We’re all affected by minor tummy troubles from time to time. These tips will help you understand and overcome some of the most common issues you may encounter.
Indigestion and Colic
The constricting pain of heartburn and colic, along with the bloating, flatulence, burping and nausea that sometimes accompany them, can have a significant impact on your life, taking the pleasure out of enjoying a good meal, and interfering with sleep.
For some people, the symptoms are triggered by the consumption of certain foods and beverages, with common culprits including spicy foods, gas-producing foods (such as cabbage and onions), garlic, chocolate, carbonated beverages, coffee and alcohol. To help take the pressure off your digestive system, avoid consuming overly large or heavy meals, or eating on the run or while feeling stressed. Instead, choose small to moderate servings, and take the time to sit and relax over your meal and make sure you chew each mouthful thoroughly before swallowing it.
In Western herbal medicine, many aromatic herbs have traditionally thought to have antispasmodic effects on the digestive system and may be used to relieve indigestion, bloating and flatulence. Herbs such as ginger, peppermint, fennel and chamomile make pleasant herbal teas that can be enjoyed after meals to support digestive processes, or can be taken in supplement form.
Other herbs (such as slippery elm and marshmallow) have traditionally been recommended for their content of a form of fibre called mucilage, which has soothing effects on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, and may help to relieve gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation.
If your bowel movements are irregular or difficult to pass, it’s likely that your diet needs an overhaul. Start by gradually increasing the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes in your diet: these foods contain high levels of fibre, which your body needs for regular bowel movements. If necessary, top up your fibre levels with soluble forms of fibre such as psyllium husks, pectin and ground flaxseeds.
This type of fibre is particularly absorbent, and aids the incorporation of cholesterol and other metabolic by-products in the faeces so they can be excreted from the body. Soluble fibre also acts as a source of nourishment for the healthy bacteria that inhabit the gut, which play an important role in bowel regularity. Your bowel needs fluids as well as fibre in order to function effectively, so make sure you’re drinking around two litres of water every day too.
Some people find that starting the day with the juice of half a lemon mixed with warm water is a good way to kick start their digestive function.
Poor Liver & Gall Bladder Function
In naturopathic philosophy, the typical Western diet and lifestyle with its frequent intake of alcohol and fatty and/or processed foods is regarded as placing undue stress on the liver and gall bladder. Regular exposure to chemicals such as those found in cleaning products and pollution are also thought to place extra stress on your liver.
The liver and gall bladder are important digestive organs and play a central role in the body’s detoxification processes and may become sluggish when overloaded. Associated symptoms may include fatigue, constipation, feeling nauseous after eating fatty food, feeling irritable or angry and being particularly sensitive to strong smells or chemicals.
To support liver and gall bladder function, choose fresh, high-fibre foods over processed meals and fatty dishes, and avoid alcohol. Taking the herbs milk thistle and schizandra may be beneficial too. These antioxidant herbs help protect liver cell membranes from free radical damage and support the liver’s detoxification capacity. Milk thistle also supports the liver’s capacity to regenerate new cells, which replace old and damaged cells.
These herbs are often taken in conjunction with nutrients that are involved in the transport and metabolism of fats in the body, such as taurine, choline, folic acid and vitamin B12. In some cases, digestive symptoms like those discussed above may be indicative of underlying health problems and are not suitable for self-treatment. Severe or persistent symptoms should be investigated and treated by your healthcare professional.