Probiotics Archives - Wakunaga of America

Yoga Poses for Better Digestion

We’re talking about yoga! In addition to its other health benefits, including increased flexibility, increased muscle strength, improved energy, and increased circulatory health, there is another little known benefit, and it has to do with your digestion. You can think of your yoga exercises as a massage for your internal organs. If you’re dealing with gut issues, gentle yoga poses and deep breathing are great ways to relax the gut. Yoga is also very detoxifying, a key factor in improving digestion. The twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion, and encourage your liver and kidneys to flush out toxins1. Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area.

Understanding Digestion

Before we get more into yoga and look at special poses to help with digestion, let’s talk a little more about digestion. The body uses the process of digestion to break down food into a form that can be absorbed and used for fuel. The organs of the digestive system are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and the small and large intestine. More organs than you thought, right? Recognizing how these organs work together is important in understanding how digestion works.

The digestive process starts in the mouth. Even before you eat, the anticipation of eating stimulates the glands in the mouth to produce saliva. The digestive system carries out three main processes in the mouth, mixing food, moving food through the digestive tract, and then using chemicals to break down this food. Next up is the esophagus. This is a long, muscular tube connecting your mouth to your stomach. When you swallow, the muscles squeeze together, moving food downwards to the stomach. The stomach contains hydrochloric acid and enzymes that starts the process of breaking down food. The muscles in the stomach churn food and break it all down into a liquid. The small intestine is where most chemical digestion happens, using bile and enzymes. The large intestine, commonly known as the colon, absorbs water and electrolytes. Bacteria here produces Vitamin K and biotin. The pancreas then secretes hormones including insulin and glucagon, as well as digestive enzymes to further break down carbs, fats, and proteins. The gallbladder stores bile, a liquid made by your liver, which helps digest fats and some vitamins. Lastly, your liver produces hormones, stores glycogen (used for energy), breaks down red blood cells so that we can replace them with healthy ones, synthesizes proteins, and detoxifies2.

Deeper Dive Into Yoga

The reason yoga is so beneficial for your digestion, is because it can help to relieve some common digestive problems, like constipation, stomach pain, gas, and even acid reflux, with that gentle massaging action that we mentioned earlier. There are many yoga poses that can stimulate the intestines, pancreas, and stomach, helping keep these organs strong and healthy.

Certain yoga poses have been known to bring about the following improvements: eliminate constipation problems, decrease gas, increase production of mucous, reduce acid, improve absorption of food, and even improve gastrointestinal circulation3. It is important to note though, if you plan on practicing a few yoga poses for healthy digestion, there are a few precautions to take. The first, is to perform yoga poses in the mornings, on an empty stomach. Also, try not to hurry to do each pose, practice breathing and relax. Refrain from practicing yoga if you have just had a surgery or suffer from appendicitis, hernia, or other abdominal injury.

Without further ado, here are the top two yoga poses for better digestion:

Downward Facing Dog

Begin in this post in a plank position, arms and feet hip-distance apart, hands and feet grounded. Begin to lift your hips upwards, strengthening your core and letting your head drop. Have a slight bend in your knees, gently pulling your shoulders away from your ears and lengthening your spine. Hold position for 1-3 minutes, and repeat 8-10 times.

Cat/Cow Posture

From a seated position, get onto your hands and knees, knees hip-distance apart.  Place hands firmly on the ground/mat. Have your shoulders positioned beneath your hands. Inhale deeply, bringing your shoulders back, raising your face and looking upwards and lift your hips, gently, curving your back. Hold, and deeply exhale, curving your back upwards, dropping your head and look downwards, and pull your sit bones inwards. Repeat 10 times.

In addition to improving digestion, these poses may also contribute to increased relaxation, and restore energy. Good luck, and namaste!

 

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Why are Prebiotics Important…and What Are Synbiotics?

Prebiotics vs Probiotics

The lining of your gut, just like every surface of your body, is covered with tiny tiny creatures, mostly bacteria. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem known as the microbiome. Even though we can’t see our microbiome or these tiny bacteria that live on our skin and in our gut, we know that they play a role, and a big role at that, in our health and well-being.

