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The human digestive system breaks down the food we eat to release energy and nutrients. Good digestion is the ability to absorb the nutrients broken down without any uncomfortable symptoms. The NHS believes around 4 in 10 people have at least one digestive system problem at any one time, of which the most common are stomach aches, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and heartburn. Most of the digestive system problems experienced are due to lifestyle, the food we consume and stress and can be treated at home, although some digestive problems are more serious and require medical intervention such as IBS and lactose intolerance.
The gastrointestinal tract is between seven and ten meters and begins at the mouth. This is where our teeth, tongue and saliva begin to grind down the food into smaller particles and begin the initial nutrient absorption. The food is then taken down the oesophagus into the stomach where gastric juices continue breaking it down and add moisture to the food. Then, in the small intestine, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes are all absorbed. Finally, the large intestine removes what we don’t need and absorbs any remaining water and electrolytes.
Digestive enzymes are proteins released into the digestive system which play a key role in breaking down food and release the nutrients ready to be absorbed by the body. Various glands in the body release these enzymes but if these glands are damaged or non-functioning, a digestive enzyme supplement may be necessary. Sufferers of bloating and indigestion may benefit from taking Enzymedica Digest Complete which is a gentle formula of digestive enzymes and is suitable for vegans.
Probiotics are living organisms known as ‘friendly’ bacteria which you can find in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso and kombucha. They compete for space and food with the ‘bad’ bacteria and prevent them from settling in the gut. Optibac For Every Day contain live bacteria cultures which settle throughout the digestive system to treat symptoms of a poor gut.
Prebiotics are found in the fibre of certain high fibre foods which can feed the ‘friendly’ bacteria in your gut. The NHS recommends eating 30g of fibre per day but most people in the UK only reach 18g a day! To reach the daily recommended target and improve your digestive health try implementing Lepicol Whole Psyllium Husks which are high in fibre and produce a viscous gel for maintaining smooth bowel transit. Terranova Probiotic Complex With Prebiotics combines the benefits of both types of bacteria in a highly active vegan supplement and also contain beetroot and greens juice to provide a boost of vitamins and minerals.
Certain foods such as processed carbohydrates like white refined bread, rice and pasta are low in fibre and nutrients and may contribute to poor gut health. Processed meat, sugar, certain artificial sweeteners and alcohol also have the potential to cause symptoms of poor digestion. Instead, try including more wholegrain and plant-based foods as well as oily fish which contains omega-3. Omega-3 has been seen to increase the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut and produce anti-inflammatory chemicals which can protect against disease! If vegan, vegetarian or if you don’t eat fish, omega-3 supplements such as BioCare Vegan Omega 3 or Together Vegan Omega 3 DHA Rich Algae are ideal to improve gut health, as well as aid normal brain and heart function.