Do you feel like food sits in your stomach for hours? Is constipation cramping your style? You are in the right place to learn how to speed up digestion.
In this article, I will explain how to speed up digestion naturally. Some of these ideas may be new and surprising.
Let’s get your slow digestion moving, and start feeling better.
How long should normal digestion take?
The amount of time it takes to digest your food can tell you a lot about your digestive health. You should move food through from your mouth to out the other end in 12-24 hours. Shorter than 12 hours is too fast, you likely aren’t absorbing enough nutrients.
Longer than 24 hours means toxins are spending too long in your gut and probably being reabsorbed. You also reabsorb more water from your stool. This creates hard, dry stool and constipation. If you aren’t having a regular bowel movement every day, it could mean you have slow and sluggish digestion.
Food normally stays in the stomach between 2-4 hours. If your stomach still feels full 3-4 hours after you eat, you may be asking yourself, “Why is my digestion so slow?”
There are many possible reasons for slow digestion. Here are 11 things that might work to speed yours up.
Mind Your Nervous System
What does your nervous system have to do with digestion? There is a long, wandering nerve that runs from the brainstem all the way down to the gut and touches each of your digestive organs. This is the vagus nerve, a key regulator of your parasympathetic nervous system.
You might have heard of the sympathetic nervous system, and “fight or flight.” When you are in this state, your body’s resources go toward increasing your heart rate and pumping blood to your muscles.
When your body senses danger is near, digestion is not the top priority. Digestive functions like producing stomach acid, bile and enzymes shut down. Muscle movements in the digestive tract slow down.
The parasympathetic state is known as “rest and digest.” It is the opposite of “fight or flight.” When your body feels safe, it is in a parasympathetic state.
In this state, you are able to produce all the fluids and muscle movements that digest food and move it through your digestive tract.
Practical Tips To Speed Up Digestion With Your Nervous System
- Manage your stress throughout the day, not just at mealtimes. Find a practice that works for you, whether it is as big as meditation and yoga or as small as a 30 second breathing break.
- Get professional help to manage a history of trauma that makes you feel unsafe.
- Explore mindful eating to help you slow down at mealtimes.
- Make a mealtime ritual. Pray, practice gratitude, ring a bell or gong or contemplate your food.
- Set your table with dishes and decorations that make you smile.
- Eat with a good friend or family member who makes you feel safe and happy.
- After your meal, sit quietly for five minutes before getting back to your day. Put both feet on the floor and wiggle your toes. Tell your gut how grateful you are that it is turning all that food into nutrients that your body can use.
Chew Your Food
You’ve been told this many times before. But don’t roll your eyes just yet. Did you know that chewing your food helps to speed up the movement of your gut?
Chewing stimulates the taste receptors in your mouth.This sends messages to other body organs. The messages say to increase blood flow to the liver, stomach, esophagus, small intestine and other parts of your digestive system.
Increased blood flow gives all your digestive organs the energy they need to produce stomach acid, enzymes and bile. Muscle contractions are able to move food along through your gut (1).
Practical Tips To Speed Up Digestion By Chewing Your Food
- Count your chews to get an idea how it feels to chew your food properly. For a few bites at every meal, count at least 30 chews. You will soon learn how much to chew each bite without having to do the counting.
- Take smaller bites. It helps to use a smaller spoon or fork. Remember, you can eat ALL the food on your plate, it doesn’t have to be done in just a few huge bites.
- Put your utensil down in between bites. Chew and swallow, then pick up the fork, spoon or chopsticks and take your next bite.
- Notice how long it takes to finish your food. It’s good to be the last one at the table!
- Give yourself enough time to eat.
- Set a timer or bell to ring every 30 seconds, so that you can pace your bites.
- Enlist the help of the people you are eating with. It is easier when everyone pays attention to chewing their food properly.
Try A Tea
What food stimulates gastric emptying? There is a well known spice that can actually make your stomach empty more quickly (2).
Ginger helps to relieve gas, decrease pressure on the esophageal sphincter (goodbye, heartburn!)and relieve digestive cramping and bloating.
You can drink ginger tea, or even add it to foods. Fresh ginger is more potent than packaged tea or powdered ginger.
You can make tea with fresh ginger just by slicing off a portion of the root (about an inch or two for each cup of tea) and simmering it in water for about 10 minutes. Strain it into a cup and add honey, or a sweetener of your choice.
Cumin, Coriander and Fennel Tea
Cumin, coriander and fennel tea is an Ayurvedic remedy for indigestion. All three of these spices can help reduce spasms of the digestive tract and excessive gas.
This combination of spices can help digestion immediately after eating.
Make a tea by combining equal amounts of whole cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Use the whole seed instead of ground spices.
