One of the most common complaints and challenges that people deal with are digestive issues. From constipation, diarrhea, gas and indigestion, to nausea, burping, heartburn and bloating, the ways in which the digestive system (GI tract) can go awry are many. This is because the digestive system is extremely sensitive to the food you eat, the chemicals you ingest, the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the emotions that you feel. It is completely intertwined with all aspects of your being – reflecting everything that you feel, see, taste and touch.
The digestive system is a complicated system that utilizes the functioning of many organ systems in order to ingest, break down, process, absorb and eliminate food and toxins. When one part of the system falls short (becomes weakened, stressed, blocked or malnourished), the rest suffer. That is why it can be very difficult to heal digestive issues and to get back on track. They are all intertwined.
The main organ systems that must be addressed, examined and looked at when dealing with a digestive issue are the stomach, liver and gallbladder, pancreas, small and large intestine (colon). Each organ plays a vital and integral role in digestive process, which is why the whole picture must be looked at, not just one single organ.
The good news is that the solutions can be simplified, and we can heal the digestive tract by following the 10 natural steps listed below. While I wish I could work with each and every one of you to create an individualized plan, these steps are the best ways to work through the root of your digestive issues.
Through my many years of working with healing the gut and digestive tract, I have uncovered the most effective way to address the system – start at the root. Therefore, these 10 natural steps start just there, at the root. They work by first addressing the most common issues, and work out from there. So the idea is that you will start at step one, implement it for 1-2 weeks, and see how you feel. If you notice a difference (even if it is small), stick with that step because it is working! YAY! If not, if you do not notice a relief in your symptoms, move on to step two. I recommend that you add onto the previous step, when moving forward. This is because each step builds upon the previous one, working together to increase their overall healing capabilities.
* Before beginning with any of the steps below, it is best to consult with your prescribing physician.
Digestive Issues: How to Heal Constipation, Diarrhea and Indigestion Naturally in 10 Steps
1. Take Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) and Digestive Enzymes with Each Meal
One of the easiest and most efficient ways to start improving your digestion ASAP is by taking HCL and a digestive enzyme. These are the tools that your body uses to properly break down the food that is consumed.
HCL, or hydrochloric acid is the natural acid that is produced by the stomach to breakdown food that is ingested. It also protects the body from any harmful bugs (bacteria) or parasites that may be lurking on your food, keeping you from getting sick, contracting an infection, or possibly being infected with H.Pylori (a culprit in ulcer formation and stomach cancer). Taking HCL with each meal provides profound relief from ingestion, burping, feelings of fullness, while also aiding in the proper breakdown of the food itself (critical for those dealing with constipation and diarrhea). HCL is especially helpful for those who eat animal protein. I would also advise never eating out at a restaurant, or traveling internationally without it. Word to the wise: always take HCL when eating raw fish like sushi.
Digestive enzymes are produced by the pancreas and are used to breakdown food that is ingested. These enzymes target a wide range of foods (unlike HCL which focuses on proteins) such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, facilitating their chemical breakdown into smaller, absorbable components. These smaller components are then ready to be transported to use by the cells of the body.
When the body does not produce adequate HCL or enzymes, the food that is ingested is not broken down completely. As a result, almost any digestive issue can manifest. That is why I always start here. The simple task of taking these two supplements with meals helps that majority of people I see, so much so, that they never eat a meal without them!
* Do not take HCL if you are suffering from Acid Reflux/Heartburn. Review my Acid Reflux Natural Treatment article for how to heal it naturally.
2. Drink Apple Cider Vinegar before Each Meal
Apple cider vinegar is a type of vinegar made from pulverized apples. The curative properties of apple cider vinegar are mostly due its naturally occurring acids, both acetic and malic acid. Although counterintuitive, the acidic nature of vinegar has an alkalizing effect on the body once ingested. Alkaline tissue means that there is more oxygen in the body, which creates an environment that inhibits the growth of pathogens (fungus, bacteria, parasites), and any other harmful invader. In addition, an alkaline environment reduces irritation and inflammation that may be causing digestive issues.
