As may know, my last blog was devoted to 5 common signs of an unhealthy gut.
I have emphasized there that our gut works in a top-to-bottom sequence and that when you are struggling with digestive issues, the problem may lie anywhere along the digestive system, so simply taking probiotics will often not be the best fix.
Today, we will talk about . Oftentimes, they are related to our lifestyle and to our diet, sometimes however there might be an underlying cause such as hormonal imbalance, neurodegeneration, auto-immunity, or chronic infection. In these cases, dietary interventions may have a lower therapeutic impact but still are valuable health-wise.
IBS, or something else?
I want to share a true story so you know that a popular “leaky gut” fix will not always work. Recently, one of my clients came in with common GI complaints including abdominal discomfort and too frequent bowel movements. He was diagnosed 2 years ago with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and then he implemented some common interventions for IBS and a healthy gut, however with little success. After our initial consult, I have provided few basic tips to start with while we were waiting for the fecal and blood test results. The tips were helpful enough to improve the bowel quality and frequency but not to solve an underlying problem. When we received the results, we had additional insights on what’s going on. The most relevant findings included intestinal inflammation, an auto-immune reactivity to gluten, and a protozoan parasite. No surprise, he suffered from chronic gut issues. Yet, without the additional lab workup we would miss important pieces of the puzzle. With results at hand, we could initiate a targeted action plan.
How to fix abdominal bloating?
Abdominal bloating is when your abdomen feels bloated, swollen, tight, or hard.
First, experiment by eating slowly, chewing properly, avoiding drinking during meals, eliminating processed and junk foods, eliminating sugar, sodas, artificial sweeteners, lactose, and processed foods. If you are a fruit lover, reduce your fruit intake to one serving daily. A very powerful and simple tip now, just do not overeat. Don’t overload your stomach with more food than it can handle. For occasional bloating, you can have peppermint, ginger, fennel or chamomile tea, or digestive bitters.
If after doing a basic detective work, you still experience persistent abdominal bloating, get tested. A different cause may require a different approach, thus experimenting too much and too long might not deliver a desired effect. Test and don’t guess.
How to fix diarrhea?
Diarrhea happens when you experience loose and watery stools and when your bowel transit is too fast.
Acute diarrhea. During acute diarrhea you will not be very hungry. Just take care to stay properly hydrated (8-10 glasses per day) and sip small amounts of fluids often (water, electrolytes, vegetable juices, bone broths, soups). Have easy to digest, cooked and soft foods such as cooked rice, cooked veggies, banana, applesauce.
Because chronic diarrhea can have profound health consequences, it needs to be investigated. Your doctor can refer you for a stool testing to rule out parasitic or bacterial infection, occult blood, or gut inflammation; run a blood test to rule out allergies, celiac disease, or refer you for a colonoscopy. You can also opt for a comprehensive, functional stool testing to evaluate your gut health and to look for possible imbalances. Test results will dictate a best approach but incorporating binding foods such as bananas, rice, mashed potatoes, simply cooked chicken or meat, yogurt or oatmeal; and avoiding processed foods, excess sugar, sweeteners, caffeine containing drinks (coffee, green tea), alcohol, fruit juices, dry fruits - might be helpful in some cases.
If you have severe symptoms, including severe abdominal or rectal pain, severe weakness, blood in your stool, high fever, or signs of dehydration (dry mouth, anxiety, excessive thirst, little or no urination), call your doctor right away. Be more cautious with elderly and small children suffering from diarrhea as they are at higher risk of dehydration.
How to fix constipation?
Constipation is defined as bowel movements that are less frequent, often dry and hard.
Before we go into the tips you can implement when dealing with constipation, I want to give a brief attention to bowel transit time. The optimal defecation frequency is considered to be at least one bowel movement every 1-2 days, with bowel transit time within 12-48 hours. Individuals with constipation have often the bowel transit that’s longer than 48 hours.
In reality, everyone experiences some variations in bowels frequency but ideally, we want that most of our bowels happen within the 12-48 hours window. Menstruation, vigorous physical exercise, diet, travel, and stress can also temporarily influence your bowel behaviors. Apart from looking at the number and frequency of bowel movements, look at their consistency, the effort needed to expel them and any associated symptoms. In order to assess how long it takes from the time you eat a food until it gets eliminated in a bowel movement, you can do a Bowel Transit Time Test at home, see below.
As you have learned from my previous blog on 5 signs of an unhealthy gut, adequate hydration and fiber are the colon’s best friends and essential for its health, so they are one of the best remedies to address constipation.
There is no single magic constipation remedy that works for everyone. The efficacy may depend on the cause of constipation.
Here are several tips to consider when you want to fix constipation:
- Drink enough water/liquids (2,5 – 3 liter daily).
- Be physically active, if possible.
- Use a squatty potty every day. The better angle for pooping decreases straining, and makes pooping easier and more comfortable.
- Have plenty of veggies (up to 800 - 1000 gram daily), have fruits, whole grains and legumes as a source of fiber.
- Have 1-2 tablespoon of olive oil (optionally with squeezed lemon juice) after waking up and before bed time to lubricate the digestive tract.
- Use 200 mg to 600 mg of magnesium citrate daily, in divided doses.