To make enough for one day, use ½ teaspoon of each spice. Mix them together. Boil 4-5 cups of water, and add the spice mixture. Let it simmer for at least 5 minutes, and longer if you like it stronger. Then strain the tea into a bottle or thermos that you can sip from throughout the day.
Dandelion is a bitter herb that can stimulate the saliva and bile. The bitter taste receptors send signals that increase blood flow to your digestive organs. Blood carries nutrients that energize the muscles in your digestive tract, so that they can do their job of moving food along (3).
Both the root and leaf are good for your digestion. The leaf has the bitter components that stimulate your taste receptors. The root has prebiotic properties and can act as a mild laxative.
Use 2 tsp dried leaf or root in 8 ounces of water. The root should be decocted, or boiled right in the water, for about 10 minutes. You just need to pour water over the leaf. Steep your tea for about ½ hour.
Let Your MMC Do Its Job
Did you ever wish you could hire a housecleaning service to come in and spruce up your gut? Here’s some amazing news. Your body already comes with this service built in.
The Migrating Motor Complex (MMC) is a series of muscle movements that work in between your meals. These contractions sweep undigested food particles and stray bacteria through your small intestines and into your colon (4).
Undigested food and bacteria in your small intestine can cause gas and bloating.
The MMC begins working when your body gets signals that your last meal has left the stomach. Each wave of the MMC takes 1½ to 2 hours.
Every time you put more food in your stomach, your MMC shuts down. Your gut goes back to digesting food. You can’t digest food in your stomach and sweep your small intestine at the same time. That would be like housekeeping sweeping up the conference room while there is a board meeting going on.
Practical Tips To Speed Up Digestion With Your MMC
- Wait at least 3 hours in between meals to give the MMC time to run. Four hours is even better. Try for a 12 hour overnight fast. Chewing gum can also shut down the MMC.
- Eat ginger or drink ginger tea every day. Research shows that ginger significantly increases the Migrating Motor Complex (5).
Lean On Fiber
Plant fibers create bulk in the stool, which gives you that urge to poop. They also absorb water, which softens the stool.
Bacteria play a role here as well. When your gut microbes break down the plant fibers, they produce substances that have a laxative effect (6).
Adults need 25-35 grams of dietary fiber every day. Here are some high fiber foods:
|1 cup split peas
|16 grams fiber
|1 cup lima beans
|15 grams fiber
|1 cup lentils
|14 grams fiber
|1 average-sized avocado
|13 grams fiber
|1 cup green peas
|9 grams fiber
|1 cup blackberries or raspberries
|8 grams fiber
|2 tablespoons chia seeds
|7 grams fiber
|1/2 cup chickpeas
|6 grams fiber
|1/4 cup amaranth (dry)
|6 grams fiber
|1/4 cup teff (dry)
|6 grams fiber
|1 cup quinoa (cooked)
|5 grams fiber
|1/2 cup oats (dry)
|4 grams fiber
|1/4 cup millet (dry)
|4 grams fiber
Embrace The Bitter
You have bitter taste receptors at the back of your tongue. You might be surprised to learn that you also have bitter taste receptors in other organs, including the digestive system, respiratory system, genitourinary system, skin, brain and immune cells.
The taste receptors in other areas of your body don’t actually taste, but they do send messages.
Bitter taste influences nearly every system in the body. Over 50% of pharmaceuticals on the market today are targeting the bitter taste receptors TAS2R or T2R. That tells you how much of an impact these taste receptors can have on your overall health (3).
In the digestive system, bitter taste increases the flow of saliva, bile flow and the muscle movements of the gut.
A simple and easy way to stimulate digestion is to add a bitter food to your meal. Just before a meal is best, but you can also eat the food with a meal, or afterwards.
Bitter foods that can stimulate digestion include:
- Lemon or orange peel
- 70% or higher dark chocolate
There is another way to use bitter taste to help with digestion. It is helpfully called digestive bitters.
Digestive bitters are a tincture of water and alcohol infused with herbs. This mixture triggers the bitter taste receptors. The herbs can be dandelion, gentian, orange peel extract, burdock, ginger or others.
Take a teaspoon of bitters 15 to 20 minutes before you eat, or at the beginning of a meal. They have a sharp taste that will immediately make you salivate.
Stay away from digestive bitters if you have an inflammatory bowel condition like ulcers, or are on long-term aspirin or NSAID therapy. If you take blood thinners or anti-epileptic drugs, have a bowel blockage, are pregnant or breastfeeding you will want to avoid bitters.
Keep in mind that bitters usually are made with alcohol, if this is something you stay away from.
Spark Your Fire With Enzymes
There are three main types of digestive enzymes which break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Enzymes make the food particles small enough to pass through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream.
There are many reasons why you might need help with digestive enzymes. Sometimes it is just because you are older, and your digestive system is becoming less efficient. You might need some temporary help while you work on strengthening your digestive system.
