How Digestion Can Affect Your Health

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Having tummy troubles and poor digestion can make us feel uncomfortable and weighed down, so it's important to aim for a diet and lifestyle plan that reinforces healthy digestion and stomach movement. There are many ways that digestion affects our wellbeing, and such negative side-effects can mess with our moods and bodies and cause discomfort over time.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on promoting smooth, healthy, and regular digestion in order to better their moods, energy levels, and productivity in the day. When digestion is slow, we can feel fatigued, heavy, and bloated, and such feelings can interfere with our abilities to work and concentrate. Additionally, stomach pain is often prevalent when digestion is not efficient, and such pangs can hurt our wellbeing and mood. If left untreated, these digestive issues can build up over time, leading to chronic frustration. Digestive discomfort can also be due to a larger health problem, so checking in with a physician is advisable if the pain does not go away after making these 11 lifestyle adjustments. Try these out, see how you feel, and if you don't notice any improvements in digestion, it could be beneficial to seek additional help to figure out what's interfering with your body's ability to break down food smoothly and efficiently.

1. It Can Keep Us Up At Night

According to Rachel Wong, Sleep Research Specialist at OSO, over email with Bustle, certain foods can lead to poor digestion when consumed too close to bedtime, and should thus be avoided or eaten in moderation. "Stay away from spicy foods at night. They can cause indigestion and keep you awake," says Wong.

2. It Can Mess With Our Energy Levels

"Sugary foods also give you an extra dose of unwanted energy," says Wong. When you eat too much sugar, it can cause blood sugar to spike and lead to hyper-ness, followed by a crash a few hours later. Instead, "choose nutrient-dense meals and snacks packed with leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds," advises Wong.

3. It Can Be Taxed By The Wrong Foods

Eating unhealthy, highly processed foods can tax the digestive system, causing difficulties with breaking down food molecules and poor digestion, advises Liz Weinandy, RD at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center over email with Bustle. "Highly processed foods increase the burden on our bodies in two ways. First, they often contain large amounts of sugar, salt, refined grains and/ or saturated and trans fats. These ingredients in significant amounts cause our bodies to work overtime to process them, and secondly, these foods provide little to no nutritional value other than calories," explains Weinandy.

4. It Can Mess With Our Moods

"Mood and energy levels are largely derived from our blood sugar levels," advises Weinandy, and when we aren't able to digest our food efficiently after eating, it can lead to imbalanced blood sugar levels. Additionally, "not only do well balanced meals with a large dose of fruits and veggies help balance energy and mood, but they also help almost all other functions of our bodies including graceful aging and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases," explains Weinandy.

5. It Can Affect Our Hormones

According to registered dietician and Prevention magazine editor Gale Maleskey over interview with SF Gate, eating foods that are high in hormones themselves, such as beef and soy products, can affect our hormones and might even lead to greater cancer risk. Looking for hormone-free products and reading labels can help address this issue.

6. It Can Lower Our Immune System

If we eat foods that are high in pesticides, it might weaken our digestive system and negatively affect our health and wellbeing, as explained by researcher D. Lindsey Berkson, author of the book "Hormone Deception: How Everyday Foods and Products Are Disrupting Your Hormones and How to Protect Yourself and Your Family" over interview with SF Gate. Xenoestrogens, found in meat and dairy particularly, can increase risk of cancer and weaken our immune system.

7. It Can Lead To Abnormal Bowel Movements

When we have trouble digesting our food, we might experience bloating and abdominal discomfort, as well as difficulties with making regular bowel movements, advises running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer, over email with Bustle. Thus, eating foods high in fiber can help get things moving and prevent tummy troubles.

8. It Can Make Us Stressed

When we are stressed, our stomaches can become stressed, as well, leading to pains, gas, bloating, cramping, and a slower metabolism, advises Lemmer. Once this happens, we become even more stressed out! This cycle of stress and poor digestion can compromise our health and happiness over time, so it's a good idea to try meditation, yoga, or some relaxation technique to minimize stress.

9. It Affects Our Gut

Having proper gut flora and healthy villi can directly influence our digestion, as when we have bad bacteria in the gut, we are prone to experience stomach discomfort and a slower digestive process, and when we have healthy gut flora, our stomaches function smoother and more efficiently, explains healthy lifestyle coach Liz Traines over email with Bustle. Traines recommends eating probiotic foods, such as kefir, miso, and sauerkraut, or popping a supplement.

10. It Can Affect Our Liver

When our bodies fail to digest food properly or we drink alcoholic beverages, for instance, it can hurt our liver function and wellbeing. When there's too much acid built up in the body, which can come from eating too large a meal, for instance, and the body cannot break down food quick enough, it can cause indigestion and our liver to not be able to operate as it should.

11. It Can Mean We're Not Getting Enough Nutrients

If we experience stomach challenges, such as pain, bloating, fatigue, and irregular bowel movements, it might mean that we are not absorbing or getting in the nutrients we need to create a happy, stomach environment and smooth digestive process, advises Lemmer. Lemmer recommends eating whole foods, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and especially fiber, to make sure that nutrient requirements are met.

If you notice that your digestion is out of whack, it's smart to make sure that you are choosing healthy foods to eat and are incorporating beneficial activities, such as exercise and meditation, to help get the bowels moving and to reduce stress. If these adjustments don't do it, see a physician to rule out a greater medical issue.

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