s5 e4: How To Have Healthy Digestion

how to have healthy digestion

How To Have Healthy Digestion

As we continue to work through the foundations for season 5, we have an important topic this week: digestion! Many women struggle with their digestion whether that be bloating, constipation, loose stools, reflux, etc. A lot of our digestive struggles come back to our body’s inability to produce optimal digestive juices and enzymes because a lot of us are living in a constantly stressed state or have lived in one in the past. 

In this episode, I am going to break down exactly how our bodies digest our food and how you can support your own digestion right now at home. If you want to learn more about how to specifically support constipation and loose stools, make sure you join my Patreon at patreon.com/hormonehealingrd. I go into specific things you can do for those two digestive issues in the bonus episode. 

As always, this podcast episode is not medical advice. Please talk with your provider before making any changes to your nutrition, lifestyle, or supplements. 

This episode covers:

  • How our body digests food
  • Tapping into your vagus nerve for relaxation
  • How digestive bitters work to support digestion and overall gut health
  • Benefits of apple cider vinegar on digestion and overall health

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Amanda Montalvo [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the Are You Menstrual podcast, where we dive deep into all things women’s health to support you on your healing journey. I’m Amanda Montalvo functional and integrative dietitian, also known as the hormone healing Rd. If you enjoyed this podcast and you want to keep learning, check out the podcast Patreon, where I share a bonus episode with additional downloadable resources each week. You can go to Patreon.com forward slash Hormone Healing Rd or check out the link in the show notes. All right, now we have our digestion episode. So, season five, we are hitting the foundations again, and I’ve been digging into how to eat to support your hormones. We talked about cortisol blood sugar in this previous episode. I talked about supplements, since most people are taking at least a few supplements and which ones can cause more harm than good.

Amanda Montalvo [00:00:54]:

And now it is time to talk about digestion and how we can have healthy digestion. I think that we have more control over our digestion than people might realize. A lot of women struggle with digestive issues, whether that be something like bloating or constipation or loose stools. Maybe it’s reflux, anything like that. And a lot of these struggles come back to our body’s inability to produce enough digestive juices and enzymes because a lot of us are living in a constantly stressed state. Or maybe we are not doing that so much now, but previously we were right. Maybe you’re really slowing down. You are really starting to pay attention to food, implementing some of the principles I’ve discussed in this podcast, which would be great.

Amanda Montalvo [00:01:43]:

And I think sometimes it can be frustrating because you’re like, I feel like I’ve really made a lot of big changes, but I’m still struggling with my digestion. And I would just say, be patient with your body. Because, again, everything we’ve done our whole lives, all the stressors, all the different things that’s going to impact us right now, it doesn’t just go away when we start making changes. And sometimes we can experience even more symptoms when we get out of that stress state. But hopefully this episode helps. I’m going to break down exactly how our bodies digest food and then how you can support your digestion on your own right now at home. And if you want to learn more, in the bonus episode, I specifically talk about strategies for constipation and loose stools. You can get that in Patreon.

Amanda Montalvo [00:02:30]:

You just go to Patreon.com Hormonehealingrd and I go into specific things you can do for each of those. But as always, this podcast is not medical advice. It’s just me sharing generalized nutrition information. Make sure you talk with your provider before you make any changes to your nutrition, lifestyle or supplements, because while some things may really connect and resonate with you, it may not actually be a good fit, depending on the person. So let’s go into how our bodies actually digest food. And this may I feel like a lot of people know this, but maybe not. Sometimes we get away from it because when you think about supporting digestion, people often think like, well, how can I get my body to break down food better? Is there like a supplement? Digestion actually starts in our brain before we even start eating. And this is why relaxing before meals and trying to eat without distractions can be so beneficial and is often one of the things that makes the biggest difference for a lot of the women that we work with.