What you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health. And the healthier it is, the healthier you are. There are two ways to maintain a balanced microbiome, the first is by helping the microbes that are already there to grow by giving them foods they like (prebiotics) and the second is by adding living microbes directly into your system (probiotics).1

Prebiotic-rich foods are high in special types of fiber that support your digestive health. They promote the increase of friendly bacteria in the gut, and help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Prebiotic foods have also been known to support a healthy metabolism and maintain overall good health.2 Prebiotics are found in lots of fruits and vegetables, especially foods that contain complex carbohydrates, like fiber and starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for your bacteria.

Probiotics, on the other hand, are different because they contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Just like with prebiotics, you can get your probiotics “fix” through both food and supplements. Let’s take a look at some pro-and-prebiotic rich foods.

Prebiotic and Probiotic Rich Foods

Your body cannot completely break down prebiotics, so these compounds pass through the upper part of your GI tract undigested. As they pass through your small intestine and reach your colon, they are fermented by your gut microflora. This fermentation process feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, helping them to produce essential nutrients which nourish your digestive system.3

Some prebiotic rich foods that can help to feed your good gut bacteria are: apples, garlic, asparagus, leeks, bananas, dandelion greens, onions, and jicama.

Like we mentioned above, prebiotics pass through your digestive system without being broken down by digestive enzymes, and they become an important source of fuel for the probiotics in your gut. Prebiotics and probiotics work closely together to maintain the balance in your microbiome. As a result, they can help to support important bodily functions, lower inflammation, and support healthy digestion and immune fuction.4

Some great probiotic rich foods are: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and pickles.

We didn’t forget about synbiotics! First of all…what are they? The term “synbiotics” refers to the combination of probiotics and prebiotics, working together, in synergy, to improve a person’s health via the microbiome. Studies have shown that when prebiotics are added to probiotics, there is improved viability of the probiotic. This means that if you combine probiotics with prebiotic “food,” for those probiotics, those live cells are more likely to survive and thrive in your gut.5 Synbiotic supplements make it easy to get the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in one capsule to help feed the good bacteria and maintain bacterial balance in the microbiome.

By adding both pre and probiotic rich foods to your diet, and considering adding these as supplements to your regimen, you can help to support and repair your gut, keeping it and your health in the best shape possible.

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Men and The Microbiome

According to a report by the Men’s Health Network, women are 3-4 times more likely than men to see a primary care doctor or a specialist for GI-related problems.”1 This is why it is so important to talk about men’s digestive issues. In this blog, we will explore several common digestive issues in men, and take a look at what can help men fend off these issues going forward. But first, let’s talk about how gut flora is different between men and women.


Men vs. Women: Microbiota

There are an endless number of differences between men and women. Did you know that one of those differences is that eating exactly the same diet affects the gut microbiota composition of men and women differently? The food we eat and our lifestyles can alter the bacteria living inside our digestive systems, especially those responsible for warding off diseases and helping us digest food.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions have taken into account the impact that gender and nutrition have on our gut flora. The researchers there found that eating the same food has a different effect in gut microbiota of males and females. “Our study asks not just how diet influences the gut bacteria, but it splits the hosts into males and females and asks: Do males show the same effects as females?”, said Daniel Bolnick, a professor at the University of Texas and lead author of the study. To investigate this question, scientists decided to look at the gut bacteria in two species of fish and in mice, and also conducted re-analysis of data from prior studies on humans. The results of this study show that while there was little sex-driven microbial variability in mice, the fish and human digestive microbiota changes in response to diets were clearly different in males and females, including species diversity and population2. It is not quite clear why men and women react differently to diet, but researchers think that hormones associated with each sex might affect the composition of gut microbiota, but more testing is needed.

Digestive Issues Common in Men

Here are some of the more common digestive issues that men typically experience.

Acid Reflux

Many men may be experiencing significant symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, but are less willing to seek help than women. This may explain why four times as many men die of esophageal cancer than women.3 Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows up the esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest. It’s caused by a malfunctioning sphincter that either fails to stay closed or doesn’t open at the right time. Long term acid reflux can become a serious issue, since it can damage your esophagus and eventually turn into Gerd (chronic acid reflux).4 Acid reflux symptoms can be reduced or prevented through diet and lifestyle changes like avoiding chocolate, spicy foods, coffee, and citrus foods.

