Most of us have suffered from one of the following: heartburn, sour stomach, ulcers, overproduction of stomach acid, bloating and gas pains.
If digestive troubles occur more frequently than occasional celebratory overindulgences, there are a few simple but effective solutions.
Most importantly, consider the foods and drinks that you consume. You can probably resolve most of your digestive troubles by skipping the strong acids–coffee, pop, chocolate, alcohol, black tea and smoking. Eliminating fried foods also reduces a lot of the workload for your stomach and will benefit your arteries. Choosing simpler meals–one protein, one starch (rice, pasta, potatoes or bread) and some vegetables makes the digestive process easier still.
If you’re not a vegetarian, consider trying some vegetarian meals. Meat is often the most difficult food to digest.
Besides over-eating, the most powerful threat to happy digestion is the stress that we serve up with our meals. How many of these scenarios are you guilty of? Eating standing up, on the run, in your vehicle, while on the telephone or while working at your desk. Eating when under duress is a huge no-no. When you are feeling anxious, angry, hurried or under pressure, your body responds as though you were under attack. (Imagine stopping to eat while being chased by a mugger.)
Your body doesn’t differentiate between physical threats or imagined ones–it merely responds to your feelings. When you react to stress, your digestive system shuts down. Blood is shunted away from your digestive organs and instead is pumped into your arms and legs (to fight or run more effectively). Your bowels and bladder are signalled to empty themselves (so you can run faster). When your body is set to fight or run away, food is an unwelcome burden.
Handle this one by ensuring that the time you have allotted for eating is ample. Take a few deep breaths before beginning your meal. Reassure yourself that you are safe and all is calm. After eating, allow yourself time to “let your food settle.” Your meal will be digested much easier.
My clinical experience is that, initially, we produce excess acid under stress; the stomach must work much harder to break down foods under the pressure of your perceived stress. This excess acid creates pain. Do this long enough and mealtime could be the stage for a whopping ulcer.
A terrific herb tea that reduces excess stomach acid is calendula. This beautiful golden flower will alleviate stomach pain in minutes. Toss out your Rolaids; sip on some calendula. It’s fast acting and wonderfully effective. Long-term use is beneficial for the whole digestive system, but most people obtain great results with only a few cups.
Dr Andrew Weil, author of Natural Remedies, recommends taking one or two licorice extract tablets ( deglycerrhizinated licorice or DGL) 15 minutes prior to a meal. This extract, he says, increases mucus coating in your stomach, thereby reducing irritation from excess acid.
Without intervention, your body can overproduce stomach acid for weeks or months. Then comes stage two: your exhausted stomach can’t produce adequate digestive acids and enzymes. Your meals seem to park in your stomach, creating a feeling of weight and discomfort. Gas follows most meals. If you are at this stage of poor digestion, then you would benefit from a simple remedy. Blend two parts of apple cider vinegar with one part of unpasteurized honey. This mixture will keep indefinitely in your cupboard. Immediately before starting your next meal, take 15 mL (one tablespoon) of this apple cider vinegar and honey blend. Your meal should digest much more quickly and without the gas.
If you are one of the few who can’t tolerate the taste or smell of apple cider vinegar (poor you!), try digestive enzymes–there is a wide variety at your local health store. Digestive enzymes are no longer only organ-derived or chemically synthesized. Vegetarians can now find effective plant-based enzymes to help improve their digestion. You can find digestive enzymes that aren’t pH dependent to work; they’ll function whether your stomach is over- or under-acidic. Take the digestive enzymes with your first bite of food.
You might be eating lots of vegetables and fruits each day. If so, good for you! However, if most of those are cooked, then you need to know that heat destroys most of the enzymes in fruits and vegetables. These enzymes would otherwise be helping in your digestive process. Eating some raw foods each day is good insurance to maintain healthy digestion. But what foods should you focus on to help meals digest more smoothly?
Consider starting a meal with papaya or pineapple. Papaya contains a broad spectrum of digestive enzymes, these being alpha and beta papain, chymopapain, amylase, lipase and pectase. Papain and lipase focus on metabolizing fatty foods. Pineapple contains bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme. This type of enzyme also has anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is another item to consider taking when your stomach is not producing enough acid. However, if you take HCl in addition to digestive enzymes, then take the HCl about 20 minutes after eating. This timing is best because HCl can inactivate digestive enzymes by raising your stomach’s acid level beyond the viable range of those enzymes. Those who have tried HCl and digestive enzymes without effect have often made the mistake of taking them together at the start of a meal.
Another tip: don’t drink fluids with your meals. Extra fluids dilute your digestive juices, acids and enzymes. Your stomach has to work harder with that glass of water, tea or juice. You can drink fluids up to 15 minutes before eating or else wait until an hour after your meal.
For that time before or after meals, herb teas can soothe and balance your digestive tract. Camomile is a terrific help to digestion–whether your stomach is generating either too much or too little acid. This gently-scented herb speeds digestion, reduces gas and even helps tone your digestive tract. Camomile can be taken indefinitely, with added benefits for your nervous system.
Peppermint tea is another great herb tea for digestion. Relaxing and soothing, peppermint tea melts away indigestion and gas. However, should you suffer from esophageal reflux, (heartburn caused by the stomach releasing its contents back up into the esophagus), give peppermint a pass. It’s such an effective relaxant that it might also relax your stomach’s esophageal sphincter and thus increase your heartburn. Aside from esophageal problems, peppermint is a powerful remedy for an upset stomach. Alternate one cup of peppermint tea per day with one cup of either calendula, camomile or fennel tea per day.
Fennel seed tea, with its licorice taste, has a well-deserved reputation as a great remedy for colic. It will also work wonders on indigestion and gas. My son, as a new baby, was prone to colic. On swallowing a small spoonful of fennel tea, he would turn wide-eyed, and then release a loud but blissful burp. Fennel soothes upset grown-up stomachs too, as well as the rest of your digestive tract.
Freshly-sliced or grated ginger added to boiled water (with or without honey) is another good remedy to have in your kitchen. Ginger improves circulation, particularly to the digestive organs. Like fennel, it is also a carminative, meaning that it relieves gas and colic.
Keep mealtimes pleasant; don’t discuss emotionally charged topics. Your stomach will thank you.