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Dealing with digestive issues:

With around 70% of the immune system located in the gut having a correctly functioning digestive system plays a fundamental role in supporting your overall health and wellbeing.
By Motherpedia
Date: February 28 2012
Editor Rating:

Sydney-based naturopath, writer and mother, Emma Sutherland discusses digestive issues and shares her top 10 tips for good gut health....

Why are gut problems so common in Australia? Is it diet?

Diet certainly is a huge factor in poor digestive health but stress and our “busy lives” also play a huge role. When we are stressed our digestion simply turns off as our brain prioritises other functions that favour our immediate survival, such as increasing blood pressure and heart rate. The result is a digestive system that doesn’t absorb vital nutrients and has an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

What are the rates of women with gut problems?

A recent Newspoll survey, commissioned by Australian health and wellbeing company Wagner, revealed that 42% of the population experiences excessive gas at least once a month, if not more, with one in ten (11%) saying they suffer from it every day or most days. The online poll of more than 1200 Australians aged 18-64, showed 19% of people suffer from bloating at least once a week, 16% from indigestion and 13% stomach pain. Around a quarter (24%) of Aussies also said they experience constipation at least once a month and 22% listed diarrhoea as a monthly tummy troubler.

Have you noticed an increase in women having gut problems after they have birth?

As a mum with an eight week old daughter I know that over the last few months even I haven’t had the perfect diet and my stress levels have been high! My digestion has been a little affected but I take a daily dose of good bacteria with Probiotica P3 to help avoid symptoms like bloating or constipation.

Do hormone levels impact gut problems?

Yes most definitely. The High levels of progesterone in pregnancy slow down muscle activity in the bowels which results in constipation. As food sits in the digestive system for longer it ferments and causes bloating – this is also the reason for PMT bloating. Often it will take a while post pregnancy for your hormone levels to normalise. When combined with a time poor stressed mum it’s no wonder we suffer from digestive symptoms.

What foods to you recommend women eat and stay away from?

I recommend that women avoid gluten as it is a major irritant to the digestive system and it reduces your ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. You don’t need to be a celiac for this negative effect to occur. Include as much organic food as you can and always prioritise your meat and dairy first. Then use a resource such as the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” ( to know which fruit and vegetables have more chemicals than others.

Do you think people are embarrassed to talk about gut problems?

Absolutely! Maybe it’s our social conditioning, but when was the last time you chatted about your bowel motions? We need to be far more aware of what is normal and what is not – I often have clients who think that having a bowel motion once a week is “normal” because that’s the way it’s always been for them.

Emma Sutherland’s Top 10 Tips for Good Gut Health:

1. Avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol as these alter the pH of the digestive system making it more acidic. This aggravates the intestinal lining and leads to inflammation.

2. Reduce or avoid gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, oats and barley. Gluten intolerance is common and leads to bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

3. Check to see if you have a dairy intolerance by avoiding all dairy for two weeks and then re-introduce it and observe if your digestive symptoms flare.

4. Eat in pleasant surroundings, sitting down and enjoying your food. If you are rushed, walking or distracted, you are more likely to eat quickly without chewing properly and will not be able to respond when your body sends its signal to stop because you are full.

5. Chew your food! Chewing helps to break down your food, easing the burden on your lower digestive system.

6. Take a good quality probiotic supplement, such as Probiotica P3, daily to aid digestion and help support the immune system. Wagner’s Probiotica P3 requires no refrigeration and is formulated with specially-cultured acid resistant strains of good bacteria designed to improve your intestinal flora balance and control the levels of harmful bacteria in the gut. It also contains only natural ingredients and is free from dairy, making it a great option for those who are lactose intolerant.

7. Try not to drink large volumes of fluid at least half an hour before a meal. This dilutes the enzymes in your stomach and makes them less able to break down foods and absorb nutrients.

8. Take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice in a small amount of water before a meal to improve your digestion.

9.  Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, even if you only manage two minutes each day. When we are stressed, our brain shuts down our digestive system and we no longer produce enough enzymes. This results in reduced absorption of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

10. Eat fresh organic food as it contains more nutritional value and no pesticides, additives or preservatives.

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