- Take Vitamin C (buffered vit-C, liposomal or Esther-c form preferred). You can take 2,000 to 4,000 mg or more a day, along with magnesium citrate supplementation. The simple principle applies here: If you begin to get loose stools, just back off a bit.
- Have bulking forming agent such as psyllium or barn. It takes a day or so to work but can be quite effective and safe to take on a daily basis. Follow the directions on the label carefully and take it with plenty of liquid, it’s very important. You may have a second glass of water after having psyllium or bran to boost their effectiveness.
- Have berries, chia and flax seeds, cooked leafy greens, artichokes, sweet potatoes and squash.
- Drink 1-3 cups of coffee or green tea, if tolerated and if you do not suffer from insomnia.
- Stimulate the vagus nerve tone (to improve the brain-gut axis and bowel motility) by regular throat gargling, loud singing, or (water/coffee) enemas.
- Occasionally, you may use glycerin suppositories to stimulate the reflex to defecate.
Abuse of Laxatives. When not used in a proper way, certain laxatives can worsen the problem. If we rely too much on the (wrong) laxatives, the muscles can become dependent on laxatives to constrict, perfectly fitting a saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. There is also a risk to disrupt the function of colon nerve cells. It’s a risk only for certain laxative formulations. Most newer formulations of laxatives should not cause these problems. Always use laxatives as recommended in order to prevent creating additional problems.
How to fix heartburn?
Heartburn is associated with burning sensation in the middle of the chest and is a common symptom of reflux.
The good news is that acid reflux can often be soothed and managed by dietary and lifestyle interventions, especially when it has not progressed to the esophageal inflammation and tissue erosion.
So, before jumping into the anti-acids and over-the-counter drugs (H2 blockers, aginate drugs, or proton pomp inhibitors), explore your diet and lifestyle. Reflux medications do have side effects and typically do not solve the core problem.
What can you do? Think of eating smaller meals regularly, chewing well, chewing a gum, avoiding trigger foods, relaxing, quitting smoking, losing weight, avoiding tight clothing, avoiding unnecessary medications and exercising wisely. Also, worth trying chamomile, ginger, fennel or licorice tea, or cabbage juice to alleviate acid reflux symptoms.
If your symptoms do not subside after using the self-help tools, seek medical help to properly evaluate the underlying cause. Long-term acid reflux can lead to complications such as esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, manifested as esophageal scarring and constriction leading to swallowing disorders.
Fix for better blood sugar
An interplay of reactions happens in order to regulate our blood sugar levels, including our hormones, our gut environment and our gut microbiota. It’s complex and not entirely understood but we know enough to take appropriate actions.
I could write an assay on how to support your gut health, your gut microbiome and your blood sugar. But, without making it too complicated and overwhelming, let’s focus on how we can promote a healthy gut while promoting a steady blood sugar.
It’s quite simple. Studies clearly show that dietary fibers can improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, as well as nourish the gut microbiome. They possess anti-obesogenic effects. The foods your gut microbiome loves are the foods that are typically good for a balanced blood sugar. If you want your beneficial gut microbes to thrive and to support your metabolism, you need to take care of them. If you treat them well, they will make good things for you.
Let’s keep it simple and let’s focus on the 4 Ps.
4 Ps for a heathy gut and blood sugar
The 4 Ps stands for: proportions, prebiotic rich foods, probiotic rich foods, and polyphenol rich foods. The traditional Mediterranean diet would be the closest to the 4 Ps principle.
Keep the right Proportions
Prepare balanced meals by combining, by volume: 40-60 % of non-starchy vegetables (for fiber, phytonutrients and polyphenols), 20-25% of protein rich foods (eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, chicken, meat, fish, legumes), 10-25% of foods rich in resistant starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, yams, plantain, lentils, chickpeas, beans, buckwheat, oats, barley), 10-25% of foods rich in healthy fats (quality plant oils, raw nuts and seeds), herbs and spices.
Have Prebiotic rich foods
They serve as food (dietary fiber) for beneficial microbes. Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible by human ingredients (carbohydrates) that feed trillions of microbial mouths in your gut and helping them to bloom. They are microbiome superfoods that naturally occur in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, grains) such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, onion, leek, garlic, raw oats, banana, broccoli, carrots, or fruit skin. Dietary fiber aids digestion, bowel movement and assists the removal of toxins from the body.
Have Probiotic rich foods
They contain beneficial microbes such as bacteria or yeast. They are present in certain foods containing live cultures such as yoghurt, kefir, aged cheese, kombucha, kimichi, sauerkraut, and miso. Probiotic rich foods may support digestion and immunity.
Have Polyphenol rich foods
Polyphenols are plants’ powerful nutrients that to become active undergo diverse intestinal transformations thanks to the action of human digestive enzymes and microbial metabolism. They include flavonoids, tannins, chlorogenic acids, anthocyanidins. They have antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic properties. Vegetables, fruits, herbs are rich in polyphenols such as onions, apples, grapefruits, plums, broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, green thee, cocoa, bananas, berries, chickpeas, beans, soy, parsley, thyme, celery, walnuts, grapes, flaxseed, apricots, coffee seeds, and peaches.
Having a diet rich in prebiotic foods, probiotic foods and polyphenols at the right proportions, is a wonderful way to support your gut microbiome, your gut health, as well as to promote a steady blood sugar, and as a bonus to support your cardiovascular health.
Information provided here is meant for educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional.