As we dive into this month’s blog I want to make you consciously aware of a subconscious function: digestion. 

For many, we go about our day, we eat, maybe we have a stomach ache, maybe we’re fine and have energy until we snack or sit down for our next meal. 

The reality is the digestion process is far more complex and within our control if we’re mindful about our lifestyle and how it impacts digestion. 

First, let’s talk about what digestion is. 

Phase one begins when you see, smell, and anticipate eating food. Your body begins to secrete gastric acid to prepare for consumption. 

Once we’ve started eating, chewing, and swallowing, we enter the gastric phase, where our stomach expands, more gastric acid is secreted, and our pH level rises to break down food.

There are two key components to supporting a healthy gut: probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that aid in digestion and support immune function. You may have taken a probiotic supplement before when prescribed antibiotics but you can also gain them through your diet. Consider this a starting point for foods to grab and slowly introduce next time you’re at the grocery store:

  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso Paste
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt
Prebiotics 

So probiotics are great, but they can’t thrive and support your health without prebiotics. Prebiotics are the fuel source for probiotics, while also supporting gut lining maintenance, calcium absorption, and balanced glucose levels. They’re primarily found in foods with dietary fibre:

  • Bananas
  • Wild Blueberries
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Chicory Root
  • Artichokes

Alongside knowing what you can do to help your gut, it’s important to also know what might be hurting your gut and digestion. Here are the big four:

Sleep

Sleep and digestion are mutually impactful. On one hand, if you eat close to bedtime, your body continues to digest food until it’s finished, even while sleeping. That means your body will have to wait before it can reach deep cycles of sleep. 

When our sleep quality is impacted, we see a decline in healing response and inflammation management, making you more prone to food sensitivities that negatively impact digestion. When sleep deprived, we become more prone to stress, and cravings for high sugar foods increases. 

Sugar 

Not only does regular sugar consumption cause negative changes to the gut microbiota, it also increases inflammation, and negatively impacts sleep quality. Excess sugar can lead to bloating, diarrhea, and gas as the sugar sits in the bowels and ferments. 

Stress

As we know, stress increases overall inflammation which is bad for digestion. It also triggers the fight or flight response which make you feel nauseous and cause throat spasms, release acid causing indigestion, and cause diarrhea or constipation.  As a worst case scenario, prolonged chronic stress can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease

Alcohol

For starters, alcohol largely impacts digestion because the body treats it as a toxin, working to remove it as fast as possible before resuming the breakdown and digestion or other nutrients. This increases inflammation, and causes a rise in blood sugar levels. Further to this, alcohol is a diuretic, increasing dehydration, and can cause diarrhea or constipation. 

If you’ve been following closely, you’ve likely noticed a running theme of strain and inflammation on the body across all four areas and how they contribute to digestive issues. Even if you’re eating healthy foods daily, if you’re not mindful of these areas of impact, you’re likely compromising your gut health regardless.

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