Amanda Montalvo [00:03:30]:

Our bodies do require us to be in the rest and digest state in order to digest our food well. So our pancreas will start making digestive enzymes. Our stomach will start making stomach acid before we even take a bite of food when we are in that right mindset. So that’s where it all starts. When we actually consume the food, chewing is like the first thing that starts to break it down to smaller pieces. This helps to increase the surface area so that our digestive enzymes that our pancreas makes can act on it and start to break it down. And then our saliva, which contains enzymes, mostly amylase, that breaks down carbohydrates. So the amylase starts to break down carbohydrates into simpler sugars.

Amanda Montalvo [00:04:12]:

And all this is happening just when we’re chewing our food. And then once we’re done chewing, that food becomes like a soft mass. It’s typically referred to as a bolus, like in the medical world, dietitian world. So we’ve got this food bolus. We swallow it goes down through our esophagus, and then from there it enters the stomach. And this is where our gastric juices are released. These juices contain stomach acid and Pepsin. And I think most of us know stomach acid is really important for breaking down proteins.

Amanda Montalvo [00:04:46]:

So is Pepsin. It helps break down protein into smaller peptides and that’s what allows our body to digest it best. And our stomach churns it’s mixing this food bolus and partially digested food with the digestive juices, and it turns into this semi liquid mixture called chyme. So it’s like just kind of starting the breakdown process. What happens with this chyme? It’s like semi liquid. It starts to slowly get released into our small intestine. And the small intestine is really where the bulk of digestion and absorption is happening. And this is where the liver and the pancreas come into play.

Amanda Montalvo [00:05:28]:

So our liver produces bile, which I talked a lot about bile with Olivia in the gallbladder episode from season three. I’ll put that one in the show notes. And biles basically acts like a detergent and breaks down fat into smaller pieces. And then that can easily be. The enzymes from our pancreas can break those down further. And then when that food is broken down properly, that’s when we can absorb it properly. So the liver comes into action, makes the bile stored in the gallbladder that gets released into our small intestine breaks down fats. Our pancreas also releases digestive enzymes like lipase and protease and amylase.

Amanda Montalvo [00:06:12]:

And those help us break down fat, protein, and carbs into their little building blocks, right? So it breaks them down into these tiny building blocks that we can absorb into the system. So fatty acids, amino acids, and simple sugars in case anyone wants to know what the building blocks are. And then once all this breakdown occurs, that’s when our bodies can absorb it. Primarily like 90% is happening in the small intestine. And our small intestine is lined with these tiny finger like structures called villi and microvilli. And these greatly increase the surface area of absorption in the small intestine. So nutrients are absorbed right through the intestinal walls and they enter the bloodstream through those microvilli to be transported to various parts of the body, like whatever parts need them. Anything that’s not digested well, like any leftover food particles, fiber, excess water.

Amanda Montalvo [00:07:05]:

We actually do absorb a lot of water, the majority of our water in our small intestine as well, which is why we need minerals in order to absorb water because that’s what our small intestine requires. Anything left over gets moved to the large intestine. The colon will absorb the excess water, electrolytes converts the leftover material into stool, and then the stool gets stored in the rectum and eliminated in a bowel movement, hopefully on a regular basis. And it’s just important to note that throughout this whole process, yes, the food is moving throughout the body. It’s going mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum. We do need peristalsis, which is just muscular contractions of our intestines to be happening in order to move this along. So it sounds great, it’s like, okay, cool, this definitely happens. But if you have really slow gut motility, maybe your body’s really stressed, maybe you’re dehydrated, don’t have enough potassium.

Amanda Montalvo [00:08:10]:

Potassium is really important for that gut motility, then this won’t happen properly. It’ll just happen very slowly. And that is when we have the opportunity for bacteria to overgrow, because that food is like sitting and fermenting. So ideally, we’re moving that food right along. We have healthy gut motility movement, and it’s going to go through the different parts that it needs to until it’s fully broken down, absorbed. Anything left over goes as stool in our rectum. And that’s how we break down and absorb our food. And it can be one of those things where it’s like, okay, so this is happening when we’re in the rest and digest state.

