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32 Top Ways to Boost Digestive Health

Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates proclaimed, “All disease begins in the gut”. Centuries and centuries later, modern science has backed up his claims.

Here are the important things your gut and the bacteria in your gut does:

Unfortunately, many people have unhealthy guts from eating unhealthy food, being constipated, having sluggish livers or parasites, and not feeding their healthy gut bacteria.

If your gut microflora are not healthy, then the health of the rest of your body will suffer - including your immune system and mood. If you have an inflamed gut, you won’t absorb nutrients as efficiently. And if you have a stagnant, constipated gut, you will not be eliminating toxins efficiently.

Here is how you correct and build a healthy gut:

  1. Build healthy gut bacteria
  2. Cleanse your colon
  3. Cleanse your liver
  4. Cleanse parasites

Ways to Boost Digestive Health

Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods

Two good eating habits that improve your digestive health are to (1) eat foods that contain probiotics and (2) eat foods that feed the probiotics in your gut.

Probiotic Foods:

1. Kombucha

Kombucha is widely available in grocery stores. It is a pleasant lightly sweetened carbonated beverage that is made from tea that is fermented by bacteria and yeast. The probiotics and antioxidant acids formed in kombucha are responsible for its health benefits.

A review of research on the health benefits of kombucha concludes that it promotes health if four ways: “ detoxification, antioxidation, energizing potencies, and promotion of depressed immunity” [1].

2. Sauerkraut

Fermented cabbage is one of the oldest traditional foods around. In Germany, fermented cabbage took the form of sauerkraut. This fermented food has many healthy attributes including flavonoid antioxidant content and probiotic content [2].

When you consume the healthy bacteria like that in sauerkraut, it will add to the health of your microbiota. You will be aiding the colonies of good bacteria in your gut that will help you digest food and absorb nutrients.

Sauerkraut has a “variety of beneficial effects on human health” including anti-cancer effects [3].

3. Kimchi

This Korean form of fermented cabbage is delicious, tangy, and spicy, and is traditionally served with rice. It has lots of garlic and cayenne pepper which make it flavorful. Its health benefits and taste benefits are plentiful.

Researchers describe kimchi as having “anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction...antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion” [4].

4. Tempeh

Tempeh is a nice thick plant-based protein source that is made from fermented soybeans. Tempeh is evidenced to cause a rise in the beneficial Lactobacillus type of bacteria in a model of the gut ecosystem [5].

The soybeans in tempeh have been fermented to get of the phytic acid, which is an irritant and inhibits the absorption of nutrients. Because of the fermentation, you get a more nutritious and probiotic-rich food.

Tempeh is also rich in B vitamins and is similarly packed with protein as meat.

5. Miso Soup

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning in which soybeans are fermented with salt and a fungus. The seasoning is usually mixed into a soup.

Among the health benefits of miso are improved digestion and even colon cancer-fighting abilities [6]. Miso soup might have healthy effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and even balancing the nervous system [7].

Prebiotic Foods:

If you want to feed the good bacteria in your gut, eat plenty of whole (unprocessed) plant foods that contain non-digestible fiber. The good bacteria feed off of this fiber that you don’t absorb.

If you want to feed the good bacteria in your gut, eat plenty of whole (unprocessed) plant foods that contain non-digestible fiber. The good bacteria feed off of this fiber that you don’t absorb.

Here’s a few great prebiotic foods:

6. Asparagus

Asparagus is often cited as a powerful prebiotic because of its oligosaccharide and inulin content [8].  So after you eat asparagus, this veggie will glide through your guts, feeding the good guys. The fiber content will also help keep everything moving and it's possible that the glutathione content in asparagus could help detoxify the colon.

7. Onion

Onion is another food that is cited as a powerful prebiotic [8]. Onions have been directly evidenced to have “prebiotic effects” in rats because researchers saw many favorable changes in gut health [9]. This veggie might also increase the antioxidant protection in our bodies [9].

8. Garlic

Another food that is not only delicious but a potent prebiotic [8]. If you are eating probiotic-filled kimchi, you are getting plenty of garlic!

