There are many pieces that need to be in place for the intricacies digestion to function optimally: the type of foods you eat, how you eat them, your ability to break them down, your ability to absorb them and the integrity of the lining of the GI tract, the health (or lack of) the microbiome and good functioning of your enteric nervous system, refereed to often as your second brain, which regulates and monitors all aspects of digestion, including motility.
Clearly it is a little more involved than simply throwing some food down your gullet and waiting.
The uncomfortable symptoms that you may be experiencing can give you valuable clues and insights into which aspects and what functions may be compromised or lacking so you can work on those to begin to achieve better overall digestive strength.
There are two main types of digesters when it comes to troubleshooting issues within the GI tract:
This is probably the most common type of person I come into contact with. If you are a slow digester, you possibly experience decreased motility and less regular bowel movements. You may only have 1 or 2 of bowel movements a week. Typically stool is hard, could be in pellet form or small pieces, and difficult to pass. Morning nausea, early satiety (getting full fast), not feeling satisfied after a bowel movement, bloating and near-constant pain can be typical in slow digesters.
If you fall into this category, you will tend to have multiple bowel movements per day that are looser, fall apart or are liquid. Urgency is often present. Undigested food and mucous is commonly seen in the stool. Hot flushes or clamminess with or just before bowel movements are common as are spastic, gripping pain and cramps. You may also experience symptoms like light, noise or smell sensitivity along with anxiety that can come in waves, often for no apparent reason at all. Mornings are possibly your most challenging time of the day and you may have multiple BM’s before you leave your house.
A mix between fast and slow digestion can also show up in the same person.
You may also be a normal digester who experiences GI dysfunction, but that is for another post.
Once causes like infection, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, tumors/mass have been ruled out, both fast and slow digesters tend to have common roots that can be worked upon. In both types, there is disruption in the enteric nervous system causing motility to be deregulated.
Slow digesters tend to experience symptoms in the lower part of the digestive system. This includes bloating, distension and farts (some of which can be quite fowl). This is indicative of the action that the (potentially disrupted) microbiome is taking on the food you are eating.
Fast digesters experience their symptoms predominantly in the upper portion of the digestive tract. If you fall into this category, your symptoms are possibly lots of nausea, belching, indigestion and sour stomach. This is indicative of low digestive strength and/or ability. Your ability to break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates is compromised. Food is not being broken down well and then speeds through the gut to be eliminated immediately.
The question is, what do you do about your digestion pace (or lack thereof)?
For both fast and slow digesters, there are a few things that can be done to help balance that second brain (the enteric nervous system) and help promote more regular motility.
Your number one priority needs to be your sleep. Aim for at least 8 hours a night, in a dark, cool room. I am continually horrified at the number of people who fall asleep in front of a TV, even though they know they should be doing otherwise, it has become a habit. Bad habits are not a justification for poor health. Your body deserves a little more love and respect.
Moving your body each morning is next on your list. Do your best to take a 15-60 minute walk, preferably outside, and immerse your senses in the experience: feel the sun on your skin and the wind in your face, look at the birds or trees or flowers or cars, and listen to the sounds. When your mind gallops off, as it will, bring it back to what is right in front of you.
Hydration is the next key for both fast and slow digesters. Adequate water helps keep the bowels moving for constipated types, and those prone to multiple, loose bowel movements run the risk of dehydration.
If you are a slow digester:
· Take 400-600 Magnesium Glycinate before bed
· Use a squatty potty or foot stool daily, whether you have a bowel movement or not
· Use perianal acupressure daily. Thirty seconds of mild to medium pressure in the perineum (the area between the genitals and the anus) daily has been shown to improve constipation in as soon as 4 weeks
If you are a fast digester:
· Take 2-3 zinc lozenges (5mg each) daily for up to a month
· Consider acacia fiber. This gentle fiber adds volume to the stool & slows motility
· Address your stress and anxiety if present. Mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, bodywork/massage are all wonderful tools to support relaxation.
These tips are a good place where you can get started today. They are not, however, intended as or serve as a replacement for medical advice. Adding a holistic healthcare provider to your wellness team can go a long way in supporting, addressing and even solving your digestive woes.