As we age, we sometimes slow down just a bit—and so do our digestive systems! What can we do to restore our aging digestive systems to normal, healthy functioning? And how can we do it naturally? Here are a few ideas:
1. Eat More Whole Grains
Whole grain breads, crackers, tortillas, cereals, and pastas, along with brown rice, will go a long way toward restoring normal digestive function. When we eat breads, pastas, and other products made from white flour, we place an unnaturally heavy burden on our digestive systems. With virtually all the natural fiber removed, white food products compact into a dense mass near the end of the digestive process, causing real discomfort during elimination. This is not a natural state; but that shouldn’t surprise us when the foods we’re eating aren’t in their natural state either.
Whole grains, on the other hand, are in the form that nature intended—the form the human body is designed to process. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which absorb water and add bulk, easing the passage of waste products from our bodies.
2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Americans tend to eat far too few fruits and vegetables, which also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables—particularly in their raw, natural state, if easily tolerated—will add one more tool to our digestive health-building arsenal. Salads are wonderful and, along with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, contain a high percentage of water, which is good for healthy digestion. Beans and other legumes, such as split peas and lentils, are another wonderful way to keep our digestive systems functioning optimally.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Keeping ourselves well-hydrated also helps maintain a healthy digestive system by providing the moisture which is absorbed by the fiber we eat. It also helps keep our digestive muscles smooth and supple, making it easier for them to do their job. Dehydration is an unnatural physical state which interferes with many different body processes, not the least of which is digestion/elimination.
4. Add Extra Fiber to Your Meals
Extra fiber can be added to our meals by using unprocessed miller’s bran, wheat germ, and flaxseed meal (or whole flaxseed, if preferred). Each of these natural food items helps mitigate the sluggishness of the aging digestive system, while adding extra nutrition to our diets. Bran can be sprinkled on pizza or sandwiches or mixed into spaghetti sauce and other foods. (You’ll need to experiment to see which foods can handle the texture change.) Using added bran is even more important when eating pizza, sandwiches, pasta, etc. which are made from white dough or white bread. Wheat germ is great mixed into cereal, as is flaxseed. And both, along with bran, make an enjoyable addition to pancakes and baked goods.
Natural peanut butter is also excellent with flaxseed meal mixed in. Do this as soon as you open the jar, mixing the desired amount right into the entire jar at once and then refrigerating, as usual. This actually improves the texture of the usually thin natural peanut butter, which unlike most commercial peanut butters, contains no added thickeners (aka unhealthy trans fats).
5. Grab a Glass of Prune Juice
Prune juice is a natural powerhouse that’s high in potassium and other nutrients and works wonders for preventing eliminative problems. It also creates an excellent, pleasant-tasting remedy for constipation when mixed with applesauce, bran, and flaxseed meal. (This mixture—without the flaxseed meal—was once recommended to my mom by a nurse. Adding the flaxseed was our idea.)
6. Take Probiotic Supplements
Often referred to as “Acidophilus” (though Acidophilus is only one strain of this beneficial bacteria), probiotic supplements help to balance our intestinal flora, restoring our systems to a healthy state. This can make a big difference to our health in many ways, aside from improving digestion/elimination. You’ll want to take particular care to make sure you have probiotic supplements—or natural yogurt—on hand whenever you’re on antibiotic therapy, since antibiotics don’t discriminate between beneficial and harmful bacteria, but destroy both.
Be sure that any probiotic supplement or yogurt you buy contains viable (aka live) bacteria and refrigerate it after purchase. (Ideally, it should already be refrigerated at the store when you buy it.) If your probiotic supplement contains FOS (fructooligosaccharide)—or if you’re able to find FOS at your health food store—so much the better. FOS is a natural sugar which feeds the beneficial bacteria, helping to keep them viable.
7. Avoid Foods that Trigger Digestive Upset
You know your digestive system better than anyone else does. If a particular food causes digestive or eliminative difficulties for you, and you can’t mitigate these by adding fiber or making another healthy change to the food, avoid it. You’ll be much happier in the long run.
8. Get Active
Regular exercise helps improve digestive health in the same way that physical fitness helps our other body systems stay healthy. Find a form of exercise that you can handle, and start slowly, at first (after getting an OK from your doctor). Take a walk, go for a swim, jump rope, use a treadmill or exercycle. If you’re unable to do any of these, get a rocking chair. Using a rocker can help improve your circulation, which is good for your digestion, as well as your overall health.
9. Make These Healthy Habits Permanent
Incorporate these healthy habits into your life—and plan to make them permanent. When you do that, you’ll not only be kind to your digestive system, but to every other physical system, as well.
And your body will thank you for it!