Gut Health

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Folks with lived experience of emotional distress or who have survived trauma often report abdominal pain and discomfort, and have long known there is some kind of link between their emotional wellbeing and belly pain. Increasingly, health research has focused on increasing our understandings of the gut-brain connection and has explored a range of themes - from the way nervous system activity affects the motility (movement) of the intestines, through to the impact of stress and distress on the gut microbiome (the micro-organisms of the intestines, or "gut flora").

Below are some ideas to improve your gut health and/or seek relief from discomfort.

Please note - all content in our blogs and peer magazines are created for your interest only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always see your doctor or other qualified health professional with any concerns you have regarding your health and wellbeing. You can contact HealthDirect to discuss health related issues with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day on 1800 022 222. In an emergency, please call 000.

Check your water intake

Being reminded to drink water can be so annoying! But ok. Staying hydrated is a core component of health in general and is often super relevant to addressing digestive issues, so yeah. There is a super cute free app called Plant Nanny which incentivises you to drink water with the most adorable little plants. Basically each time you drink some water you log this in your app and you will grow your plant some more. As you care for your plants they will grow and you will be able to grow different types of plants as well!

To move or not to move (and just stay in bed)?

The temptation to crawl into bed and hide from the world can be real at the best of times - let alone when you have pain of any description. However (another slightly annoying reminder coming up) gentle movements such as stretching or walking can actually be helpful to aid stomach pain in some cases. Certain yoga poses are even known to er…set free trapped air, if you know what I mean (ok, I'll just say it: Downward Dog pose makes you fart which can provide relief from tummy pain). A simple yoga app is Asana Rebel – there are options for low, medium or high intensity routines, and you can also pick how long you would like to practice for.

But maybe laying down is better than moving around for you right now. If so, you may find that laying on your left side provides relief, as this supports the internal shape and movement of your bowel, along with any trapped gas that may be contributing to belly pain.

Heat

Heat is known to relax muscles, and can ease abdominal discomfort. A bath, shower, or heat bag are some ways you can provide yourself warmth

Food

Of course food is a thing to talk about in relation to the stomach.

Many herbs, spices, roots, fruits and vegetables are said to aid internal health in a range of ways, from easing irritation and reducing acid or gas, to speeding up or slowing down digestion. All over the world from time immemorial, people have recognised the healing power of foods. There are far too many to list, and you may like to research these in a more targeted way, depending on what your specific trouble is. Some suggestions for easing digestive discomfort include basil, ginger, mint, cloves, cumin, and liquorice

Likewise, some foods are thought better to avoid. For example, fried and fatty foods, rich and creamy foods, and salty or heavily preserved foods are not advised when experiencing gut issues. Also, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine are not advised (sorry).

Some people find that gas-producing vegetables can be problematic at times. Asparagus, beans, broccoli and cauliflower can cause gas which then results in stomach ache. These foods can also be important sources of nutrition however, so it's best to consult with your health practitioner before deciding to eliminate any foods from your diet on an ongoing basis.

Eat Slowly

Yes. Even if it is delicious. Chew. Chew. Chew.

Eating slowly can not only aid your digestion and allow you time to enjoy your food, it can help to make you feel more in control, and in doing so reduce stress and increase feelings of calmness.

Pre- and Pro-Biotics

Prebiotics are substances found in foods that assist the helpful micro-organisms in your intestinal tract to grow and do their helpful things. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, artichoke, onions and whole grains.

Probiotics are living micro-organisms that when taken in food can help to support healthy gut flora. Yakult is a popular probiotic drink available in most supermarkets. Fermented foods can also be a natural source of probiotic, such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut and tempeh

Limit fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP's)

Whaaaaat? The short, I'm-not-an-expert version is that FODMAP's are carbohydrates (sugars) that can cause intestinal distress (hence, stomach pain). Following a low FODMAP diet has been shown to reduce discomfort for many people. As this is an elimination diet it is best to do under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner. There is no harm trying a few recipe's out though if you are curious – there are many low-FOD recipes online and a really cool magazine called FODMAPPER is available at most supermarkets and news agencies.

There is also the Monash University FODMAP Diet app and the FODMAP Friendly app which assists you to find low FODMAP products in local stores.

Both the Monash University FODMAP logo and the FODMAP Friendly logo can be found on selected products in the supermarket. There are even chocolate biscuits and melting moments now (eat them slowly).

Stomach in Expression

A final note on the stomach and emotions… Have you ever noticed how often the stomach appears in everyday language in expressing strong feelings?

A stomach in knots describes an unpleasant, tight sensation in the abdomen which often rides along with Anxiety

Used as a verb, to bellyache is to complain. For example, I tend to bellyache about my uni assignments.

Someone with butterflies (in the stomach) is experiencing extreme nervousness or anticipation… they may even be nervicited! (Nervous-excited – it's a thing). This stems from the idea that the 'fluttery' feeling in the stomach is like having butterflies flying around inside it

If you've had a gutful of something, it means you've had enough – more than you can tolerate. This is similar to the expression that one can't stomach it when a situation has become too distressing, distasteful or otherwise intolerable

Finally, the way to someone's heart is often said to be through their stomach. This old proverb has been around forever, and basically means that the way to make someone fall in love with you is by feeding them wonderful food. While it is doubtful that you can really influence someone to fall in love with you based on your best carbonara (even if it is that good), it remains a fact that we are all more happy when our belly is happy – so why not help your loved ones have happy bellies anyway? 

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