- Common foods that impact digestion
- Why do we experience these symptoms?
- Other common gut symptom triggers
- Benefits of prebiotics and probiotics
- Top tips for combating symptoms
- Supplements to aid digestion
According to the statistics, 1 in 5 people in the UK suffers from gastrointestinal diseases every year. The gastrointestinal disease rates have increased to 17 million cases in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, our Pharmacy Superintendent, Reshma Malde and Nutritionist, Samriti Juneja, share with us what we can do to improve our gut health and support a healthy digestive system.
What are the common foods that impact digestion – such as fibre, fluids, fats, spices – and why do people need to think about increasing the intake of some and reducing others?
According to the data, women are more susceptible to digestive health discomfort symptoms than men. The symptoms are known to be bloating, constipation, flatulence, and tummy pain. These diseases can be detected in laboratories by performing gastrointestinal bacteria reference unit tests.
Why do we experience these symptoms? The digestive system breaks down the food we eat and extracts the nutrient such as carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water that we need to survive.
There are some foods that help the digestion process and others that hinder.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that our body is unable to digest, so they pass through our body undigested and regulates the body’s utilization of sugar by controlling hunger and blood sugar levels.
There are two types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre are easily dissolved in water and decrease glucose and blood cholesterol levels, whereas, insoluble fibre cannot be dissolved in water and, therefore, can be beneficial in the movement of food through the digestive system, and in preventing constipation.
Eating a well balanced diet would provide both soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. These fibrous foods are good to help the body to maintain regular bowel movement. Eating more of these foods would help improve the digestive system.
Fruits like apples and blueberries, nuts, chia seeds, beans, lentils, and oatmeal are some examples of soluble fibre, whereas, whole wheat products like wheat bran, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, green leafy vegetables like kale, nuts like almonds, walnuts, seeds, and fruits with edible skins like pears and apples are good examples of insoluble fibre.
Drinking plenty of water helps to keep the digested foods soft and move through the digestive system.
Some people experience digestive issues such as bloating, heart burn, irritable bowel symptoms after eating fatty foods, processed foods, spicy foods.
And let’s not forget stress which can impact our digestive system too. Mindful eating is so important, and it starts with making right choices of food and taking time to chew your food so you are helping to break it down to smaller manageable pieces which when mixed with the saliva makes it easier for the digestive system to further breakdown and absorb the vital nutrition.
What are some other common gut symptom triggers?
Poor digestive health can lead to various problems like irritable bowel syndrome, skin allergies, sleeping disorders, depression, anxiety, thyroid issues, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, weight problems, heartburn, fatigue, diarrhoea, bloating, sugar cravings, etc. Therefore, it is important to maintain good gut health.
Digestive issues can be experienced after eating certain foods such as acidic foods (citrus, tomatoes), foods you may be intolerant such as Lactose & wheat, or from alcohol, smoking and stress.
How may prebiotics and probiotics be useful?
Our gut has natural bacteria and microflora that makes up your gut's microbiome which supports the digestion process and keeps the gut healthy. Prebiotics feed your body’s natural microbiome and probiotics adds living bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics are plant fibers that facilitate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This improves the efficiency of your digestive system. They are known to provide food for the good bacteria in your gut. They are usually carbohydrates that our body is unable to digest. Therefore, it goes into the lower digestive tract, where they behave as food for good bacteria. Prebiotics can provide fuel for probiotic bacteria to multiply and have a positive impact on the body. Some natural sources of prebiotics are artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, fennel, green peas, dandelion greens, burdock, chickpeas, watermelon, bananas, dates, barley, rye, flaxseed
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are gut-friendly as it is believed that they help to maintain the healthy gut balance in both the stomach and intestine after any disruptions that were caused during treatment or disease. Natural sources of probiotics are mostly fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles, traditional buttermilk, natto, cheese including Gouda cheese, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, and cottage cheese.
In addition to overall health benefits of pre and probiotics a key example of when supplementing with pre and probiotics is important is after taking antibiotics as often both good and bad bacteria are destroyed by antibiotics.
What are some top tips for combating symptoms such as bloating, heartburn, constipation and diarrhoea with regards to diet and OTC treatments if necessary?
My top tips for combating digestive symptoms are:
- A balance diet filled with foods of different colours will help you get recommend amount of fibre to keep your guts moving. (be aware that Wholegrains and legumes, beans and oats can sometimes cause you bloating)
- Eat slowly, take time and chew your food.
- Drink plenty of fluids (water where possible) to keep your stool soft and help them to move down the digestive tract
- Exercise helps move the food through the digestive system with a little help from gravity and help you manage stress.
- Reduce alcohol consumption, smoking.
- Avoid caffeine as this can cause heartburn.
- Reduce fatty and spicy foods as these are harder for your gut to digest and can lead to heartburn and indigestion.
- Have enough sleep to ensure digestive system has time to rest and repair.
If you are still suffering digestive symptoms speak to your pharmacist who will be able to help you identify your potential triggers and offer valuable advice and if needed recommend appropriate over the counter medication or will be able to refer you to your GP if needed.
What other supplements are available to aid with digestion, how do they work, and what are their pros and cons?
John Bell & Croyden Nutritionist, Samriti Juneja, suggests:
There are many available on the market with different amounts of live strain bacteria as per the requirements of the consumers. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus are the major genera of microbial organisms that are used in the probiotics.
Taking a probiotic supplement is not sufficient to keep the gut healthy. Eating a well balance diet and physical activity daily is equally important in maintaining gut bacteria. Though, probiotic supplements are known to provide health benefits but may also have some side effects. Therefore, seek guidance from a pharmacist or doctor to ensure you're taking the appropriate strains and the right dosage to avoid any side effects
Suitable for those unable to absorb nutrients in their bodies due to insufficiency or intolerance. The digestive enzymes are the non-living proteins that accelerate the chemical reactions in the gastrointestinal tract by breaking down food into small pieces for better absorption of the nutrients by the body. Some of the digestive enzymes found in dietary supplements are amylase, lipase, protease, lactase, and alphagalactosidase.
Udo's Choice's Digestive Enzyme's Gold is a great choice, with 9 plant based digestive enzymes each having a specific action on food substrates and 3 protein digesting enzymes including Alphagalactosidase.
Can relieve abdominal pain and bloating which are common symptoms of conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Colpermin IBS Relief capsules contain natural peppermint oil to relieve the symptoms of IBS including painful spasms, bloating and trapped wind, constipation and/or diarrhoea.