Treat digestive upsets naturally
Serenity Aberdour, ND
If holiday overindulgences leave your tummy feeling upset, a natural remedy may be the answer. Digestive enzymes are one of Nature's solutions for tummy troubles.
Ah, the holidays. Time for family, fun, and lots and lots of food. Along with all the festivities and merriment, some digestive upset is not uncommon. Whether it’s bloating, indigestion, gassiness, or other tummy troubles, overindulgence in sweets, meats, and other rich foods make digestive complaints as common as holiday decorations in December.
Enjoy the festivities—in moderation
For most of us, the holidays are a time to throw out our usual schedules and dietary restraints and just go for it (and usually too much of whatever “it” is).
Being more moderate with food and alcohol intake during the holidays will prevent most of these complaints, but let’s be realistic—most of us are not going to do that. Fortunately, there are some natural approaches to help decrease the digestive downsides of all those delicious holiday treats.
Bloating and gas
These symptoms can produce a lot of discomfort as well as some embarrassment. A long list of foods can cause increased gas production, including the brassica vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), onions, dairy products, spicy foods, and beans. Eating large amounts of many different foods at once, as we tend to do during the holidays, can also cause bloating for some of us.
Being careful about what and how much you eat can certainly help, but moderation often goes out the window over the holidays. If you find yourself feeling bloated or gassy after those holiday meals, here are a few natural remedies that may help.
Although research for the use of digestive enzymes in average, healthy individuals is pretty slim, many people do rely on them for helping to improve digestion when there has been some overindulging. Those who stand to benefit most from digestive enzymes are people with trouble digesting dairy or notoriously gassy foods such as beans and broccoli.
Dairy digestion problems are often due to an inability to properly digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. The enzyme lactase, available in pill form, can help improve digestion of dairy products when you just can’t avoid them over the holidays.
For those who find that beans, broccoli, and similar foods are an issue, alpha-galactosidase (found in many over-the-counter enzyme products) can help reduce bloating by improving the breakdown of the gas-promoting carbohydrates that these foods contain.
From a traditional herbal approach, the carminative herbs may also offer some relief. These plants are traditionally used to help break up gas in the digestive tract and include pungent herbs such as fennel, caraway, peppermint, ginger, and cinnamon.
Many of these can easily be added to cooking or enjoyed as a tea after meals. A large number of traditional herbal products (as liquids, powders, or pills) that contain carminative and other digestion-supporting herbs are also available.
The medical term for this is functional dyspepsia, but you may be more familiar with it as the pain or discomfort that can happen in your upper abdomen and chest after certain meals. Heartburn can also be a part of the problem for those with indigestion.
Unfortunately, the preventive measures that often reduce indigestion and heartburn (lying down after eating and avoiding very large, fatty, or spicy meals and foods such as coffee, tomatoes, chocolate, and alcohol) are the opposite of what the holidays usually bring. Fortunately, there are some natural medicines that may also help relieve symptoms. Herbal products have a long history of use for digestive upset, and several that have been researched for dyspepsia show some promise.
Artichoke leaf extract
This extract has been shown to provide significant symptom improvement compared to a placebo, with symptom scores decreasing by more than 40 percent. As an added bonus, artichoke leaf extract has also shown potential in relieving another common digestive concern: irritable bowel syndrome.
Bitters are another group of herbs with a long history of traditional use for digestive complaints. They include plants such as globe artichoke, dandelion root, gentian, burdock, and bitter candytuft—a herb better known in Germany than in Canada. This herbal family helps improve digestion by encouraging natural increases in secretions that are required for digestion, such as bile and digestive enzymes.
Bitters work well with carminatives such as lemon balm, camomile, or peppermint, and clinical trials of this type of combination of herbs has shown measurable benefits in the treatment of dyspepsia symptoms. In one of these studies, daily use of a bitter and carminative combination was found to completely resolve symptoms in 43 percent of those using it. In comparison, only 3 percent of placebo users reported symptom resolution in that time.
Chios mastic gum
This traditional Eastern Mediterranean remedy has gained research support in recent years. It is a resin taken from Pistacia lentiscus (the mastic tree), which is grown on the Greek island of Chios. Long used in traditional medicine, modern research shows promise for its use in treating dyspepsia.
In one study, three weeks of using Chios mastic gum, at a dose of 350 mg three times a day, was associated with a 77 percent reduction in dyspepsia symptoms—almost twice what was seen in the placebo group. This remedy could be particularly helpful to those who have a history of dyspepsia and experience ongoing symptoms even after the holidays have passed.
One important note about Chios mastic gum is that because it is only grown in a select few spots, it can be expensive and prone to imitation or substitution with similar-sounding or -tasting ingredients. If you do try this remedy, make sure you are getting it from a reputable company.
Some overindulgence in alcohol is definitely more common on holidays and other special occasions, and hangovers will often come along with this. Ask a dozen people for a sure-fire hangover cure, and you are likely to get at least 12 different suggestions.
The truth is that there is no instant cure for a hangover; the only guaranteed way to prevent one is not to indulge too much the night before. If you drink too much, chances are you are going to feel awful in the morning. There are many hangover “cures” on the market, but there is not much solid evidence to support any of them. Smoking, lack of sleep, and dehydration can make a hangover worse, so try to keep these in check to lessen the blow.
The holidays are a time for friends, family, and celebration. With all that celebrating, though, they can also be a time for upset tummies. Natural medicines can help to ease digestive symptoms so they don’t put too much of a dent in your holiday fun.