Digestive problems and solutions.
Help Yourself Information on Digestive Problems:
Bloatedness/acid reflux/nausea/irregular bowel habit/griping pains/stomach gurgles/ bad smelling wind/constipation and/or diarrhoea.
I’ve suffered with most of the above symptoms, on and off, over the years and would like to share with you some measures I have taken that have helped me:
If you are unlucky enough to suffer digestive problems, you will know how persistent and miserable they can be. I should start by saying that there is probably no ‘one’ answer to these problems and that it’s often a question of trial and error and no quick fix. I have refined my diet and tried different measures over the years so it’s worth reading the whole blog as some things may work for you and some may not.
It is also important to say is that if there has been a recent change in your bowel habit, for instance you have previously had no specific problems but lately have had symptoms like alternating constipation/diarrhoea, blood in stools (particularly dark blood), have stomach pains or are belching more than usual, then this should be checked out by your doctor. There are many reasons for such symptoms but do get it checked out if you are concerned.
Having said that, doctors can offer little help and advice for digestive symptoms when they are not associated with specific physical findings so ‘help yourself’ is usually the best way.
I discovered that certain foods really did not agree with me. I wasn’t allergic to those foods – allergy conjures up images of breaking out in a rash or not being able to breathe properly and that’s not how I was reacting– but I was intolerant. What happened was that my digestive system was struggling to process certain foods and this was putting a strain on my digestive system and the rest of my body (which not receiving the proper nutrition from food because of the sluggish nature of my digestion). Because it was struggling, food was taking longer to process and was staying in the intestines far too long – when it got really bad I suffered with acid reflux, constipation and a very uncomfortable tummy because there was a backlog of waste food in my system. It was all very well taking a laxative to get rid of the waste but it was not the answer as the problem came back.
It’s well worthwhile trying to establish if you have food intolerances and if your system is struggling to deal with certain foods. The most common foods are:
o wheat (bread, pastry, cakes, pizza, breakfast cereals and almost all ready made products have some wheat included).
o Cow’s dairy – milk, cheese, cream, yoghuts.
o Also the onion and cabbage family and tomatoes are reasonably common culprits.
o Refined sugar – is a very common cause of digestive imbalances and it’s in virtually all ready made food, drink, cereals, breads etc.
You might wish to get tested for allergies/intolerances, but you will probably have to pay privately for it. Some alternative health practitioners carry out tests on a Vega machine. In the past there was some controversy as to the reliability of these tests but I can only speak from experience when I had such a test, and it seemed to be very accurate for me. If you don’t want to get tested you can try cutting out the common culprits (above), or foods you suspect don’t agree with you, for a couple of months and then reintroduce them one at a time and see how you feel.
What to have instead
Honey is ok or sweet dried fruits but really there is nothing to have instead. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame should be totally avoided as they are chemicals that have no nutritional value and may be attributed to many and various unwanted symptoms such as dizziness, muscle spasm, nausea. This is a link to an article about aspartame.
After a period without sugar you will have retrained and refined your taste buds and they learn to appreciate sweetness in all sorts of foods without sugar. I have noticed now that anything sugary tastes awful, feels wrong and makes my tongue feel furry.
It’s a tough one but try corn cakes, rice cakes, oatcakes or Ryvita. Make your own pastry with the different flour blends that are available – Dove’s Farm make different flour blends. Eat more potatoes or rice instead - substitute pasta salads with rice for lunches.
Another tough one if you like dairy stuff, which fortunately I didn’t so it was easy for me. The Vega testing showed that I was ok with goat’s cheese/milk/butter – I understand the molecular structure is a little different to cow’s milk and so is more easily tolerated. Great if you like goat’s products as an alternative. I didn’t like goat’s milk however so have tried all sorts of non-dairy alternatives. Soya is an obvious choice but there has been recent research into the use of soya produce which I gave me enough cause for concern to stop using it. You may like to look at some of the research yourself – here is a link http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/07/17/the-whole-soy-story-the-dark-side-of-america-s-favorite-health-food.aspx
I use rice milk which is nice and, amazingly sweet (especially the Rice Dream Vanilla variety), despite not having any added sugar, but it’s a bit thin in consistency. My preference is for almond milk or coconut milk, unsweetened varieties.
