Did you know that health begins in your gut? Or that your gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis and in constant communication? So, if your digestion is off for any reason, your thinking and moods will be off too, and vice versa. Or, a more surprising discovery in recent years is that 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and 95% of your serotonin is made in your gut as well. So, clearly, we need to take good care of our gut health. And, it begins with digestion.
Digestion is a very complex process and there are many moving pieces to create and maintain good digestion, absorption and elimination of the food you eat. In this blog I offer 5 hacks (tips) that have been shown to improve digestion, repair leaky gut, prevent illness, and help heal inflammatory and autoimmune diseases (or any chronic disease).
1. Increase Your Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria) is a serious problem that needs to be understood and addressed. Digestion is crucial to our health, and adequate levels of stomach acid are necessary for good digestion.
People are at a higher risk of having stomach acid problems if they are diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues, especially inflammatory bowel diseases such as Celiac Disease or IBS. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s very possible that you have low stomach acid:
- acid reflux
- nausea after eating.
Why Adequate Stomach Acid is Important
Adequate levels of stomach acid are needed to absorb many foods, especially dense foods, such as meats, as well as nutrients, including minerals, vitamin B12, folic acid, and proteins. Stomach acid acts as a vital part of the immune system. With adequate levels of stomach acid, bacteria and other bugs are quickly killed, and bacteria in the intestines are prevented from traveling to and colonizing the stomach.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of propaganda that leads us to think that digestive problems are a result of too much stomach acid, and millions of dollars are spent on antacids annually. Many people believe what traditional medicine and the ads tell them – that they have too much acid, and take medications to reduce their stomach acid even more. Sadly, millions of people’s health deteriorates because of too little stomach acid.
Ways to Increase Stomach Acid Naturally
- Drink lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar – A simple, inexpensive way to increase stomach acid is to drink lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar 10-20 minutes before a meal (about 1-2 tbsp, which you can dilute in or chase with an ounce or two of water to make more palatable).
- Eat slowly and chew your food – It’s also important to chew your food and eat slowly because the enzymes and digestive juices that are needed to digest optimally in the stomach are secreted in the mouth by chewing.
- Ginger – Eating plenty of ginger (as tea or as part of your meals) can be very helpful for increasing stomach acid production and gut motility (peristalsis) in the gastrointestinal system to move the food along the digestive tract. Ginger tones the muscles in the intestine and promotes the breakdown of food particles.¹
- Sauerkraut – Eating homemade sauerkraut has been shown to help regulate stomach acid production.
If none of these tips work, then supplementing with HCL Betaine can work very well. Start with one capsule and if you don’t feel burning or a hot feeling, then increase to two, and so on until you feel burning, hotness, or heaviness, and then take one less capsule.
2. Eat Fermented Foods
Probiotics are very important to repair or maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. We all have trillions of bacteria cells in our gut, both good bacteria and bad bacteria. An imbalance, where the bad begin to take over the good bacteria results in a condition called dysbiosis.
Eating fermented foods is one of the best ways to increase the healthy flora in the gut. A study entitled “Probiotics and Their Fermented Food Products are Beneficial for Health,” states that “eating fermented foods has many health benefits, including (i) improving intestinal tract health; (ii) enhancing the immune system, synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients; (iii) reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals; and (iv) reducing risk of certain cancer . . . Recent scientific investigation has supported the important role of probiotics as a part of a healthy diet for human as well as for animals and may be an avenue to provide a safe, cost effective, and ‘natural’ approach that adds a barrier against infection.”²
Dr. Mercola writes on his blog that including a variety of fermented foods and beverages in your diet is important “because each different food inoculates your gut with a mix of different microorganisms. Some of the fermented foods you can easily make at home include:
- Cultured vegetables
- Condiments, such as salsa and mayonnaise
- Cultured dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and sour cream
- Fish, such as mackerel and Swedish gravlax.”³
You can see a short video and the simple steps to ferment your own vegetables outlined here.
3. Eat Bone Broth
While there is scant scientific evidence proving that bone broth is a “cure all,” it has been used as an antimicrobial for centuries – if not millennia. Historically chicken soup has been used to boost the immune system for people suffering from the common cold or flu. Stock and soups made from the bones of chicken, turkey, duck, beef, lamb, and fish are considered by many health professionals to be “antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and contain nutrients which help build the integrity of the digestive tract. Most importantly, they are rich in proline and glycine which help regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and heal the body.”4
4. Get More Sleep
It is crucial to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night in order to allow your body to rest and repair itself. A study from the NIH (National Institute of Health) shows that your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. Chronic sleep deprivation can change the way your immune system responds. For example, if you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections. For autoimmunity, sleep is extra important.5
Also, because hormone production and regulation are involved in autoimmunity, sleep is important because it helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). Your ghrelin levels increases with lack of sleep your leptin levels go down. This can make you feel hungry, stimulate cortisol production, and lead to overeating the wrong kinds of foods.6
Lastly, the study showed that sleep affects your blood glucose levels. Sleep deficiency leads to a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.7
Tips for better sleep
- Turn off all media at least half an hour before bed.
- Have a nightly ritual of brushing your teeth, cleaning your face, and winding down for bed.
- Do some gentle stretches or a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to promote sleep.
- Read something relaxing before you go to sleep, like an inspirational book, so those thoughts are carried through the night, helping you sleep better and wake up in a more positive mood.
- Take 5-10 minutes to just lay back and process the happenings of the day, and make any mental notes about concerns, so these don’t wake you up during the night to mull over.
- Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room, free from cell phones, electric alarm clocks, and other gadgets that have blinking lights and radiate electromagnetic radiation.
5. Reduce Your Stress
The stress response virtually locks up your entire digestive tract in order to deal with crisis, so you can imagine that the chronic stress most people live with today is one of the main factors in digestive disorders, leaky gut, and autoimmunity.
Make a list of how you are going to improve your sleep on an ongoing basis. What techniques will you try? Keep track of how you are sleeping.
Let me know how you get on.
Love and blessings,
¹ Suzanne Allen, “What Are the Benefits of Pure Ginger for the Digestive Tract?” Livestrong website, last updated August 17, 2015.
² S. Parvez, K.A. Malik, S. Ah Kang, H.Y. Kim, “Probiotics and Their Fermented Food Products are Beneficial for Health,” Journal of Applied Microbiology (2006), 1171-85.
³ Dr. Mercola, “Fermented Foods: How to ‘Culture’ Your Way to Optimal Health,” accessed January 9, 2016.
4 Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, “Repairing the Gut,” February 18, 2012, accessed January 9, 2016, http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/02/repairing-gut.html.
5 National Institute of Health, “Why Is Sleep Important?” last updated February 22, 2012, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.