Our digestive systems are complex. A long tube connects the mouth to the anus. Along the way, the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine (colon), and rectum help digest food. The liver and pancreas produce digestive juices to help break down food into small parts the body can use for nourishment. Many nerves, hormones and the circulatory system also play a role in digestion. Our digestive system is also home to trillions of bacteria (about 500 species that collectively weigh approximately three pounds!). Too few good bacteria, or too many bad bacteria, can damage your health.

The standard American diet has disrupted the delicate ecosystem in our guts, leading to a host of unpleasant symptoms (such as flatulence, belching, and bloating) and contributing to serious diseases, such as diabetes. Insufficient fiber, too much sugar and processed foods, overuse of medications, and environmental toxins are just a few of the many factors causing digestive distress.

Digestive diseases, such as chronic constipation, gastrointestinal infections, and hemorrhoids, affect 60 to 70 million people, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Many popular prescription drugs treat digestive problems, and there are more than 200 over-the-counter remedies, many of which, says Mark Hyman, MD, can create additional digestive problems.

Instead, you may want to consider these eight simple lifestyle suggestions. They may be all you need to do to help improve your digestion, increase your well-being, and reduce your risk of serious illness.

  1. Eat primarily whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and lean protein sources.
  2. Avoid sugar and processed foods. They have no nutritional value and the empty calories contribute to obesity.
  3. Include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats) in your diet. They help reduce gut inflammation.
  4. Consider prebiotics. These are foods that encourage the growth of good bacteria.
  5. Add fermented foods to your diet. Examples include yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
  6. Use antibiotics judiciously. Be sure to discuss your digestive concerns with your physician.
  7. Eat more frequent, smaller portions throughout the day.
  8. Try to manage your stress.

Allison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.



Michael Pollan. "Some of My Best Friends Are Bacteria," New York Times Magazine. May 19, 2013.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States." Page last updated May 10, 2012.

PaleoHacks. "The Paleolithic Diet Explained [infographic]," accessed August 11, 2013. h

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Your Digestive System and How It Works." Web. April 2008, page last updated April 23, 2012.

Klein, David, Ph.D. "Is Your Food Digesting or Rotting in Your Gut?" Blog posting. Web. 25 January 2010.

Hyman, Mark, MD. "Is Your Digestive System Making You Sick, and Fat?" Web, accessed August 11, 2013.