Naturopathic Medicine: Keys for Successful Digestion
by Jennifer Krieger, ND
Many of my patients report that they struggle with heartburn and indigestion. With new research focusing on the adverse effects of chronic proton pump inhibitor use, patients may wish to learn that there are other ways to help promote proper digestion without the lifelong use of a medication. The following are guidelines that support proper food hygiene.
It may seem obvious, but where and how we eat our meals plays a key role in how we digest our food. In an idyllic setting, one would enjoy a meal in calm and relaxed environment free of distractions. A few suggestions are:
- Eat at a dining table without the television on!
- Avoid eating on the run or in your car.
- Sit upright – do not lie down while eating.
- Play calm and relaxing music during mealtimes.
- Enjoy an evening dinner on the patio as weather permits.
- After eating, allow yourself to relax and avoid stressful and strenuous activities for about 30 minutes to promote your parasympathetic nervous system (this is the nervous system that helps you “rest and digest”).
- Allow at least two hours before lying down to go to sleep.
Prepping the Stomach
Believe it or not, indigestion is often the result when there is too little stomach acid. Stomach acid is crucial in helping us break down our food in order to prepare and absorb nutrients. Most patients are shocked to learn that drinking water with their meals can actually be promoting indigestion. Water dilutes the stomach acid secreted as we eat, so as a rule of thumb, try to avoid drinking any water with meals and for one to two hours after eating, depending on the type and quantity of the meal. Small amounts of water taken to swallow medications or supplements are fine. If you are drinking sufficient amounts of water between or before meals you will not be exceptionally thirsty. Bitter herbs or apple cider vinegar can be used to prep the stomach for a meal. Tinctures of bitter herbs are preferred over apple cider vinegar because they stimulate the digestive tract and help you to make your own stomach acid, whereas apple cider vinegar acts as a substitute for stomach acid. If you choose to use herbal bitters or apple cider vinegar, sip a small amount in water 10-15 minutes before mealtime. Sipping water with lemon throughout the day also gently promotes mild stomach acid production.
The Art of Eating Itself
Does it surprise you to learn that digestion actually begins in the mouth? Our saliva is essential in supplying us with enzymes to help break down certain foods, and this is another reason to avoid drinking water with meals. Many people use water as a substitute for saliva and are missing out on the vital function that the salivary enzymes supply to digest starches prior to reaching the stomach. In addition, bite-sized portions are optimal – eating too much per forkful promotes indigestion and causes your stomach to work harder to break down large pieces of food. And listen up! The most valuable information of all is that it is best to chew each bite of food 31 times! That’s right. You read that correctly, 31 times! With 31 chews, each bite of food is properly broken down and prepared for further digestion by the pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine. You will also tend to eat slower, which fills you up faster and helps to sate your appetite.
As you can see, there are many tips and tricks to promote healthy digestion. Give a few a try and say goodbye to indigestion. Bon appétit, Billings!