More people than ever are experiencing stomach and digestive upset. For many, it’s becoming the norm. Sixty to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic constipation, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophogeal reflux, GI infections, and pancreatitis, not to mention general indigestion and food intolerances. The most common functional gastrointestinal disorder, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of digestive issues and 12 percent of visits to primary care physicians, is IBS. Many people don’t realize that digestive problems can cause health issues and symptoms beyond the digesting system, including headaches, upper back pain, mid-back pain, sinus issues, gall bladder symptoms, appendicitis-like symptoms, stabbing low back pain, front thigh pain, and knee pain.
But you don’t have to accept digestive upset as a part of life. Digestive awareness is becoming more prevalent as people are realizing that food and nutrients are more than just basic nutrition, but links to overall health as well.
Poor diet, a stressful lifestyle, and some medications can all contribute to digestive upset. Of these, diet is typically the easiest to change. Processed foods, which are all too common in the American diet, are difficult to digest and can cause gas, bloating, and indigestion. Try to eat foods in their natural state as much as possible. Overeating is another contributor of digestive distress, especially at the holidays. But you can take control with mindful eating.
- Keep a journal of everything you eat, including snacks and beverages.
- Think about why you’re eating. It can be easy to confuse hunger with other emotions. Are you eating because you’re bored or sad? Are you eating simply because it’s the time of day when you normally eat? Or are you eating because the food is there? If the reason is not hunger, find a healthier alternative.
- Think about how your food makes you feel, both immediately and a few hours after. Does it give you energy or make you tired? Do you feel guilty after indulging in a treat?
- Use all of your senses when you eat. Take note of the colors on your plate, how your food smells, and the texture of your food in your mouth. Experiencing your food with all of your senses will make you feel more satisfied and help you eat less.
- Eat when you can feel relaxed and in the moment. Eating when you’re rushed can lead to overeating or eating the wrong types of food.
Even with a good diet, you may still experience digestive problems. Dietary supplements, including probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes can help.
Probiotics deliver live bacteria into the digestive tract to help prevent the overgrowth of bacteria and maintain a natural balance of organisms. Probiotics can help with all types of digestive disorders, including IBD, IBS, and Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. Research also shows they may help with blood pressure, cholesterol, immune health, and metabolism.
Inferior quality probiotics can lose their potency over time and may not remain viable after being exposed to the acids in the stomach. Be sure to choose a quality brand, such as Dr. Shahani’s from NutraSense, which is manufactured to maximize shelf stability and to survive through the stomach and remain viable in the colon.
Prebiotics nourish the good bacteria that is already in the gut and promote its growth. Prebiotics should be used in conjunction with probiotics for the best results. They offer a number of benefits, including:
- Having a positive influence on the microflora by increasing anaerobes such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
- Increasing short chain fatty acid production, which stimulates salt and water absorption in the gut and provides energy for various organs.
- Decreasing ammonia production and absorption in the gut, which contributes to supporting health.
With the right combination of a healthy diet and digestive supplements, you can keep your gut happy and healthy, which will in turn help improve your overall health and well-being.