Amanda Montalvo [00:08:50]:

If we are in that fight or flight state, our body doesn’t prioritize things like digestion because it’s seen as nonessential. Although it feels very essential to us, our body’s going to see it as being nonessential. And so when it comes to how do we naturally start to support our digestion, that’s when the first thing we want to think of is our brain. Is our brain engaged is our brain distracted? And are we eating in an environment that’s going to support the digestion of our food? So typically, I would say most people are probably eating with distractions. A lot of people scroll on their phones or they’re like multitasking and doing other things while they’re eating. I think it’s just like the culture we live in, unfortunately, at least in the US. If someone’s listening to another country, that may not be like that at all. But I remember when I worked in the corporate world and in the clinical setting, we would do working lunches all the time.

Amanda Montalvo [00:09:49]:

It was like we never really got a break to eat. Or it’s like I have to finish my charting and the only time, unless I want to stay super late at work or do it at home, I have to do it during lunch. Or essentially I don’t take a lunch break and I just work instead. So I think this is a norm and we kind of view eating and meal times as like an optional thing when we learn how our digestion works and what our bodies need. In order to make that happen, we need to be in the parasympathetic rest and digest state. We need to have optimal potassium and nutrient levels so that gut motility is working well and be hydrated. And that also helps soften stool too, being hydrated. If you’re not hydrated, you’re dehydrated.

Amanda Montalvo [00:10:38]:

That can make stool a lot harder and more difficult to pass, even if you have pretty good motility. So I think just like the environment, the society that we live in, that’s why so many people struggle with digestion, or at least like part of it, because we’re not really sitting down and prioritizing meal times. Even like when I was growing up, it’s like the only meal we really did that was dinner. And so that was something that I definitely had to change as I got older and learned about this and wanted to make sure that I had really good digestion. I’m one of those people that kind of leans more towards constipation if I’m not taking care of myself. We have so many clients that are very similar and they’re used to being in that fight or flight state and they really struggle with constipation. And I think a lot of that is related to stress being in fight or flight, tight pelvic floor, tight jaw muscles, and just not really being able to relax because our pelvic floor muscles, that is what releases urine and stool. And so if they’re really tight, we’re going to have a really hard time having a bowel movement even if we have pretty good digestion.

Amanda Montalvo [00:11:47]:

But if you have tight pelvic floor muscles, you probably have tight fascia and everything other places in the body which can lead to other dysfunction. So I imagine they probably struggle with digestive issues for a while. But if we’re thinking about what’s the first thing that we can do to naturally support digestion. I would say like creating a good environment and changing your mindset around food if you’re not already doing this, where recognizing, okay, I need to be in a relaxed state. What does that look like? For me, it’s probably going to be a little different for everyone. I think trying to eat in somewhere where it’s like really minimal distractions. But eating with other people is really great. Talking and laughing while you’re eating is welcomed, I think, because it can help support activating that vagus nerve, which helps activate your parasympathetic rest and digest nervous system.

Amanda Montalvo [00:12:41]:

So I don’t know if anyone’s ever noticed when they go out to eat with friends or have people over for dinner or something that they may actually digest their food a little bit better because they are in that relaxed state. So I would really focus on the environment. This is like my number one thing because it’s really hard to do the second tip that I’m going to go through if you haven’t worked on the first one. So get a good environment. I know for me personally, especially during the workday or honestly, sometimes it’s really challenging. With my daughter who’s a toddler, some meals are like super easy and great. And then some meals, it’s just like what happened. And I find that if she’s more tired one day or we’re both a little bit more tired, then eating outside is really helpful.

Amanda Montalvo [00:13:29]:

It helps me relax. I don’t have to worry about cleaning up a mess after if she’s like, feeling really sassy and throwing food around and we get time outside. So that is something that could be helpful. We were doing it on vacation once and I was like, why don’t we do this more at home? I don’t get it. So that’s something that you can definitely consider. If you are like, I have a really hard time getting out of the stress state or out of work mode or mom mode or whatever it is during the day, then I would encourage you. Maybe you try having a meal outside and seeing if it works for you, but very easy way to relax. So that’s step one.

