An unhealthy gut can have a knock-on effect on the rest of your body. Here are 8 ways to help you feel energised and active.
Did you know that 70 per cent of your immune system is centred in your gut? So if your gut isn’t healthy, this has a knock-on effect on the rest of your body.
Here are 8 ways to help feel fitter, energised and active:
1 De-stress to calm IBS symptoms: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common disorder of the digestive tract, reports the Gut Foundation. Experiencing abdominal pain, bloating, wind, and alternating diarrahoea and constipation may be worse around menstruation or times of stress. Stress definitely affects your gut, says nutritionist and dietician, Dr Joanna McMillan. Your stomach can experience anything from butterflies to gutwrenching nausea. This happens as your body deflects blood flow away from your gut to your arms and legs, impairing the digestive system.
What you can do: The underlying cause of IBS is still unknown, however stress is a recognised trigger, with elevated stress hormones stimulating the gut, says Joanna. Try stressrelieving techniques, such as avoiding multi-tasking, relaxing and getting out, exercising and deep breathing when tense.
2 Watch your diet to prevent bloating: Bloating affects 60 per cent of women, says gastroenterologist Professor Terry Bolin. Researchers from Monash University discovered that this may be due to intolerance to certain foods, such as honey, fruit and artificial sweeteners – also known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). ‘An intolerance to fructose in apples, pears and honey means your body is unable to break down the sugars. Bacteria then release a lot of gas, causing bloating and pain,’ explains dietician Julie Gilbert.
What you can do: Always need to loosen your belt after eating? Julie suggests reducing certain foods, including fructans (wheat, onion, leeks and cabbage), fructose (honey, apples, pears and watermelon), and galactans (baked kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils).
3 Eat mindfully to prevent indigestion
To prevent the pain of indigestion – including heartburn and reflux, or burping, abdominal pressure,
flatulence and mild nausea – consider your eating behaviour, and the environment you eat in. ‘When your posture is bad, your gut is also in a bad position, so your digestive system can’t work effectively,’ says Joanna.
What you can do: Try to eat in a relaxed environment by sitting at the table, and reduce background
distractions like TV, otherwise you tend to overeat and eat too quickly. Focus on your food, chew thoroughly, wear loosefitting clothes to reduce pressure on the stomach, and sit up straight.
4 Get moving to ease constipation: It’s not a great topic but constipation is quite common with almost one in five of us experiencing the condition. Symptoms include straining, hard or lumpy stools, unproductive bowel movements or abdominal bloating/ distension. Physical inactivity and lack of exercise are key risk factors – a sedentary lifestyle results in a sluggish bowel.
What you can do: ‘I don’t know any runners who are constipated,’ says Joanna. ‘This is because exercise stimulates the bowel.’ Try to exercise for 20-30 minutes every day. Drink plenty of water, visit the bathroom when you feel the urge, and don’t forget the importance of fibre in your diet. According to the nutrition experts at www.kelloggs.co.za, 80 per cent of us don’t eat enough fibre – a trend that often starts in childhood. The Guideline Daily Amount for fibre is 25g for adults and 15g for children aged between 5-10 years. Most of us need to increase our current fibre intake by about 50 per cent in order to reach this target.
5 Reduce salt to ease heartburn: Hold the salt, especially if you suffer from heartburn – a painful symptom of reflux where acid from the stomach flows back into the oesophagus. Study results from the Department of Surgery at Karolinska Hospital, Sweden, found that those eating salty food at least three times a week may have a 50 per cent risk of reflux symptoms, and adding salt to food regularly may increase the risk by 70 per cent compared to those who never add salt or eat salty food. One possible explanation is that those who use a lot of salt may also be eating fatty, fried foods that increase the risk of heartburn.
What you can do: If your symptoms of reflux are mild, cut back on salt in your diet. Additionally, adopting healthy lifestyle changes may further reduce symptoms. Eliminating alcohol, quitting smoking, noting which foods unsettle your stomach and avoiding lying down immediately after meals, will all help too.
6 Stay trim to prevent gallstones
If there’s one thing you should do to boost overall health and digestion, it’s achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Excess weight will increase your risk of developing chronic health conditions, and you may have a higher chance of suffering from gallstones. Close to 15 per cent of people are affected by gallstones, reports health site Better Health Channel.
What you can do While there’s no single cause of gallstones, a healthy weight may lower your risk, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in the US. Reducing your weight slowly is ideal, as losing weight too quickly may increase the risk of developing gallstones. Limiting fatty foods and dairy products may also help reduce your risk.
7 Manage asthma symptoms to improve acid reflux:
If you suffer from acid reflux, also known as GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflex disease), you’re not alone. And if you’re an asthmatic you may be at a higher risk, with research revealing that 50-90 per cent of asthma sufferers experience some reflux. An asthmatic cough or wheeze may be due to acid reflux irritating the windpipe.
What you can do More research is needed to fully understand this link, but here’s a guideline to help ease acid reflux: follow your asthma-management plan exactly, reduce your exposure to asthma triggers where possible, eat smaller meals, eat several hours before bed, maintain a healthy weight, and limit fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol.
IS IT HEARTBURN? Heartburn (acid indigestion) usually feels like burning chest pain, behind the breastbone and upward to the neck and throat and even into the shoulder blades. It feels like food’s coming back into the mouth leaving an acid or bitter taste. In most cases, heartburn can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes. Source: Mayo Clinic South Africa
PATRICK HOLFORD ON CONSTIPATION…
It’s not something to be taken lightly, warns Holford in his book Improve your Digestion (Piatkus): ‘Forsome people, long-term constipation can result in physical blockages and distensions of the bowel, which is a major cause of diverticulosis and can lead to inflammatory bowel problems. Constipation allows more opportunity for putrefaction and exposure to toxic material. This is a major contributor to colorectal cancer…’