Do you struggle with digestive issues? Many of us deal with gut problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, leaky gut, or other digestive disorders.
While there are plenty of over-the-counter options to help boost stomach acid or otherwise soothe the discomfort of digestive problems, there are plenty of natural solutions you can try, too. Cultivating a healthy gut with lifestyle and diet changes is way better than popping a handful of Tums every day!
How to Improve Digestion
I’ve noticed a big change in my digestion since transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. The change has been most profound for our son, who struggled with allergies (and who had a complete turnaround thanks to the GAPS diet).
Here are a few of the things that I’ve found most helpful for fighting digestive issues like bloating, heartburn, indigestion, flatulence. Plus, they all aid in overall gut health naturally!
1. Start Drinking Bone Broth
There’s a reason that you crave a warm bowl of chicken soup when you’re feeling sick. One of the best things you can do for your gut health — and overall health — is to start consuming real, nutrient-dense bone broth on a daily basis, even when you’re feeling well.
Broth made from whole simmered animal bones is incredibly nourishing. It’s packed with minerals, gut-soothing gelatin, lipids, and calcium. Bone broth’s natural gelatin content is the key player here, as it helps soothe the digestive tract and improve nutrient absorption. Our children get bone broth from a very early age, as it is also a great natural source of minerals.
It’s really easy to make your own bone broth right at home — the hardest part is planning in advance, since it takes at least eight hours to make.
Here’s a handy recipe that you can easily modify depending on what kinds of herbs and veggies you have on hand (but don’t skip the apple cider vinegar! It helps to extract all those lovely minerals from the bones that we’re after). If you don’t have the time to brew up your own batch, you can buy high-quality bone broth online.
Then, use your homemade or store-bought bone broth to make soups, or simply warm it up and drink it like tea. Remember that quality is important here, and true bone broth is different from most of the salty, watery broths that you’d find on your grocery store shelves.
If you aren’t able to make or buy bone broth, another option (though not quite as good) is to supplement with natural gelatin powder, which will confer some of the same health benefits.
2. Change Your Bathroom Posture
Turns out the simple act of sitting on the toilet could be causing more problems than we realize. New research (alongside age-old evidence) confirms that squatting to use the bathroom is more efficient and more natural, and can help limit the time we spend on the can. A squatting position enables our bodies to empty our bowels fully, which helps us avoid digestive disturbances and even hemorrhoids.
I’m not suggesting that you actually need to go squat out in a field in order to aid in good digestion. We simply need to adopt a more natural position on the toilet that mimics a squat, instead of the sitting position that has become standard.
You could instead try perching up on the toilet seat in a squat, though I personally don’t recommend trying this if you are pregnant, have balance issues, or simply aren’t already a very strong squatter.
At our house, we have a Squatty Potty in each bathroom as a simple way to improve bathroom posture. It’s simply a stool that elevates your legs while you sit, so you’re closer to a natural pooping position. Plus, our Squatty Potty is a great random conversation starter with visitors!
If you’d rather DIY the whole Squatty Potty thing, you could also use a couple of small upside-down buckets or a regular stool to get similar results.
3. Get Enough Magnesium
I’ve been a magnesium evangelist ever since it helped me manage my morning sickness while pregnant. It turns out that magnesium is also great for better digestion. I’ve gotten many emails from readers who were low on magnesium and who noticed digestive benefits when they focused on getting more magnesium in their diets.
Magnesium is essential for your overall health. It is the second most abundant mineral in the human body after potassium, and it is necessary for over 600 enzymatic reactions that benefit the brain, heart, skeletal system, and muscles.
As far as digestion is concerned, all you have to do is think about how magnesium works for your sleep to understand how it works. You know how a nighttime supplement of magnesium after dinner helps you get to rest quicker? Magnesium works similarly within your digestive tract, relaxing the intestinal wall to keep everything moving along smoothly.
So, how can you start getting more magnesium in your system? There are a couple of easy fixes:
- Season your food with healthy salt. Sea salt and pink Himalayan salt have ample amounts of magnesium, so be sure to use those instead of the iodized stuff.