Digestive enzymes come in all shapes and sizes. I recommend working with a nutritionist to find out whether you need enzymes, what type you need, and the best brands to use.
Eat Natural Digestive Enzymes
Some foods contain natural enzymes that can break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Eat these foods raw, because heat can deactivate the enzymes. Here are some foods with natural digestive enzymes:
- Pineapple and papaya have proteases which can break down proteins. These are called bromelain (pineapple) and papain (papaya).
- Mangoes and bananas contain amylases, which can help to break down starches and carbohydrates.
- Kiwi fruit contains a protease called actinidin that can break down proteins and relieve bloating and constipation.
- Raw and unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi contain a whole array of digestive enzymes, including proteases, amylases and lipases.
- Fermented miso contains lactases which can break down lactose in milk, proteases, amylases and lipases.
- Kefir contains lactases, which may be why some lactose intolerant people can still eat this milk-based food. There are also proteases and lipases in kefir.
- Avocado contains some lipases, which help to break down fat. Again, it needs to be eaten raw.
You might be wondering about supplements to speed up digestion.
Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal preparation made up of three types of Indian berries: Amla, Haritaki and Bibhitaki. These berries are antioxidants, remove toxins from your colon, and have a mild laxative effect.
This is an ancient remedy that has been used for over a thousand years. However, science has recently chimed in with evidence that triphala can benefit the gut. Clinical trials show triphala can reduce constipation, and improve the frequency and consistency of your stool. Triphala also helps with gassiness and abdominal pain (5). Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new supplements.
Get The Right Nutrients
Your digestive system needs nourishment to stay healthy, just like any other system in your body. Here are some of the most important nutrients for your gut.
You need zinc in order to produce stomach acid. It is a cofactor for carbonic anhydrase, the enzyme that jumpstarts the process.
The cells in your gut lining have a very fast turnover. They need to produce new cells every 4 or 5 days. Zinc is an essential mineral that your body needs to make new tissues and repair damage in the gut.
Vitamin A is important for producing the mucous membrane that lines your entire digestive tract. This protects your cells from the acid and enzymes in your stomach and small intestine.
Immune cells that live in your mucous membrane prevent bad bacteria and toxins from entering the body. Vitamin A is super important for healthy immune cells.
It takes a lot of energy to produce stomach acid and enzymes, and power up the muscle movements of the intestinal tract. You cannot digest and absorb nutrients unless you have the energy available for all the parts of your digestive system to run efficiently.
If you are doing long fasts of over 16 hours at a time, or restricting calories regularly, you might not have enough energy to power up your digestive system.
Nearly everything in your body is made up of protein. In the digestive system this includes the hormones that send signals to secrete digestive juices, your saliva, your mucous membrane, and all of your digestive enzymes.
Energy and protein tend to go hand in hand. If you aren’t taking in enough energy, your protein intake will nearly always be inadequate.
Hydrate All Day Long
Does drinking water speed up digestion? The answer is yes, but we aren’t necessarily talking about guzzling glasses of water with your meal. Try to stay properly hydrated by paying attention to your fluid intake all throughout the day.
All of the digestive fluids, like saliva, stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes are water-based. You also need water for a lot of other bodily functions, like maintaining your body temperature.
If you are dehydrated, digestion is not going to be a priority for your body to use a limited amount of water. You won’t produce the fluids you need to digest your foods properly.
Water in the colon helps to soften stool and provide bulk that keeps you from being constipated. When you are dehydrated, this water is drawn into the body, leaving you with dry, hard stool that is harder to pass.
Move Your Body
Finally, here is a lifestyle tip that can help with a sluggish digestive system. Research shows that low intensity exercise can decrease your transit time, or the amount of time that passes from when you eat your food until it comes out the other end. This is especially true for women (6).
This happens not only through gravity and muscle movement. Exercise changes your gut microbiome for the better (7). So a brisk walk during the day might do wonders to speed up your gut. You don’t have to run marathons every day to achieve this. In fact light exercise is effective for increasing blood flow to the bowel (8).
H2: Final Thoughts
You no longer need to live with a sluggish digestive system. Let’s review some of the simple and natural ways to improve digestion.
Work on lowering stress throughout the day, and especially at mealtimes.
Chew your food well.
Drink a tea to help your digestion.
Let your Migrating Motor Complex clean up your gut.
Make sure you are eating as much fiber as you need.
Eat bitter foods and other foods that contain natural digestive enzymes. If they are right for you, try digestive bitters before your meal.
Fire up your digestion with enzymes.
Try an Ayurvedic remedy like triphala.
Make sure you are getting the nutrients you need for a healthy gut.
Move your body every day.
Need more help? Just click the link below to schedule a free call, and find out more about working with a nutritionist.