Whether it’s the middle of the holiday season or just enjoying one too many heavy meals in a row, gastrointestinal problems are bound to affect you at one point or another in your life. Unfortunately, in some cases, specific diseases or genetic issues make the occurrence of abdominal discomfort unavoidable. But most visceral distress can be eliminated fairly easily, with as little as three steps to preventing digestive upset being all you need to follow for a smooth and stress-free digestive movement each single day.
Digestive problems 101
It’s no secret that indigestion is (quite literally) a pain to deal with, especially if you have to face it on a regular basis. Even the occasional stomach discomfort is no fun either because it can turn out to be very debilitating for the person in question. In more extreme instances, the occasional tummy aches can turn into a condition known as dyspepsia, namely a chronic ‘malfunctioning’ of the gastrointestinal system in terms of bowel movement and general abdominal wellbeing.
The most obvious symptoms of digestive upset generally appear after consuming substantial amounts of sugary and/ or fatty foods. These side effects include nausea, belching, bloating, heartburn, gas and distention (swelling in the abdominal region), as well as irregular bowel movement (diarrhea/ constipation). Not only are we talking about short term discomfort and pain, but also more prolonged complications like insufficient nutrient assimilation, increased risk of developing infections (because of the internal waste not being normally evacuated), as well as mood swings and mental uneasiness.
Needless to say, you don’t have to really worry about a few rare episodes of bloating after holiday meals or a particularly filling diner, for example. On the other hand, experiencing back-to-back instances of digestive upset should make you question your level of health and tolerance towards certain kinds of products and their ingredients.
The best option when confronted with persistent gastrointestinal irregularities is to consult with a professional doctor or specialist in order to rule out more serious disorders like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) or Crohn’s disease. Such conditions usually require long-term management via dietary restrictions, regular physical exercising, and even certain kinds of drugs to alleviate the more persistent symptoms.
A thorough examination of your individual manifestations can also determine whether your digestive upset episodes are caused by a pathogen infection or not. Helicobacter pylori and Campylobacter jejuni are among the most prominent culprits for digestive imbalances nowadays; their side effects comprise (but are not limited to) visceral cramps, general discomfort, and severe diarrhea episodes. Here, intense hydration and antibiotic treatments are necessary in order to remove the bacteria from your organism efficiently.
However, if the aforementioned situations do not apply to you, then you are most likely to be suffering from a ‘lazy’ gut as a result of various factors like genetics, poor dietary choices from the past, and ongoing stress. Luckily, digestive upset can be kept under control with a fairly low amount of effort, as you will see further on.
How to prevent digestive upset
Eat your meals smartly
In today’s hectic world, sitting down to enjoy a meal has become almost a luxury for most of us. Social and work-related obligations force many into having on-the-go meals or, even worse, resorting to fast food alternatives in order to maintain their energy throughout the day. But, while temporarily satisfying, these compromises do nothing but affect your body in the long term, with digestive upset only being the tip of your gastrointestinal problems.
As a result, enjoying what you eat and paying attention to how you eat said foods is essential in maintaining a regular gastrointestinal pattern for extended periods of time. Although it might not seem like much, allotting yourself 20 minutes to half an hour for each main meal of the day can really have a positive impact in how frequently you experience digestive upset.
Here are some additional tips to help you create the perfect breakfast, lunch, and diner scenario for yourself and your stomach alike:
- Find a peaceful environment – it’s important to remember that your mind is as important as your body when it comes to digestive issues. For instance, many people suffer from stomach aches or even bowel irregularities when put under a lot of stress, which is the direct result of the brain-gut axis being impacted regarding microflora and hormone balances. Therefore, adopting a correct eating schedule can help regulate the biochemical signals between these two major internal centres and result in both mental balance and gastrointestinal wellness.
One way of ensuring this equilibrium is by striving to enjoy your meals in a quiet and stress-free space whenever possible. In addition, putting your phone or laptop aside can also work wonders because, in that way, you can actually concentrate on what you are eating instead of mindlessly munching away. Not only will the feeling of satiety kick in faster (and aid you in keeping your weight in check), but you will also avoid digestive problems caused by overeating or not chewing your food enough (since larger chunks are harder to decompose).
- Protein, then carbohydrates – at any given time, your gastric system has a certain level of acid ‘waiting’ to decompose food. This is a good thing, since such substances are the basis of an effective and nutrient-boosting digestive process.
The downside is that this acid is fairly limited, so prioritizing what to break down first is done by the ‘first-come, first-served’ rule within the stomach. This innate ‘policy’ of the gastrointestinal tract can therefore lead to numerous digestive issues, particularly after consuming a rich meal.
Consequently, the order in which you eat your foods definitely influences your digestive rhythms later on. Nutritionists recommend starting with protein sources (meats, dairy, eggs, nuts, etc.) and then consuming the much easier to process veggies, legumes, and fruit. Going the other way around will only result in you wasting your hydrochloric acid and allowing the ‘tougher’ foods to ferment within the gut (hence resulting in bloating, gas, nausea, etc.).
