According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, Canada has one of the highest rates of irritable bowel syndrome, with an estimated 5 million people suffering. Rates of inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and other digestive disorders are also on the rise. Here are some reasons why:
Today’s diet includes highly processed foods that alter the bacteria that live in your digestive tract—this is called the microbiome. The microbiome differs from person to person and also changes within each person as life progresses. In other words, how you eat affects the bacteria that live in your gut and ultimately, the way the immune system reacts to food proteins that trigger allergies, celiac disease and symptoms of food sensitivities.
Weakened Immune System
Most of us don’t realize that a large part of our immune system is found in the digestive tract. The overuse of prescription antibiotics, along with the proliferation of antibacterial soaps, gels and wipes have put less burden on the immune system to fight common bacterial or viral infections. Exposure to microbes and infections not only trains the immune system to recognize pathogens but also to suppress reaction when it encounters proteins in foods and other environmental allergens. Many digestive health problems are linked to food sensitivities and inflammation caused by a weakened immune system.
Daily stress and tension can impact the sensitivity of your gut — how acutely you register pain as well as how well it moves food along the intestinal tract. Stress increases levels of cortisol, a hormone known to cause inflammation of the intestinal lining, leading to impaired digestion and absorption.
Four strategies you can adopt for better digestive health:
Take a Probiotic Supplement
Using a broad-spectrum probiotic that provides both Lactobacili and Bifidobacterium cultures helps to colonize both the small and large intestine and build a healthy microbiome. This helps prevent the formation of a leaky gut, which is believed to allow proteins such as gluten, casein and other food allergens to make their way into our digestive systems and trigger inflammation. I recommend taking a probiotic that provides over 2 billion colonizing units per dose and that the supplement be encapsulated to withstand the passage through the stomach. For children over one year, some probiotics can be opened and added to food.
Get More Soluble Fibre and Keep Up Your Fluid Intake
Soluble fibre found in psyllium husks, oats, root vegetables and some fruits such as berries, has been found to reduce symptoms of bloating, gas and spasms. However, be careful how much fibre you take at one time and ensure adequate fluid intake to prevent build-up of bloating and gas.
Ensure you get as much sleep as you need and set aside time for yourself during the day, even if it is only a 20-minute walk around the block. Stress creates a vicious cycle in your body, so spend some time thinking about ways you can release your pressure valve.
Increase Intake of Healthy Fats
Increasing your intake of DHA and EPA from oily fish and ALA from flaxseeds, nuts and other seeds helps reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Aim for 6 to 12 ounces per week of oily, low-mercury fish, such as salmon, anchovy and mackerel. If you don’t like fish, take a daily dose of 1,000 mg of fish or krill oil supplement.