In my last post I talked about nutrition and developing a healthy eating plan for yourself. Today I want to explore something that is just as important as what you eat: your gut. What good is it to put all those healthy nutrients into your body in the form of food if your digestive system is so messed up that you can’t absorb anything properly? How can you feel good mentally if you constantly have a gut-ache? Our digestive systems are actually directly linked to our brains; in fact, our guts are actually our “second brain,” with the two sending messages to each other constantly in an attempt to keep things in harmony.
Gaining nourishment from your food isn’t always a guarantee. The gastro-intestinal tract contains a delicate microcosm of bacteria (both good and bad) and immune system cells, which take care of both digestion and disease prevention. If things go out of balance, so will your health and mental state. Keeping it all running smoothly is imperative to preventative health. So even if you are doing everything else that’s recommended for your MTHFR protocol or any other nutritional plan that you’re on, you must follow certain guidelines to really see improvement and to get your digestive system in tip-top shape.
How can you do this? Here are my favorite tips, gathered from much reading on the subject and things I implement in my own life:
1. Drink lemon water in the morning.
Every day within 15 minutes of waking I drink a cup of hot water and fresh lemon juice. This is beneficial for a number of reasons, which Beth of Tasty Yummies has outlined really well in her post on the benefits of drinking lemon water every morning. You’ll help your digestive system flush toxins, ease inflammation, re-hydrate and give yourself a caffeine-free energy boost. You can use lime juice too!
2. Stop eating before you are completely full.
Use the rule of 80/20 to ensure that you leave 20 per cent of your stomach space for digestion. This allows your digestive enzymes to do their work and prevents the fermentation of food that is caused by a delay in digestion. How do you know when you’re getting full? Pay attention when you’re eating. You may notice a little burp after you’ve eaten for a while. That’s a signal to stop. Remember, there can be as much as 20 minute delay from when your stomach is satisfied to when you actually feel full.
3. Reduce alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
Caffeine has a number of negative effects on the digestive system. It interferes with GABA neurotransmitter metabolism, preventing important stress management processes from occurring properly. It can also inhibit the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals because it causes food to move too quickly through the digestive tract. Try substituting your morning coffee for hot lemon water as discussed in point one. If you do drink coffee, don’t do it on an empty stomach as this stimulates the production of too much hydrochloric acid. Caffeine can also cause stomach irritation, diarrhea and acid reflux, while aggravating conditions like Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Similarly, alcohol reduces and inhibits the absorption and metabolism of nutrients into the blood stream. It irritates the delicate membranes throughout the digestive tract, from your mouth to your intestines. It also changes the speed of digestion, causing dysfunction at all stages.
A number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs also interfere with digestion or cause uncomfortable side effects like reflux. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), antibiotics, birth control pills and ibuprofens.
4. Eliminate toxic foods from your diet.
These include sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, preservatives, hormones, GMO food and additives. This should be a primary step for everyone with MTHFR gene mutations, not just to aid in digestion but also to remove the additional stress of having to cleanse these toxins from your already taxed system. Also watch out for the food additive carrageenan, which has been shown to cause gastrointestinal distress and inflammation.
5. Exercise regularly.
The by-products of exercise like increased heart rate, strengthening and increased blood flow are all helpful for your digestive system as well as the detoxification process in general.
6. Improve your nutrients.
Digestion and gut health can be improved by increasing your intake of a number of different nutrients. It can be helpful to work with a health practitioner to evaluate what your particular digestive issues and nutrient deficiencies are before just adding in supplements. Generally, however, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin D and glutamine are all essential for good digestion.
7. Take high quality probiotics.
You have to be careful here or you’ll waste your money. The best probiotics may not come in a jar or plastic bottle as many people prefer to eat things like fermented vegetables and kefir (homemade is best). If you prefer to buy them, follow these probiotic guidelines from Whole9. And don’t stick to one type – rotating your probiotics can expose you to different strains of bacteria.
Stress has a debilitating effect on the digestive system. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol released by the central nervous system cause changes and reactions in the digestive system that cause inflammation and a disruption of the normal digestive processes. If you are embarking on a journey to improve your overall health, stress reduction and management must be incorporated into your health regimen or you won’t get the full benefit of measures like diet improvement and detoxification. Remember, everything is connected. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
9. Drink plenty of water (but not while you’re eating).
It is essential to stay hydrated because your digestive system needs moisture to function properly. You need it to digest soluble fiber and to replenish fluids lost during digestion, sweating and urination – essentially all of your body’s processes require this vital ingredient. Be sure to drink at least nine to 13 cups of water a day (men require more than women on average).
But don’t drink anything when you’re eating. Having water and other beverages with your meals dilutes your body’s stomach acids and digestive enzymes and hampers the digestion process. Stop drinking liquids 20 minutes before and one hour after a meal.
10. Be sure to eliminate at least once a day, three if you can.
While three might sound like a lot, this is a commonly accepted number of daily bowel movements for people with the highest functioning digestive systems. If you’re a vegetarian, you may already be experiencing this. Practicing the other tips on this list will assist.
11. Eat more soluble fiber.
When we think of fiber we often think of things like grains, wheat and vegetables. Those are forms of insoluble fiber. Perhaps even more important are forms of soluble fiber, found in legumes, oat bran, barley, psyllium, seeds, nuts, apples, oranges, berries and plums. These fiber foods turn into gel in the intestines and actually slow down the digestion process and helps reduce fat and cholesterol absorption. They also regulate glucose levels and prevent constipation. And don’t abandon insoluble fiber – it still has excellent health benefits in moderation. Just be sure to eat a balance of both, focusing more on soluble fiber.
12. Don’t over-complicate your meals.
Combining too many different types of foods into one meal puts stress onto your digestive system because different foods require different conditions in the stomach in order for it to break it down properly. Simplify the components of your meals to reduce this stress.
13. Investigate whether you need supplemental digestive enzymes.
In my last post I mentioned that we have started eating for blood type in our household. Both my husband and I have low stomach acid and actually can’t digest some things properly, like beef and pork. Whatever your diet or blood type, if your digestive system is struggling you can likely benefit from digestive enzymes. These are proteins that will assist your body in breaking down and digesting food properly. These are particularly helpful for people with conditions like pancreatic insufficiency, Celiac disease, food allergies and chronic stress.
Click here to see 17 more tips for improving digestion and gut health in part two of this post…