Amanda Montalvo [00:14:05]:

Create a good environment. Stop, multitasking, limit your distractions. Step two is tapping into your vagus nerve for true relaxation. Because sometimes it’s like we do these things. You’re not scrolling on your phone, but you’re like, okay, well, I’m still not really relaxed. If anything, I’m a little agitated because I’m not used to sitting and doing nothing and just eating. Maybe you’re even like, bored. And I would say it can be a very good thing to let yourself be bored, but it can also be really uncomfortable and I totally understand that.

Amanda Montalvo [00:14:35]:

So I think a lot of us have to learn how to relax. We have to learn which things really work for us and help us calm down. So I’m going to go through five kind of different big areas. I already talked about one like laughing with loved ones, but there’s what’s known as our vagus nerve. I did do a podcast episode on this a while back. It’s our wandering nerve is what it’s typically called. It’s our longest cranial nerve in the body and it plays a huge role in regulating different body functions. But a big one is digestion.

Amanda Montalvo [00:15:07]:

So if we can stimulate the vagus nerve, this has a very calming effect on the body, activates that parasympathetic rest and digest, and it can help us digest our food. Our monthly cycle is like a report card. Understanding how to track your cycle and know what is and is not normal as far as symptoms go, can help you identify possible hormone imbalances and whether or not a nutrition or lifestyle change you made is working for you. This is huge. So many of us are looking to experts and outside ourselves to figure out what’s going on with our bodies. But tracking your cycle and understanding it can help you do that on your own. And this is why I created my free Healthy Period Starter guide. It walks you through the different phases of your cycle, goes through how to track, teaches you what’s at the root cause of hormone imbalances, and even has a section on nutrition tips for healthy hormones.

Amanda Montalvo [00:15:57]:

I think every woman should have this knowledge easily accessible to them. So if you want to grab the guide, you can get it via the link in the show Notes or on my website, hormonehealingrd.com. My favorite way to do this is Live headphones on now, but I’ll move them. So if you’re not watching on YouTube, my favorite way to instantly calm down and activate my vagus nerve is by touching my pointer finger right behind my earlobe. There’s like a little almost like pocket. There gentle pressure. As soon as you do this, what you’re going to notice is, or at least what I notice is I typically want to relax my jaw and open my jaw a little bit. So you can definitely do that.

Amanda Montalvo [00:16:43]:

I typically put a little pressure. I’m usually breathing in and out slowly, in through my nose, out through my mouth, and then I will try to relax my tongue on the roof of my mouth and gently part my teeth. But my mouth is still closed. So instead of my teeth being like closed together and clenched, they’re slightly parted and relaxed and my tongue is on the roof of my mouth. And I know some people have tongue ties and tightness in their mouth and they can’t do that. That is a whole separate podcast. We will cover all these things eventually because I just did the Cranial sacral fascial therapy training. Truly fascinating, but this is actually one of the points that we do with clients in that training.

Amanda Montalvo [00:17:23]:

And you can improve and reduce any tightness in the fascia around this point which helps relax the nervous system. But even just pointing it behind your ear, putting your tongue at the roof of your mouth, parting your teeth, closing your lips and breathing in and out slowly is a really great way for me. I’m like already as soon as I touch this spot I start to relax. And I love breath work. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just breathing in and out slowly. I think people way overcomplicate breath work, there’s a million different kinds you can do, but breathing in and out slowly is one of the quickest ways. You can also get into that rest and digest relaxed state. So this is a really good one and it can activate the parasympathetic and that vagus nerve.