- Healthy is better – if you want to live better, longer, and therefore happier, then changing your dietary regime must come in as a number one priority. More so when considering the constant temptation posed by highly processed and artificially-ridden products present on today’s market. After all, who’s ever willingly traded in a chocolate bar for some broccoli or kale?
As a rule of thumb, your go-to ingredients should be fresh produce (fruits, veggies, and legumes), whole grains, and dairy products. Leans meats (chicken, fish, etc.) come in at a close second, with fatty/ sugary/ salty foods to be consumed occasionally and in considerably reduced quantities.
Aside from ensuring your daily dosage of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, you can also get a good fibre kick from these foods. Fibre is a key component in maintaining a good gastrointestinal passage because it helps with regular bowel motility and proper substance assimilation within the gut. Additionally, your gastric system should be more effective in breaking down natural foods as opposed to those majorly based on additives, preservatives, and all other sorts of artificial fillers.
Choose a good dietary supplement
If changing your approach to eating doesn’t yield satisfactory results, then you should consider investing in a quality supplement to boost your intestinal rhythms in the long run. Admittedly, the growing market for these products makes it increasingly hard to find a decent brand that lives up to its name – but not impossible.
For relieving gastrointestinal problems, you should look into dietary enhancers which contain betaine hydrochloride or hydrochloric acid. This synthetic substance has been linked to the amelioration of different medical imbalances, including improved digestion, reduced chances of developing infections (in particular, yeast overgrowths), and fewer occurrences of allergies. Even though researchers claim HCL to be ineffective in terms of gastric functionality, some recent studies have confirmed that this substance has the potential to elevate stomach acid levels for healthy individuals and thus alleviate digestive processes. This comes as a more official argument to the thousands of claims issued by ordinary people who have tried HCL for digestive upset in the past and have found it to meliorate symptoms like burping, bloating, nausea, and irregular intestinal movements.
Another option for gastric wellness is that of supplements containing enzymes. As a pre-existent part of the human organism, digestive enzymes break down foods and boost nutrient absorption in the form of minerals, vitamins, simple sugars (from carbohydrates), cholesterol (from fats), and amino acids (from protein). It then makes perfect sense to try and elevate the number of these catalysts so as to do away with abdominal discomfort.
Supplements containing more natural extracts of aloe vera, ginger root, chamomile or apple cider vinegar might also prove beneficial in this case. Of course, there is also the option of anti-sickness drugs such as antacids, histamines, and antiemetics (for nausea and vomiting) in order to meliorate indigestion.
Nevertheless, if you want to maintain a more organic approach to your digestive wellbeing, then probiotics are definitely one alternative to be considered. One of the major advantages posed by probiotics is that these beneficial bacteria are already a natural part of your gastrointestinal system, hence being easier to assimilate and integrate within the gut through external supplementation.
There are two main ways in which you can enhance your ‘friendly’ microorganism count, namely via ‘natural’ probiotic sources and dietary supplements containing such live bacteria colonies.
The first category comprises of fermented vegetables or plants (sauerkraut, brine pickles and olives, Miso paste, kimchi, Kombucha tea, etc.) and dairy products (plain yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, soft cheeses like Mozzarella and Cheddar, etc.). Even sourdough bread, pistachios, and vine contain a decent amount of probiotics, meaning that you can create a diversified dietary regime and still benefit from less instances of visceral discomfort caused by indigestion. Just be sure your eating regime and allergy sensitivity allow you to include these foods into your regular routine.
The second group of reliable probiotics is that of dietary enhancers. Nowadays, these come in a number of shapes and sizes, from tablets and pills to powders and liquid drops. The most important aspects to consider when purchasing a probiotic supplement are its probiotic strains, the CFUs count, and culture viability.
Regarding gastrointestinal motility, the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus groups of probiotics are the most recommended because these improve lactose tolerance (by creating lactic acid), nutrient absorption within the gut, and digestive motility. Aim for a diverse combination of strains, but no more than 10 distinct types per supplement (a larger variety might result in strain ‘aggressiveness’ over food and culture primacy). The probiotics most commonly employed for digestive motility and wellness are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus salivarius, and Bacillus coagulans.
The CFUs (colony-forming units) count depends on your particular gastrointestinal makeup, since an individual can have anything between 1 billion CFUs and 100 billion CFUs inside their gut at any given time. Standard dietary enhancers range from a couple billion microorganisms to 5-50 billion, aside from other natural extracts, enzymes, etc.
Furthermore, how long the cultures are guaranteed for by the manufacturer can make the difference between an effective or pointless product. The ideal scenario would be to have the probiotics guaranteed until the expiration date printed on the supplement and not until the time of manufacturing. This warrants stable and resistant colonies that will arrive within your colon alive and not ones destroyed by various factors beforehand (handling, transportation, storing, etc.).
As with any health disorder, the first step towards improvement is to consult with your doctor or personal physician so as to be certain your digestive upset is not masking a more serious illness.
In the case of digestive upset, following the aforementioned three steps can really impact your gastrointestinal system in a positive manner, as well as improve your overall quality of life in a practically effortless manner.
So dare to make a change for the better in your day-to-day life for a happier stomach and a happier you!