest and digest”. When you are in a stressed state, the body shunts blood away from the digestive and reproductive organs and instead promotes blood flow to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system. Doesn’t this mean sick gains and cardio for no action? Negative. What this does mean is that you’re primed and ready to run from a tiger, not primed and ready for that primo lunch you, or a café, so painstakingly prepared for you. Taking a few deep breaths before a meal tells your body “Hey man, we are safe, it’s all good, let’s have this delicious (insert favourite meal here) in a peaceful state”. Blood starts to come back from the peripheral tissues and circulate in the centre, where you need it most at that time. Don’t think you’re stressed? Bruh. Your nervous system would beg to differ. Give it a helping three-deep-breaths and see how your whole body seems to slide back in to place.
2. See, smell, taste
Digestion is a lot like love – it happens at first sight and first smell. Our brains register the smell and sight of food, which stimulates the production of saliva in our mouths, which sets off the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the gut, which tells the brain to expect yumminess and the small intestine to flush out some digestive enzymes to further break down your food. The better relationship you have with actually looking at, smelling, tasting and appreciating your food, the better the response from the nervous system, leading to better digestion from the brain all the way down.
Point of interest – This feedback loop from the first taste in the mouth tells the tummy to expect some goodness pretty soon. This can be an issue when it comes to sugars and artificial sweeteners. The brain registers “sweet”, which triggers an insulin response. Insulin is the hormone responsible for how sugar is sued in the body – do you use it to create energy and action, or is it stored in fat cells? Even if you put a jelly bean in your mouth, swill it around and spit it out, the brain has already registered “sweet”, leading to a surge in insulin. In this case the insulin, unsure of what to do with itself, will take any glucose in the body and store it as fat. If fat loss is your goal, or something you are monitoring, this is an important consideration.
3. Stay engaged
Distracted eating = poor digestion. Plain and simple. Have you ever finishes a meal and felt heavy, swollen, and like you’re about to give birth to a 3kg burrito baby? Yo. You need to slow.it.down. Stay on that “look, taste, smell, take your time, enjoy” train. Chew your food. The enzymes in your saliva are the first steps in the cascade of digestion through the body. They start the breakdown, which is finished in the small intestine, and tell the body what to expect. Help your guts out by chewing each bite and breaking it down as much as possible.
Bonus points: Step away from your desk. I know, I know. It looks super great if you never take a break and you are always at your computer and you’re fully engaged every minute of the day at work, right? Nope. There are legally mandated breaks for a reason. Take your 15/30/60 minute breaks away from your desk. Repeat after me: Time to myself isn’t selfish, it’s essential. If you boss doesn’t believe me, book them in for a discovery call with me. I’ll tell them what’s what.
4. Support Your Guts
Have you heard the term “you are what you eat”? It’s close, but not quite on the money. You are what you digest. You might have mentioned the word “enzymes” pop up a few times. Digestive enzymes catalyse, aka break down, macronutrient molecules from large particles to smaller, more easily absorbed particles, that are carried in to the bloodstream for the body to use for all those magical things we use food for, like growth, repair, immune building, creating the structure of our body, fuelling our brains, etc etc. You can help your body out by including digestive enzymes with your meals. There are enzymes that contain Betaine HCl, which replaces your stomach acid, or use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to increase your own intrinsic production of stomach acid. This is super helpful for the first break-down phase from the mouth before the larger particles reach the duodenum. There are digestive enzymes, which help with the breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the stomach and duodenum. Other digestive enzymes can support the production of bile from the gallbladder, which is essential for the break down of fats.
How do you know if you need digestive enzymes or HCl? People with any kind of compromised gut can benefit from taking digestive enzymes. Leaky gut, IBS, IBD, low stomach acid, liver disease, diverticulitis, iron or B12 deficiencies, Vitamin D deficiency, acid reflux, gas, bloating, candida, SIBO, malabsorption, diarrhoea, constipation, liver disease, you name it. Also, as we age, our bodies secrete less HCl on their own accord. Adding HCl or apple cider vinegar can help boost the levels of acid in our stomach.
Bile support can be very helpful in people with liver or gallbladder conditions, those who have nausea or reflux on ingesting or smelling fatty foods, and those with changes in bowel motions when consuming fatty foods.
How can you tell if this is right for you? Along with the above conditions, digestive enzymes may help you if you’re feeling bloated, tired after eating, have headaches after eating, tummy pain, changes in stools (too fast, too slow, floating, sinking, funny colour, particularly odorous), feeling like food is sitting in you stomach, and more. These may also be a sign of something else going on in the body, which we can chat about further in a discovery call, however digestive enzymes can be a great starting point.