Clinical evidence has also shown that apple cider vinegar can help improve digestion if taken before a meal. Being an alkalizing agent, it can ease symptoms of acid reflux and GERD, while also aiding in the breakdown of ingested foods. These acids also increase your body’s absorption of important minerals from the foods you eat, while also slowing down the absorption of sugars, key for balancing blood sugar. As a result, apple cider vinegar can help to jump start digestion, improving the ability of the body to break down the food you are eating. This therefore offers relief from indigestion, stomach pain and cramping, while assisting in normal bowel movements.
Best Way to Take It: Unpasteurized, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar by Eden Foods
* Tip: Add apple cider vinegar to warm water and drink before eating a meal. Add fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice to improve the taste.
3. Eliminate the Top “Irritating” Foods
And you thought we might have ignored the food – not getting off that easy!
What you eat matters. It is as simple as that. What you put in your body greatly impacts the digestive system by either improving it, or aggravating it. That is why it is essential to look at the diet, and to start eliminating the foods that could be potential culprits in your digestive issues.
The foods that I have found to be at the root of most digestive issues are dairy, gluten (got here for a list), fried foods, and “diet” and processed foods (contain artificial, fake sugar, chemicals and preservatives).
Now, before you bite my head off with the thought of ditching the cheese and bread, you must realize that these foods can be extremely irritating, inflammatory and mucus forming. Many people have a really hard time digesting them, which lead to an array of symptoms ranging from bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, to psoriasis, eczema, fatigue, headaches and even depression. And by simply eliminating them, these symptoms disappear.
It is very important to eliminate these foods from the diet to see how you react. While fried, “diet,” and processed foods must be eliminated all together, dairy and gluten can be tested to see how your body reacts to them. The short way is to avoid eating them and then see how your symptoms improve or not improve. The longer, and more thorough way is to do the elimination food diet plan. This way you can really identify food allergies.
*If you are going to eat dairy, only consume organic dairy. This ensures that you avoid exposure to the hormones and antibiotics that are used to raise conventional cows. As for gluten-containing breads, choose organic sprouted breads. The sprouting process makes it easier to digest, and eliminates a naturally occurring acid called phytic acid. Phytic acid impairs the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium, and may promote mineral deficiencies.
4. Focus on Eating Gut-Friendly Foods
“Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Just as we have to eliminate the foods that are aggravating our digestive system, we must also focus on eating the foods that are healing and soothing to our digestive system. My favorite way to do this is by honing in on easy-to-digest foods that are both nourishing and healing. This way the body does not have to work as hard to breakdown the food, therefore giving the digestive system time to rest, restore and repair. And, in the same vein, these foods concurrently provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fats, antioxidants and amino acids that the body uses to return digestive function to normal.
The foods that I believe to be the most gut-friendly and healing are homemade smoothies, soups, bone/vegetable broth, herbal teas, fermented foods (kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kvass), sea salt, and healthy fats (avocado, olives, coconut oil, hemp and chia seeds, and cold pressed oils like hemp, avocado, sesame, olive). Focus on only eating these foods for at least 3 weeks to watch your symptoms improve. You may also add in cooked vegetables and gluten-free grains occasionally, but try to keep the foods as soft and pureed as possible. Other herbs and spices to focus on incorporating are ginger, fennel, anise and cumin. These help to ease intestinal pain.
In order to get the most out of this diet, eat homemade foods, not something that comes from a can or box. If you have no skills in the kitchen, then this is a good time to learn. If not, there are plenty of healthy food delivery programs, or seek out a natural foods cafe, or market where these items are readily available to you. For healthy recipe inspiration head on over to my food blog resources page.
5. Balance Gut Flora: Take a Probiotic Supplement, Eat + Drink Fermented Foods
Another important aspect of digestion is having a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut. There are bacteria in the intestines, also known as gut flora that plays many vital roles. They keep bad bacteria from overgrowing, which is very important for preventing illness, diarrhea, and other digestive ailments. They also directly impact your overall mental condition – keeping you cool, calm and collected, and preventing anxiety and depression. Healthy gut flora also helps to digest, absorb and transport food to your body’s cells, and it also is in charge of making certain vitamins. Finally, research now shows they helps to express healthy genes, which may influence whether certain cancers or chronic diseases manifest in the body.
Any way you look at it, having a good colony of healthy bacteria /gut flora is key to your health and proper digestion. Without it, you may experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, IBS, nausea, acne, a poor immune system, depression and anxiety.
