7 Natural Ways to Improve Digestive Health

It's time to stop stomach troubles from ruining your day

Digestive issues can easily interfere with what should be one of life’s pleasures—sharing a meal with friends. Ali Inay/Unsplash

Is gas, bloating heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea cramping your style? Are these annoying symptoms getting in the way of living your life to its fullest? You’re not alone. In our society, digestive problems have become a part of our daily routine. Few of us talk about these uncomfortable disorders, and we rarely seek advice to find solutions.

The reality is we have to eat in order to live, but when uncomfortable digestive issues arise, what normally should be a pleasurable occurrence can take a turn for the worse. As time goes on, you end up with a stressed-out stomach looking for relief.

A recent 2016 study from the Technical University of Denmark found that what is referred to as “transit time,” or, how fast our food moves starting from when we eat to the time it leaves our body, has a substantial impact on our gut health. The longer food stays in our digestive tract, the more harmful bacteria degradation products are created. A shorter transit time means a healthier digestive system.

A happy, well-functioning digestive system is fundamental to keeping us healthy and feeling good.  Having a turbulent tummy can ruin the best of days for anyone. By knowing certain tricks to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) symptoms, you can avoid tummy troubles and begin to improve your digestion without even noticing you’ve made any significant changes.

  1. Eliminate too much sugar and fat

Too many calories from sugary, fatty or fried foods are hard to digest. They can irritate your stomach by slowing down the process of digestion, creating a very full, uncomfortable feeling.  Excess sugar makes your blood sugar skyrocket, setting up an unhealthy duo of too much sugar in the bloodstream and too much insulin being pumped out by the pancreas to compensate for the situation. The excess of insulin also leads to extra storage of calories, contributing to weight gain.

The solution? Choose more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. When eating meat, go for something lower in fat such as fish, poultry, lean beef and pork. Replace butter and margarine with olive oil.

  1. Fill up with water

Being adequately hydrated is key in the digestion process. Water helps speed up the transit time of food through the digestive tract, and prevents constipation by creating a softer, bulkier stool. Aim for 9 to 13 cups of fluid each day, or enough until your urine appears clear.

  1. Move more

It’s easy to register the benefits of exercise by noticing changes in the appearance of our bodies on the outside, but keeping active also does wonders for us on the inside. Physical activity is vital for good digestive health. Regular exercise improves blood flow to all our organs, including the gastrointestinal tract. This stimulates and tones muscles within the stomach and intestines, keeping contents moving quickly. Aim for at least 30 minutes each day but avoid strenuous workouts right after eating.

  1. Include probiotics

We have more bacteria in our digestive tracts than we do cells in our bodies. Maintaining a balance between good and bad bacteria can sometimes be tricky, and when the bad bacteria dominates, we certainly feel it with a dysfunctional digestive system. Supplementing your good bacteria with food sources containing probiotics are usually the best way to get your gut bacteria in balance. Try integrating yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, soft cheeses, sour pickles, tempeh or acidophilus milk into your daily diet.

  1. Slow down when eating

Our digestive system doesn’t like to be rushed. Taking time when consuming a snack or meal gives the stomach the opportunity to properly digest and absorb the nutrients within the food. This also allows your body and brain to give you the signal of when you’ve had enough. Turn off the TV and resist looking at your computer or smartphone while eating—distracted people will eat significantly more food than when they put the focus just on eating.

  1. Consume more fiber

For a substance that really doesn’t get absorbed in our body, it’s surprising how much healthy digestion relies on fiber to keep things purring like a kitten.  Fiber comes in two types—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, helping slow down digestion and absorption, making you feel fuller for longer. It also slows down the amount of glucose entering into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar levels at a more even level. Insoluble fiber passes through unabsorbed, but it attracts water to it in the colon creating a softer, bulkier, easier-to-pass bowel movement, reducing constipation and pain.

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight

A healthy body weight is associated with fewer symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition allows contents from the stomach to flow backwards into the esophagus due to a weak valve that doesn’t close completely between the stomach and esophagus. The strong stomach acid backs up into the esophagus causing unpleasant symptoms of pain, burning and irritation of the lining of the unprotected esophagus. Losing excess weight reduces the pressure and can help avoid heartburn and other discomfort.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com and Facebook.