How to Speed Up Digestion – Feel Lighter after Meals
A slow digestive process can cause abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, and fatigue.
There are plenty of steps that you can take to improve your digestive health, including supporting normal stomach acid production and bile flow, increasing your intake of fermented foods and raw vegetables, and taking a probiotic supplement to support diverse gut flora.
Take a look at the best ways to support your digestive tract and learn how to speed up digestion naturally.
How to speed up digestion naturally
Healthy digestion is crucial to obtaining nutrients and energy from your foods, eliminating waste and toxins, providing immune defenses against invading microbes, and recycling bile salts and amino acids.
Unsurprisingly, slow or sluggish digestion can quickly impact overall health, and supporting your digestive system is an excellent way to promote a healthy body.
Here are the best steps that you can take to speed up your digestion.
Step 1: improve stomach acidity
Stomach acid plays a crucial role in the breakdown of food and absorption of vitamins and minerals and provides a first line of defense against harmful bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes that can cause infection and trigger inflammation.
Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, is common and increases the risk of vitamin B12 and iron deficiency, poor fat digestion, and an imbalanced microflora.
Here are four ways to support healthy stomach acid levels.
Betaine hydrochloride is a supplement that increases the acidity of the stomach, which improves digestive function and reduces symptoms of low stomach acid, including bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.
Taking betaine hydrochloride with meals supports digestion and lowers gastrointestinal discomfort after large meals.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a rich source of acetic acid, a natural acid that helps balance stomach acid levels, supports digestive health, stimulates bile secretion, and speeds up the absorption of fats and proteins.
To make an apple cider vinegar drink, simply mix one teaspoon with six ounces of fresh water and drink it before a meal.
Kombucha is a fermented tea containing various beneficial bacteria and yeasts, including lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria.
Research published by the American Society for Microbiology suggests that these strains of beneficial bacteria lower the pH of the digestive tract, and consuming kombucha at mealtimes can compensate for low stomach acid levels.
Antacids are medications that neutralize the acidity in the stomach and are regularly prescribed to treat symptoms of excessive stomach acid, including heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux.
However, if you have hypochlorhydria, taking antacids may worsen the problem, and conditions such as reflux and heartburn are often caused by low stomach acid levels.
Watch the video below to learn how you can speed up your digestion.
Step 2: improve bile flow
Bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder and plays a crucial role in the digestion of fats and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Bile salts are the primary component of bile that help emulsify fats, making them easier to digest and absorb.
A low-fat diet, bile sludge and gallstones, and medications such as opioids and proton pump inhibitors can impact bile production and gallbladder health, leaving you at risk of sluggish digestion.
Here are two ways to improve bile flow.
Choline is an essential nutrient that's converted into acetylcholine. This vital neurotransmitter is released by the nerves of the digestive system and regulates gallbladder function and the flow of bile into the small intestine.
A report published by the National Institute of Health confirms that choline-rich foods, including cruciferous vegetables, beet tops, artichokes, ginger, and egg yolks, support digestion and promote healthy bile production and flow.
Choline can also be taken in a supplemental form to speed up digestion after eating fatty foods.
Taking a bile salt supplement helps to speed up digestion, especially for people with fatty liver disease, low stomach acid, and those who had their gallbladder removed.
It’s best to choose a digestive support supplement that contains purified ox bile, choline, and bile salts to aid the breakdown, digestion, and absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins.
Step 3: improve digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes are secreted by many parts of the digestive system, including the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. They are proteins that break down food into smaller molecules that the body can absorb and use.
Without adequate enzyme levels, your digestive tract can't break down and absorb nutrients from food, leading to malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, and other health problems.
Here are two ways to improve digestive enzymes.
Many plant foods like vegetables, herbs, and roots contain natural digestive enzymes supporting digestion.
It’s important to note that heat destabilizes most enzymatic compounds and that raw plant foods contain more enzymes than cooked foods.
Foods such as ginger, spinach, tomatoes, and some fermented foods contain natural digestive enzymes that aid your digestion.
If you experience digestive issues, taking digestive enzymes can significantly speed up your digestion and reduce discomfort, bloating, and gas after meals.
Choose a digestive enzyme complex containing the main three digestive enzyme types—protease for protein digestion, lipase for fat digestion, and amylase for carbohydrate digestion.
Step 4: improve gut flora
Your large intestine is densely populated by billions of beneficial microbes that play essential roles in nutrient absorption, immune defenses, recycling of bile salts, and the digestion of fiber.
Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the composition of the gut flora's microbial makeup and occurs when the density of beneficial bacteria is reduced, which can lead to the overgrowth of harmful microorganisms.
