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All diseases begin in the gut, and there may be more in the theory than initially presumed.
The human gut contains many microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, protists, and archaea. The number of these organisms is estimated to be as many as the number of human cells in the body.
The enteric nervous system connects to the central nervous system and regulates digestion, absorption, and gut motility.
Also, there is a large amount of gut-associated lymphoid tissue, which is part of the immune system and is a barrier against pathogens entering the human body from the food you consume.
As you can see, the gut is involved not only in nutrition and digestion but also in sending and receiving signals to and from the brain and in being the first-line immune response.
Moreover, increasing research shows the role of the gut in the development and prognosis of many different conditions that affect health. Thus, it is vital to preserve your digestive health.
Signs and Symptoms of Poor Digestion
Signs of poor digestion can include:
Tips to Keep Your Digestive System Healthy
A number of factors influence your gut, and the following tips can help keep your digestive system in tip-top condition:
1. Eat fresh food
The main principles of a healthy diet and a healthy gut are to look at the quantity and quality of what you eat. Remember these points:
- Eat fresh foods, including lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and oats.
- Consume fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and legumes as they help lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- Avoid fried, fatty foods, refined sugars, and processed foods including chips and cookies.
2. Consume a high-fiber diet
Dietary fiber is important in maintaining regularity of bowel movements, good stool quality, avoiding constipation or diarrhea, and also nurturing a balance of good bacteria in the gut.
Sources of both good fiber and protein include beans, nuts, tofu, seitan, tempeh, and whole grains. It is recommended to eat 25 g of fiber per day for women and 38 g for men.
There are two types of fiber:
- Insoluble fiber comes from wheat bran, some fruits, and vegetables. Fiber acts as a bulking agent for stool, allowing it to have more form and consistency.
- Soluble fiber, such as that from psyllium husk and oats, can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also draws water into the stool to reduce watery stools and diarrhea.
Note: Increasing intake of fiber too quickly can lead to gas and bloating initially, but gradually adjusting intake over time will minimize adverse effects.
3. Minimize high-fat foods
It is vital to consider the types of fat in the food you consume rather than the total amount. Here’s what you can do:
- Refrain from consuming foods with trans fatty acids such as margarine, processed baked goods, and deep-fried foods. These can increase the chances of cardiac problems.
- Foods with saturated fat such as dairy, red meat, and ice cream can also increase total cholesterol levels.
- Foods with polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, chicken, peanut butter, tuna, and soybean can lower bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol levels.
4. Eat lean meats
Lean meats are an excellent protein source. Moreover, they have a lower number of calories due to their low-fat content. Lean meat sources include chicken (especially breast), turkey, fish (salmon and others), and lean cuts of beef.
5. Add probiotics to the diet
There are many probiotic supplements available, but there is no strong evidence to suggest that one may be better than the other or even helpful at all for the gut.
The American Gastroenterological Association recently reviewed probiotics and found no substantial evidence recommending one strain or brand over others. (1)
Additionally, there was a lack of evidence to suggest the use of probiotics for treating problems such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or C. difficile infection.
There needs to be further research to conclude whether probiotic supplements may improve gut health. However, there is a benefit to having natural fermented foods and bacteria to maintain a healthy microbiome.
It is recommended to incorporate natural sources of probiotics such as yogurt, kombucha, and certain types of cheese into your diet.
6. Follow a regular eating schedule
It is vital to consider the number of calories, but what makes up those calories is equally important.
Avoid eating late at night or shortly before bedtime. It would help if you remained upright during and at least 2–3 hours after eating to allow food to digest in your stomach.
Eating late and lying down afterward can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. If the reflux is bad, you can get a bitter or sour taste in your mouth and even regurgitation of food contents.
7. Drink plenty of water
Water makes up approximately 60% of an adult’s body weight. The fluid requirements may vary significantly from person to person and from day to day, depending on the size, gender, weight, activity level, and environment.
Furthermore, people with heart failure, kidney disease, or liver disease (cirrhosis) may not be able to handle large amounts of fluid intake. In otherwise healthy individuals, approximately eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is considered acceptable.
8. Exercise 4 days a week
Exercise will help maintain good motility of the gut and regular bowel movements. Walking, jogging, running, and other cardiovascular activity can help promote blood flow throughout your body and improve overall health.
As a general guide, 90 minutes (or 30 minutes 3 days a week) of moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise, combined with resistance training, is recommended per week to maintain good health.
9. Manage stress
Stress plays a vital role in your digestive and overall health.
The gut-brain axis is involved in many symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation a person feels when stressed, anxious, nervous, or depressed. (2)
Also, there is a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS and functional dyspepsia in patients with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although it is still unclear whether the psychological symptoms lead to the gastrointestinal symptoms or vice-versa, there is increasing evidence that the interaction is bidirectional.
This is why digestive health and mental health are very important and closely tied to one another. (2)
10. Quit smoking
Smoking elevates the risk of diseases, such as stroke, cardiac problems, and many forms of cancer. It can also lead to worsening of acid reflux, (3) stomach ulcers, and the development of esophageal and colon cancer.
Smoking has also been associated with causing flare-ups and a worse prognosis of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. (4)
To put it concisely, the following tips can go a long way in improving your digestive system health:
- Avoid overeating.
- Get enough sleep, 7–8 hours a night.
- Enjoy a balanced diet of fresh foods, such as lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains.
- Limit intake of fast food, fried and fatty foods, and packaged snacks, chips, and cookies.
- Be mindful when consuming juices, especially fruit juices and lemonade, which contain very high amounts of sugar without the benefit of dietary fiber when eating the fruit as a whole.
- Sodas, sports drinks, and other sweetened beverages should also be consumed sparingly.
What Vitamins and Minerals Help in Achieving a Healthy Digestive System?
Taking vitamin supplements or multivitamins is generally not required for most adults who consume a balanced and healthy diet. However, if you are unable to maintain a healthy diet, consider taking a reputable multivitamin.
Vitamin D and calcium are vital for bone health. This is especially important in women. Osteoporosis risk increases as you age, especially after 50 years. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation may help maintain bone density. (5)
The health of your digestive system plays a crucial role in your overall health. A healthy digestive system can be maintained with a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and good hydration.
If you face frequent digestive health issues despite good care, consult a doctor at once to address any underlying problem or disease.