Ulcers

Ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach and upper intestine. They usually appear between ages 30 and 50 and are more common in men than women.5 Symptoms of ulcers include pain in the abdomen, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and heartburn. They can be caused by bacterial infection, and overuse of pain relievers like aspirin (they are not caused by stress, like movies make you think).6 To reduce your risk of getting an ulcer, avoid tobacco products, alcohol, and try not to over-use medications like aspirin.

Colon Cancer

Men have a slightly higher risk than women for developing colon cancer. If you are over 50, you should be screened regularly for colon cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you should be screened at age 40. Catching it early is key. Some common risk factors for colon cancer include: poor diet, inactive lifestyle, being overweight, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and IBS7.

How Probiotics Can Help

When you supplement with probiotics, you’re essentially repopulating your gut with the healthy bacteria it needs to maintain a balanced microbiome. As a refresher, good bacteria keeps you healthy by supporting your immune function and controlling inflammation. Probiotics also help your body digest foods, keeps bad bacteria from making you sick, and helps support the cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria that you may have consumed (through food or drinks) from entering your blood.8 When choosing a probiotic, look for one that has clinically studied bacterial strains proven to be effective in supporting your gut health, is acid resistant (so bacteria can survive the journey to the intestine to replicate), are DNA sequence verified (to ensure accuracy of documented strains), have live cell viability until they expire (meaning you want to make sure its bacteria count is guaranteed through expiration), and one that doesn’t require refrigeration, so you can toss it in your bag as you travel.

Don’t let digestive issues get a free pass! It is important to pay attention to signs and symptoms. If you or somebody you know is experiencing a GI problem, contact your primary care physician for further guidance.

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.


References

  1. https://www.gastrova.com/article/4-digestive-problems-common-men/
  2. https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/the-same-diet-affects-womens-and-mens-gut-microbiota-differently/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/news/20111018/men-women-may-experience-acid-reflux-differently#2
  4. https://www.gastrova.com/article/4-digestive-problems-common-men/
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/digestive-health/peptic-ulcer-overview
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/stomach-ulcer-diet
  7. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  8. https://probiotics.com/know-more/all-about-probiotics/what-are-probiotics

Taking and Storing Your Probiotics: The Do’s and Don’ts

In this blog post, we will review some best practices for “caring for” your probiotics, so that you will be confident they are stored in the right way,  you will know when and how to take them, and more.


Shopping for a Probiotic

As a quick refresher, when shopping for a probiotic, many people believe that more is better, when it comes to colony forming units (CFUs). So they grab whatever product boasts the highest number. There is no standard recommended daily dose for probiotics, but research suggests aiming for one to two billion live CFUs to maintain good health. If you are taking antibiotics, have digestive problems, or suffer from Candida or frequent urinary tract infections though, you may want to boost that amount.1

One more thing, when choosing a probiotic look for one that lists expiry at time of consumption, not at time of manufacture. What does “expiry” mean? “Expiry,” or expiration date, refers to a previously determined date after which something should no longer be used. The date should be stamped on the side or bottom of the bottle. This is important to look for on your probiotics label, because many times, if you continue taking your probiotic after expiration, it will not be as effective if the live cells have perished. In general, quality probiotics have a shelf life of 2 to 4 years.

How to Take Your Probiotic

When deciding how many capsules to take as part of your daily serving, it is helpful to check the label and read the instructions in the Suggested Use section. This lets you know what the proper serving size is for the probiotic you purchased. Many times, the serving size is not just one pill, but two. And some suggest taking them more than once a day.

Should you take probiotics on an empty stomach, or with food? Here is what we know. In general, probiotics should be taken with food. They should be taken with food because there are very few strains of bacteria the can withstand the harsh acidity of an empty stomach. Food dilutes stomach acid to levels that bacteria can withstand. We also know that fewer bacteria have been shown to survive in “fasted” than in fed subjects.2

The illustration on the left shows pH variations in the stomach after eating. You can see that the stomach’s pH level is higher (less acidic) after eating, which means that the bacterial strains are better able to survive.

