What causes poor digestion?

Published June 25, 2014

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Symptoms of poor digestion such as bloating, constipation and abdominal discomfort are relatively common complaints and can be caused by a number of different lifestyle factors as well as being associated with certain digestive conditions.

  • Inadequate water intake – Water encourages the passage of waste through the body and helps to soften stools.1 If your water intake is insufficient you may experience irregular bowel motions that are harder to pass.
  • Low fiber diets – Processed foods are typically low in fiber and nutrients. Fiber is needed to encourage the passage of waste through the digestive tract and give the right consistency and bulk to stools.1 A low fiber diet may affect digestive function and cause constipation or other symptoms. To ensure adequate fiber in your diet, eat plenty of plant foods e.g. fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.
  • Eating habits – Overeating, eating too fast and eating on the run can negatively impact digestive function. The process of digestion actually starts in the mouth so it’s important to chew your food properly.
  • Smoking and alcohol – Smoking reduces the pressure at the junction between the stomach and esophagus, which promotes a backflow of stomach acid up into the esophagus. Alcohol can inflame the lining of the stomach or esophagus which may lead to burning in the upper digestive tract.1
  • Lack of exercise – Too little exercise may cause digestive sluggishness.1
  • Stress – Stress affects the nerves of the digestive system and can affect the intricate balance of digestion. In some people, stress slows the rate of digestion and leads to constipation and bloating. In others, it may speed up the digestive process and cause diarrhoea.1
  • Bacterial imbalance – In a healthy digestive system, the large and small intestines house both good and bad bacteria, in a healthy balance. When there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria the result may be symptoms of gas and bloating. Insufficient digestive enzymes – Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down the food we eat into smaller molecules to facilitate their absorption into the body. Modern western diets can be high in protein, fats and carbohydrates which may be harder, or take longer, to break down and may lead to digestive discomfort.
  • Digestive conditions – Symptoms of poor digestion may be caused by an underlying digestive ailment.

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