A healthy digestion system is not only important for your own sanity, but it’s also tied to your immune system and overall mental health. After all, approximately 70 percent of your immune system actually resides in your gut, and getting your digestive health in check may help you relieve more than just digestive problems! When patients come to me with symptoms of bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas, and changes in bowl habits such as constipation or diarrhea, I tend to suggest these five gut-friendly tips to maintain a healthy gut and avoid digestive issues before they start.
Avoid artificial sweeteners.
It’s not uncommon for my patients to experience random occurrences of diarrhea. When they approach me with this symptom, I first ask them to track what exactly they are eating before this pesky symptom occurs. Typically, random occurrences of diarrhea are actually not random at all and can often be caused by consuming food with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are in everything from diet soda, instant oatmeal, tomato juice, and other foods labeled reduced-calories or sugar-free. Sucralose, Sweet N Low, Equal, Splenda, Aspartame, Mannitol, Sorbitoal, Polydextrox, Neotame, and a few others are all artificial sweeteners used in low-calorie foods and are the source for a lot of digestive issues.
Artificial sweeteners have been linked to diabetes and obesity, and can alter your gut bacteria, which directly affects your metabolism. Artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in your gut like a normal food product; instead it lingers in your gut and affects the digestion of other foods you are eating. As your body starts to break down your food, artificial sweeteners cause an osmotic effect, where water is drawn into your small intestine. This can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and gas. Certain artificial sweeteners called sugar alcohols, like mannitol and sorbitol, can be the most troublesome. If you find yourself sipping on a diet soda and then quickly running to the bathroom afterwards, artificial sweeteners are the likely culprit. Making simple changes in your diet, like turning to natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and stevia can make all the difference!
Prevent “Leaky Gut”.
Picture the lining of your small intestine as a tight barrier that is your first line of defense against all the bacteria and toxins that we take in daily. The tight junctions that keep the small bowel impermeable can start to leak or allow substances to cause an inflammatory cascade. This can be due to unhealthy eating habits, antibiotics, and Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO). When the intestines have increased permeability, it turns on our immune system and our bodies produce inflammatory molecules that can make us feel sick. To diagnose someone with leaky gut, I first work to figure out what symptoms they are experiencing, which commonly include bloating, diarrhea, and gas. If leaky gut has occurred, don’t worry—there are ways to fix the issue!
There are several fixes for clients pending their specific medical history and symptoms, including tailoring your diet and taking all natural supplements that won’t negatively affect the digestive system. Changing diets to a gluten-free or FODMAP diet may help. I also recommend all natural Atrantil, a new, safe over-the-counter supplement that’s more than 80 percent effective in relieving symptoms of bloating, abdominal discomfort, and changes in bowel habits. Atrantil is a dietary supplement made with a patented combination of gluten-free and non-GMO ingredients as well as natural botanical extracts to provide proven relief for difficult-to-treat digestive health symptoms at their source. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind supplement that’s great for relieving symptoms created by leaky gut and even everyday digestive irregularities such as bloating. It’s something my patients trust and have responded to tremendously well.
Make smart alcohol choices.
Believe me, I know the temptation of a glass of wine for dinner or a beer when out with buddies. But you should know that your digestive system is sensitive to anything you consume, and that especially includes alcohol. Simply put, when you drink alcohol it irritates your digestive tract. Alcohol can be a direct irritant which can lead to gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining. It can also trigger abdominal pain and diarrhea. Drinking an occasional drink here and there will likely not lead to any long term problems, but drinking heavily can cause a number of them. Heartburn, inflammation, stomach ulcers, pancreas, colon cancer, liver disease, and even leaky gut are a few issues that are commonly seen when too much alcohol is consumed over a period of time. When alcohol travels down to your digestive tract, it actually makes it harder for your body to absorb nutrients, such as vitamin B, or control bacteria. Cutting back on a drink at dinner and saving it for special occasions can greatly improve your digestive system.
Stay stress free.
The hustle and bustle of life makes it difficult to stop and smell the roses, but there are simple things we can all to do reduce stress. Everyday stress negatively affects every part of your digestive system, and your gut is particularly vulnerable to the presence of chronic and even acute stress. When you are experiencing anxiety or stress your body produces more stress hormones, which have receptors in the brain and the gut. This can cause all kinds of motility and permeability issues resulting in pain and change of bowel habits.
Chronic exposure to stress can lead to long term disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, IBS and even food allergies. I also see stress affecting the occurrence of leaky gut and SIBO. Exercise is my number one recommendation to relieve stress and tension and release endorphins that improve your mood. Everyday exercise is preferred, but if you’re unable to commit try starting with two to three days a week or joining a fitness class with friends at a local gym or yoga studio. Limiting your stressors can also be done by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting adequate sleep, and cutting caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and cigarettes from your daily routine.
Consume the correct types of fiber.
We all know fiber can help with symptoms of constipation, but did you know there are actually two types of fiber; soluble fiber and insoluble? Soluble fibers actually slow digestion, which prevents quick spikes in your blood sugar. Insoluble fibers help move food through your intestines, which can help prevent constipation. Insoluble fibers are found in nuts, whole wheat, whole grains, seeds, and rice, while soluble fibers can naturally be found in oats, beans, peas, flaxseed, berries, and apples.
Last, but not least, if you continually experiencing digestive issues go get screened. Symptoms of constant heart burn, diarrhea, or constipation could be a sign of a larger issue. Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist and get checked out—and don’t spare any details when talking to your doctor. Believe me, we’ve heard it all! In the meantime, try these tips to help any digestive issues you may be experiencing. I meet patients on a daily basis who have been experiencing digestive symptoms for a long time before they decided to get help, and time is a nothing but catalyst to making symptoms worse. While it may seem like a daunting task to make the appointment, just remember that your digestive health is just as important as you are—so take charge!
Dr. Kenneth Brown
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