The sneaky fat creeping up around your mid-section, a bloated belly after you eat, low energy sabotaging your workout: What do they have in common? They’re all reflections of the direct relationship between sluggish digestion, slow metabolism and weight gain. Overeating during the holidays and engaging in less physical activity means this process can really snowball in the winter. The good news: By increasing digestive efficiency with diet, lifestyle and targeted supplements, we can effectively shed extra fat, boost metabolism and support nearly every other area of health in the process.
You see, good digestion goes beyond the idea that “you are what you eat.” Digestion is at the very center of our core health. It sets the foundation for health, happiness and well-being.
We now have greater insight into the many roles digestion plays in immunity, hormone balance, and even mental and emotional health. Traditional healing practices around the world, especially traditional Asian medicine, have long recognized these relationships. In fact, some Eastern medical systems treat nearly every disease by addressing the digestive system.
And most often, when we optimize our digestion, everything else comes into balance — particularly, the bathroom scale.
Nutrient Absorption And Metabolism: A Catch-22?
Optimal digestive function means we’re breaking down food properly, absorbing enough of the right nutrients and eliminating the waste that we don’t need. It’s a very organized, efficient and meticulous process. But we need energy to perform these tasks, and much of that energy comes from nutrients we digest. It seems like a bit of a catch-22: We need energy in order for our digestive system to break down food, but we get much of that energy from food. If digestion is sluggish, we can’t break down nutrients properly to get more energy. This creates a vicious cycle that leads to a type of malnutrition in our cells, tissues and organs. Wastes build up, you retain water and your body converts excess calories to fat, since the body isn’t digesting them properly.
Usually, this cycle starts with unhealthy dietary habits: eating too many processed foods that hinder digestive function by depleting our enzymes, probiotics and other factors critical for strong digestion. Unhealthy foods, particularly refined sugars, also spike glucose and insulin. The result is inflammation — another major culprit in weight gain and slow metabolism.
Essentially, a nutritious diet has a direct relationship to healthy body weight — not just because we’re avoiding inflammatory, fat-fueling foods like sugar and hydrogenated oils, but also because nutritious foods give our digestive system the building blocks it needs to function efficiently.
Our mitochondria, the tiny cellular engines that create energy for the body, are a central part of our metabolism and digestion. How quickly and efficiently the mitochondria can turn nutrients such as glucose into energy reflects metabolic health.
If our mitochondria are inefficient, we store glucose as fat. Where does digestion come into play? When we’re not digesting properly, mitochondria don’t get their nutrients to produce energy, and excess waste creates inflammation and toxic buildup. As a result, we feel sluggish, tired and bloated. It’s all part of a complex, interrelated system where metabolism and digestion rely on one another to keep all the body’s systems fully energized and functioning at peak capacity.
Herbs And Supplements To The Rescue
These close relationships are mirrored by the fact that certain nutrients and herbs that support digestion also increase metabolism. They work by promoting mitochondrial function while also encouraging efficient nutrient breakdown and assimilation. Other digestive-supporting herbs and ingredients work by increasing digestive enzymes, improving circulation while helping to soothe inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and throughout the body.
Black Pepper And Other Spices
Pungent culinary herbs and spices have long been recognized as digestive aids. Their strong aromas and spicy flavors stimulate the production of digestive enzymes for better food breakdown; they also bring warmth and circulation to the system to clear stagnation. Their strong antimicrobial properties generally promote a healthy digestive environment.
And now, researchers are finding that such long-cherished digestive aids also work in other ways to promote healthy weight. For example, black pepper, a spice that has been cherished for its ability to support digestion, works on a genetic level to block the formation of fat cells, helping to control weight.
Another factor that affects digestive health is the use of probiotics. These friendly bacteria evolved with us to offer countless health benefits — particularly for digestion. New roles for these bacteria are continually being revealed.
Around the world, fermented probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut and miso, have been used for digestive and overall health. Probiotics help break down food into essential nutrients and efficiently eliminate wastes. They control inflammation, support immunity and keep harmful bacteria at bay, while producing numerous enzymes and nutrients we need for digestion and overall health.
But new research shows they also play a key role in healthy weight management. One probiotic species in particular, Lactobacillus gasseri, has been shown to reduce visceral fat (the dangerous fat around your midsection), by up to 9 percent after three months.
Other helpful herbs and supplements for efficient digestion and metabolism include medicinal mushrooms, particularly the species hericium, maitake and poria. These and other mushrooms support nutrient absorption and mitochondrial energy, while helping to eliminate waste and reduce inflammation, among many other benefits.
Cinnamon, Cardamom And Ginger
The herbs cinnamon, cardamom and ginger are also excellent to improve digestive capacity, support metabolism and reduce inflammation. They help warm the digestive system and reduce occasional digestive discomfort.
Also, the supplement chromium polynicotinate is an essential trace element that supports energy production, fat metabolism and digestion. I recommend acomprehensive digestive formula that contains these and other ingredients to support healthy digestive function, metabolism and nutrient absorption.
Since digestion and metabolism are so closely linked with other systems of the body, it’s critical to take a holistic approach for healthy weight management and overall wellness. Stress in particular can wreak havoc on all systems but is especially harmful to digestion and metabolism. Regular meditation and mind-body stress relief practices such as yoga and tai chi, can help reduce inflammation, increase energy production and support overall digestion. In fact, almost any type of regular exercise can significantly support digestive and metabolic health.
Good eating habits are also important. Your mother was right: Don’t skip breakfast; you can throw your metabolism out of balance and cause extra fat storage. And chew slowly! Thoroughly chewing food and eating at a relaxed pace benefits digestion and weight in two ways. First, the extra chewing breaks down food more thoroughly, making it easier to absorb nutrients. Second, proceeding slowly allows time for your brain to receive the signal that you’re full, reducing the chance of overeating.
Whether you’re someone who eats to live or lives to eat, improving your digestion with targeted natural solutions produces ripple effects across all areas of health, not just weight. The first things you’ll notice when your digestion is functioning better are increased energy, less bloating, reduced water retention, more efficient elimination and a better sense of overall well-being.