How is your digestion?
Updated: Feb 25
For many of us, as we get older our digestive systems seem to get more sensitive. The range of issues you may find yourself struggling with include anything from mild indigestion, heartburn, bloating, constipation or wind to severe IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or worse. These can all also range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to so painful or uncomfortable that they interfere with your day to day life.
The complexities of gut health
You’ve probably heard the expression gut health. Over the last decade, there’s been a great deal of research into the importance of a healthy gut in respect not just of our digestive systems but also in respect of our overall health. As a result, there is now an irrefutable body of evidence that demonstrates the importance and role that our gut and digestion have when it comes to an array of other health issues.
You may have noticed certain foods trigger a reaction in your gut. Spicy food, dairy, gluten, citrus fruits or food with high acidity are all common culprits. But the reality is that digestive issues are complex, and the causes can be many:
Stress is recognised as a major cause of issues with the gut and your digestion. The gut contains millions of neurons which communicate with the brain, and as a result stress can trigger pain, bloating and other discomfort. In fact, stress can even influence gut bacteria which in turn can influence mood and emotions.
When your fight-or-flight instinct is triggered as a result of stress, your body physically reacts, preparing itself for “a fight” reaction and stalling other functions which are deemed non-essential during the “fight” - such as digestion. This in turn can cause your body to redirect nutrients to where they are seen as urgently needed (your heart and lungs) or cause constipation or diarrhoea.
Sleep deprivation can also have a significant impact on your gut health for a number of reasons. It can make you more vulnerable to inflammation (IBS) and immune disorders, and it also makes you more susceptible to craving sugary or highly processed foods.
Levels of the hormone Ghrelin (which stimulate hunger) will become increased when you’re tired and your levels of Leptin (an appetite suppressor), will be reduced.
Finally, poor sleep can make you more susceptible to stress and upset the natural balance of various important neurochemicals (such as Serotonin and Melatonin). All of which can start to create a vicious circle where stomach issues and stress cause sleepless nights and so on.
Certain medications can affect the natural and delicate balance of bacteria which is essential to good gut health as well as occasionally having other side effects. Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, while usually safe and effective, may upset your stomach.
What’s more, some medicines may contain fillers or additives which may affect you if you have certain food intolerances. That’s not to say you should stop taking your medication, but but you should discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist.
I’ve touched on diet already, but the reality is of course that your diet has a massive impact on your digestion and gut health. Highly processed foods, alcohol, carbonated and sugary drinks, not drinking enough water, eating too much or too little, and how you eat can all have an impact on your digestion.
Other lifestyle issues
Your levels of exercise, your hormones, lifestyle activities (late nights and early mornings) and whether you’re a smoker may also have a role to play on your digestion.
Helping ease your gut and digestion
If you have long term digestive issues, you can probably guess from the above, that getting to the root of the problem is going to involve more than just eliminating certain foods. In fact, it normally means taking a long hard look at your lifestyle and starting to make small but consistent changes.
You should start by keeping a journal, that logs both what you eat and drink, your mood (whether you’re stressed or tired) and other factors such as whether you ate your lunch on the run or sat down and ate mindfully. Your journal should track any digestion issues so that you can start to identify any patterns. I am not a nutritionist but try and keep your diet as natural and healthy as possible. That means avoiding where possible highly processed foods and making sure you have a good balance of nutrients, with lots of fruit and vegetables. And always remember to stay well hydrated.
Acupuncture and lifestyle changes
Whilst I may not be a nutritionist, I can help you identify areas of your life where you can make some changes and use acupuncture to help. Embracing the approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and very much aligned with the medical research of the last decade, acupuncture works on the basis that any digestive issues are not just as a result of what you eat and what’s going on in your intestines.
In fact, a number of major organs have a role to play in your gut including your liver, spleen, gallbladder, kidney and pancreas and all of these can cause problems. This is in addition to the main lifestyle issues listed above that could be causing your problems. A dysfunctional gut can also create an imbalance elsewhere resulting in symptoms and issues that may seem unrelated.
Chinese think that our gut is our second brain and overthinking and worry can seriously damage our digestion. That’s why it is so important to take time out of our busy day and have our meal away from our work desk, fully focussing on the food we’re putting into our bodies.
My role as an acupuncturist is to help get your body back in balance. I achieve that by doing what could be called an overall review of what’s going on in your body and mind, so that we can treat the cause and effect and not just the symptoms that “shout loudest”. Acupuncture will help stimulate your organs to operate and process more effectively so that your body comes back into balance and the process of acupuncture can help you manage things like stress levels and lack of sleep.
Yes, I’m still open
At the time of writing, we’re out of lockdown and where I work, we’re into Tier 2. But the important news is that I’m still open and able to offer treatments. We all know what an incredibly tough year it has been and the toll it has taken on our mental and physical health. With that in mind, my Christmas message has to be to urge you to take care of yourselves. Be conscious of your health, take small steps to improve your health and quality of life and be kind to yourself.
May I take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year and I look forward to welcoming you for a treatment very soon.