Natural Approaches to Gut Health

There are many natural treatments that can improve the health of your gut. Common conditions affecting the gut include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, acid reflux (GERD), upset stomach, and constipation.


Generally, these conditions are often related to poor diet, disturbed digestion, and inflammation. If you suffer from any of these conditions, there are simple measures you can take to help improve the health of your gut.


Natural approaches for most gut issues start with basic lifestyle changes like following the Mediterranean diet to boost nutrition and reduce inflammation, scheduling one or more appointments with a colon hydrotherapists (colon cleansing), or using herbal medicines and supplements to help ease symptoms.


Working with a naturopathic doctor can be a good start to develop a holistic program that addresses your gut from a number of different levels.



Eat Whole Foods


Diet is the foundation of gut health. Everything you put into your body is processed and handled by your digestive organs like the stomach, colon, and liver. Some foods create inflammation, which serves as the basis for many common gut conditions, while other foods resolve inflammation.


If you eat a lot of fast-food, packaged food, or sugar, it is likely that your diet is creating inflammation and contributing to your symptoms. This is because these foods do not provide necessary nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which help to prevent inflammation and support regular bowel movements.


Inflammatory conditions like IBS and acid reflux tend to respond well to dietary changes, especially if you are careful about which foods you eat. Avoiding trigger foods is a must if you suffer from IBS or acid reflux. Processed foods typically trigger symptoms for most who have IBS or acid reflux, while plain and nutritious foods are typically more agreeable.

Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans provide healthy nutrients that your gut needs to work properly. One of the most important nutrients is fiber. Fiber cleans the digestive system and also feeds the good bacteria that live in your gut. If your gut bacteria are out of balance, this can also contribute to your symptoms.


A good starting place for dietary changes is to follow the Mediterranean diet, which encourages a wide variety of healthy, whole foods that improve overall gut health and help reduce inflammation. Some of these foods include the following:


  • Kidney Beans

  • Brown Rice

  • Quinoa

  • Broccoli

  • Mixed berries



Drink More Water


It may seem unrelated, but water is a very important for overall gut health. Water works together with fiber to clean the gut and encourage regular bowel movements.


If you have constipation, drinking a full glass of water every morning can encourage a bowel movement. This is because your gut naturally wants to clean itself in the morning, and water encourages this process.


Constipation is often helped by medicines that bring more water into the gut. Laxatives like magnesium citrate draw more water into the colon, which helps pull waste in and forward through the colon.


If you have IBS, water also helps to clear mucus and keep your gut cells moist and hydrated. Drinking water is a simple and easy way to move mucus out of the body. Always choose the best quality water you can find, which is usually spring water.



Practice Mindful Eating


Research continues to emerge about the effects of stress on digestion. Likewise, the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction practices and their relationship to gut health continue to emerge. Stress, emotions, and thoughts seem to play a central role in gut health, and learning to reduce your stress can improve the health of your gut over time.


A mindfulness-based eating practice, or simply "mindful eating," is a simple and easy way to positively impact digestion, particularly if you’re an emotional eater (also known as a stress eater). Many people tend to crave certain comfort foods when they’re emotional or stressed, and can also binge on them, which can greatly disturb digestion. Generally, mindful eating practices teach you how to keep your stress away from your meals.


More specifically, mindful eating can be described as eating in a non-judgmental, relaxed, and present state of being. In this state, your attention is intentionally brought away from your thoughts and emotions and inward toward your experience of your meal. Overall, this has a grounding effect that helps to strengthen the connection between your body and your experience of the food you eat.


Mindful eating also includes practices like chewing your food thoroughly and enjoying the taste of your food by eating slowly. If you usually eat on-the-go, in your car, or in a rush, this can also interfere with digestion.


Take the time to savor your food and enjoy the taste. When you’re relaxed, your digestive system works better. Rest and digestion pair together. Eating in a comfortable, calm, and clean environment can encourage relaxation during your meals. At every meal, remember these tips:


  • Sit down

  • Relax

  • Chew thoroughly

  • Eat slowly

  • Enjoy your meal



Consider Fasting


If you don’t eat anything all day, this is called fasting. Some people practice a one-day fast on a regular basis, while others practice intermittent fasting. Eating between a certain restricted time frame, such as between 11 AM and 6 PM, is considered an intermittent fast. Fasting has long been a part of human health.


Both one-day fasts and intermittent fasts give your gut a break and helps to resolve inflammation. Digestion uses a lot of energy, naturally creates mild inflammation, and sometimes the gut can benefit from a scheduled one-day rest. It allows time for the gut to thoroughly clean and repair itself.


