Autumn is a natural time to take stock. The perfect time to do a mind/body MOT and set yourself a goal to get yourself in better shape physically or mentally – or both. And probably the single thing you can do to make the biggest difference to your health is getting your bowels in good motion! Maintaining a healthy bowel is crucial to maintaining overall good health.
If you’ve got anything wrong in the gut department – from feeling bloated or flatulent, to constipation (which you are if you go less than three times a day), to loose stools and IBS – then at best you’re going to feel sluggish and be operating under par, at worst you could be storing up for something more serious. If you’re not eliminating toxins efficiently then these can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. All too many people put up with IBS or less than ideal bowel function before they do something about it.
Here are five ways, often called the 5Rs, to a healthy bowel – work through them step by step. No cheating: skipping a step means you won’t get the desired results!
First step is to get rid of what’s causing the problem… perhaps a particular food, or a fungal overgrowth such as candida.
- Is there something you might be eating that could be irritating your bowels? You could keep a food diary to see if there is a pattern. An elimination diet can help to pinpoint what this might be. The usual culprits are dairy, gluten, coffee, sugar, fructose, red meat, eggs, lots of dry foods, high-fat foods, or garlic or onions – or several of these. Hair analysis can test for any sensitivities. Whether or not you have a sensitivity to gluten or dairy, eliminating these temporarily can help improve bowel function. Removing gluten can support the repair of the gut barrier and removing dairy optimises good gut bacteria to flourish.
- Do you have fungal problems?* Yeast overgrowth and fungal problems jeopardise healthy bowel function. Signs you have an imbalance include fungal infections on the skin (itchy rashes, athelete’s foot or fungal nail infections) or reoccurring cystitis or thrush. Have a look at your tongue in the mirror especially first thing in the morning. Is there a thick coating over the tongue? This is another sign of fungal problems. Candida overgrowth can cause many digestive issues but can also make you feel miserable, crave sugar as if it’s water, prevent you from losing weight, affect hormone balance and increase inflammation in the body. Candida can be tricky to treat and tends to need a many-faceted approach to clear it for good. Changes to the diet are necessary as well as improving good gut flora, and using a range of natural antimicrobial treatments.
Second step is to replace anything that is deficient in your system with food supplements… perhaps you need to take a digestive enzyme, vitamins or minerals, or some probiotics.
- Digestive enzymes Bloating, pain and gas or very loose slippery stools are all signs that your digestive enzyme production is low. Our Hair Analysis Test can check which ones you may not be producing and supplementing with the right enzymes will help. You can also support enzyme production through diet by including foods that contain natural digestive enzymes. Pineapple contains bromelain which aids digestion and improves protein metabolism. Papaya contains papain which helps digest protein and can help with bloating and constipation. Mangoes contain amylases which help break down glucose. Bananas contain amylase and can help to break down complex carbohydrates and avocados can help to digest fat as they contain lipase. Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut are rich in natural good probiotics which will improve digestive imbalance. NB if you suffer with high histamine levels or suspected candida it’s best to avoid fermented foods.
- Vitamins and minerals It is essential to correct any vitamin or mineral imbalance to improve digestive health. Again our Hair Analysis Test identifies what you may be deficient in.
- Probiotics What’s going on in your microbiome? This is where all your good bacteria live happily in your gut breaking food down, taking out all the good nutrients and separating them from toxins. You need these bacteria buddies to digest efficiently. Having a bout of sickness or diarrhoea can affect the micro biome, as can taking a course of antibiotics which not only kill off nasty bacteria but will also good bacteria too. Also excessive exercising can affect the micro biome. Looking after your microbiome where all your good bacteria should be thriving should be as essential to your health as exercising. See also Reinoculate
Replenishing your gut flora with healthy bacteria and nurturing that bacteria is the essential third step.
- The right strain of probiotic Increasing the good bacteria in your digestive tract is necessary to improve digestive function. There are a number of different strains of bacteria that are helpful for particular digestive imbalance but it’s essential to invest in a good quality product that has plenty of live bacteria. The bacteria needs to pass through the stomach without being destroyed by our stomach acid so finding a product that has been tested and proven to reach the small and large intestine is beneficial. The Natural Health Hub sell a range of excellent-quality probiotics for different needs.
- The right diet You also need to feed this good bacteria to help it to flourish so diet should be high in fibre, rich in antioxidants and polyphenols and avoid sugar and yeast which will feed the bad bacteria.
Support your body to allow it to heal a leaky or inflamed gut.
- Vitamins and minerals to soothe and heal If there are signs of leaky gut or damage* to the intestinal wall then it’s necessary to support the repair of the gut wall. If there is inflammation in the gut then this needs to be treated too. There are a number of natural aids as well as some vitamins and minerals that support the healing of the gut wall as well as soothing mucosal membranes so getting expert advice on what your need is and getting the right one for you is essential.
Once you’ve done all this good work, maintaining optimal bowel function is of course crucial for longterm good bowel health. Simple ways you can do this include:
- Keep hydrated
- Eat a fibre-rich diet and varied diet
- Find ways to de-stress, relax and unwind
- There are a number of yoga stretches that can strengthen the digestive system
- Oxygenating and breath work can help to regulate the bowel
- Eat regular meals and reduce processed, high-sodium and high-sugar foods, and don’t rush eating.
- Reflexology has been proven beneficial at improving bowel function.
Rhi Hepple, naturopathic nutritionist
For further advice on maintaining a healthy bowel, addressing a bowel issue such as loose stools, constipation or IBS, or finding out any deficiencies or health issues that may be causing or aggravating your bowel problems such as candida or leaky gut, book an appointment with Rhi