Digestion for Christmas Part 2

By Gwen Bastian-Enright, MSc, dipNT, mNTOI

As well as herbal teas, spices and digestive enzymes that we looked at in Part 1 – let’s look at the effects of stomach acid and exercise on digestion to help you support those large meals over Christmas!

When you smell and see food, your stomach starts producing acid (HCL), which helps to begin breaking down food (this does start in the mouth already), mixing it around much like a washing machine would do. When this then passes into the small intestine, the food has already been broken down into much smaller pieces at the right acidity levels for the nutrients to be absorbed from the food you have eaten.

When we do not produce enough stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) we can experience signs and symptoms such as reflux, burping, bloating, indigestion, brittle nails, nausea when taking vitamins, upset stomach and heartburn (Dix, 2018). Why do some of us produce insufficient acid? The following may all contribute: chronic stress, use of medication such as antibiotics, NSAIDs and proton pump inhibitors (e.g. Nexium); H. pylori infection, eating too quickly or on the go as well as simply getting older (Jockers, 2016). Certain nutrients are also important for acid production, and without acid we also don’t absorb enough of them, for example zinc. To increase stomach acid and to help you digest some of the bigger meals over Christmas you could try warm water and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar about 20 minutes before the meal, take a zinc supplement or digestive enzymes with HCL. However, simply preparing your own meals, smelling and looking at the food before you start eating and then eating mindfully and enjoying each bite can also help to increase acid production (Axe, 2015).

Exercise has been said to support digestion for a long time, however it is only more recently that some of the mechanisms have been identified. One of these is the effect of exercise on bacterial diversity in the gut (UHN, 2017) with athletes having a more diverse gut microbiota. And the easiest way to exercise to support digestion? Walking! Walking has been shown to support digestion overall, as well as positively affecting the gut bacteria (Cortes, 2019).

In summary then, to support your digestion over the festive period, you may wish to do any of the following:

  • Go for a daily walk to stimulate digestion and your gut bacteria
  • Support stomach acid production
  • Eat foods rich in digestive enzyme or take a supplement
  • Take herbs & spices such as peppermint, fennel or ginger

References:

Axe, J. (2015) 5 Steps to Naturally Heal Low Stomach Acid [online] available from: https://draxe.com/health/low-stomach-acid/

Cortes, J. (2019) Walking Helps Improve Digestion, Study Finds [online] available from: https://www.medicaldaily.com/walking-helps-improve-digestion-study-finds-445214

Dix, M. (2018) What Is Hypochlorhydria? [online] available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/hypochlorhydria

Jockers, D. (2016) Causes and Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid [online] available from: https://drjockers.com/symptoms-low-stomach-acid/

UHN (2017) The Benefits of Exercise for Digestive Health [online] available from: https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/digestive-health/the-benefits-of-exercise-for-digestive-health/