Gut health is a subject of health and wellness that I’m kind of passionate about. Sounds a little strange right? But let me explain… The health and integrity of the inside of your gut, tummy, stomach, belly whatever you like to call it is absolutely vital to how the rest of you functions. And too many of us suffer with a little more digestive dysfunction than one would really like to admit and it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about right?
Ten years ago you would have found me either curled up in the fetal position with extreme bloating and tummy cramping or sleeping upright at night due to my indigestion and chronic reflux. I popped Mylanta like they were Tic-Tac’s, as well as prescription anti-acid medications as well as surviving on Buscopan and other tummy de-crampers. I thought I would be taking all of these medications and more from that day forward, knowing that they weren’t really addressing the underlying problem but merely masking the symptoms, and barely masking them at that.
I was diagnosed with two very non-specific problems – GERD (or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and IBS (or Irritable Bowel Sydnrome). I discovered that the medications I was taking for the reflux issues, unfortunately made my bowel issues worse and vice versa. I was in a bind so to speak, literally and figuratively!
I later discovered that the chronic reflux and irritable bowel syndrome are just two of many common complaints of people with an underactive thyroid – I didn’t actually have an over-production of acid and my digestive system was slowing right down to a halt because my thyroid was working so slowly.
I remember so many performances out on stage feeling so uncomfortable, tutus not being the most forgiving of attire and any partnering was decidedly painful. Not to mention, I felt horrible and I definitely was not feeling glamorous or beautiful out on stage. In a profession that is based on physical aesthetic, I was embarrassed to take my t-shirt off in class because my stomach was so bloated. I didn’t look or feel like everyone else.
One of the first things I learned from a wonderful Naturopath I met around this time is that gut pain, cramping, indigestion, severe bloating, constipation, diarrhoea or a delightful combination of the two, reflux, heartburn, increased gas or burping may be common but it is not a normal part of being human.
We don’t have to live day to day with persistent gut discomfort and in digestive distress. It’s not just normal.
I wanted to discover if there was any small ways I could decrease the inflammation and sensitivity I was feeling in my tummy. I was pretty happy to discover that there were definitely some easy helpful ways that I think might benefit a whole lot of people. After all, good health truly starts in the gut.
Does this mean everyday is bloat-free or pain-free? No, of course not! But I now have a much greater understanding and respect for the huge role out GI tract plays in our lives and do my best to treat it kindly.
If you need any more motivation to pay attention to your gut, the better you digest your food, the more energy and nourishment you gain to live your life to the fullest.
5 Easy ways to optimise your gut health
Drinking enough water during the day is integral to optimise digestion and keep everything moving through nice and smoothly. Be mindful that the water isn’t all at meal times as it will dilute your gastric juices, slow and steady across the day is good.
- Add lemon, lime slices, berries, mint leaves to your water for flavour
- Try including more foods that have higher water content as this all counts – think soups, porridges, stews, fruit and vegetables.
- Likewise, notice if you are eating lots of dry food ie. toast, corn thins, rice cakes, cereals, granola, muesli bars, nuts etc and up your water intake – in this instant ideally having some liquids with very dry food is a good idea
- Try adding some electrolyte powder like Ultima to really optimise your hydration and get that H20 in to the cells. Read why I love Ultima Electrolyte powder here and not just for exercising.
2. Slippery Elm Powder
This powder is actually the bark from a tree but has a mild, cinnamon like almost subtle maple flavour. When the powder is mixed with water it becomes a mucilaginous tea that soothes the stomach – and soothe it does. Great for reflux, indigestion, heartburn but equally good for either constipation or diarrhoea. Or just when everything is feeling a little bit inflamed.
- Mix 1 tsp with a little boiled water to make a paste then fill the rest of the cup and sip slowly. A hot drink before bed is a good time for this one or even first thing in the morning. Drink another glass of water within 15 mins or so to ensure a smooth passage down.
- Add a tsp to yoghurt of choice – cow, coconut, goat or sheep for the cow’s milk intolerant. Stir well and add some cinnamon and/or flaxseed oil and berries if you fancy.
- Buy Slippery Elm Powder at supermarkets, chemists or your health food shop.
3. Peppermint tea
Peppermint has a long history of being used as a digestive aid and it’s reputation certainly holds up. I find peppermint tea to be really helpful for bloating and a bowel that’s in spasm but if there is also reflux involved, I will steer clear. This is because Peppermint relaxes the lower sphincter in your oesophagus, which can exacerbate reflux or heartburn.
- Brew a strong cup of peppermint tea (2 tea bags) – not only reduces the cramping but hydrates you as well. Don’t lie down directly afterwards or you might notice a bit of reflux. If you are in more desperate need see below No. 4.
- Other helpful teas for gut discomfort are Fennel, Liquorice (not the black candy kind!), ginger, cinnamon, cardamom or varieties that contain a few of these like Chai. These are all used traditionally as digestive aids.
4. Mintec (peppermint oil) capsules
On the days when the show must go on, Mintec has literally got me on stage. These little miracle capsules are simply peppermint oil that are enteric coated – meaning they will ideally pass through to get to where you need it most – your large intestine/bowel/colon – when you’re bloated/cramped/doubled over in pain.
The peppermint oil is antispasmodic ie. calms the spasms in the lower bowel and colon region and can make a huge difference in a short matter of time. You can buy them at chemists or even supermarkets and great to have in your bag for emergencies.
- Take 1 tablet (2 if you have used them before and they work well for you) with a full glass of water – full glass being the words here. You want them to get down through your gut to do their job, not get stuck at your oesophagus, in which case you will be burping up peppermint for hours. Yay for fresh minty breath, but not helping your bloating or cramping further down the line!
- Like above, don’t lie down after taking Mintec for a good while (it says so on the instructions even I think) or it could cause some reflux because it didn’t make it down further enough.
5. Chewing seeds after eating
Well not just any seeds, but chewing certain seeds after meals can help relieve minor gut discomfort. Caraway seeds and fennel seeds are the great gut helpers here – both of them help with resolving gut pain, bloating, spasms, constipation and gas and have been used in traditional cultures as a digestive aid for eons.
- Try adding caraway or fennel seeds to you salads or sprinkled on top of your meal and make strong efforts to chew them properly, even though they are small.
- Use as a post-meal breath freshener
- Brew into tea
- Find them in supermarket aisles or health food stores.
Stay tuned for the Part 2 of my best tips for gut health and optimal digestion coming up soon – will you be happy to say goodbye to the bloating, indigestion and tummy cramping you think you have to keep putting up with? Let me know if you try any of these tips and how they work for you…
As always, I absolutely insist that you take some time to visit and talk over any gut problems you have with your Doctor or Practitioner of choice. Any sudden change in bowel motions or the sudden onset of new symptoms in the GI Tract should be fully investigated by a Health Practitioner. It is not my role here on this blog to diagnose or prescribe for health conditions. My aim in articles such as this one is to provide supplemental support that you may find useful. As always, never alter or change your medications without the explicit direction from your Doctor and always mention any natural supplements you may also be taking to avoid contra-indications.