Help for a healthy bowel

Velile Ndebele takes a look at some of the best foods and supplements for a healthy bowel

The bowel is a sensitive organ that can be affected by a multitude of factors, from stress to travelling, alcohol to sleep, and of course food. Many health problems can often be alleviated by looking after your bowel health and perhaps we don’t fully realise how digestion can affect other areas. Stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation are obvious factors, but a lack of appetite, lethargy and depression are less obviously linked. So, what are the best foods, vitamins and minerals to aid bowel health and guard against issues such as constipation and bloating?

Eating habits

Many dietary choices can help maintain a healthy digestion. Fatty foods, red meats and processed meats are difficult for your body to break down and can lead to stomach pain and constipation; cutting down your intake of these foods is a good place to start.

Fibre plays an integral role in healthy digestion, particularly aiding bowel movement. Wholegrain foods such as barley, quinoa and spelt are friendlier to your colon and foods such as brown rice, fruit, vegetables, flaxseeds, beans and oats are high in fibre. Some fibres and grains, however, can trigger bloating, in which case try to gain fibre from fruit and vegetables. If you are susceptible to bloating, avoid fizzy drinks and foods such as beans, onions and cabbage.

In order for fibre to properly digest it needs to absorb liquid, so drink plenty of water daily. For every 50 lbs of body weight, you must drink a litre of water. Water is key both for general health and a healthy bowel as fluids and fibre help to avoid constipation. You may also consider probiotics which are live bacteria and yeasts thought to be beneficial for the digestive system. It’s always best to take a good quality probiotic supplement which should restore the good bacteria needed in the gut. Probiotics also help in supporting our immune system, as 70 to 80 per cent of our immune system is in the gut.

Vitamins and minerals

B vitamins (B1, B3, B6, B12 and biotin) are integral to your digestive health; they help your body extract energy from food, maintain healthy digestive functions and protect the abdomen and intestines from distress. They can be found in fish, leafy greens, beans, poultry and meats. Vitamin C is often associated with the immune system but also plays a part in gastric health; it supports the absorption of iron which, in turn, sustains the good bacteria. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and berries all contain high levels of vitamin C. Vitamin D has recently been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer; it helps the body absorb calcium and is gleaned primarily from sun exposure but can also be found in egg yolks.

Selenium aids the stomach’s response to irritation, a lack of which can cause stress and inflammation. Just one brazil nut a day contains the required amount of selenium but it can also be found in salmon, tuna and mushrooms. Foods such as spinach and kale contain magnesium, which minimises inflammation in the gut, protecting the good bacteria from harm. Finally, zinc aids digestive enzyme production and can be found in those all-important wholegrains.

It is vital to maintain a healthy, balanced diet beyond the foods and vitamins mentioned here. Healthier bowels can also be obtained from lifestyle changes; try keeping your eating patterns regular, exercise more, drink plenty of water and lessen stress levels through meditation or mindfulness. Keep a food diary to note when difficulties occur and more easily pin down problematic foods. If you would like to go a step further, consider treatments such as specialised abdominal massages or colon hydrotherapy to alleviate persistent discomforts such as bloating or constipation.

Velile Ndebele RGN BSc(Hons) I-ACT is the founder and clinical director of Aqualibria, a London-based clinic focused exclusively on colon hydrotherapy and digestive health. For more information visit www.aqualibria.com

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