12 Steps to Improve Your Digestion WITHOUT Testing

In my practice, I see a lot of patients with digestive issues that impair the quality of life and bring misery. While functional laboratory testing is important in some cases to get to the bottom of the digestive distress, not everyone has access to it, because most insurance plans do not cover it or cover it very minimally. So, what do you do if you cannot assess your gut health via a functional stool test or urine test? First, let’s see if your digestion needs some TLC!

Digestive Health Assessment:

  • Do you feel like there is a stone lying in your stomach for several hours after you have eaten? 
  • Do you experience bloating and gas after meals?
  • Do you have belching, nausea, and stomach unease between meals?
  • Do you experience gnawing pain around your belly button every so often?
  • Do you run to the restroom without even having time to finish eating?
  • Do you have at least one good bowel movement a day?
  • Do you experience heartburn? 

If you said yes to any of the above questions, you are not alone and there are ways to improve the digestive situation. Here are ten steps you should take now to get the food moving properly through your intestines (gut): 

  1. Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics: A trial of a good digestive enzyme with meals (especially protein-heavy meals) is warranted if you experience some or all of the above-mentioned symptoms. Probiotics can be taken before going to bed so they would have time to go through your digestive tract without being mixed with foods and stomach acid. Probiotics do not colonize your gut, but they work as “police” of your gut and help to decrease the overgrowth of any pathogenic or commensal bacteria, which helps to facilitate the absorption of food and increase immunity. 
  2. Adequate Intake of Water: We all know that it is necessary to drink a sufficient amount of water. Drink a glass of lukewarm water with a half of juiced lemon 15 – 30 minutes before eating. This will help to increase the acidity of your stomach acid and food will be digested better. 
  3. Foods NOT to Mix: When the different types of foods are combined properly, they do not stay in your stomach and do not rot. Rotting food is a breeding ground for the harmful bacteria and yeast found in each of us in the gastrointestinal tract. Many people choose fruits as dessert, but it is a good idea not to eat fruits with meals. Fruits should be eaten on their own on an empty stomach. 
  4. 80/20 Rule: Eat until you feel 80% full. This leaves 20% of the free space in the stomach for the work of the digestive system. Nobody likes this uncomfortable feeling of heaviness, and your stomach will thank you if you stop before you are 100% full. Use smaller plates and smaller portions. 
  5. Eat Plenty of Fiber: Your body needs fiber to flush out toxins, excess hormones, xenoestrogens, and other harmful substances. Eating large amounts of soluble fiber that you can find in vegetables, guarantees you an abundance of fiber. 
  6. Fermented Foods:  The foods that are naturally fermented, such as kefir, sauerkraut, pickled with salt cucumbers (“Bubbie’s” brand), when consumed, will become a breeding ground for beneficial bacteria in the intestines and balance your internal environment. 
  7. Short Periods of Fasting and Avoiding Snacking: I do not suggest that you fast for the whole day. Give your body 3-4 hours to digest food, especially if you suspect having SIBO/SIFO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or Yeast Overgrowth). When food is constantly thrown into the stomach during the day, the stomach is confused and does not work properly. The stomach is kind of like a trained Pavlov’s dog: it expects food intake at certain times and it secretes the most stomach acid then to digest the incoming food. Give your stomach some time to work on its last meal before eating snacks. 
  8. Reduce the Sugar and Simple Carbohydrate: These products will become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria in the stomach and your large and small intestines. Avoid them to reduce flatulence and bloating. You also don’t need the insulin release and blood sugar spike caused by these products at all. 
  9. Gluten Avoidance: I recommend avoiding gluten for 4-6 weeks as a trial and part of the elimination diet. Many people have gluten intolerance or sensitivity and do not know about it. Try to do without it and see if your digestion improves. All this hype about gluten, but it is not just about gluten. Wheat and any other grain consist of many different proteins and you may have an impaired ability to digest them due to a lack of enzyme production or high intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”). 
  10. Homemade Bone Broth: Personally, I am against store-bought bone broths, because most of them sold in a plastic container/pouch and frozen. This type of storage promotes BPA (Bisphenol-A) leak into the bone broth. Otherwise, make your own bone broth in an Instapot in just 60 minutes. It is a good idea and economical to reuse the bones several times before throwing them away. I reuse grass-fed bones 5-7 times. Bone broth is one of the most soothing and healing drinks you can get. Home-made bone broth contains all the nutrients you need to heal your stomach, if you have a syndrome of increased intestinal permeability, the broth also provides you with the trace elements necessary for strong bones. This is a win-win product that must be included into your everyday life! You do not have to drink it plain. You can use it as a base for a soup, stew or chili!
  11. Low-FODMAP Diet or Elimination Diet: How to find out what you react to? If you have symptoms of SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) – try 2 weeks of a strict Low-FODMAP diet and see how you feel. If your symptoms improve significantly, you may want to stick to the Low-FODMAP diet temporarily (1-2 months) and slowly reintroduce the bothersome foods one at a time. If symptoms do get worse and you do not know what to do next, I would recommend seeing a healthcare provider knowledgeable in gut issues and SIBO treatments and testing if needed. SIBO is a symptom, not the root cause of your gut issues. 
  12. CHEW every bite, especially meat, 20-30 times! Chewing helps to start the digestive process and the breakdown of carbohydrates!

If you follow most of these tips, you may improve digestion and get more information about possible causes of your suffering from YOUR body, not from a fancy stool or urine test!  If your stomach problems disappear – no reason to look any further. If they do not disappear, then the information obtained during your lifestyle and diet changes can be very insightful whether you should get functional laboratory testing or not!

Zhanna Tarjeft, FNP-BC is a Functional Medicine Family Nurse Practitioner specializing in gut health issues such as SIFO (Small Intestinal Fungal Overgrowth), SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), leaky gut, IBS, Mold illness (CIRS, Biotoxin illness) and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis). The consultations are available by phone, video, and Skype.