How to Store Your Probiotic

Let’s remember, probiotics are made up of living organisms, and as such, they will survive longer when kept in a cool, dry environment. Your kitchen or bathroom cabinet is a good spot. Look for probiotics that are packaged in amber or dark color glass. This helps to protect them from moisture and light damage. And you may want to reconsider keeping your probiotics stored in your day-of-the-week pill organizer. We know there are some cool organizers on Amazon, but they could compromise the effectiveness of your probiotics, if they are exposed to light, temperature changes, and humidity. Best practice is to only keep a few days of servings in a portable pill caddy at a time. Refill from the bottle stored in a dry, cool, environment.3

Some probiotics need to be refrigerated, but if possible, choose a probiotic that is “shelf stable,” meaning they can be safely stored at room temperature, and do not require refrigeration. This makes your life a little easier, and also makes it more convenient for you to take your probiotics when you travel (because airports don’t typically have a mini fridge for you to store your supplements).

Common Side Effects When Starting Probiotics

In general, probiotics do not cause any significant side effects, have been clinically studied for decades and are generally regarded as safe. At the same time, probiotics can affect everyone differently. It’s common to experience some mild stomach upset, gas, or bloating when you first start taking probiotics. Some experts believe these fleeting symptoms are a result of the “bad” bacteria dying off in the new healthier environment. If your symptoms are bothersome, try avoiding inflammatory foods (like sugary or processed options) and load up on anti-inflammatory antioxidants instead.

If symptoms continue, it’s possible that you are taking bacterial strains that may not be compatible with your system. You may want to try a different combination of probiotics that are in line with your health goals. While this process would take a little time and trial and error to find a match, it will be worth it for supporting your microbiome and overall well-being.

Remember, take care of your probiotics and they will take care of you!

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

 

The Importance of Probiotic Bacterial Strains

The microbiome affects almost every part of your body – your immunity, heart health, brain health, oral health…even your allergies! What’s tricky, is that there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to choosing your probiotic supplement, more specifically, the bacterial species and strains in your probiotic. The bacterial species that work well for your grandmother, will not necessarily be the best ones for you. The best probiotic for you depends on which good bacteria your body specifically needs. While you can go the route of testing each and every probiotic supplement (which takes time) and seeing how your body responds, you can also try listening to your body. Do you typically have a lot of digestive problems? Do you get sick often? Are you lactose intolerant? Your answers to these questions can shed some light on which types of species are right for you1. So we are here today to talk about which species do what. Buckle up, and let’s dive into the world of bacterial species!

First, let’s review the nomenclature.  Probiotic bacteria are classified as Genus – Species – Strains, i.e. Lactobacillus is the genus, gasseri is the species and the number after it is the strain code.  Knowing the “species” helps to more closely identify the specific characteristics of the bacteria genus. And the strain code provides even more detail on exactly which bacteria is in a supplement.  Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the two main genera (plural for genus) of probiotic bacteria. We’ll discuss the next level, the ‘species’, to better help you target which probiotic may be best for your needs.

Why the Bacteria in Your Gut Matters

Your gut microbiota contains about 100 trillion bacteria. That’s ten times more than the cells in your body! What’s more, there are more than 3 million microbial genes in your gut microbiota – that’s 150 times more than are in the entire human genome2. Simply put, without bacteria, you wouldn’t exist.

The beneficial bacteria in your intestine perform a multitude of important tasks. Not only do the human strains that naturally live in your gut favorably alter the microflora in the large and small intestines, they also promote good digestion and a healthy intestinal lining. One of their most important roles though, is that they protect your body against harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses. They also help your body synthesize vitamins and absorb nutrients, and directly interact with your immune system to improve your overall health.

Human Strains vs. Other Strains

When it comes to choosing a probiotic, many people are beginning to look more closely at the source of the bacteria in their probiotic supplement. While some probiotic bacteria are sourced from plants or dairy, some also come from humans. You may be asking, what are human strain probiotics? Despite the name, human strain probiotics don’t actually contain human byproducts or ingredients. They are simply strains of beneficial bacteria that have been found to live in the human digestive tract3. This means that they are already adapted to thrive in the human gut. Bottom line, human strains can help make a probiotic supplement more effective.

Know Your Species

There are dozens of friendly bacterial species found in commercial probiotics, and they all help the body in different ways. Here are some of the most beneficial species for a healthy gastrointestinal tract4, and what each species can help with:

Bifidobacterium bifidum: Strengthens gastrointestinal immunity.

