After the busyness and indulgences many of us undertake during the holiday season, it is no wonder that digestion can go awry and become a big health focus for our patients to get back on track in the new year.
Here are 3 simple techniques you can incorporate into your daily routine to get your gut back on track.
Food Hygiene The state of the mind and nervous system when eating, can greatly impact digestive function. Unfortunately, our modern day practices do little to support optimizing this influence. It takes creating rituals and intention to cultivate practices that encourage digestive function. However, with a little practice these tips can go far in helping get things back on track!
The ways that these practices are supportive are largely through mindful eating habits and shifting the nervous system out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest”.
- Take 5-10 deep belly breaths prior to meals.
- Chew your food until it’s liquid. Digestion starts in the mouth with enzymes in the saliva. Many times we don’t realize that we chew 3 times and then swallow without the benefit of mastication and salivary enzymes on food breakdown.
- ○ Count out how many times you’re chewing to at least 13 times. You will notice that this is likely more than you were doing.
- Eat in a calm, relaxed environment as much as possible.
- ○ Avoid eating on the run or in the car.
- Avoid drinking while eating. This dilutes digestive enzymes and if the beverage is cold it will be harder for enzymes to be activated. All enzymes have a temperature where they are optimally active and will work best. Digestive enzymes are no different, so don’t make it harder on your pancreas by drinking ice cold beverages with meals.
Apple Cider Vinegar
You may have heard that apple cider vinegar is a great way to boost up your digestion, but not know why or how. We’ve created this simple guide to direct you. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) acts as a bitter and helps to stimulate digestive enzymes including the all important hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Proper levels of stomach acid are important for killing off unwanted bacteria in foods, aiding in peristalsis (movement through the digestive tract), and tonifying the pyloric sphincter that allows the stomach to empty into the small intestine. This is also where a properly acidified mouthful of food, will signal the pancreas to make and input important pancreatic enzymes which helps digestion further along the tract.
- Add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to 2-3 ounces of warm water. If the flavor is difficult for you to drink, you can add ¼ teaspoon of raw local honey. Drink before breakfast or all of your meals throughout the day.
- You can also use ACV as a dressing with extra virgin olive oil or use it to preserve veggies.
- Studies have also shown that ACV helps balance blood sugar and can promote healthy weight loss.
Vagus Nerve Exercises for Digestive Support
The Vagus nerve is responsible for many bodily functions including swallowing, breathing, and gastrointestinal motility. The Vagus nerve when relaxed triggers the rest and digest state. There is a lot of research about the state of the vagus nerve and how impactful it is on mood and basic social interactions called the poly-vagal theory. This is a key link to the relationship between stress and digestive function. By helping to support your digestion with the following vagus nerve exercises, you will also benefit your overall nervous system and stress responses. Vagus nerve stimulating exercises:
- “The Basic Exercise”: Lie on your back with your hands interlaced behind your head. Then look to one side while keeping your head straight / central. Continue looking to one side for up to 60 seconds or until you yawn, sigh, or swallow -whichever comes first. Blinking is okay. Repeat on the opposite side. You will likely notice this happens quicker the more you do these exercises.
- Gargle intensely, to the point of gagging. This stimulates the vagus nerve because it is connected to the vocal cords.
- ○ Humming and singing have the same stimulating effect
- Deep breathing helps to stimulate the vagus nerve as well. Put one hand on your belly and breathe to expand the abdomen, then slowly exhale and contract the abdomen. Repeat slowly 10 times.
- If you’re feeling bold, cold water immersion will also stimulate the vagus nerve. You can start small by filling a sink and immersing the top half or all of your face in cold water for 10-30 seconds. You can also end your showers on a burst of cool / cold water to get this effect. This is why many sauna facilities will have a cold plunge option at the end.