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Don’t Let Pain be the Norm this World Digestive Health Day

Digestive Health

World Digestive Health Day takes place on May 29 every year to raise awareness of the importance of gut and digestive health in our overall wellbeing, after all, coping with digestive discomfort or perhaps a diagnosis of IBS or IBD, can be crippling. 

According to charity, Guts UK as many as 1 in 8 people have symptoms of IBS at any one time. Women are slightly more affected than men and the usual age for patients to seek advice is between 20 and 40 years.  Meanwhile, Bowel Research UK explains that there are two types of IBD and that is Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.  There are up to 300,000 sufferers in the UK from these conditions.  IBD is primarily a disease of the young: most cases are diagnosed when the patient is between 10 and 35 years. The disease is becoming more common across our western diets, and a child in secondary school with IBD is unlikely to be the only one in their school.

With so many people affected, across such a wide age range, it’s important to try to educate (preferably from school age) about the need to care for your gut to avoid causing inflammation. To do this, taking a ‘whole person’ approach to helping your gut calm down is vital.

Award winning nutritionist and gut health expert, Lucy Williamson explains: “Our gut is complex, and it reacts not only to the food we eat but also to what life demands from us.  It might be a stressful job, a breakup, a bereavement or even going on holiday with a change in diet that can adversely affect your digestion and gut. This then often begins to impact sleep and emotional health too.”

So how can we manage our guts to help reduce inflammation and limit the number of people suffering from IBS and IBD?  Here are Lucy’s top tips: 

·       Consider FODMAP – great gut health needs fabulous fibre from a big variety of plants. But certain types of fibre can cause gut flare ups. One way of checking which ones may be a problem for you is to follow a FODMAP diet for a few weeks. It’s important to do this with the guidance of a Dietician or a registered Nutritionist. This might involve, for example avoiding foods that are not easily broken down by the gut, such as some types of: fruit and veg, milk and wheat products

·       Sourdough Bread – traditional sourdough made with just whole flour, water and a little salt, is full of goodness thanks to its slow fermentation, is easily digested with almost no gluten and natural yeasts and is a truly health-giving food. Compare this to a mass-produced sliced loaf, even wholemeal, with added preservatives and industrialised yeast which can be a prime cause of gut discomfort.

·       Fermented – try to eat small amounts every day – these are living foods (natural probiotics). Their good bacteria don’t live for long which is why it’s important to include them every day (there’s a recipe to follow to help make your own).

·       Dairy – lactose, the natural sugar in dairy, may be a problem for you but certain dairy proteins can be a hidden cause of discomfort too. Not all dairy is the same – for example you may be fine with fermented dairy like yogurt, Jersey milk instead of that from the traditional black and white dairy cow, or goat’s milk instead of cow’s. Simply cutting out dairy altogether means you are missing out, not only on some valuable nutrients but also delicious foods that could actually help, like naturally probiotic dairy Kefir, so it’s worth experimenting until you find what works for you.  Many people find goat milk kefir a fabulous, healthy alternative too.

  • Avoid Processed Foods as much as possible – this is always part of the story to a happy gut so try to go homemade if you can. A good rule of thumb is to check labels – are there ingredients on the list that you don’t recognise as ones you have in your kitchen cupboard? Some of these may interfere with our gut microbiome making our gut more prone to inflammation.
  • Stress – many of us carry tension in the background all the time because our lives are busy with many plates to spin. It’s important to recognise these tense feelings – tight shoulders, shallow breathing, an elevated heart rate, or even just a growing awareness of poor sleep for example. Build in daily calming ‘tools’ like a 10-minute meditation or try some breathing coaching. This helps our parasympathetic nervous system to calm our gut right down. Self care is THE most important part of managing gut issues
  • On Holiday – Try to stick by these same rules for a happier time! And, just as at home, keep hydrated, continue to take regular exercise, enjoy alcohol in moderation or try a non-alcoholic sparkling tea like fermented Kombucha instead. It may be helpful to pack in your suitcase some foods that you know work well for you too.
  • Sleep – our gut microbiome is happiest when it also has a period of rest with no food. The easiest way to do this is overnight – not eating between 10 pm and 8 am gives a 10 hour fast which is linked with a happier gut.

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