11 Jan Gastrointestinal First Aid
In continuation of my “First Aid Kits” series, this newsletter will focus on 3 of my favorite approaches to Gastrointestinal (GI) issues. We’ll talk about gas/ bloating, indigestion/ reflux, and constipation. We’ll call this one the First Aid Kit for all things Belly!
Before I start on the above, I have to tell you that one supplement, above all, is proving itself to be essential for GI health in general. Probiotics (aka “good bacteria”) address such a wide array of GI symptoms, they should be a Go-To for most belly woes! Beyond the belly, probiotics offer multiple and varied benefits. We’ve really uncovered just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of these critters which live on and inside of us and outnumber our own cells greatly.
Here’s a short summary of the benefits probiotics may have:
1) Regulating immune function: up to 80% of our immune system is located in the GI tract and probiotics play an important role in regulating immunity. Probiotics have been found to reduce the incidence and severity of upper respiratory tract infections and allergies and eczema.
2) Probiotics crowd out and destroy non-beneficial organisms (such as yeast and “bad bacteria”) inside and on the body’s surfaces and are therefore beneficial in treating traveler’s diarrhea, oral thrush, and vaginal yeast infections, to name a few.
3) Produce some nutrients such as biotin and Vitamin K
4) May play a role in regulating weight and blood sugar
5) May play a role in regulating mood (studies are underway assessing the benefits of probiotic supplements in patients with mental health disorders such as anxiety and bipolar disorder).
6) May play a role in regulating cholesterol absorption
7) Have proven benefit in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Diarrhea, and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
I’d recommend adding fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, yogurt, kefir, etc) to the diet as they are a dietary source of probiotics.
You can also consider a supplement, particularly if you have some of the issues above or have been on an antibiotic. My all-time-favorite probiotic is Therbiotic Complete from Klaire Labs. It is broad spectrum (many different strains of bacteria) and relatively high potency (25 billion colony forming units) and contains a prebiotic (food for the bacteria).
When gas or bloating strike, there are numerous herbs to which you can turn. Many of these herbs are used in traditional cooking (cumin, star anise, caraway, marjoram). My favorite all-time is fennel seeds. Fennel is a wonderful and safe herb for treating fullness, bloating, cramping and flatulence. It has a history of use in treating colic in babies too.
Dried fennel seeds can be chewed or made into a tea (use a teaspoon or so after meals).
If you prefer a capsule, I love Gaia herbs Gas and Bloating Rapid Relief which contains activated charcoal and fennel along with a blend of other herbs to soothe and “deflate” a bloated, crampy belly.
When you’ve eaten too much and you have stomach pain or heartburn, licorice can come to the rescue. A particular preparation of licorice known as DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) removes the portion of the licorice that can sometimes cause side effects (such as high blood pressure or edema) in people consuming high doses of the plant. DGL is very safe. It’s been shown to heal chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and can be an incredibly effective alternative to acid-suppressing medications (such as Nexium or Prevacid) which come with a host of side-effects when taken long term.
If you suffer frequent gastritis or know you’re going to be eating something that predictably causes you heartburn (say that pasta with garlicky red sauce), chew a DGL pill (chewing seems to be more effective than swallowing) 20 or so minutes before meals up to three times a day and before bed if you have heartburn when you lie down. I’ve also found DGL to be effective for symptomatic relief so I have these pills on hand for those instances when I couldn’t predict that something wouldn’t “sit right” and would “repeat on me” after a meal.
Note that long standing heart burn can increase the risk of esophageal cancer and is not a symptom to ignore.
I love Integrative Therapeutics Rhizinate 3x because it’s very concentrated and tastes delicious.
Many of my patients suffer chronic constipation. If you feel “stuck”, first things first: check in on your water consumption (you should be drinking roughly 8 glasses of liquid a day) and your fiber intake (fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains). When constipation is chronic, it can sometimes signal an underlying cause that should be addressed. Two of my favorite tricks for easing constipation:
1) 2 prunes stewed in boiled water for a few minutes. Drink the water and eat the prunes (prunes offer plenty of fiber and are a good source of sorbitol- a natural laxative).
2) Elevate your legs on the toilet. For optimal colon function, the angle of your knees to hips should be 60 degrees. So putting your legs up on a stool can make all the difference in producing a healthy bowel movement. If you have frequent constipation, you may want to purchase a “Squatty Potty”.
If these two tricks don’t help, magnesium in higher doses has a natural laxative effect. I recommend 500mg of magnesium citrate before bed. (You can increase the dose slightly until you find the right balance but be aware that this is not a good solution for people with kidney concerns).
Many factors can play a role in intestinal motility (medications, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, food allergies, thyroid condition, to name a few). So, if your constipation is long-standing, bring it up with your doctor.
So there you have it! Three remedies to keep on hand in your First Aid Kit for all things Belly!
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