Most people are lacking in good bacteria due to a poor diet, stress, the consumption of bad bacteria (food poisoning), and from taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill these healthy bacteria. Therefore, supplementing with a strong and therapeutic probiotic is a step I always recommend for getting your health, and especially the digestive system, back on track.
Another way you can keep your healthy gut bacteria in balance is by eating fermented foods daily. Fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kvass, kombucha, organic tempeh, miso, and kefir. I would suggest adding one serving of fermented food into your daily food routine. This should be in addition to a probiotic supplement. The probiotic supplement jump starts the colony, while the fermented food will help to keep it colonized in the gut. Therefore, I recommend using the supplement in a therapeutic dosage for about 6 weeks, and then focus on eating the fermented food daily.
*Tip: Every time you take an antibiotic, plan on using a probiotic supplement for about 1 month to 6 weeks afterwards to replace the good bacteria.
Best Supplement to Take: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotic Capsules
6. Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Fear
There is no words to express how powerful your emotions are, and how they impact your physical body. Every time you experience fear, anxiety, stress or any other negative emotion, your physical body is greatly impacted. Specifically your gut or your digestive system is feeling those emotions and reacting to them (hello diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps!).
In my personal life, when I go through very stressful times, or times where I cannot properly process my emotions, I experience long-standing periods of stomachaches, pain, cramping, nausea and even diarrhea. This is because your “gut” is your intuition center, the very place that your emotions and feelings are stored. Therefore, addressing your emotions and feelings is essential for getting your digestive system back into balance.
I have seen countless people try every diet, supplement, herb and medication in order to get their digestion under control with no results. It was only until we addressed their emotional state by using specific herbs, nutrients, as well as meditation and relaxation techniques that their digestion problems dissipated. I highly recommend that you DO NOT underestimate what is going on with you emotionally when you are facing any digestive issue whether that is constipation, diarrhea, IBS, indigestion, gas, bloating, or nausea. A few of my favorite tools are using the herbs and amino acids rhodiola, tyrosine, and tryptophan, and the stress-reduction, and emotion-releasing techniques below. Definitely start with the supplements, and then choose the other lifestyle techniques that resonate with you.
7. Take Magnesium Glycinate
Now you are probably wondering why magnesium is on the list for digestive problems, but this one is super cool! Magnesium is a mineral that plays so many roles in the body from building bones and teeth, to enabling energy production and balancing both blood sugar and the nervous system, but it also helps to hold water in the intestines. Why this is important is that we need water in order to form a fluid, easy-to-pass bowel. Without adequate water, we are left constipated, cramped up, nauseous, bloated and straining for a movement. In addition, magnesium also relaxes the muscles in the intestines, allowing the stool to pass through with ease.
Believe it or not, but the majority of us are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is rapidly spent when we are stressed, and considering the lives that we lead, it is no surprise that a magnesium deficiency may be at the root of our digestive issue. While increasing your magnesium intake through food is a great practice, most of the time when you are experiencing a digestive issue as a result of magnesium deficiency, the food is not enough at first. That is why I suggest that you take a magnesium supplement in order to raise your magnesium levels so that you can return your bowel movements back to normal. At that point, you can then move to foods as a way to keep your magnesium levels normal.
Best Supplement to Take: Magnesium Glycinate by Pure Encapsulations
8. Bulk up the Stool with Fiber, Tone the Intestines
Finally we have gotten to fiber, the age-old recommendation when you are dealing with digestive issues, specifically constipation, and cramping. Fiber is naturally occurring in foods like fruits and vegetables, and the body uses it to scrub out toxins and junk from the digestive track, and for forming stool. Without adequate fiber, toxins build up in the intestine, which can cause irritation, inflammation, food allergies, allergic-like reactions, skin conditions, and even cancer. In addition, without proper fiber, stool cannot form properly leading to constipation and/or diarrhea.
When you eat or supplement with soluble fiber it is fermented in the large intestines by the gut flora (remember that from number 5!?). It then produces something called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are an extremely important energy sources for the colon and have protective effects for healthy colon cell function. SCFAs also keep the intestinal environment acidic, providing optimal conditions for the good gut flora to thrive. So as you can see, fiber is our friend and a key to healthy digestion.
Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is going to be helpful, and for some, taking a fiber supplement is imperative. If you suffer from constipation, intestinal cramping and pain that was not relieved by the steps above, go for the fiber supplement. Just remember to ALWAYS drink lots and lots of water when increasing fiber. Fiber and water go hand in hand, because without adequate water and too much fiber, the stools cannot pass leading to (and not preventing) constipation.
*Tip: You know you have adequate fiber and healthy bowel movements when you are having 2-4 bowel movements a day. They are not strained but come out easily. They are light to medium brown in color, do not float, and are not sticky. You should barely need to use any toilet paper at all.
Best Supplement to Take: G.I. Fortify by Pure Encapsulations
9. Rebuild the Intestinal Lining
One of the last steps for resolving any digestive issue is rebuilding the intestinal lining, and healing the gut. Most people who suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut, food allergies, skin conditions, diarrhea, constipation, any bowel disease, chronic bloating, a weakened immune system, and have been infected with parasites or a candida overgrowth have a compromised intestinal lining. This means that the lining is permeable, and the tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. As a result, food is not properly broken down and undigested food particles and other potentially toxic substances leak into the bloodstream.
The best ways to rebuild the intestinal lining and to heal the gut is by using glutamine, glucosamine and aloe. These are natural agents that have been proven effective in rebuilding and repairing the gut. Now remember, in order to repair and rebuild, you must follow the clean diet rules above. You need to provide a space for the gut to HEAL, and eating harmful, toxic foods inhibits this process.
L-Glutamine promotes healthy tissue repair. In the gut, it maintains healthy integrity of the intestinal tract and enhances the protective mucosal lining. This helps to ensure proper nutrient utilization and absorption while limiting the amount of toxins that pass through the intestinal barrier. It is also the principal source of fuel for the immune cells in the small intestines, keeping the digestive tract strong and healthy. The next important agent is glucosamine. Glucosamine works with glycosaminoglycans and glycoproteins that make up the gut’s mucosal surface, maintaining healthy intestinal tissue. Finally, we come to aloe. One of the most studied healing agents for the gut, aloe reduces inflammation, and helps monitor the immune reactions in the gut. It also helps to heal the lining while promoting normal bowel movements. Love aloe! The supplement I recommend below includes all three of these healing agents, which is why it works so well. Plan on using this for about 3-6 weeks depending on the severity of your situation.
Best Supplement to Take: GI Integrity by Pure Encapsulations
10. Support the Gallbladder and Bile Flow
The last piece of the puzzle that we are going to address is the gallbladder. The gallbladder is in charge of holding bile. Bile is a fluid that is released into the intestine in order to aid in the digestion of fatty foods. It also carries waste products, toxins, cholesterol and hormones from the liver to be eliminated out of the body. It plays a very important role in the body, especially in maintaining proper digestion.
Many of us have a compromised gallbladder (especially if you’ve been on birth control) and therefore cannot produce adequate bile. As a result, fatty foods (this includes anything from French fries, chips, pie, and cheese to mayonnaise, tempura rolls, olives, avocados and nuts – any type of fat whether healthy or unhealthy) are not broken down properly. This leads to stress on the rest of the digestive system, which manifests in a multitude of ways. Some of the most common are a feeling of fullness, bloating, burping, pain below your right breast/chest, pain in the right upper back/scapula, nausea, feeling of needing to vomit, and diarrhea. Therefore, take time to address the gallbladder and the proper flow of bile. I have put together a whole program below that will help you to dive into its healing.
Step to Take: Natural Treatment for the Gallbladder Program
For the More Stubborn Cases…
If the following steps above do not bring you any relief, then it is best to look deeper. It is most likely that you are facing a more complicated issue such as a parasitic infection, Candida fungal overgrowth, or microfilms. In these cases, I would suggest working with an alternative practitioner such as a Naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist, chiropractor, Chinese or functional medical doctor or certified nutritionist.
I know this was a MAJOR dump of information and I did my best to provide enough for you to get started with. If you have any questions or concerns at all, please do not hesitate to comment below or to email me directly. I am here to support you in any way that I can so reach out!
Lauren, The Holy Kale
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*Note: I do not work for these supplement companies, simply believe that they are of the highest integrity, quality and cleanliness. They have proven to be the most therapeutic and reliable, and thus, I am sharing them with you.