While it’s easy to overlook digestive and bowel health issues, they represent a major concern for millions of people.
A report produced by Core, the UK’s only charity to fund research into gut, liver, intestinal and bowel illnesses, found that digestive disorders account for more than 10% of the work of GPs.
And, this figure may underestimate the problem, as the research suggests that many patients have never visited their doctor specifically to discuss their digestive problems.
There are many steps you can take to look after your digestive health, which can help you to avoid common conditions such as constipation, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here are ten.
1.Eat lots of fibre
Eating a diet that is rich in fibre – so whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and legumes – can improve your digestive health.
Maria Adams, adjunct professor of nutrition at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, says: “A high-fibre diet helps to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated.”
A high-fibre diet can also help prevent a range of digestive conditions, such as haemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
2.Make probiotics (and prebiotics) part of your diet
Probiotics such as low-fat yoghurt or kefir contain the same kind of healthy bacteria and yeasts naturally present in your digestive system. They may help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut, and they can enhance nutrient absorption and strengthen your immune system.
The NHS say that there’s some evidence that probiotics may be helpful in some cases, such as helping prevent diarrhoea when taking antibiotics, and helping to ease some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Prebiotics can also help your digestion. Prebiotics act as food for probiotics, helping them support healthy bacteria in the gut. You can find them in a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, and whole grains including bananas, oats, and legumes.
3.Chew your food
The digestive process begins in your mouth. Your teeth break down the food into smaller pieces so that the enzymes in your digestive tract are better able to break them down.
When you chew your food thoroughly, your stomach has to do less work to turn the solid food into the liquid mixture that enters your small intestine. In addition, chewing well will produce more saliva, and this breaks down some of the carbohydrates and fats in your food.
Chewing your food thoroughly ensures that you have plenty of saliva for digestion. This may help prevent indigestion and heartburn.
Regular exercise helps to keep food moving through your digestive system. It can also help you to maintain a healthy weight, which is good for your health.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times a week. Vary the activities you do, so try swimming, walking, yoga, and other aerobic activities.
5.Drink plenty of fluids to aid digestion
You will support your digestive health by keeping hydrated, especially by drinking water. Lots of fluids encourage the passage of waste through your digestive system.
Fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing water. Without fluid, the fibre cannot do its job and you'll suffer from conditions such as constipation.
Start by drinking a glass of water with every meal – and avoid caffeinated drinks as they can cause heartburn.
6.Beware gut symptom triggers
Many people find that it is specific foods that cause issues with their digestion. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, salad dressings and fizzy drinks can trigger heartburn, while wheat and onions may cause irritable bowel syndrome.
Additionally, if you have trouble digesting lactose (the sugar in milk) then you may develop wind and diarrhoea after drinking milk or eating dairy products, including cream, cheese, yoghurt, and chocolate.
Keep a food diary to work out which foods result in symptoms and try and cut these out of your diet.
7.Manage your stress
Studies have shown that stress can have a negative effect on your digestive system. It has been associated with stomach ulcers, diarrhoea, constipation and IBS, particularly because stress hormones directly affect your digestion.
When your body is stressed, it thinks you don’t have time to rest and digest. It diverts blood and energy away from your digestive system.
Stress management, meditation, and relaxation training have all been shown to improve symptoms in people with IBS. Other studies have found that counselling, acupuncture, and yoga can also improve digestive symptoms.
So, if you can control your stress levels – through deep breathing, meditation, or yoga – you may be able to aid your digestion.
8.Cut out bad habits
There are many reasons why giving up smoking and cutting down on alcohol can improve your heath. One lesser-known benefit is that it can improve digestive symptoms, such as acid reflux.
Smoking has been associated with stomach ulcers, increased surgeries in people with ulcerative colitis, and gastrointestinal cancers while alcohol can increase acid production in your stomach, leading to heartburn, acid reflux, and stomach ulcers.
Quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption could help your digestion.
9.Drink mint tea
Mint tea is a natural remedy for nausea and indigestion. And it’s easy to brew a homemade mint tea. Simply:
- Take 5 – 10 peppermint or spearmint leaves
- Boil a cup of water and leave it to cool slightly
- Pour the water over the leaves and let it sit for 3 – 5 minutes
- Add lemon or honey if you wish.
Research has found that peppermint oil may relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome — including stomach pain — in the short term. Pro tip... add Turmeric Curcumin for an extra health boost
10.Avoid spicy food
Many people can eat spicy food without it having any negative repercussions. Others find they get a stomach upset if they eat spicy cuisine.
It isn’t just very spicy food such as chillies that can lead to digestive issues, as garlic and onion can also be triggers for things like heartburn.
If spicy foods give you heartburn, stomach pain, or diarrhoea, maybe switch them out for a milder alternative.
If you already have a problem such as heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome, it can be beneficial to avoid them completely.
Life insurance for bowel conditions
With millions of people having suffered from bowel or digestive conditions, you may be worried that you won’t be able to get life insurance.
Indeed, it is possible to get life insurance with IBS and other conditions without an increase in the premium. However, if your IBS or digestive condition is more severe, a life insurance provider may increase the cost of cover.
If you have an existing digestive or bowel condition, an insurer will typically want to know more information about your condition. They may write to your GP or specialist to for information to support your life insurance application.
Finding life insurance with irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive conditions can feel awkward and stressful. Having to disclose information regarding your pre-existing condition may feel uncomfortable.
That’s where we come in. We specialise in life insurance for bowel conditions, and work with dozens of the leading UK insurers to find the right cover for you.
So, whatever your previous condition, please get in touch to find out how we can help.
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