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Gut reaction

Your guide to the most common digestive health issues including IBS, leaky gut, bloating and constipation

”Poor digestion and all the problems that it entails are among the everyday health issues that health stores deal with on a daily basis,” says Gerald Colfer of health store Only Natural in Wexford town. “The main causes of digestive upset such as poor diet, stress, eating on the run and excess consumption of highly refined foods are pretty common in today’s world. We tend to take our digestive health for granted and only sit up and take note when it breaks down and we suffer the pain and discomfort that can stop us in our tracks. For this reason, no matter which set of digestive symptoms is being presented, we generally start with some general lifestyle principles which often need to be dealt with in conjunction with any specific remedy recommendations.”

Irritable bowel syndrome

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms include bloating, cramps, nausea, constipation diarrhoea or both and fatigue along with many other symptoms,” says Lucy Kerr of The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “There are many factors that can cause irritable bowel syndrome such as stress, lack of sleep and food intolerances.

“Sufferers of IBS should eat regular, small meals and drink plenty of water, include gentle fibre sources from fruit and vegetables, ground flax and psyllium husks,” says Gerald Colfer. “If bloating and cramping are part of the symptom picture try the probiotic L Plantarum.”

“Probiotics can help increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut, aiding your digestion,” says Lucy Kerr. “Digestive enzymes help break down the foods in your gut making digestion easier. Slippery elm has calming and soothing properties helping to calm inflammation. Keeping a food diary to figure out what foods may be causing your symptoms can help. Including fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir can help build up your good bacteria in your gut.”

Bloating

“Bloating is a feeling of fullness and heaviness in the abdominal area,” says Lucy Kerr. “A major cause of bloating is indigestion - when food is not broken down it can build up gas in your digestive system. Also certain foods like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts cause excess wind which can lead to bloating. Eating too quickly and drinking fizzy drinks can also be culprits. Some people find stress can flare up their bloating. Aim to eat a balanced diet regularly, and limit your sugar intake which can feed bad bacteria in your gut. Activated charcoal helps absorb excess wind in the gut. Digestive enzymes to help break down foods that may be triggering your bloating.”

Constipation

“Not eating enough fibre in your diet and not drinking enough water can cause constipation,” says Lucy Kerr, “but some people find changes in their routine or stress can cause a slow-down in their bowel movements. Psyllium husk helps to bulk your stool, making it easier to pass, but make sure to drink plenty of water with it. Probiotics can help as sometimes a lack of beneficial flora can cause constipation. Magnesium can help relax the intestinal muscles, making passing stools easier. Make smoothies with ground flaxseeds or chia seeds and berries such as raspberries or strawberries. Oats are a great source of fibre. Make sure you are drinking enough water.”

“For constipation try taking a few kiwi fruit first thing,” recommends Gerald Colfer. “Also include some milled flaxseed and drink plenty of water.

Leaky gut

“Leaky gut syndrome is intestinal permeability where toxins and bacteria can leak through the intestinal walls due to cracks or gaps in the intestine,” says Lucy Kerr. “This can lead to an array of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, muscle pains, fatigue, brain fog and headaches. It can be associated with food intolerances or allergies, the overuse of antibiotics or the overuse of NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen which can irritate the intestinal lining.”

“Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the body which can be a cause of leaky gut,” says Lucy Kerr. “Probiotics help build up the good bacteria in the gut. L-glutamine helps repair the cell walls in the gut and intestines. Aloe vera juice is soothing and protecting and helps your body replace the lost mucous associated with leaky gut.”

“Leaky gut syndrome can often call for the removal of possible problem foods like gluten, dairy and processed sugars which should be replaced with beneficial wholegrains, fruit and vegetables,” says Gerald Colfer. “L-glutamine supplementation allows the gut to heal over time and a probiotic regime could help too.”

Change your lifestyle

“Getting enough sleep is vital for the body to work in optimal condition - aiming for seven to nine hours a night can ensure that your body is getting the rest it needs to heal and repair,” says Lucy Kerr. “Trying to reduce stress is also important, as stress releases the hormone cortisol which causes the body to go into ‘flight or fight’ mode, which can also stop your digestive system from functioning properly. Aim for 5-10 minutes of meditation, some yoga or a 10-minute walk in the fresh air every day.”

“Suggestions to alleviate stress can range from increasing gentle exercise and mindfulness practices to nervous system supportive nutrients such as B vitamins and relaxant and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola,” says Gerald Colfer.

Health store help

Good supplements for digestion include:

Aloe vera - soothing and healing to the digestive tract.

Centaurium tincture or camomile tea after meals – for acid reflux and low stomach acid.

Chlorella - great source of protein, can increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.

Digestive enzymes - try one with herbs such as slippery elm, papaya and chamomile and aloe vera juice, before meals to prevent gas and bloating.

Glutamine powder – healing for the digestive tract.

Herbal teas - chamomile, valerian or peppermint teas have antispasmodic properties. Ginger, fennel teas relieve gas and bloating.

Magnesium – from dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, certain fish, avocados and bananas. Can help to relax the muscles in the intestine.

Probiotics and digestive enzymes to facilitate the digestive process.

Slippery elm – good for heartburn and acid reflux. Vitamin C - has a healing and cleansing effect in the gut so is good for constipation.

Bitter herbal formulas to stimulate the digestion.

Help for IBS and colitis

“In addition to a healthy lifestyle and diet, turmeric extract bio-curcumin may contribute to a healthy gut by countering inflammation, a symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive ailments,” says nutritional health expert Vanessa Ascencao.

“Bio-curcumin is a highly bioavailable turmeric extract proven to counter inflammation. A study shows that turmeric oils may enhance the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin in colitis (inflammation of the colon) and that the combined use of curcumin and essential turmeric oils may provide protection from colitis.”

Additional tips to fight inflammation and improve gut health include:

  • Take a good probiotic or increase intake of fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt or sauerkraut
  • Increase intake of anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger or rosemary
  • Increase intake of high quality omega 3
  • Eliminate processed, oily and sugary food
  • Improve dental hygiene
  • Get enough good quality sleep, exercise daily and manage stress
  • Take a high quality anti-inflammatory supplement

Check with your professional healthcare practitioner before you take any new supplements or change your diet.

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