Whether we are attending to your child, your husband or you MOM, Good digestion is VITAL to overall well-being and health. Body cells need specific nutrients to function properly and without them, quality of life is compromised. Digestion is essential in this process.
Food must be broken down into molecules small enough to enter our bloodstream and cells. When food is inadequately digested, absorption is incomplete and we are robbed of life giving nutrients.
If food isn’t digested, the body breaks it down by fermentation. The fermenting food becomes toxic. Toxins are released into the bloodstream and to the cells and organs of our body. This process leads to sickness and disease.
Proper digestion is important to conserve energy. The digestive process uses more energy than any other bodily function. When the digestive system works harder, precious energy is lost. This is often the result of poor digestion.
Digestive Disorders Are On the Rise
The typical Western diet is loaded with fats, sugars, and processed foods. Add in stress and rushed meals and it’s no surprise digestive problems are on the rise. Acid reflux, heartburn (GERD), indigestion, flatulence, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, and Crohn’s disease have become an everyday part of life for millions of people.
In fact, about 60 to 70 million people are affected by digestive disorders each year. It’s estimated that more than $107 billion dollars a year are spent on treatments, many ineffective according to National Center for Health Statistics.
Most OTC (over the counter) and allopathic (conventional MD) prescribed treatments don’t cure the problem.
Digestive ailments can be painful, embarrassing, debilitating, and very often lead to other serious health problems.
A Working Knowledge of Digestion
Since good digestion is the foundation for optimal health, it’s important to gain a basic understanding of the digestive process.
Many people think that digestion occurs only in the stomach, however the process actually begins when food touches the tongue. Food on the tongue sends a message to the brain that food is on the way. The brain is able to differentiate between every mineral, fat, carbohydrate, protein, etc. that touches the tongue. The stomach releases hydrochloric acid (HCL) based on signals from the brain. The brain even determines how much acid should be released. HCL kills bacteria, virus, parasites, yeast, molds, and fungus that come along with the food and works to digest minerals.
The food digested in the stomach and the accompanying enzymes, now called “chyme,” leave the stomach and enter the small intestines or duodenum. Upon entry, hormones are released that signal the pancreas and gall bladder to release alkaline enzymes. These enzymes digest fats and proteins. The acids from the stomach and the alkaline enzymes in the human body combine and become neutralized.
The digested food then goes down the rest of the digestive tract. Vital nutrients are delivered and wastes are expelled. This is the way digestion should work.
This process often becomes hindered. Stress, rushed meals, processed foods, overeating, and drinking with meals are the main contributors to bad digestion.
Improper Digestion Begins in the Mouth
In today’s busy world, many of us are in a hurry. Bad digestion often begins with the first bite. Most Americans chew only 10% of their food. The brain senses just that 10%, releasing only enough enzymes to digest that amount. The other 90% ferments, or in other words, rots. The rotting food releases organic acids that burn and damage the stomach lining causing heartburn, flatulence, belching, and bloating. Continued occurrence can result in GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease).
The fermented food, full of acids, leaves the pH of the chyme at 4.5-5.0 instead of the regular 1.0-1.2 in proper digestion. When the chyme enters the duodenum, the acidity level doesn’t trigger the pancreas and gall bladder to release enzymes. Without enzymes, the chyme never neutralizes. The results are irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulitis. Without the release of the gall bladder and pancreatic enzymes, the fats and proteins never fully digest. The body doesn’t get the essential nutrients it needs; eventually health declines and weight gain is often triggered.
After weeks, months, and years of suffering, people turn to their doctors for help. Most conventional doctors prescribe treatments for the symptoms and not the cause. These treatments, usually drugs, often make the condition worse.
Conventional (Allopathic) Medicine and Digestion Problems
Tums, Rolaids, and Pepto-Bismol all work by absorbing acids in the stomach. Unfortunately, they don’t discriminate between good and bad acids and absorb both. The good acids are already in short supply, so with medications absorbing these acids, the root problem is not addressed.
Prevacid, Zantac, Prilosec, Protonix, Aciphex, and Nexium take it a step further and stop the production of essential enzymes. This further complicates the malfunctioning digestive system’s problems.
Less enzymes and lower levels of good acids lead to incomplete digestion. Foods ferment and become toxic. Nutrients pass through the body without being absorbed.
Although doctors (MDs) may have the best intentions to help their patients, allopathic treatment often don’t work to actually heal the body. The conventional medical approach treats the symptoms, while ignoring the causes. Treatments suppress the body’s natural reactions to heal itself.