Bifidobacterium breve: Reduces intestinal inflammation and boosts the immune system

Bifidobacterium infantis: Improves IBS symptoms and helps eliminate E. coli in the gut.

Bifidobacterium lactis: Promotes good colon health.

Bifidobacterium longum: Enhances immunity. Effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. May also reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

Lactobacillus gasseri: Produces vitamin K, lactase, and anti-microbial substances. May help people with lactose intolerance digest dairy foods. Helps prevent indigestion and diarrhea, as well as yeast infections. L. gasseri also shows promise in healthy weight management.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Boosts cellular immunity. Reduces IBS symptoms and helps prevent recurrent bacterial vaginosis.

One of the hallmarks of a great probiotic supplement is if its species and strains have been clinically researched, and even more than that, if they have been clinically researched as the combined blend that is found in the supplement. Now, many probiotics out there do say “clinically studied” on their packaging, but oftentimes they are referring to clinical studies that have been carried out for each of the species, separately. The best-case scenario is if the probiotic’s combined species have been researched together which adds to the studies’ validity. For example, let’s say your probiotic contains these three species: Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum. A clinical study reflecting the benefits of this blend of bacteria, not just each as a standalone bacterial species, is all the better, because then you have proof that they work well together, and you can see from the clinical study which gut health benefits you can look forward to enjoying.

Finding the right probiotic for your needs means looking a little deeper into the species and strains, and really assessing what specific benefits you are looking for. Choose a probiotic with species that are diverse and are compatible together. This can provide the beneficial support for good gut health that you need.

References

  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/probiotic-bacteria-strains/slide/2/
  2. https://kyolic.com/the-story-behind-human-strain-probiotics/
  3. https://kyolic.com/the-story-behind-human-strain-probiotics/
  4. https://kyolic.com/healthyguides/The-Good-Gut/index.html?page=10

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid While Healing Your Gut

These are all classic signs that your gut health may be veering more towards the unhealthy side of the scale. Most of us experience one or all of these symptoms at least once in our lives. While most digestive distress is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, if your symptoms become chronic, it may signal that the body is not getting all the nutrients it needs for optimal health. Before we get into some good nutritional practices for optimal gut health, let’s touch on some common “enemies” of a healthy gut, to bring some awareness to these gastrointestinal threats.

Here are some of the biggest threats to your digestive health1:

  • Exposure to harmful chemicals, such as mercury and mold that damage normal gut function.
  • Overuse of medication such as antacids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and antibiotics.
  • Alcohol overindulgence. A joint study from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical School and the Mayo Clinic has found that even moderate alcohol consumption may lead to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and can trigger bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • The Standard American Diet, which is low in fiber and nutrients, and is packed with sugar, gluten, and chemical additives.
  • Chronic stress, which can alter the gut’s nervous system. Over time, stress can compromise your intestinal integrity.

Now that you know what to watch out for when monitoring your digestive health, let’s move onto diet, and see how that factors in. When it comes to maintaining your microbiome at its healthiest level, nothing is more important than what you eat and drink. To feed your gut well, trade in highly processed foods for fresh fruits and vegetables, fish like salmon, and lean sources of protein like organic poultry2. Whole, minimally processed foods foster a healthy balance of good to bad bacteria. Sugar and processed carbohydrate, on the other hand, feed your bad bacteria.

The good news is that even a lifetime, yes, a lifetime, of bad eating is fixable, as far as your microbes are concerned. Your body can actually create new microbiota in as little as 24 hours, just by changing what you eat, which is pretty miraculous. When it comes to foods that will help repair your gut and keep it in good shape, there are two categories: prebiotics and probiotics. This is probably why you’ve been seeing somewhat of a surge in popularity of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, they are all great natural sources of probiotics. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are fibers we don’t digest, so they are consumed by the good bacteria in our gut. Here are some of the top foods for better gut health3:

Kimchi: This fermented cabbage staple is rich in two different classes of good bacteria associated with better gut health, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Research shows that fermented kimchi alters the bacterial environment of the gut, potentially reducing the risk of insulin resistance, obesity, and even high blood pressure.

Garlic: In addition to providing inulin fiber, garlic is also rich in the natural prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Research has shown that garlic increases the good Bifidobacterium in our gut, which may help prevent some gastrointestinal diseases and irregularity.

