What you eat day to day is critical to your health, but how you eat and lifestyle habits you adopt are equally as important. These behaviours can have a big impact on your digestive system as well as your general health. Below we will discuss some of these good habits you may want to consider adopting.
Have you considered how you eat? This is important and will influence how well your digestive system copes with the food we consume.
Eat slowly. By eating slowly you are less likely to overeat and more likely to chew your food properly. Overeating puts extra strain on your digestive system and is more likely to give rise to symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, stomach pain and constipation.
Chew your food. Whilst chewing your food you have conscious control over mechanically breaking down the food in your mouth. There is an enzyme called salivary amylase present, which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates at this early stage in the digestion process. The larger the surface area of food fragments (better chewed), the more likely it is to be effectively attacked and broken down by digestive enzymes throughout your digestive tract. Read our blog on the importance of chewing produced by our expert in digestion.
Don’t drink water with your meals. This one might surprise you but drinking water with your meals will only dilute your digestive juices and enzymes, making them less efficient. Drink your water in between meals, leaving 20 minutes before and after food.
Drinking plenty of water is key for digestion as well as many other bodily processes. However, refrain from drinking water during meals as it may dilute digestive juices and hinder digestion. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day but have a break in the 20 minutes before or after eating.
Water is especially important if you experience irregular bowel movements as a result of IBS. Drink water to soften stools and achieve some regularity if you are constipated or to keep yourself hydrated if diarrhoea is present.
As you sleep your body is able to recover and repair, which is crucial for many bodily processes including digestion. Your body is in ‘rest and digest mode’ when you are asleep, meaning the body focuses on unconscious processes that may get less attention in more stressful times when you are awake, such as digestion.
Getting at least 8 hours sleep a night each night helps us establish more circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are physiological cycles that run over 24 hours. If you are able to establish a regular pattern of sleep, in waking your body gets into a better routine, for example more regular bowel movements. People often get into the habit of going to the toilet early in the morning each day, which is an example of this.
Although it isn’t believed that IBS is solely caused by psychological factors, mental wellbeing is an important contributing factor. In times of stress and anxiety it is common to experience uncoordinated bowel movements that can trigger diarrhoea.
There is a well-established brain-gut connection with efficient communication working both ways. This is thought to give rise to what is often described as a vicious cycle of mental and physical symptoms in IBS.
Managing your stress levels can have a positive impact on your bowels. You can address stress through a variety of approaches including talking therapies or group sessions, herbal remedies or conventional medication. Refer to our section on IBS and stress to read more on this topic.
Regular exercise boasts a host of health benefits. Keeping fit is thought to help with IBS for a number of reasons.
Exercise supports mental wellbeing and may assist in the management of stress, anxiety or depression which all have a high association with IBS. The causal relationship between psychological factors and IBS is not entirely clear but interestingly, exercise increases the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin, which is very abundant in the gut and well known to affect our mood in the brain. It seems our mood, exercise and a happy gut are most definitely linked.
Want to improve your digestion? Get involved as our Digestion Advisor Ali Cullen takes you through her 5 step plan to improve your digestion and get problem symptoms, from bloating to acid reflux, under control.