Amanda Montalvo [00:18:13]:

But yeah, just breathe in and out slowly. That’s like my top one that I like to do personally and I find it can be helpful too for people that they need to do something like them sitting there breathing is almost like not relaxing. That one can be really helpful because you’re actually doing something and feeling that little pressure point. So that’s the earlobe one. Deep and slow breathing is a great one. Slow is the key there because sometimes we’re just breathing in and out and if you’re kind of in that stress state already, it can be difficult to slow that down. But as soon as you do, it really relaxes your body and can activate that vagus nerve. Tons of research on slow breathing, especially through the nose and the vagus nerve.

Amanda Montalvo [00:19:03]:

Singing, humming or chanting is another one. We do listen to music typically at lunchtime in my house, usually dinner too. So that’s one that you can definitely do and the singing and the chanting, humming, it helps to stimulate the vagus nerve because of the connection in our vocal cords and the nerve. So talking and stuff too, but it’s that vibration that you get from the singing, humming or chanting, whatever you want to do. Gargling, same thing. The muscles that are involved in swallowing in the back of the throat are connected to that vagus nerve so that is something you could do as well if you’re like. I’m not really feeling much from the singing or humming. Maybe the deep breathing wasn’t enough for you and you want to try gargling, that can also be really helpful.

Amanda Montalvo [00:19:48]:

And then laughing. So touching behind the earlobe to get that vagus nerve area deep slow breathing, singing, humming or chanting gargling or laughing and you might find that you like to do a combination of a few of these but these are a great thing to try to implement or work into your mealtime routine. I mean, I like the earlobe because I can just do it sitting right before I’m about to eat. Typically we put music on so we can be like singing and stuff. My daughter loves to sing and whichever one works for you, I would experiment I would just try to make it fun, try not to make it like another thing that you’re adding to your to do list. And I would try to genuinely be curious when I’ve added this thing in, how do I feel? Do I notice a difference in my digestion? Am I less bloated after the meal? Do I feel more satisfied. Have my bowel movements changed at all? Those are all really great things to start to recognize. So environment, getting your mind right before you’re eating, not multitasking, and then picking some sort of activity to activate that vagus nerve, those are the most important, right? Because now I’m going to talk about digestive enzymes, bitters and apple cider vinegar because I get a ton of questions about these and I do think they’re great, but I think that they’re kind of like a band aid and they don’t typically work as well if someone’s still in that fight or flight state when they’re eating.

Amanda Montalvo [00:21:17]:

So number one is always going to be trying to relax before your meals and make that your norm. And then your body starts to get used to that, okay, we’re going to eat. That means we’re going to relax. And it starts to get easier and easier to relax into those meals. I think when we do that, and we have that in a really good place, that adding things like digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar before a meal can be really helpful because your body can actually utilize it and it works properly because you’re in the relaxed state. So once you’ve worked on those two things, you can definitely consider some other digestive support if you need it. A lot of the people we work with do need it, at least for a short period. And it can also be helpful if sometimes you’re like, hey, today I’m in a really hard season of my life.

Amanda Montalvo [00:22:08]:

Or if you’re going through a stressful time, you’re like, I know I will feel better if I just eat a little something. And obviously you still want to try to relax, but sometimes it doesn’t fully work. And then that’s when using something like digestive bitters could be really helpful. So let’s talk about the difference between the three. I really like digestive bitters and apple cider vinegar. I think what you’re going to use really depends on the person, of course, when it comes to digestive bitters. So they’re herbal tinctures and they’re made from bitter tasting plants and herbs. They’re supposed to be bitter.

Amanda Montalvo [00:22:43]:

That’s what helps trigger the whole reaction. They’ve been used for centuries. A lot of different cultures and traditional remedies will use these to support digestion and overall gut health. They do support digestion, but they can also support your gut health too. So I’ll go through all of that. But the main way they’re working is that bitter taste from the plants and herbs, this stimulates the taste receptors on our tongue and that triggers a whole cascade of physiological response that supports digestion. So it helps make digestive enzymes, it can help secrete saliva. And remember, there’s that amylase that breaks down carbs in our saliva, gastric juices like stomach acid.