Along with having a multitude of health benefits, garlic benefits your guts by helping to clear out pathogens like parasites and even colon cancer cells [10]. Yes, garlic has been shown to cause apoptosis, or death, in colon cancer cells [11].

9. Oats

Researchers have directly witnessed oats having prebiotic effects on good bacteria and have seen increased levels of probiotics in animals fed oats [12][13][14]. Oats can stimulate the growth of beneficial types of bacteria [14].

So have a bowl of oat cereal if you want to keep your gut healthy and colonized with probiotics.

10. Leafy Greens

Humans are meant to eat plenty of leaves. Our closest relatives in nature - other primates eat plenty of leafy greens. Various lettuces and greens like kale and chard contain indigestible fiber - inulin - that helps stimulate the growth of probiotics [15]. Researchers have specifically witnessed leafy greens stimulating the growth of beneficial lactobacilli and bifidobacteria [15].

Colon Cleansing

Now that we’ve toured the habits that build a foundation of healthy gut bacteria, let’s look at the next step to boost digestive health: colon cleansing.

We don’t want toxic substances building up in your intestines because this can impair your absorption of nutrients, general functioning of intestinal tissue, and could even lead to disease.

Many toxins exit your body through your intestines, so in order to successfully detoxify, and keep your gut tissue healthy by doing so, you need to have regular bowel movements.

Many toxins exit your body through your intestines, so in order to successfully detoxify, and keep your gut tissue healthy by doing so, you need to have regular bowel movements. Various foods and herbs can aid in alleviating constipation. Also, some natural compounds can help soak up pollutants in your gut.

The Centers for Disease Control had stated that the environment is 100 times more toxic than in our grandparents’ time. Pollutants like synthetic pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers in meat and food packaging, and heavy metals are in our food, water, and air. Considering the damage that these toxicants inflict on your tissues and general health, it’s important to keep your poop moving out!

Tools to cleanse the colon:

11. Flaxseed

A variety of studies have shown that flax seed increases the speed (transit time) of bowel movements [16]. In short, it helps fight constipation. This is because of the insoluble fiber that flax contains - this type of fiber adds bulk and water to bowel movements, making them easier to move through your guts [16].

12. Senna Leaf

Not only does the tropical plant senna improve constipation, it nourishes intestinal tissue with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties [17]. Senna leaf has also been shown to cleanse colons in preparation for colonoscopy procedures [18]. It gets your colon squeeky-clean!

13. Cascara Sagrada

Way back in 1888, the British Medical Journal was documenting the effectiveness of this herb [19]. The author of the article stated that it triumphs in treating constipation when all other usual remedies fail [19]. Cascara sagrada and senna leaf have similar active ingredients [20].

14. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is evidenced to soak up an array of environmental pollutants that could be in your air, water, and food [21]. This substance is often made from coconuts and has small pores that soak up pollutants. Activated charcoal can be clinically recommended for people who have been poisoned by pesticides [22].

15. Chlorella

Chlorella is a type of algae that can suck up toxic metals and other toxicants [23][24][25]. Researchers think that the structure of the cell wall of chlorella makes it able to suck up many pollutants.

Chlorella can come in tablet or powder form and you can either take it as a supplement before or with meals or mix it into a smoothie. It should help soak up toxins in your gut and is also packed with vitamins and minerals.

Algae is also one of the richest sources of chlorophyll - the green pigment found in plants. One of the important characteristics of chlorophyll is that it soaks up and inhibits the absorption of pollutants into your bloodstream and tissues. Chlorophyll, for instance, can inhibit the absorption of dioxins [30]. Dioxins are highly toxic byproduct of industrial processes and are throughout the world’s environment and can be absorbed in the animal foods we eat like meat, dairy, and eggs.

Chlorophyll can also soak up or form complexes with other carcinogenic compounds [31]. It does this to harmful substances called heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogens that are formed in high-temperature cooked meats.

