Have you ever considered how to improve gut health? When you are feeling stressed, it is not only your mood, sleep, energy levels or even your skin health that are affected. When you are stressed, your digestive system slows down and becomes sluggish, meaning it does not work as efficiently as it should.

Can stress cause indigestion?

Stress can cause a number of digestive problems including cramps, bloating and wind, as well as diarrhoea and constipation. These symptoms can often become debilitating, especially if we choose to not pay attention to them and continue with our busy lifestyles. The effects of stress on our digestive system can be eased to avoid not only the distress of painful symptoms, but also ineffective absorption of nutrients.

5 ways to de-stress your digestive system

To lend a helping hand, May Simpkin, nutritionist and consultant to Enzymedica UK reveals her top tips for de-stressing the digestive system and improving gut efficiency:

  1. Avoid processed comfort foods to improve gut health

Eat less sugar. If you are feeling stressed and find yourself reaching for foods that offer a quick fix, such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, and white bread, you risk finding yourself on a blood sugar rollercoaster as your body receives a surge of sugar into your blood stream, before insulin is quickly released to remove it. This will subsequently leave you feeling tired and lethargic, and probably find you reaching for another quick fix as a result. This is not the only adverse side effect of eating a diet high in refined sugar. In doing so, you are also feeding the ‘bad’ bacteria throughout your digestive system; bacteria that thrives on sugar. The ‘good’ bacteria that support a healthy digestive system will find themselves starved of good food and be less able to survive.

Solution: Feed your ‘good’ bacteria with the food they need to thrive and multiply; specifically, foods that are high in fibre. Include plenty of vegetables with each meal as well as high soluble fibre foods such as oats, beans and pulses. These foods will keep your ‘good’ bacteria happy and healthy.

  1. Boost your digestive enzymes to improve gut health

Digestive enzymes help to take the stress off the gastrointestinal tract by breaking down difficult-to-digest proteins, gluten, casein (dairy protein) and lactose (milk sugar). Without digestive enzymes, we simply could not process our food to gain any of the nutrients locked inside. They enhance the absorption of nutrition, preventing nutritional deficiency and can also help reduce symptoms of acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. If you are not making enough digestive enzymes to help the digestive process unfold smoothly, it is also possible you may experience constipation.

Solution: Our bodies make digestive enzymes naturally. However, as we age our natural enzyme production starts to decline, so taking a daily digestive enzyme supplement helps to naturally support our digestive system. I recommend Digest Complete, from Enzymedica, a blend of 11 naturally occurring vegetarian enzymes to help you digest and absorb nutrients effectively.

  1. Avoid long sedentary periods to improve gut health

A sedentary lifestyle with little activity will not only result in low mood and tension, but it may also lead to a sluggish digestive system. Your digestive system will benefit from exercise and general physical activity to quite literally “get things moving”.

Solution: Aim to exercise on a regular basis, even if on some days you only manage as little as 10 minutes of activity. As well as walking, jogging and online exercise sessions, do not forget that housework and chores around the house also count if you have been sitting for a long period of time. Try to also consider yoga and Pilates, as these activities can help to reduce stress and anxiety for optimal digestion.

  1. Be aware of caffeine to improve gut health

Caffeine can have a debilitating effect on the gut. Whilst many people are unaffected, others may be sensitive to it and find that it stimulates the muscles in the digestive system to contract more strongly. This can be the cause of painful IBS symptoms, such as cramps.

Solution: It is worth reducing or even avoiding caffeine if you are susceptible to these effects. In any case, increasing your fluid intake will help improve the digestive process. Plain water, hot water with lemon or freshly grated ginger and herbal teas are all good choices, as well as soups, fruits, and vegetables as they also provide fluids.

  1.  Avoid eating too late to improve gut health

During sleep, the various systems in the body repair and rebuild, ready for the next day. Eating too near to bedtime means that your digestive system will need to focus on processing your meal. This not only uses up a lot of energy which, consequently, may disrupt your sleep, but it also means that your digestive system does not have adequate time overnight to repair effectively. Over the long term, your digestive health will suffer, and you may find yourself more susceptible to IBS symptoms such as bloating and stomach pains.

Solution: Aim to finish your meal at least three hours before heading to bed to allow enough time for your digestive system to process the meal.