- Take a bath. A warm bath with a handful of Epsom salt will let your skin absorb the magnesium directly. Bonus: You’ll sleep better that night, too!
- Supplement. If you still need a little extra, try using a magnesium skin oil or a time-release oral magnesium supplement to boost your levels. Many people notice an immediate digestive difference, but take it easy at first — loose stools may occur. Just start with a low dose and work your way up slowly.
4. Up the Probiotics
The human gut is teeming with bacteria, and this is vitally essential because we rely on a mix of bad and good bacteria in our microbiome to keep us healthy. Plus, much of our immune system and nervous system is located here in the gut — including both the large and small intestine. So, we need to be mindful of the balance of beneficial versus harmful bacteria in our system, because if it gets tipped in the wrong direction, a lot of digestive disturbances can follow.
The best way to give your beneficial gut bacteria a boost is to consume fermented foods or drinks regularly, like sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, or kimchi. These real food options are good sources of probiotics and enzymes and can help aid in nutrient absorption. Most of these foods you can make easily at home, and then you know exactly how long the ingredients have fermented — no preservatives necessary.
We don’t take many supplements regularly, but a Probiotics and postbiotic is something that everyone in our family takes daily. This easy lifestyle shift has made a big difference in digestive health for all of us.
Overall, I think that a combination of a good probiotic along with eating plenty of fermented foods and drinks can make a big difference in easing digestion and easing problems like belly bloat. Plus, it may even aid in weight loss.
5. Get Regular Exercise
It’s important to get moving every single day, as daily exercise can benefit your cardiovascular health, as well as your digestion.
The mixture of movement and gravity helps food travel through the digestive system, and directs blood flow to the digestive organs. You don’t have to run or do Zumba every day to get this benefit, either — frequent low-level activity like walking is an excellent aid to digestion.
The sedentary modern lifestyle of sitting all day puts a kink in the digestive process and makes normal digestion more difficult. For a quick and easy fix, walk a few miles at a comfortable pace each day. Bonus points if you do it as a family or with your significant other and get some quality time, too!
6. Eat More (Healthy) Fat!
When we’re feeling stopped up, the most common advice we hear is to avoid protein and dairy products in favor of more fiber. While this might work for some, research shows that an excess of fiber might actually impair our mineral absorption. With this in mind, it’s important not to overdo it on the fiber.
Instead, consider getting more healthy fats into your diet. Since fat is slippery and helps move things along, those who struggle with constipation can benefit from regularly consuming healthy fats such as coconut oil, grass-fed butter, free-range animal fats (including lard and tallow) and unheated olive oil.
The fats we don’t consume ever? Vegetable oils and margarine (here’s why).
It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with ways to eat all these healthy fats, but in case you’re stuck, try one of my favorite ways to boost healthy fat consumption — a mug of bulletproof coffee!
7. Stand (and Sit) Up Tall
Just as bathroom position affects digestive health, our posture matters as well.
What does posture have to do with digestion? When you’re slouching, your circulation suffers — and we need a healthy amount of blood flow to our digestive organs to help them do their job.
Although sitting up tall is great for keeping your circulatory system working properly, there are other things you can do as well:
- Get up from your desk. While walking more and sitting less is ideal, it’s not always possible. If you have a desk job, try to make it a point to get up and stretch every 30 minutes or so. Set up your office to support movement with a variety of sitting, standing, and even walking options.
- Don’t lie down right after eating. Your body digests more slowly when you’re lying down, so be sure to stay upright after meals for optimal digestion and better absorption of carbs.
- Try belly breathing. Taking deep breaths from your diaphragm can train your body to relax its internal organs, preventing gas from becoming trapped.
It’s easy to forget our posture, but if you can remember to sit (or stand) up straight every time you catch yourself slouching, your organs will have an easier time digesting.
If you struggle with poor digestion, try any of these tips to help detox your system, aid in elimination, and keep things running smoothly. These seven things have worked great for my family and me, but I’m not a doctor and can’t tell you what your individual body needs the most. Consider meeting with a nutritionist or health care professional to uncover hidden food sensitivities, make a customized diet plan, and get your digestion running in peak condition!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever had digestive troubles? What helped you? Share below!
