How to Get Your Digestion Back on Track
Digestive challenges can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and confusing. But did you know that they are also indicative of a larger issue?
The health of our gut, and the trillions of bugs that reside in there, has a direct effect on our overall health. It signals to our immune and nervous systems whether there’s trouble on the front line. Unresolved gut issues cause chronic inflammation, which is essentially an ongoing “alert” from our nerves and immune cells, one that can eventually cause damage to our healthy cells and drain our body’s resources.
So, what can you do to get and keep your digestion on the right track?
First and foremost, you need to find a health professional who can help figure out the underlying problem(s). Diarrhea, constipation, bloating and discomfort are symptoms, not causes. A skilled health care professional will help you find specific food or environmental triggers, balance out the ratio of good to bad bugs in your stomach, and work with you and your health care team to heal things from the inside out.
Now, we know that finding health care professionals might not provide the immediate symptom relief you’re looking for. That being the case, we have some tips for immediate steps you can take to even out your gut.
Feed your good guys.
Diarrhea and constipation are often two sides of the same coin; an imbalance in the bacteria in your gut that is causing things to speed up, slow down, or a bit of both. Adding some gentle pre-biotic fibres (fibres that specifically feed good bugs) can help things return to a more normal pace.
My favourite go to for clients is chia seeds. They are gentle, tend not to cause gas or bloating, and act a bit like a sponge. They soak up fluid to slow things down if diarrhea is your issue, and cause a gelling effect that can soften slow moving waste to make it more stimulating and easier to pass. Gold star for versatility!
Start by adding 1-2 tsp once a day, and work up to 1-2 Tbsp twice a day if needed. Make sure to add a glass or two of water along with them (or toss them in a smoothie) to give them something to “gel” with.
Build a strong barrier.
Your gut has what’s called a mucus barrier, and it works exactly the way it sounds. Just like the saliva in your mouth protects its delicate lining, the mucus barrier in our gut keeps it from becoming easily upset and sounding an alarm for our body to attack outside irritants.
Now, this barrier thins out with even small drops in hydration levels (about 2%), so make sure you have plenty of fluids steadily throughout the day to protect it. All non-alcoholic fluids count (yes, even coffee and tea), but aim to have at least 3/4 of that be plain or sparkling water and top off with a few cups of coffee or tea if you like.
Side note: for those who struggle with diarrhea, caffeine and coffee can be a trigger. Keep intake lower until your gut has a chance to heal.
How much do you need?
For most clients who work indoors and are low to moderately active, I aim for 30 mL of water per 1 kg of body weight. If we do a little bit of math:
X lbs / 2.2 = your weight in kg
Y kg x 30 mL/kg = your water needs
If Laurie weighs 185 lbs:
84.1 kg x 30 mL/kg= 2522 mL (2.5 L or about 10 cups)
This is of course just a starting point, some people need more or less depending on their activity, genetics and environment. Planes and healthcare facilities have much drier air, so people working in these environments often require more. Older adults often require a little less.
Start identifying patterns.
Because we eat so many different things in a day, food intolerances and conditions (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome) that react to a number of larger classes of foods can be very tricky to get a handle on. Instead of removing every single food you think you may have a reaction to, it’s often better to take a big picture approach.
Start a food and symptom journal. Write down what you ate, when you ate it, and how your gut felt, making special note of really good days or days with more significant symptoms. Being able to look at a week or two will help you draw connections, and will give your Registered Dietician a great snapshot of where things are starting from, so that they can use their expertise to help you narrow it down and focus your treatment.
Spreadsheets, apps, or just a good old note in your phone all work. Although it can be a pain to keep up, it’s one of the most valuable tools I can give a client to help us both gain insights into what’s really causing issues.
A word on probiotics.
Because of all the news and research going on in the area of probiotics, we often view them as a “cure-all” self-treatment. A word of caution: probiotics are very powerful, specific treatments. In the same way you wouldn’t give an antibiotic to someone needing to control high blood pressure, we need to match the probiotic strain to the specific problem your gut is facing. Choosing and staying on ones that aren’t effective can have long term impacts on your gut community – impacts that may lead to problems down the road.
Feeling confused about what’s going on in your gut? Start a symptom journal and feel free to reach out and schedule a free call to explore your options. We’d be thrilled to help you get clarity on what works for your tummy, building a program that allows you to finally feel great again.