Check the ingredients of all ‘ready-made’ products ie mayonnaise, sauce, etc. Many ready made foods contain sugar or dairy (in the form of whey) or wheat – or all three. In addition to that they may contain MSG, GMO bulking agents and preservatives. Your digestive system has to try to process these additives too!
Laxatives are all very well when you absolutely have to but it’s not a long-term solution. Getting to grips with foods that your body does not deal easily with is definitely a start and may be the whole answer for you. If you still have problems with constipation try linseeds.
Linseeds have worked so well for me. I know the foods my body does not like and avoid them but, even so, years of consuming dairy/wheat/sugar/raw etc, occasional and not so occasional laxatives, has taken its toll and weakened my system. Linseeds have definitely helped at lot. I soak about a tablespoon of linseeds in water (about half pint) over night and drink it first thing in the morning. There is no particular taste, it’s just like drinking thick water. I follow this with another glass of water, wait about half an hour before I eat breakfast and then I’m set up for the day.
Linseeds are not a laxative but they create a gentle bulk in the intestines and keep them flowing nicely. It will therefore take a few days or weeks for them to start working and getting the bowels into a regular pattern. Taking Linseeds every morning has pretty much ensured that I have regular daily bowel movements.
Constipation can also be due to dryness in the intestines. Faeces become drier the longer they hang around waiting to be expelled. It may be that you are not drinking enough fluid – especially water. There is much advice on the amount of water we should drink, some people drink a lot of water as they seem to be more thirsty than others and some hardly take any fluids in the day, but it is important to include some plain water in our daily fluid intake. Try having a large glass of water first thing in the morning and waiting 20 minutes or so before having breakfast. This ensures some water consumption at least, but do try to have a few more glasses throughout the day. Coffee, as many people know, acts as a diuretic and so the number of coffees per day should be limited as it encourages water out of the body. Apart from drinking water, certain foods like cucumber, water melon and courgettes are very watery and help the intestines to hang on to some water.
Herbal Bitters - I had read about the benefits of herbal bitters but decided to give it a try when I came across a bottle recently in a local shop. The brand I found was Fieldway Constitutional Bitters - a blend of 7 herbal bitters - but there are plenty of others on the market.
Apparently the benefits are:
o Curb sugar cravings
o Sooth gas & bloating
o Relieve heartburn
o Encourage digestive enzymes, bile and hydrochoric acid (stomach acid) production
o Calm upset stomach
o Increase absorption of vitamins – fat soluble ones like Vit A,D,E,K
o Help maintain healthy blood sugar levels
o Balance appetite
o Ease constipation and regulate bowel movements
o Supper liver function and healthy skin.
Bitters have my personal recommendation for constipation – they are absolutely amazing but they taste awful. I am not sure how much one is meant to take as there is nothing on the bottle to say and I’ve not found any guidance yet. I have been taking about 100 ml a day and it seems to work at that level. Have some water handy afterwards just to take the taste away.
Eating in a relaxed way and at regular times
Take time out to enjoy your food - our digestive system does a really remarkable job of breaking down masses of solid food, processing and converting it, finally, into something small enough for our microscopic cells to absorb and use for energy and repair. Our food is what keeps us alive, functioning and in good health. We should take time out to eat, in a relaxed manner and allow our stomachs to get to work on this important and really hard job.
Many TV advertisements encourage us, in our modern life, to get on with work and not be bothered by our symptoms as there is always a pill we can take to make them go away. For stomach upset, even if you are always eating on the go and get heartburn and indigestion, it’s ok, no need to slow down, the medicine will fix it. It’s also possible to battle on at work through cold and flu symptoms these days with the aid of various chemical concoctions. Sometimes we should slow down and think about why we are unwell and take time out to recover. We should all be more aware of our symptoms and not regularly cover them up with drugs as this inevitably leads to what may have been a simple resolution to the problem, becoming a much more difficult one. TV advertisers are keen to sell their products but they may not be the best ‘remedy’ for you.
Avoid eating after 8 pm – our stomachs really don’t like working hard late at night (I mean after about 7 or 8pm). After that time we start winding down and getting ready to rest. A huge amount of energy is needed by the stomach to digest food so eating after 8pm at the latest should be avoided, as we should be resting at night.
There is a saying – ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’. I know this isn’t always possible but I personally have found that this works really well. In fact if I have a large meal at lunch time, I really do only need a light snack at night so it’s really good for weight control.