For example, when a patient goes to a conventional doctor and complains of a cough, they are often given cough “medicine.” A cough is the body’s natural reaction to a foreign substance in the lungs; the muscles spasm to force its removal. Cough medicine simply stops this essential reflex and the foreign substance remains.
Another drawback of conventional medicine is the side effects, which are inadequately researched. Dangerous side effects are often not known until it’s too late. Think no further back than the 1960’s and thalidomide, which was prescribed to treat morning sickness. It was discovered, after the fact, use of this drug resulted in severe birth defects.
These types of treatments deny our body’s natural efforts to heal itself and can cause further damage.
Holistic Healing and Digestive Disorders
Holistic healing methods offer effective alternatives in treatment of many health problems, including digestive disorders.
The benefits of holistic healing approaches are numerous. This method involves using the body’s own innate healing abilities to overcome health problems. Alternative medicines work with body to eliminate the root causes, not simply mask the symptoms. Holistic medicine works in harmony with the body.
Holistic treatments are all natural, with low risk of any side effects. They are also non addictive. This method looks at the whole person—all aspects of a person’s life are taken into account in treating disorders. Lifestyle, nutrition, and stress levels are all important components in complementary medicine treatments.
There are a number of holistic methods. Following are several schools of holistic medicine approaches and treatments for disorders of the digestive system.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the individual as a whole. All parts, processes, thoughts, and emotions are considered when looking at illness. Disease and disorder are not isolated events, but seen as intimately connected in balancing the whole person.
TCM utilizes acupuncture, massage, dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, stress reduction, exercise, herbal medicine, and more in treating ailments. One condition is not given a standard treatment. The individual is treated and approaches vary between people.
In addressing digestive disorders, acupuncture may be used and is helpful for anxiety related digestive issues.
Herbs are commonly used for digestive problems. Herbal remedies change the environment in the stomach and intestines to relieve digestive problems.
Diarrhea can be helped with Chinese Coptis Extract Pills. The active ingredient berberine, has strong antibiotic effects. In addition, atractylodes (baizhu) can help move fluids through digestive canal, and poria and codonopsis can assist with diarrhea.
Patchouli pills are helpful for flu like symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Qi-regulating pills aid with indigestion, diarrhea, and flatulence. Six Gentlemen Tea pills contain ginseng, licorice root (found in most digestive formulas; has antispasmodic properties and calms nervous disorders), citrus peel, atractylodes, poria, and pinellia rhizome (zhi ban xia), and are effective for digestive problems.
Herbal treatments are specific to individuals and a certified practitioner should be consulted for optimal treatment.
Herbology, aka botanical medicine or herbal medicine, is a traditional medicine or folk medicine based on the use of plants and plant extracts.
Herbs commonly used in herbology to treat digestive disorders are caraway seeds, cumin seed, asafoetida, black pepper, dandelion root, rock salt, catnip, and rhubarb.
Herbology has been used effectively to treat numerous health problems since prehistoric times.
The second most widely used medical system in the world, homeopathy uses all natural remedies in the minimal dosage necessary to treat patients.
Mixing mineral, botanical, and biological substances, a homeopath believes in treating “like with like.” Disorders are treated with substances that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person.
Nux Vomica is used to treat heartburn, digestive spasms, and nausea; Antimonium Crudum for indigestion with nausea and belching. For bloating, headache, heartburn, and acid reflux Lycopodium is an option.
Naturopathy is a holistic approach that emphasizes the body’s ability to heal and maintain itself with non-toxic therapies. Naturopathic doctors, NDs, look at the whole individual and utilize acupuncture, nutrition, homeopathy, counseling and many more progressive methods.
Basic recommendations for digestive health are:
- Don’t overeat
- Eat plenty of fiber, fruits, and vegetable
- Eat slowly in a relaxed setting and chew thoroughly
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, sugars, and tobacco
- Eat lean proteins such as tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds
- Keep hydrated, drinking at least 2 liters of filtered water daily
- Eat a yogurt with live probiotics daily
- Herbal teas for digestive health are chamomile, peppermint, ginger and lemon, fennel and dandelion.
- To aid in digestion in the morning, drink a warm glass of water with lemon juice. Before meals try apple cider vinegar, slippery elm, or digestive enzymes.
- Increase bitter foods to produce more saliva and enzymes to help digestion.
- Preparations (tablets, oils, powders, etc.) are made from natural herbs, plants, and minerals. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle are addressed as well.
- In treatment of constipation, spices like cumin seeds, coriander, turmeric powder, fennel, and asafetida are recommended. Lemon juice and water taken several times a day also cleans the bowels.