Apples: An apple a day keeps the doctor away…which may be due to its pectin content. Pectin makes up about half of the fiber content in apples and has been shown in some research to increase the total SCFA content (i.e. bacteria’s favorite food) in the bowels. It also appears to reduce bad bacteria in the gut as well.

Now that we know some of the top ‘good gut’ foods, here are the top 3 foods (or drinks) you should avoid, in order to protect your gut health:

Alcohol: We know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for our overall health, but it turns out that it is pretty bad for our gut health, in particular. Research looking at alcoholics suggests that chronic alcohol intake is associated with negative changes in the bacterial microbiome.

Saturated fat: A diet high in saturated fats and trans fat may not be so healthy for the gut. Studies have shown that a diet rich in these fats (like fat from butter or fatty meats) may increase the bad gut bacteria population and decrease the good gut bacteria population.

High animal protein diet: Research has linked animal products like red meat, to an unfavorable microbiome. Studies show that red meat may reduce the beneficial short-chain fatty acids that help feed the bacterial community, promote the growth of bad bacteria, and potentially increase the risk of IBS.

Get your gut on the right path by swapping in (or out) some of the foods listed above, and help your microbiome flourish.

References

  1. https://www.kyolic.com/healthyguides/The-Good-Gut/index.html?page=12
  2. https://www.bulletproof.com/gut-health/gut-health-microbiome/
  3. https://www.rallyhealth.com/food/the-best-and-worst-foods-for-your-gut

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Sherry Torkos Talks About the “Power of Probiotics” on Retro Television Network

Sherry also discusses Kids Kyo-Dophilus, and how beneficial probiotics are for children.

Click here to watch the full interview.

About Sherry Torkos

Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care.

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

How Diaphragmatic Breathing Can Help Digestion

It’s hard to believe that something as simple as taking a few deep breaths can transform your body, state of mind, and digestion, yet science shows that it does. Deep breathing sends a message to your brain that has a calming effect. Deep breathing in it of itself can lower your heart rate and breathing rate, decrease your blood pressure, reduce muscle tension and help you feel less stressed overall1. The best part is that these breathing exercises require no special equipment or supplies…they can be done by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The Power of Deep Breathing

As it turns out, there actually is a “wrong” way to exhale, and experts claim that bad habits in the respiratory department are more common than you’d think. “Breathing is something we do 15,000 times a day, so that what ends up happening is that it can become habitual in a positive or negative way,” said Patricia Ladis, a physiotherapist and certified behavioral breathing expert2. Many of our breathing patterns were picked up in childhood, she says – for instance, if you lived in a stressful home or had traumatic experiences at school, your adult self may be more prone to unconsciously hyperventilate or hold your breath when you’re in tense situations. Other people can develop disordered breathing in response to things like injury, pregnancy, or chronic pain.

When you start breathing correctly, there are a whole litany of benefits that you can expect to enjoy. One of the greatest benefits is that it can greatly reduce your anxiety. When you reach a breath rhythm of inhaling and exhaling for a count of five or more, it changes the nervous system, taking the body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the digest-and-rest mode3. The fight or flight response causes blood to move from the gut to the larger muscles, which interferes with digestion, weakens the immune system and increases inflammation. These changes don’t last long, and in the short term, they are not harmful and may even be helpful, but when they happen time and time again, they can hurt your health. The good news is that you can learn to “turn off” this automatic response through deep breathing. Taking slow, deep breathes creates a “relaxation response” that calms the mind and body. Abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is one of the easiest, most effective ways to reduce muscle tension and stop the fight or flight response4.

Diaphragmatic breathing is especially helpful to those experiencing GI issues. Focusing one’s breath is an effective way to help the body to relax. When practicing this type of breathing, the stomach, rather than the chest, moves with each breath, expanding while inhaling, and contracting while exhaling. Some general benefits of diaphragmatic breathing are that it can lower the heart rate, increase blood oxygenation, bring warmth to the hands and feet, improve concentration, reduce stress hormones, and more. But for those suffering with GI issues specifically, diaphragmatic breathing offers specific benefits. Activating the diaphragm creates a gentle massaging action felt by internal organs like the intestines and stomach, which can reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating, and constipation5. This breathing can also help in these specific GI situations:

  • Diarrhea and urgency: Diaphragmatic breathing can help calm the digestive tract and ease moments of panic (i.e. I MUST get to the bathroom right now).
  • Constipation: Diaphragmatic breathing can be used while sitting on the toilet attempting to have a bowel movement, to calm and massage the system.