Discussion (36 Comments)
My daughter has struggled with constipation all of her life. I took her to a chiropractor who recommended drinking aloe juice, to loosen her up in the same way fats do! Otherwise, I’ve heard all of the recommendations before 🙂 There’s a lot of good info in this article!
Oil for bowl movement is new info to me. I eat a lot of veggies, but less oil. But recently had bowel issues. After reading this, I added some ghee to my dinner and next morning it gave me a happy tummy 😀 Love your blog!
I am really excited to try the water kefir. I have had digestive problems for a few years. All they have ever told me was to eat more fruits and veggies and more fiber. I eat a balanced diet the majority of the time and the more fiber i eat the more bloated and uncomfortable I am. I started eating a higer fat diet a few months ago and without realizing what was helping i became more regular. Recently i have moved and not been able to get back on track and was wondering why my digestion was so irregular again and i realized i have not been eating as much fat. Thanks for all the advice this was very helpful. I’m really excited to try Kefir i have never had it before.
One of the best things I have found is to drink plenty of clean water, filtered if you need to. I think the recommendation is to drink half the number of ounces of your body weight per day.
This may be a silly question, but why do you specify that the olive oil is never heated? I do most of my cooking with olive oil right now.
Because olive oil loses its benefits once it is heated.
Not only do heated oils (except coconut) lose benefits they damage your body
I have heard this from several sources. I just cook with water, then add olive oil or pasture butter when serving the food. I don’t notice the difference in taste.
The chemical structure of olive oil breaks in high temperature and chemically it start resembling bad oils that clog arteries and create problems. Research short, mid, and long chain fatty acids and oils. Heat stable, and not etc. And you will find out. Different oils are differently digested – that it why it matters.
Ever since starting this new diet with more fat and protein and no grains I have been more regular but I have had raging heartburn. I finally couldn’t take it anymore because the heartburn was so bad it was causing chest pain and started taking a proton pump inhibitor which I don’t like doing. Should adding a probiotic help with the reflux?
Yes it should, also Nopal cactus juice helps with heartburn a great deal! My boyfriend and I completely eliminated our reflux using the cactus juice, about a spoonful each meal. It’s months later and I don’t even have to take it anymore, and still no reflux.
I know that sea salt has magnesium but we just have himalayian pink salt in our house is that just as beneficial or should I be getting sea salt instead?
Himalayan salt is great too!
Real salt from our domestic primeval sea in Utah…sea salt has to be washed and the crystalline structure important to the way your body uses the salt is lost.
Fermented foods and drinks were a great help to me, as well as liquid ionic minerals. I also noticed a big difference since doing the gelatin with hot tea at bedtime. The thing that helped me the most was cleansing. Helped my body to not have to digest, still get calories and eliminate all the back up 🙂
When I was researching fiber in an attempt to make sure we were getting some, I learned that there are two kinds of fiber. One acts like a squeegee on your stomach and intestines, which is where everybody is getting this “eat fiber to poop” thing, but the other sits in your stomach giving you the feeling of being full. In fact, fiber cannot be digested by humans, and simply goes in one end and out the other without providing any kind of nutritional value. In researching which kinds of food have which kinds of fiber, I realized that most people eat the kind of fiber that just sits in your stomach.
When is the best time to take a daily probiotic? Before bed? In between meals? With food or empty stomach?
I take first thing in the morning and before bed, both on empty stomach…
Also you can make your own sauerkraut and eat it with meals as salad or in soups. Sauerkraut (home made) or raw that you can buy in Whole Foods has more probiotics than pills and is cheaper. I make my own sauerkraut and kombucha. Very easy and about no time to make both.
For me, exercise, especially long run and weight training works magic. Eating strawberries and kales is big help, too. Eating more fat, this is new but makes total sense. thanks for sharing.
I am on a plant based diet, whole foods, and I’ve increased my fat intake recently. And I have noticed exactly that – my digestion has improved, my stomach is flatter and I feel more satisfied. Right now, I eat as much as fats as I crave them and when I crave them. Avocados, hummus (home made), and very little of healthy oils. No fried stuff, of course.