Amanda Montalvo [00:23:25]:

And all of this helps to break down our food better. Remember, we need these to be released, especially in our stomach and small intestine, in order to break the food down into smaller pieces, but then also to break it down to its tiny little building blocks so that we can absorb it and use it in the body. If food is not broken down, well, it’s very difficult to absorb much from the food that we’re eating. So digestive bitters can really help make more enzymes and digestive juices like stomach acid, so that we can break down the food better. And that’s why they can be helpful if someone is really struggling with digestion, even if they are relaxing before their meals. If you have a long history of stress, then sometimes we still need bitters, even if we’re relaxing at meals, because our body has down regulated this whole digestion thing for a long time. You might also have certain nutrient deficiencies that are making it difficult to make enough digestive enzymes. And juices I think of like sodium and potassium are so important for stomach acid.

Amanda Montalvo [00:24:29]:

Same thing with zinc and what gets used up when we’re stressed all those minerals, especially sodium and potassium, but zinc too, because we use up magnesium and then that gets depleted and then we use up zinc. So a lot of these resources get used up very quickly. So again, if you’re working on replenishing these nutrient deficiencies, using something like bitters in the meantime to help your body digest food well, can be really helpful. So it helps make digestive juices. Bitters can actually improve our appetite because they make more of those gastric juices, which promotes, it makes like a natural hunger before our meals when we are not making enough stomach acid. Having a poor appetite is very common, so it can help improve your appetite. It can regulate bowel movements again, because it’s helping digest the food properly. So it’s broken down, which supports a healthy gut, but it can help with motility as well.

Amanda Montalvo [00:25:29]:

And I think a lot of that too is because it can help release bile. Like bitters can stimulate our liver and gallbladder too. And when we get that bile release, that’s really important for having a bowel movement. That’s why a lot of people with either gallbladder issues or that don’t have a gallbladder struggle with constipation and usually loose stools. But constipation is a big part of that. They can help reduce bloating and gas. Again, because you’re having better digestion, they’re reducing that fermentation of undigested food in the gut and they’re helping move it along. And Bloating and gas are often related to having slower motility, having food hang out longer than it should, and then bacteria grow and that can lead to more bloating.

Amanda Montalvo [00:26:12]:

They also support liver function because, like I mentioned, they stimulate the production and flow of bile, and that’s really important for fat digestion. But we also get rid of a lot in our bile, like, we get rid of excess estrogen, copper, heavy metals. I also was recently researching this for one, a client that we had. And we get rid of mycotoxins, like, mold in our bile too. So just very interesting. And then of course, it helps us absorb nutrients better because they’re helping us break it down into the tiny building blocks. And then finally it can promote a healthy gut microbiome, because instead of having food that’s not breaking down, well, that’s hanging out. It helps make sure it’s broken down and moving through the system so that we’re not having harmful bacteria overgrow.

Amanda Montalvo [00:26:59]:

So that digestive bitters. Typically you would take them around ten minutes before a meal. If you forget, you could take them after meals too. And it’s still helpful. Usually it takes a little bit to get into the habit of taking them before you eat and remembering even if you took them right before a meal, I still think it’s worth it. So that’s digestive bitters. I know people will ask what brand of digestive bitters. I love urban moonshine.

Amanda Montalvo [00:27:26]:

They do have one that’s safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s the chamomile bitters, the Calm tummy bitters. So that one you could use while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. All the other ones, it’s like they’ve got different ones for different things. They have just their regular kind of standard bitters, which would probably be great. They make an orange one those taste a little bit better. And they have like, liver bitters, which have extra ingredients like artichoke to support the liver a little bit more. If someone has bile issues, I would definitely do the liver bitters.

Amanda Montalvo [00:27:58]:

But urban moonshine is great organic olivia they have their digestive juice that I really like and then even just brands like, like they have your standard digestive bitters that are great too. And I think what is that brand? Herb Farm. They’re in a lot of grocery stores. A lot of bitters are very similar because they use a lot of the same plants and herbs, unless you’re using one for a specific thing like the liver ones. But those are like four brands that I think are great, would work for most people. If you need something for pregnancy or breastfeeding, I would do the urban Moonshine calm Tummy bitters. Okay, so that’s bitters. Let’s talk about apple cider vinegar.