Dysbiosis can lead to various digestive problems and increases the risk of autoimmune and gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel conditions.
These three things can help improve your gut flora.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that support balanced gut flora. Taking probiotic supplements or consuming probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi helps to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and supports healthy digestion.
Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that cannot be digested by the human body but are fermented by beneficial gut bacteria, which provide energy for gut flora and help maintain a healthy digestive environment.
A healthy diet—including plenty of prebiotic-rich foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, and asparagus—helps beneficial bacteria to thrive and lowers the risk of dysbiosis.
Avoid processed foods
Highly processed foods and sugar have been found to disrupt the balance of beneficial gut bacteria and promote the growth of harmful bacteria, which can lead to dysbiosis and digestive issues.
Limiting these foods can help restore a healthy gut flora and support a healthy digestive system.
Step 5: improve parasympathetic nervous system function
The parasympathetic nervous system is crucial for digestion by promoting the "rest and digest" response.
“When the body is relaxed, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated,” says Dr. Berg. “This increases blood flow to the digestive system, stimulates the release of digestive enzymes, and promotes digestive muscle contractions, also known as peristalsis.”
Here are two ways to support your parasympathetic nervous functions.
Keeping your stress low and boosting your stress tolerance with adaptogenic herbs and deep breathing exercises helps your body activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes healthy digestion.
Vitamin B1 is needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that activates the parasympathetic nervous system and plays a role in the production of stomach acid.
Acetylcholine also helps to stimulate bile production and gallbladder function needed for the digestion and absorption of dietary fat and fat-soluble vitamins.
Signs of poor digestion
Poor digestion is common, and according to a report published by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), “Nearly 40% of Americans have stopped routine activities in the last year due to uncomfortable bowel symptoms.”
This potentially places a large proportion of individuals at an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, poor detoxification, dysbiosis, and digestive disorders.
Here are common signs of poor digestion:
Feeling heavy after a meal
Bloating and gas
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Constipation and diarrhea
Black or tarry stools
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Mental health issues
It's important to understand that poor digestion is just one possible cause of these symptoms. If you're experiencing persistent gastrointestinal issues, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
A sluggish digestion can lead to nutritional deficiencies and cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Luckily there are plenty of steps that you can take to support your digestive tract.
The best way to speed up digestion is to maintain normal stomach acid levels, support healthy bile flow, include prebiotic and probiotic foods, and avoid antacids, processed foods, and sugar.
1. What are the signs of slow digestion?
Slow digestion can manifest in various ways. Gastrointestinal discomfort, skin issues, constipation, nutrient deficiencies, and lack of energy are common digestive symptoms that can indicate sluggish digestion.
2. What causes slow digestion?
Dehydration, an unhealthy diet, chronic stress, certain medications, lack of fiber-rich foods, dysbiosis, poor gallbladder function, and intestinal inflammation are all factors that can slow down digestion.
3. Can you speed up your digestive system?
Yes, you can speed up your digestion by supporting healthy stomach acid levels and normal bile flow and promoting diverse intestinal microflora. In addition, you can enhance your digestion with bile salts and digestive enzymes that help break down and digest nutrients.
4. What helps digestion after a big meal?
Taking a bile salt supplement after eating helps digest and absorb fats and proteins, speeds up digestive processes, and can make you feel lighter after a big meal. Drinking apple cider vinegar diluted in water before a meal supports the stomach’s acidity, significantly supporting the breakdown and absorption of food in the small intestine.
5. How can I reduce bloating after meals?
Bloating after meals is a common sign of poor fat digestion, and you can reduce bloating by supporting stomach acid levels and stimulating bile flow.
Taking betaine hydrochloride or drinking an apple cider vinegar drink before a meal supports healthy stomach acid levels and triggers the release of bile salts needed for fat absorption. In addition, you can boost bile production by increasing your intake of artichoke, beet tops, and ginger, which have been found to promote bile production and flow.
6. How can I speed up my digestion overnight?
To speed up your digestion overnight, it’s essential to stay hydrated and relax to activate your parasympathetic nervous system needed to stimulate digestive function during rest periods. Taking a digestive aid such as bile salts or digestive enzymes helps digest food quickly if you consume a large meal before bedtime.
7. Can apple cider vinegar speed up digestion?
Yes! Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, a natural acid that helps break down fats and proteins in the stomach and triggers the release of bile and digestive enzymes needed to digest and absorb fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
8. Is constipation a sign of slow digestion?
Constipation is a common sign of slow digestion and may be caused by low fluid intake, gallbladder issues, low intake of insoluble fiber, or inadequate stomach acid levels.