The digestive process is something that is often taken for granted. When we’re hungry, we eat. What happens after that is rarely a topic of discussion or of much interest. It’s kind of like putting gasoline in a car. But sometimes, our digestive system gets upset and tries to communicate with us. This can take on many forms such as bloating, cramping, “heartburn” or even outright pain. When this happens chronically, a trip to the doctor is warranted. You could be dealing with anything from food allergies and poisoning or an ulcer. But, in a lot of instances, digestive distress isn’t the direct result of a serious medical issue. Instead, it can be a consequence of some actions you’re taking (or not taking) when you sit down to eat.
Chew On This
Functional dyspepsia (FD) is a medical term for indigestion or upset stomach. Seniors, and anyone who has difficulty chewing, are more likely to suffer from this condition. The same principle applies to those of any age who simply don’t chew their food thoroughly enough. In fact, poor mastication can lead to unhealthy changes in the gastrointestinal tract.
What’s more, food that isn’t broken down adequately by the chewing process does not release all of its valuable nutrition. Since chewing usually isn’t practiced in a mindful way, it is often lacking. This can be overcome by paying attention while you eat. Don’t just shovel food in your mouth like it’s a race, and avoid distracting behaviors such as watching TV while dining. By savoring each bite you will, in effect, assist in the first part of the digestive process.
Don’t Stress Out
It will probably come as no surprise that emotional stress and digestive problems frequently go hand-in-hand. As a matter of fact, a recent review concluded that, “stress and depression are related to various digestive diseases, and may be predisposing factors for FD.” Any form of stress reduction you practice will likely benefit your digestive future.
However, I want to single out a few suggestions taken directly from the scientific literature. For starters, it’s helpful to create a peaceful environment while eating. “Acute auditory stress” (aka loud noises) interferes with a healthy eating experience. Consuming foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics can likewise improve both digestive and psychological well-being. What’s more, other health benefits may come about by consuming specific prebiotics. In one study, those supplementing with galacto-oligosaccharides, a type of prebiotic similar to that found in human breast milk, noted fewer digestive symptoms and stronger immunity against colds and flu.
A Red Light for Green Tea
Green tea has established a well-deserved, great reputation in the conventional and holistic medical communities. That said, drinking green tea with meals may actually be contraindicated in people who have digestive issues. In recent years, researchers have discovered that green tea extracts reduce the body's ability to absorb and break down fats and starches.
If you’re trying to lose weight or reduce diabetes risk, this can be a very positive attribute. On the other hand, if your goal is to thoroughly digest and absorb the foods you’re eating, it's not recommended. Those falling into the latter category can still enjoy green tea and its accompanying health benefits. The key is to drink it apart from meals and snacks.
Putting It All Together
Poor mastication, psychological stress and green tea clearly don’t account for all of the digestive ills in the modern era. Still, there’s really no downside to chewing better, managing stress more effectively and experimenting with avoiding green tea at meals. You may just find that this alone will get your digestive system humming once again. If not, there are many other natural resources, including clinically-proven herbal blends and specialized diets that may be in order. Finding the right remedy or combination of remedies sometimes requires some trial and error. But, benefits in quality of life make it an effort worth making.
John Paul Fanton, based in Los Angeles, California, is a consultant, researcher and writer with over 20 years of experience in the field of natural medicine. He designs unique nutritional plans, mind-body (meditation, mindfulness, etc.) and vitamin/supplement programs for individual clients who are interested in improving overall health, weight and wellness. You can find his weekly column on the Healthy Fellow.
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