Natural Remedies for Digestion

stomachOne of the biggest health complaints Americans make deals with digestion. Whether it is gastric reflux, gas, bloating, ulcers, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), etc., it all leads to discomfort, and the current choice of therapy are medications that will reduce the production of HCl (hydrochloric acid). Over 100 million Americans suffer from heartburn and literally spend millions of dollars on OTC preparations (mainly antacids) to try to stop it. Let’s look at some of the causes and natural remedies that can bring relief.

According to Dr. Patrick Donavan, naturopathic physician, “There are many causes of GI disorders, including dietary and nutritional factors, food allergies, viral and bacterial infections, parasites and stress. They can be secondary to problems with the pancreas, liver or gallbladder, all of which are involved in digestion.” He further states that “Many of these disorders involve inflammation of part of the digestive tract and this disturbance can lead to malabsorption and nutritional deficiency.”

I always say that I come from the school of digestion. In all my years of study, digestion of food is critically important to good health.  We used to say “You are what you eat” this is true but now we say “You are what you assimilate.” Digestion and absorption involve many processes and many organs. It all begins in the brain when you begin to think about food.  Just the smell of food will activate enzymes in the stomach in preparation of what is to come.  The first thing to assess is the quality and quantity of the food you are eating.  The typical SAD (standard American diet) of high fat, high refined carbohydrates, laden with preservatives and additives, as well as improper food combining, lack of dietary fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables are the leading cause of digestive disorders. 

Because many gastric disorders share the same symptoms of inflammation, bloating, gas, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, etc., the treatment protocols include dietary restrictions, nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and stress reduction.  Some of the main dietary factors causing digestive disturbances are red meat, refined oils, excessive salt, alcohol, refined sugar and carbonated beverages. 

It is interesting to study the acid vs. alkaline quality of the foods you eat.  This balance is critical to the elimination of negative symptoms.  There are charts available so you can learn which foods to eat and which ones to avoid.  In regards to the natural energetic system approach to healing, the following foods are beneficial in aiding digestion.  The grains of millet and corn, collard greens, all squash, carrots, apples, oranges, salmon, tuna and shitake mushrooms all have soothing properties to the stomach lining.  Fresh juices have also been used and would include carrot, celery and cabbage.

Some other dietary guidelines are to restrict the amount of fluid you drink with your meals. Excessive fluids have a tendency to dilute the enzyme juices of the stomach and dilute the digestive power. Another recommendation is that if you drink fluids with a meal that it not be iced. The cold temperature inhibits the release of enzymes needed for proper digestion. It is also advised to not eat heavy fat or protein foods late at night. The body is ready for sleep and repair, and when you put these types of foods into the body at that time they do not get broken efficiently. 

Let’s look at some herbal remedies for some of these types of disorders: 

  • Chamomile – is a carminative (gas relieving), nervine, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory herb used for travel sickness, restlessness, diarrhea and ulcers. Can bed used in tea form.
  • Peppermint – mints have the ability to relieve gas and are antispasmodic. They have been used for the treatment of      irritable bowel syndrome and gallbladder attacks.
  • Fennel seed – the tea is used as a carminative and either suppresses or enhances appetite.  Tastes good, too.
  • Licorice root – the deglycyrrhizinated form in chewable tablets has shown benefits for heartburn and ulcers. It works on rebuilding the stomach lining.
  • Slippery elm bark – is very soothing for the stomach and intestinal lining inflammation.  The tea form is better than eating the bark in capsules. Cooking this herb brings out these beneficial properties. One can use marshmallow root in the same manner.
  • Ginger – is gas relieving, aids digestive process, is a great anti-inflammatory and aids liver function. Helps with bloating      symptoms. One tsp grated fresh root to one 8-ounce cup of hot water steeped for 10 minutes. Drink shortly after meal for best results.

The herbs listed above are beneficial as teas or cooked within the food you are eating. Ginger, fennel and mint can be added to salad dressings or added in cooking. I also use herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano. They all have beneficial properties to aid digestion.

There are two other supplements that I recommend with chronic gastrointestinal disorder and they are:

  • Probiotics –  these are beneficial bacteria that live in the linings of our body, specifically the digestive tract. They are helpers to the digestive process and need to be nourished.  Good sources are naturally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso and yogurt, etc.  These are commonly referred to as acidophilus or bulgaricus strains of bacteria. If you supplement, make sure that the bacteria are active and alive.
  • Enzymes –   digestive enzymes are necessary to break down food.  If your body has a lack of them, it will be necessary to take them in supplement form.  They will contain pepsin, papain, betaine, hydrochloride and pancreatin. Another source of enzymes are plant based and are in the form of protease, lipase, amylase, cellulose and lactase. Taking them with your meal will help your body to assimilate your food better.

There are numerous natural approaches to digestive disorders.  As with any type of therapy, educate yourself and seek the advice of a naturally trained professional.  One good resource is the book Foundations of Health, The Live and Digestive Herbal by Christopher Hobbs.

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