That Gut Feeling: Tips for Improving Digestive Health

As you may know from personal experience, the health of your digestive system has a major impact on the way you feel and on your overall health. A healthy gut plays a big role in supporting heart health, brain health, and the immune system, and may also help prevent some cancers.

Signs of poor digestive health

You may have had some minor digestive problems in the past due to overeating, certain food choices, or low-level illnesses that go away after a short time. However, if you experience any of the following on a frequent or ongoing basis, you may have a more serious problem.

  • Upset stomach
    Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other unpleasant conditions are all indications of an ailing digestive system that is struggling to process food and handle waste. 

  • Sleep difficulty
    If you are often tired throughout the day due to poor sleep, a possible cause could be a disruption in your body’s production of serotonin. This hormone is produced in the gut; as a result, problems with your digestive system could lead to problems getting a good night’s rest.

  • Skin irritation
    Eczema, acne, and other skin issues can be caused by an unhealthy gut. Inflammation in the gut due to a poor diet or food allergies can lead to leakage of specific proteins into the body. This, in turn, can irritate the skin and increase the risk of developing unhealthy skin conditions.

  • Autoimmune disease
    Poor gut health is increasingly being found to be the cause of autoimmune diseases. These are conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue instead of harmful bacteria or viruses. Lupus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis are a few examples of autoimmune diseases.

  • Mental health issues
    The vagus nerve—the longest nerve stemming from the brain—connects hundreds of millions of nerve cells between the brain and the intestines. When the health of your digestive system is out of balance, it can disrupt this mind-gut connection and possibly lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

What you can do to improve digestive health

The good news is that there are many things you can do to take control of your digestive health. The following suggestions are all simple enough for you to begin practicing right away.

  • Limit high-fat foods
    Foods that are high in fat often cause the digestive process to bog down and increase the chances of constipation. When eating meat, choose leaner options such as chicken, turkey, or pork loin.

  • Eat more food high in fiber
    A great way to improve the health of your digestive system is by eating more high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. Fiber helps control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and regulate bowel movements. 

  • Stay on an eating schedule
    We all lead busy lives and sometimes have to take meals on the go. But the more you can maintain a consistent schedule for meals, the easier it is on your digestive system.

  • Exercise
    In addition to supporting all-around good health, daily exercise keeps food moving throughout your digestive system and reduces constipation. Even just walking for 20 minutes each day will help you maintain a healthier gut.

  • Eliminate unhealthy habits
    Reducing or avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine will help your digestive system function more efficiently as well as improve many other aspects of your health. 

  • Reduce stress
    Remember the link between the mind and gut? When one is stressed, the other is affected as well. That’s why “a gut-wrenching decision” is more than just a saying—it’s very real. Stress can cause a reduction in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, leading to cramping or inflammation. Find ways to reduce stress on a regular basis, whether through exercise, a relaxing routine, or even meditation.

  • Drink water
    Staying hydrated throughout the day helps the food you eat be absorbed more effectively, allowing you to reap maximum benefit from healthful foods, and enables you to eliminate waste more easily.

  • Schedule a colonoscopy as you near 50
    Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. If you are age 45 or older as suggested, one of the best ways to detect pre-cancerous colon polyps is through a colonoscopy. This screening can find as well as remove polyps all in one procedure.

Melvin Simien

Melvin Simien

Specializes in Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine

Learn more about Dr. Simien