Amanda Montalvo [00:28:39]:

Very similar. So they do help with stimulating digestive juices. They help reduce bloating and gas and they support our beneficial bacteria, just like digestive bitters. Other things that apple cider vinegar can also do, it can actually help balance stomach acid. And I know that this one can feel very confusing because it’s like, okay, well, if someone has either low. Stomach acid or high stomach acid. Wouldn’t they want to be careful with using something like a vinegar? Isn’t it acidic? If someone has low stomach acid, it can be really helpful because it helps promote the acid production and improves digestion. If you have an overproduction of stomach acid, you’d want to be very careful with apple cider vinegar and digestive bitters in general.

Amanda Montalvo [00:29:27]:

But there’s different ways you can balance it out outside of meals. You could utilize something like magnesium bicarbonate or a little teeny tiny, like an 8th of a teaspoon, a bit of baking soda. You’d have to use those on an empty stomach because you don’t want to lower your stomach acid when you’re eating a meal, right, because we need that to break down proteins and get that food going. But you could use something like that outside a meal and then to lower stomach acid so that you’re not having reflux symptoms. And then when you’re eating a meal, if you feel like you’re not digesting your food well, you could try to use something like vinegar or bitters. You just want to be careful. If reflux is an issue, it’s like a whole thing. I should probably do a whole episode on reflux.

Amanda Montalvo [00:30:11]:

I can have my friend Michelle come on and talk about it. It’s nuanced. But a lot of times if people don’t make enough stomach acid, they do really well with things like bitters and apple cider vinegar because it helps them make more and relieves a lot of the reflux symptoms. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it’s usually because they need to lower it in the short term. So can help with acid. Reflux and heartburn help balance stomach acid. It helps with blood sugar levels. There’s actually quite a bit of research that shows if you have apple cider vinegar before a meal, it can help reduce the spike in blood sugar that you have after the meal.

Amanda Montalvo [00:30:46]:

You can have it after a meal as well and it can help, but most of the research is on having it before a meal and then it can avoid a blood sugar spike, which is very interesting. So they’re thinking that it can help improve insulin sensitivity. And if you’re more sensitive to insulin, then you don’t need as much to get that glucose inside the cells. So it would make sense that it would lead to a smaller increase in blood sugar. It also has prebiotic effects. So apple cider vinegar contains soluble fibers like pectin, and we need prebiotic fibers. They’re very important for feeding our beneficial bacteria. I can’t tell you how many clients we have that do a stool test and they have very low beneficial bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:31:29]:

And that really affects your immune system function. It affects your ability to break down certain foods and it makes it so that the environment in your gut changes. So you want to have enough good bacteria so that they can create an optimal environment and avoid an overgrowth of bad bacteria. When we don’t have enough good bacteria, that’s when these more negative opportunistic bacteria have a chance to overgrow. So, lots of benefits from apple cider vinegar. Similar thing to bitters. You’d want to take it like ten minutes or so before a meal. If you forget, you could take it during or after.

Amanda Montalvo [00:32:04]:

And you probably just want to start with like one to two teaspoons and like a little bit of water. I don’t like the taste of vinegar, so I’ll take it like a shot because I can’t handle just sipping on it. Some people like to put it in water and dilute it and drink it slowly. I would say do what works for you. If you do it in water, please use a straw because I don’t want anyone to ruin the enamel in their teeth. But that’s apple cider vinegar. A lot of similar effects. And I would say most people have apple cider vinegar at home, and I tend to start with that because it’s one less thing that people are purchasing and may or may not work for them.