If you have an upset stomach, acid reflux, or an IBS flare, fasting for one day may help to calm and reset your gut. Those who practice intermittent fasting often report more digestive comfort, increased energy levels, and reduced symptoms.


Be sure to talk to a doctor if you want to try fasting because it is not safe for everyone, particularly those with blood sugar issues.



Try Colon Hydrotherapy


One of the most direct treatments to clean and detoxify the gut is a colon cleanse. This can be extremely helpful if you’ve been constipated for weeks or months, as the water used during the procedure manually cleans out your colon.


During this type of treatment, a colon therapist flushes your colon with water. Generally, this is thoughts to help clear stubborn waste products from the colon, although more research is needed on the particular mechanism of action.


Regardless, this small study from 2016 tested the effectiveness of colon hydrotherapy on those suffering from IBS. The overall result showed an improvement in abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea after 4 weeks of treatment.



Herbal Medicines for Gastrointestinal Disorders


Working with herbal medicines is another great option for a natural approach to gut health. Herbal medicines have complex, unique properties and can affect your body in a number of ways. It is always best to seek the advice of a professional to determine which herbal medicines are best suited for you. Here are some of the most commonly used and helpful medicines that support gut health in different ways:


1) Fresh Ginger

Great for indigestion, ginger also helps to relieve gas, reflux, and can resolve digestive discomfort in just a few minutes. Chewing on a thumbnail-sized piece of fresh ginger will deliver the most potent benefit, but strongly brewed tea made from fresh ginger root is another good option.


Ginger tea is warming and helps draw more blood to the gut, which facilitates digestion. Ginger tea makes for a good after dinner beverage! Research about the beneficial effects of Ginger can be found here.


2) Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the most well-known herbal medicines due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties. It also stimulates the production of bile, which aids in the overall digestive process, particularly of fatty foods. Turmeric has wide clinical applications and far-reaching systemic effects, meaning that it is useful for many conditions.


3) Milk Thistle

If you have a gut condition that affects your liver, or if you tend to drink too much alcohol, milk thistle may be a great option for you. Milk thistle protects the liver, helps regenerate liver cells, stimulates the flow of bile, and has antioxidant properties. It’s great for conditions like hepatitis and alcoholism.



Supplements for Gastrointestinal Disorders


1) Metamucil and Fiber

If you suffer from constipation and are not eating enough whole, fiber-rich foods, a fiber supplement could be a worthwhile option. Fiber supplements like Metamucil help pull more water and waste products into the colon, but you have to take them on a regular basis.


2) Magnesium citrate

Similar to fiber, magnesium citrate also draws water into the colon, making it a potential option for constipation. Typically, this laxative effect occurs with high doses of magnesium.


If you’ve ever researched magnesium, you may have learned that there is more than one type. For example, magnesium citrate differs from magnesium glycate which differs from magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). They are all used for a different purpose. Always talk to a professional about which form of magnesium is the most appropriate for you.


3) Fennel

Useful for its ability to relieve gas and digestive spasms, fennel is a great option for bloating. Chewing on a teaspoon of fennel seeds after each meal could be all that you need to relieve your bloating quickly. Fennel seeds are often use in Ayurvedic medicine for that purpose, and you can find them in some Indian food restaurants in a small bowl offered as a digestive aid.



Recap


Although there are many natural approaches to gut health, one of the best places to start is by eating healthier. It doesn’t require a doctor’s visit and can start providing benefits right away.


Also be sure to take a look at your mealtime habits. Are you a stress eater? Or maybe you eat on-the-go? Both of these circumstances can contribute to digestive discomfort and worsen gut health.


When dietary changes aren’t enough, it may be time to see a naturopathic doctor who can put together an individualized treatment plan with herbal medicines and supplements that target your symptoms. Herbal medicines have been used for thousands of years to relieve abdominal symptoms, and they can work fast.


If you’ve been constipated and can’t seem to find relief, it may be a good time to visit a colon therapist. In addition to overall improvement in pain and constipation, some people also report positive changes in the appearance of their skin and energy levels after only one or two treatments.


If you’re interested in learning more about natural approaches to gut health, call us today to make an appointment, discuss your particular symptoms, and get appropriate treatment plan so you can start feeling better.


References


1. Cherpak CE. Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2019;18(4):48-53.


2. Paoli, Antonio et al. “The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting.” Nutrients vol. 11,4 719. 28 Mar. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11040719


3. Hsu, H-H et al. “Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with a novel colonic irrigation system: a pilot study.” Techniques in coloproctology vol. 20,8 (2016): 551-7. doi:10.1007/s10151-016-1491-x


4. Anh NH, Kim SJ, Long NP, et al. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):157. Published 2020 Jan 6. doi:10.3390/nu12010157