Quick Guide to Deep Breathing

Here is a quick step-by-step guide on how you can get the most from your deep breathing.

  • Find a comfortable, quiet location and lie in a flat or reclined position
  • Place one hand on your abdomen, and one hand on your chest
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen to push your hand up. Only breathe in as deeply as is comfortable (your chest should remain still)
  • Exhale through the mouth and gently blow out
  • Your abdomen should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out
  • Repeat these steps until you count up to 10

Taking calm, deep breathes is easy, and you can start now. It can take weeks or even months, to fully realize the benefits of abdominal breathing.  But take a deep breath and hang in there, because it’s worth it!

References

  1. https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2017-01-05/how-to-improve-your-health-through-breath
  2. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/breathing-exercises-for-better-health/
  3. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/Breathing.html
  4. https://www.loyolamedicine.org/blog/breathing-stress-improve-digestive
  5. https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/diaphragmatic-breathing-gi-patients

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Gut Function 101

Within 24-72 hours, the food we eat makes its way through the entire digestive system. The process begins in the mouth. When we chew, enzymes released in our saliva begin breaking down the food. The food is then swallowed and transported to the stomach, where more processing takes place. Breaking down food into energy requires some pretty harsh chemicals. When food enters the stomach, it is sprayed with hydrochloric acid and enzymes. The thick mucus coating that lines the inside of the stomach protects it from this acidic environment.

On the Move

Some very significant actions occur during each step of the digestive process, but the real magic happens in your small and large intestines. Once food travels from the stomach into the small intestine, the gut releases immune cells that check for bacterial contaminants. If contaminants are found, they are normally destroyed so they can be safely eliminated without making you sick. The walls of the small intestine absorb the water and nutrients extracted from food, transporting them across the intestinal lining into the bloodstream.

A healthy intestinal lining allows only these properly digested fats, protein, carbohydrates, along with vitamins and minerals, to pass into the blood stream. Those nutrients are then delivered to the cells. A healthy intestinal lining also acts as a barrier to keep out disease-causing bacteria, foreign substances, and larger undigested food particles.

After a journey through about 25 feet of small intestine, the partially digested food makes its way to the large intestine – also called the colon. This is where the remaining food is transformed into stool so that the body can eliminate it.

When Things Go Wrong

As complicated as digestion is, it’s no wonder most of us have experienced digestive upset at one time or another. While most digestive upsets are nothing more than a minor inconvenience, if symptoms become chronic, it may signal that the body isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs for optimal health. Here are the most common conditions that can upend your gastrointestinal tract:

Constipation – Having three of fewer bowel movements per week, and hard, dry stools – plagues about 20 percent of us, and becomes more prevalent as we age. Stress, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, food allergies, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut (known as dysbiosis), and a lack of digestive enzymes are common constipation triggers. Other, less obvious causes include prescription drugs (such as antidepressants, antacids, and some pain medications), hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

Diarrhea – Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a gastrointestinal bug, antibiotics, food poisoning, or even stress. Normally, short-term diarrhea lasts just a day or two and typically goes away on its own. However, diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. If diarrhea lasts for four weeks or more, see a healthcare provider as this may signal a chronic disease.

Gastroenteritis – This is a catch-all phrase that doctors often use to describe any irritation of the stomach and intestines. Marked by nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and a low-grade fever, true gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria, or a parasite. The most common culprit is the norovirus, which spreads through contaminated food or water, and by contact with an infected person.

Since a well-functioning GI tract is responsible for processing every morsel of food you eat and turning it into the fuel your body needs to perform at its best, treat it well! One step you can take is to feed your gut’s beneficial bacteria with probiotics, from foods or with a supplement. Look for a probiotic supplement that has been clinically studied, is shelf-stable, and aim for minimum of one to two billion CFUs to maintain good health.

References

  1. “The Good Gut” Healthy Living Guide, FreshLife Media, July 2019

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.