Digestive dysfunction is one of the most common ills of today’s population. Symptoms of acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation and bloating have become so normal that people often don’t recognize them as problems to be solved, if they recognize them at all. The allopathic diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has become increasingly popular, leaving patients concerned and completely clueless as to the true source of or potential solution to their discomfort. Truth is, from intestinal parasites to food intolerances to emotional stress, digestive imbalances can have a variety of causes. But before we turn to unpleasant diagnostic tools like stool samples and rectal swabs, there are some simple lifestyle habits we can address that have a large impact on digestive health. Four things in particular, which I’m calling the Four F’s, I find to be some of the most neglected components of maintaining a healthy gut.
Flora: Our digestive tracts house more individual microbes than we have cells in our body. An imbalance in friendly vs inflammatory bacteria, what we call Dysbiosis, can wreak havoc on the digestive process. One simple step to aid a healthy microbial milieu is taking a daily probiotic, a common supplement that supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Ask for one at Village Green providing at least 4 billion CFU’s from a variety of strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, along with prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to feed the good bacteria.
Fiber: The USDA says we should eat 25g (women) or 38g (men) of fiber per day. On average, Americans consume only 12-18g per day. A healthy blend of both soluble and insoluble fiber from whole foods helps us maintain regular bowel movements (at least once a day) and supports a healthy microbial environment in the gut, not to mention proven benefits for weight management, cardiovascular risk, blood sugar control and cancer risk. Aim to get your fill from naturally occurring fibers in whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, as opposed to foods with fiber added to them like processed breads and many breakfast cereals.
Fluid: One of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration. Fluid aids tremendously in the digestive process and is crucial for moving things along. Fiber without adequate fluid may cause constipation, so as you increase your fiber intake, be sure to drink more water. The Institute of Medicine recommends 2.2L (women) or 3L (men) of fluid intake daily on top of any gained from foods like fruits and vegetables. Make it simple. Get yourself a water bottle. Know the volume. Set a daily goal for how many times you’ll empty it.
Fitness: Specifically, regular cardiovascular exercise can benefit digestive health. By activating muscles in the colon (a process we call peristalsis), it may promote healthy elimination and often reduces the frequency and severity of other symptoms such as gas and bloating. Further connection between exercise and digestive symptoms may be explained through its impact on levels of serotonin and endorphins in the brain. By influencing mood, emotional state and stress levels, regular exercise may help to quiet digestive discomfort.