– by Brendan Reid, Editor, and Aamir Subhan, Guest Editor –
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The digestive system is one of the most important parts of the human body, and generally it’s pretty resistant to most of the things we throw at it; but on occasion and in certain individuals it can be pretty finicky. Through it everything you eat is metabolized, and you are provided with the energy and nutrients you need for the day. Like any engine, the digestive system relies on a specific blend of fuel to function properly, and the fuel works optimally when the blend is calibrated properly. In today’s day and age, it is very easy for your body to become un-calibrated, for daily life seems to work against your health every chance it gets. Here are the four things you must manage for your digestion to function at its best. These points may seem rudimentary, but in the busy lives we live, it’s amazing how even simple things can be neglected.
1. Fluid Intake
Without water, the human body simply cannot survive. 60% of our body is made up of water, and fresh supplies must be brought in daily. Without the proper amount of water, the body simply becomes sluggish. The amount of fluid intake (water, juice, fruit, etc.) that is required varies from person to person, and the best way to know how much you need is to listen to your body; if you feel thirsty get some fluids! Water is needed in aiding the digestion process, and helps you to feel energetic and alert. A great way to increase water intake is by carrying a water bottle with you at all times, and by filling it up as needed. For some people however, such as those who suffer from acid reflex, a decrease in fluid intake at meal times can help alleviate discomfort. Listen to your body, and adjust accordingly.
The right food is integral in the management of digestive health. The best way to aid your body’s metabolism is by cutting back on overly refined and greasy products. If you find there are certain foods that give you discomfort, such as dairy or sugary foods, eliminate them and reintroduce them slowly, to see how your body reacts. Well-balanced, smaller meals throughout that day can also work wonders on your energy levels. Eating leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins while getting your daily fiber in proper amounts throughout the day will get your body into a regular digestive rhythm. It will have fewer unhealthy waste products to sort through, and as your body adjusts to its healthier diet, you will feel yourself becoming stronger with each passing day.
A proper sleep schedule is highly beneficial for your digestion. Both sleeping too much or too little can have dramatic effects on your digestive health. When you oversleep, food ends up staying in your body much longer than it needs to, and this stagnation causes gas and discomfort. Everyone has different sleep schedules they function best on. Some people can get by just fine on six hours, while others need nine. By finding a sleep schedule that works for you, you can live a much healthier day, and have an internal system that happily operates at regular hours. Here’s something to try to figure out your sleep needs: go to sleep one night with no alarm set (choose nights you don’t need to be up early the following morning) and see what time you naturally get up at. Try doing this a few times and that will give you an idea of the number of hours you need.
This is one of the most important, yet easily forgotten, factors when managing digestive health. The majority of chronic digestive problem can be linked to stress. When you are stressed out, your body is in a constant fight or flight mode, and the proper attention is not given to the systems that manage digestion. Blood flow is directed away from your intestines, which in turn affects the contractions of your digestive muscles and hinders the secretions you need to properly metabolize. Stress is something many people experience on a daily basis, and to minimize it a lifestyle change may be in order. You may need to start exercising more, find a job you truly enjoy, a new circle of friends, or a philosophy that brings you peace of mind. There are many things that can cause anxiety and stress, and eliminating it at the source will help your body function at its best. When you are managing your stress, you can find the time to make the food you need and live the life you want, and in time this will bring you great peace of mind. It is a positive feedback loop, and by mastering it you will get your mind and digestive system back on track, and feel like your old self again-or even better!
Brendan Reid is an avid gamer and music enthusiast. He can often be found hiking through the woods, or looking for reckless adventures to embark on.
Aamir is finishing up his BSc in neuroscience, cell and systems biology at the university of Toronto. In his spare time he can be found either travelling to far flung locales on a low budget or rowing on Lake Ontario.