Warning: I talk about bowel movement and the inside of the human body A LOT in this post, so perhaps avoid if you're not as fascinated by it all as I am! This is a read not only for coeliacs or IBS sufferers, but anyone who has an interest in helping out one of their major organs.
So we know that a gluten free diet with a good balance of fibrous elements is essential in managing the associated complications of coeliac disease, but what the doctors and gastroenterologists don't mention, is that you may have ongoing issues no matter how carefully you consume your food. That's when you have to consider other allies for your intestines, if you're lucky enough to not rely on medication for the rest of your days.
Yes, there is always the danger that some evil crumbs will slip into your system at some point - particularly when you are not fully aware of any anomalies, but I have also found that when I am being as picky as possible with what passes my lips, I can still get that familiar stomach swell, griping cramps, and temporary flu-like state. Then there's the 4-5 day aftermath of not being able to actually 'go' to the toilet. This is just my flare-up presentation, and I am aware that everyone's experience is different.
I suspect that for many with any long term condition, you might Google suitable strategies, talk to others, get nowhere with your GP, and then you narrow down a few products that you have a right good crack at. Sorry for all the rear end references today, but I kind of feel it fits too?!
Eventually, after years of experimenting, I got it down to 5 main factors that work for me for general gut health, and here they are:
- Drink more water than you think you need, and throw in a peppermint tea or three. This is a must for anyone who has fluctuating toilet visits for no.2's or suffers with debilitating constipation. Yep, being bunged up can be the worst, and I'm not afraid to say mine can last anywhere from 2-3 days to 6-7 days. Water not only aids general digestion of meals, if you a prone to things backing up, extra hydration should get things moving again. It's literally a case of lubrication and good old-fashioned gravity! Fresh orange, strong coffee and prune juice are all natural diuretics too, but I find if you become disciplined with the water, you go down the route of 'prevention is better than the cure'; rather than the need to address a more acute issue. What's more, water's almost free to use and readily available! Peppermint is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been recommended for donkey's years for upset tummies. I thought it tasted like mouldy chewing gum at first (just for the record, I haven't knowingly had mouldy chewing gum), but once I got over myself and realised it has some decent all-round properties, a cup of peppermint wonder is now a regular feature in my day.
- Flax seed is your friend. Milled linseed or flax are an ideal addition each morning on your breakfast plate. Sprinkle these wondrous natural binding agents on your cereal or toast, and they will work in conjunction with your H20 for the best in flow. I know about it when I've changed up my usual 'flakes and flax' brekkie for an indulgent brunch, and unfortunately, the weekend can end up being a total drag. Routine is key here, and I even take a full bag of the brown stuff in my hand luggage if I'm leaving the country (remember those days?!) which you can probably imagine has made for some interesting conversations at airport security. Having recommended flax life to a few non-coeliac people I know when they go away, they also swear by this stuff; as we know, any change to your diet at any time can cause a hold up. Give it a go, but give it a few weeks before you definitively decide whether it is for you. It needs chance to get into your system, and I hope it changes your life the way it has mine! Wow I need to get out more.
- A probiotic a day. I've got into the habit of sinking a probiotic yoghurt shot every day and for the most part, this seems to be making a huge difference to my digestion. In essence, probiotics are deigned to increase the levels of 'good' bacteria in your gut, contributing to better metabolism and digestion, and less irritation. They're not especially expensive, and quite pleasant on the pallet, therefore, they are a good investment if you want to give them a go. Like with any less medicated interventions, it's best to trial them for at least 4-6 weeks to get the evaluation of the effects, and by then if you like the results, they should be more engrained in your routine. I get twtichy if I'm running low on these bad boys now, and it's nice to have found something that really seems to work.
- Activity and exercise. Working for the NHS and with patients that have a lot of gut issues, this is a recommendation we often make. Moving around more helps get things moving inside more. It's pretty simple, and if you're not a gym bunny or marathon runner, its OK. Something lower level like a brisk walk, yoga or pilates, or a quick HIIT three times a week is better than nothing. For those really tough days of constipation or general gut irritability, a good abdominal massage is worth a try. This is usually performed by trained professionals, but there are instructions online for you to be able to replicate it on yourself when needed. The idea is the massage the large intestine in the direction it would ordinarily 'flow', and once you get over the hands-on nature of this, it actually works. I work with a physio colleague in learning disabilities who regularly teaches it to our patients, but many don't know it exists. Try it and let me know what you think!
- I'm going to put it out there. Squatty Potty. A very lovely friend of mine introduced me to this concept on a girly holiday a few years ago, after I was amused, but not convinced by an advert circulating YouTube; featuring a unicorn and rainbow icecream poos. Remember it? Well I'm definitely laughing now. It really does work. Recalling those medieval toileting images or any trips to Asia, and you may be aware of the squatting concept - it really does get us back to how we were really meant to 'go'. Hitching those thighs up a little higher than the norm, and your body is in sync with itself, and again, with gravity. I won't go into more detail, as I am sure you've heard quite enough, but please please please let me know if any of the above rings true with you too.
Finally (maybe this is six, I'm not counting anymore) - don't worry. Our mental health is very much connected to our digestive system, and as most sources point to around 70% of our immune system being housed in our gut, it pays to give it as little as possible to fret about. Try the above strategies, or any you fancy. We are all different, and don't dwell too much on the bad days with illness. Focus on the few or many good days you get in-between. Trust your gut, it'll thank you for it.
So, there we have it, it's taken me nearly 20 years to get here, and I only hope you find a happy gut much sooner in life. I still have my off days, but for the most part, I know my body pretty well, and how to keep it ticking over.
Please let me know your thoughts, comments, questions below, or contact me on the homepage or via social media. Here's to happy, healthy guts going forward for everyone!
That glorious time Starbucks correctly spelt my name on my strong coffee (small wins)