16. Apples

An apple a day is full of fiber. Apples contain pectin, a type of fiber that has been shown to improve bowel movements. For instance, pectin can add bulk to stools and aid in the absorption of water in stool [26]. Both of these characteristics make it easier for poop to leave the colon.

Apples contain more pectin than many other fruits like apricots, cherries and oranges.

17. Lentils

Lentils come in a multitude of colors and have been traditionally used in South Asian cuisine.

Lentils can increase fecal weight, which improves transit time [27]. And the micronutrients (antioxidants and others) and fiber in lentils are thought to be responsible for its benefits to colon health and its colon cancer-preventative effects [28].

18. Oats

Chances are that you are well familiar with oats. They’re commonly used in the west and one of their main characteristics is that they are packed with fiber. One cup has 17 grams of fiber which is about half of some daily recommendations for fiber intake.

Oat fiber has been shown to increase the number of bowel movements per day [29]. So it follows common sense that they keep everything moving swiftly out of your guts.

19. Spinach

Spinach is another good source of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll in spinach, chard, and other veggies, along with directly cleansing pollutants, activates phase II enzymes in cells to help them detoxify more effectively [31]. Phytochemicals in spinach cause antioxidant effects that can protect molecules in the body from oxidative damage so spinach can help protect colon tissue along with cleansing it [37].

Liver Cleansing

The liver is an important part of the digestive system. Keeping your liver cleansing properly is important for the health of the entire digestive system. Along with its numerous other duties, the liver processes toxicants that you ingest.

The liver produces bile, which is excreted into the intestines from the gallbladder. It helps digest fats but also contains toxins processed by the liver.  Bile is supposed to flow liberally because it accelerates the removal of toxins from the liver and your intestines (and helps food digest better).

So there are two primary functions that the liver needs to complete in order to detoxify effectively and keep toxic substances moving out of your colon: 1. The activation of detoxification enzymes in the liver - 2. The free-flow of bile from the liver.

So there are two primary functions that the liver needs to complete in order to detoxify effectively and keep toxic substances moving out of your colon: 1. The activation of detoxification enzymes in the liver - 2. The free-flow of bile from the liver.

Here are some tips to help you accomplish these two things:

20. Broccoli

Broccoli affects liver health profoundly and therefore the detoxification of the digestive system (since the liver is part of the digestive system). For instance, broccoli protects liver tissue from damage like that seen in fatty liver disease and might fight liver cancer [32].

This cruciferous veggie also increases phase II enzymes which help the liver detoxify and prepare toxicants (like environmental pollutants) for excretion [33]. Without the activation of phase II enzymes, phase I enzymes can actually make some toxicants more toxic and harmful [33]. In other words, phase II enzymes effectively finish the job of detoxification.

21. Green Tea

Data suggests that green tea might decrease the chance of liver disease and it has been shown in animals to increase the liver content of the detoxifying antioxidant glutathione [34][35].

Green tea is also very soothing and protective of colon tissue. There is evidence that green tea is very protective and healing for the gut. It fights inflammation and signs of inflammatory bowel disease [36]. Researchers describe green tea as preventing “colon injury” and maintaining healthy “colonic architecture” [36]. Green tea can reduce numerous inflammatory factors that cause the damage of colon tissue [36].

22. Cauliflower

Alongside broccoli, this cruciferous veggie can help detoxify the liver and the colon itself. Sulforaphane, a compound in broccoli and cauliflower, not only induces detoxification enzymes in the liver, but does so in the colon as well [38]. So cauliflower can actually help the colon cells themselves detoxify from harmful substances. Cruciferous veggies can also increase the glutathione content of cells [38]. Glutathione is a very powerful antioxidant that your body makes to detoxify harmful substances.

23. Oats

We come back to oats once again! Oats significantly increase bile excretion [39]. So eat oats to keep the bile and toxins flushing out of your intestines!

24. Cooked Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain a carotenoid antioxidant called lycopene.

Lycopene is known for its ability to induce phase II detoxification enzymes [40]. It’s also important to note that lycopene is well absorbed throughout the human body, so it definitely “circulates through and accumulates” in the liver where it can activate phase II enzymes [40].

25. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)

This sulphurous amino acid derivative is so powerful at protecting and cleansing the liver, that hospitals use it to prevent liver failure in people who have overdosed on over-the-counter painkillers [41].

NAC is taken in supplement form and regenerates the glutathione content of your liver. Glutathione is required to detoxify harmful substances and ready them for excretion from your body.

26. Turmeric

This herb is very effective at strengthening, protecting, and cleansing the liver. In a placebo-controlled human trial regarding fatty liver disease, curcumin (in turmeric) was successful in causing a “78.9% improvement”  versus a “27.5% improvement in the placebo group” in relation to fat liver content (an indicator of liver disease) [42]. Numerous other liver biomarkers were positively affected as well [42].

27. Milk Thistle

In humans, milk thistle has been shown to decrease liver weight and researchers believe this is probably because abnormal fat accumulation, a sign of liver damage, was prevented [43]. In other words, liver damage might have been stopped. In animal studies, milk thistle significantly increases the cleansing, protective, and detoxifying antioxidant glutathione in the liver [44].

Cleansing Parasites

The last part that we’ll discuss concerning liver cleansing is the cleansing of parasites that take advantage of your gut to feed themselves and hurt you in the process. The malicious little creatures can cause damage to your intestines, rob you of nutrients, and cause an array of symptoms.

Luckily, there are many foods and herbs that help kill parasites. Here are some:

28. Pomegranates

Pomegranates are antioxidant rich, red colored fruits. The edible fruits look like red bubbles and have seeds inside. Pomegranate has powerful antioxidant and cardiovascular-protective effects along with antiparasitic effects.

In mice, pomegranate reduced infection-induced parameters in mice [45]. Parasites can reduce antioxidant capacity of animals and cause system as well as local inflammation in the intestines [45].

Pomegranate extract kept fish from dying from parasite infections in another study [46].

29. Cinnamon

This spice’s effects against parasites are quite impressive. Cinnamon and ginger worked together to kill the parasites in one study [47].

Cinnamon was effective against a malaria-causing parasite [48]. The herb inhibited the metabolic cycles of development of the parasite [48].

In animals, cinnamon has prevented parasite infection of “susceptible” animals [49]. There have even been case studies of human infants infected with salmonella who received ground cinnamon and afterwards, their stool samples showed no infection [49].

30. Black Pepper

Black pepper was shown to kill the larvae of parasites of a malaria-causing species of parasite [50]. Additionally, black pepper has long been used in traditional Indian medicine antimalarial herbal remedies [52].

Black pepper was also shown to substantially inhibit the growth of parasites in another study [51]. The spice had a high kill rate and only about 29% of the T. gondii parasites survived after treatment [51].

31. Onions

Onions are known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it might not be a big surprise that they have shown some efficacy against parasites as well.

Onions were administered alongside coconut, in the study mentioned previously in the coconut section. Horses had reduced “worm load” and sheep grew to more healthy weights when they were more free of parasites [52]. This study was a good indication that onions and coconut can work in real life, “in vivo”, and actually kill parasites in our intestines, not just in a lab.

It’s likely that onions are a help in the fight against parasites and they have shown broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects against bacteria and fungi, but there’s an indication that they might not be as effective as coconut was in the dual-feeding study [53][54].

32. Garlic

Garlic is well known for its anti-parasitic, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. And before you start thinking that there’s no herb strong enough that works against parasites, you should learn more about garlic.

Synergy for Colon Health

It’s time to synergize all of this information and put it into use in your life!

By addressing several areas of colon health, you will change your digestive and whole-body health in dramatic ways. Taking care of your liver, keeping your colon moving, and cleansing parasites out, and building healthy gut bacteria will leave you feeling great.

Remember that the gut is the center of everything - it generates the health of your whole body because there are more bacteria inside your body than there are your own cells.

Check out Nutracraft’s other articles on colon health that give more detailed lists of foods and herbs that aid in liver or intestinal health.

Footnotes

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