If you get an upset stomach after a big meal or suffer other mild digestive discomfort, you may want to consider some simple lifestyle and dietary changes to support your digestive system. More than 95 million Americans suffer from poor digestion, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, and stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep and regular exercise are all contributing factors. There's no one cure-all for digestive distress. But medical experts offer advice to help you calm your system.
1. Pay Attention to Portion Size and Diet
"The stomach will expand to fit a gallon of ice cream, but that doesn't mean it should," says Dr. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Raymond recommends measuring your food with your hands. You shouldn't eat more at one sitting than would fit in two hands cupped together. In addition, Raymond recommends increasing your in-take of fresh fruits and vegetables to seven servings a day and, if you consume red meat, eating it no more than twice a week. "If people followed these simple rules, they would feel a lot better. They'd have less acid reflux, constipation, and indigestion, and fewer weight issues," she says.
2. Yoga Can Help
A yogi and gastroenterologist at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, Dr. Robynne Chutkan relies on her vinyasa yoga practice and a primarily plant-based diet to keep her digestive tract healthy. She recommends the same to her patients. In yoga, the combination of asana, heat, hydration, and breathing supports a healthy digestive system, says Chutkan. "Yoga encourages peristalsis, which moves waste and toxins through the colon. It may favor the proliferation of healthy bacteria and also develops the abdominal muscles—all of which contribute to a healthier gut," she says. "Pranayama can help oxygenate the entire body, including the digestive tract."
3. Increase Your Enzyme Intake
Enzymes, biologically active proteins found throughout the body, play an important role in digestion. While many are produced in the digestive tract, the enzymes found in raw foods are also needed for good digestion. "Most Americans eat overcooked, overprocessed foods that lack the natural enzymes found in raw foods," says Dr. Steven Lamm, an internist in New York City who specializes in treating digestive ailments. Age also plays a role in digestive health. Enzyme production declines in adults with every passing decade, according to Lamm. He recommends trying enzyme supplements for most forms of maldigestion.