Digestion Feeling Off? Here’s What to Do
Published on August 27, 2020
Last updated June 14, 2021
It’s not hard to tell if your digestion is acting up. The gastrointestinal system has a few signature ways of expressing displeasure, and none of them are subtle: acid reflux, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, pain, cramps, gas, and bloating can wreak havoc on your daily activities. They can upend meals, keep you awake at night, and generally make life miserable.
What’s more, gastrointestinal trouble is not uncommon: Research suggests that the prevalence of intestinal complaints is as high as one in four for women and one in seven for men.
So what can you do when your gut is giving you trouble? If your symptoms are severe and persistent, it’s always a good idea to see a trusted healthcare practitioner. If occasional symptoms are giving you trouble, here are a few strategies for easing symptoms and feeling better fast.
Take a digestive enzyme.
Our bodies make enzymes to help us break down food, but sometimes we don’t make enough of certain enzymes. For example, many people have insufficient levels of the enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is found in dairy products. If you have trouble digesting certain foods, like beans or dairy, digestive enzymes can help. If you suspect you don’t make enough digestive enzymes in general, making it hard to digest a wider range of foods, consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner.
Try apple cider vinegar.
Research on drinking a small amount of apple cider vinegar to help with digestion is sparse, but many people swear by this traditional remedy — and doctors say that while they can’t be sure it will help, it certainly won’t hurt you. Add a teaspoon to a glass of water when you’re experiencing acid reflux or your digestion otherwise feels wonky.
Don’t eat before bed.
Heartburn is painful no matter when you experience it, but it is especially rotten when it strikes at night and keeps you awake. One of the best remedies for late-night acid reflux is to put a few hours — around two or three — between your last meal and lights out. (Nighttime snacking and late-night meals are associated with other health woes, too, so it never hurts to brush your teeth and close-up shop for the night after an early-ish dinner.)
Eat fermented foods.
Foods that are rich in probiotics, like sauerkraut and kimchi, introduce good bacteria to the gut — and, as the health of the gut ecosystem improves, symptoms can improve, too. If you don’t like the taste of fermented foods, or you feel like your gut could use extra support…
Read more: 7 Fermented Foods to Add to Your Diet
Take a probiotic.
A high-quality probiotic helps improve the microbial ecosystem in the gut, which in turn can help symptoms of digestive distress. Research shows that probiotics can help with a wide variety of GI symptoms, including diarrhea, IBS, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Drink bone broth.
The minerals and collagen found in bone broth can help soothe and repair the delicate lining of the gut. (Over time, the gut lining can become porous and “leaky” and this contributes to digestive symptoms.) You can make bone broth at home or look for high-quality bone broth at groceries and health food stores.
Even more benefits: Are Collagen and Bone Broth The Keys to Youthful Skin?
Reach for a gut healing food.
Some foods are known for their gut soothing properties. Ginger can help with motility, which, research shows, helps improve GI symptoms. Cabbage juice helps heal ulcers. Studies show that peppermint may help ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, abdominal pain, and post-operative nausea.
Try a gut healing supplement.
Supplements like glutamine and zinc can help heal the lining of the gut, which reduces symptoms and improves overall health. (Consult with a healthcare practitioner before starting any new supplements.) Take gut healing supplements with a cup of mint tea for double the benefit.
Acupuncture has been helping improve health and wellbeing for centuries. While most people think of acupuncture as a good treatment for non-gut-related symptoms — like insomnia, depression and mood imbalances, stress, and migraines — research suggests that it can help ease symptoms for people with irritable bowel syndrome. Acupuncture is very safe and many people find it relaxing, which is another win for the GI tract.
Manage chronic stress.
As anyone who has ever experienced stomach butterflies knows, stress affects the gut. So a key component of taming digestive symptoms is working to manage chronic stress. No one specific stress management technique works for everyone; find what works for you and make it a daily habit. Your gut will thank you.
Eliminate trigger foods.
Most of us are familiar with food allergies. But many of us, often without knowing it, are sensitive to specific foods. We’re not allergic in the classic sense, but our bodies either have trouble processing a specific food or they become sensitive to a specific food over time. A great way to see if a specific food might be the cause of your digestive distress is to do a short-term elimination diet. Elimination diets vary, but a good place to start is by eliminating the most common gut irritants: dairy and gluten. If you don’t notice any improvement after two to three weeks, you could try temporarily cutting out other potential triggers, like nuts, sugar, and eggs. Three weeks off a specific food should be enough time to know if you are sensitive. If you bring the food back into your daily diet and your symptoms return, you may need to keep that specific food out of rotation for a bit longer.