Amanda Montalvo [00:32:42]:

And you can implement it right away and just see. And plus, too, if someone has blood sugar concerns, I’ll usually just use apple cider vinegar instead of the bitters, so that we can kind of get like a two for one. So that’s apple cider vinegar and digestive bitters, we’re going to end it with digestive enzymes. Because I always get people asking me, because I talk about bitters a lot, they’re just like an easy thing to experiment with. And people will often ask like, well, what about digestive enzymes? Do you ever use those? I do think that digestive enzymes can be beneficial for some people. For example, if someone has a very compromised digestive system, maybe they have a long health history, they’re not making enough digestive enzymes. Maybe they tried bitters and they help, but they’re not quite enough. Or if they have a very specific issue, like I’m thinking of gallbladder stuff.

Amanda Montalvo [00:33:34]:

Sometimes people that either don’t have a gallbladder or have very thick sludgy bile and are on the verge of gallstones, they can have a very hard time. And they might use something like tudco, which I love. It’s a bile, salt or ox bile. And they find that it helps digestion a bit or it doesn’t help, it makes it worse. And so they need something different. And that’s when something like a digestive enzyme could come in, like lipase. Remember, that helps to break down fat. And so sometimes that person might need a lipase supplement as well, especially if they don’t have a gallbladder.

Amanda Montalvo [00:34:11]:

But I typically don’t go right for digestive enzymes because I want to help someone, one, create lifestyle habits, because again, you could take all the supplements you want and you could take something like digestive enzymes, but it’s an exogenous source of enzymes. You’re putting it into your body it’s not helping to stimulate your own production of digestive enzymes, which is what bitters and apple cider vinegar can do. And that’s typically a part of the reason why they’re like my go to. I want to help someone’s digestion long term. I don’t just want them to take a supplement short term, so that’s a big part of it. I want people to not take supplements forever. And I think if you only take digestive enzymes and then you’re not working on any of these other areas, that you’re going to have to rely on them long term, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose. But of course, if someone’s really struggling the bitters or apple cider vinegar are not enough or they have a very specific issue, then there can definitely be like a time and place for it.

Amanda Montalvo [00:35:10]:

But that’s the main difference. They’re not stimulating your own digestive process. They’re not increasing your digestive capacity. They’re just an outside source of enzymes that you’re adding in. There’s many different types. I don’t have a favorite one. I know people will ask because it depends on what the person needs it for and then finally just to wrap it up, because I know we covered a lot in this episode how digestion works. It’s a simple but complex process and I think it’s something that people just forget.

Amanda Montalvo [00:35:44]:

That how much our nervous system impacts it. And being in fight or flight versus rest and digest can make it difficult to digest our food. We might feel like we need a stool test or we need to take supplements, but my first question would be, like, how are you eating? That has a huge impact in your digestive capacity and your ability to break down and absorb your food. So that’s kind of like the first area to think about wrap your brain around and then you want to think about, okay, what is my environment? Like, how can I improve that? Not be multitasking? What’s my thing going to be to activate my vagus nerve and relax at my meals? And then beyond that, it’s like, do I need additional support? If so, I would say you could definitely consider digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar, experiment and find which one works for you. But of course you want to talk with your practitioner before you implement any of that. But I hope this episode is helpful. I hope it kind of removes some of the confusion around how to actually support digestion from like a holistic natural perspective because we all have the ability to digest our food well, we just need to create the right environment is, I think, the biggest thing. So let me know, share it in your stories, let me know if you used any of these tips and if you found them helpful.

Amanda Montalvo [00:37:01]:

And if you are in Patreon, you’ll get the bonus episode as well this week where I talk about tips for constipation and loose stools and if you want to join, you can go to Patreon.com Hormonehealingrd and I’ll see you guys in the next episode. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Are You Menstrual? Podcast. If you want to support my work, please leave a review and let me know how you like the episode. This lets me know what you guys want more of less of. I read every single one and I appreciate them more, more than you know. If you want to keep learning, you can get access to the bonus episode and additional resources on Patreon.com Hormonehealingrd. I’d love to have you in there. Thanks again and I will see you in the next episode.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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