Over-eating is not good, especially for those of us with sluggish digestion. For me, it takes maybe several days or a week to get back into feeling normal with regular bowel movements and not feeling uncomfortable if I eat too much. Beware of the temptation to eat more than is comfortable for you.
Stress – particularly long periods of studying or thinking too hard. In Chinese Medicine it is believed that too much thinking weakens the digestive organs and, as the system weakens further, it gives rise to sugar/junk food cravings which weaken it further still.
Raw and cold foods
I know that there is much said about raw food and how it is better for us because fewer vitamins are destroyed. However, in Chinese Medicine, lots of raw food is not thought to be so good for us. Consuming raw food means the stomach has to work so much harder, whereas cooked food has already been partially processed by the cooking. If our digestive system is not so robust, it’s putting additional strain upon it to give it too much raw food. This weakens the stomach over a period of time. Some raw food like salad is ok in summer but at other times our bodies really need warm, cooked or partially cooked foods.
Cold foods/drinks straight out of the fridge also cause a problem for the stomach as it has to heat the food/fluid first and so it is making the stomach work harder than it needs to. Cold cooked foods are ok if left to warm up to room temperature.
By this I mean not having too many different types of things on a plate. A lot of vegetables is fine as they are all the same thing but not mixing up lots of different carbohydrates and proteins. A Sunday brunch is an ideal example of what I mean - tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, hash browns, baked beans, toast. Not to say that this type of meal can never be enjoyed again - once a week is probably fine but keep the rest of the week more simple.
I have found that consciously food combining is really helpful in my attempts to keep adverse symptoms away, as it does not put additional strain on the digestive system by making it work to deal with lots of different foodstuffs. It is also effective for weight loss/maintenance. My daily aim is to have a protein or a carbohydrate based meal but not carbs or protein at the same time. That is to say – I can have chicken & veg, or fish & veg or eggs (like a Spanish omlette) but not have the rice or pasta or potatoes with it. Likewise if I want some chips or a jacket potato, I don’t have fish/meat/eggs. No desserts I am afraid with the protein meals but possible with the carb ones, if you must.
Diarrhoea or loose stools
We can all get diarrhoea and loose stools at times from food poisoning or a tummy bug but if long term, it is another sign that the digestive system is not working well and that it’s not transporting/transforming fluids adequately. In Chinese Medicine, the inadequate transporting/transforming action comes from a weakened Stomach and Spleen which then leads to the condition called Damp.
Weakening comes about through:
- Eating too many foods that the body finds difficult to deal with,
- eating too much wheat, dairy and sugar,
- eating in a rush,
- regular use of over the counter or prescription drugs or laxatives
- eating too much raw/cold food or prolonged periods in a very damp environment
- too much worry/stress
How does acupuncture help with digestive problems?
In Chinese Medicine we talk about the Stomach & Spleen being the organs of digestion, (although we do, of course, know that other organs are involved and Stomach/Spleen are just terms to describe a function or energy)
Acupuncture treatment helps in different ways.
o Re-balancing the system generally
o There are specific acupuncture points that encourage Stomach energy to descend. In Chinese medicine we say that Stomach energy should go down. Symptoms like heart-burn, excessive belching, food not moving out of the stomach as quickly as it should are signs that Stomach energy is stuck or moving up instead of down.
o There are specific points to tonify the digestive organs.
o There are points to clear ‘pathogens’ within or created by the digestive system so that it runs more smoothly,
o Cold or heat are two types of ‘pathogens’ – the Stomach can get cold from over consumption of raw/cold/frozen foods like ice cream, or it can get overheated from eating too much hot and spicy foods. There are acupuncture points to heat or cool.
When the Stomach & Spleen are not functioning well, this will affect other parts of the body.
In Chinese Medicine the Stomach and Spleen are said to rule muscles. This makes sense, we know that we need good food to make strong muscles. But it’s not just a question of eating good food – our digestive system also needs to function well in order for food to be processed and absorbed well. Therefore if digestion isn’t great we could suffer with –
- weak and flabby muscles (no matter how hard we train at the gym).
- sagging skin, as the muscles are not plump and healthy enough to hold skin in place (this can especially be seen around the cheeks and jowls).
- tiring easily as muscles don’t get enough nutrient to sustain them during activity.
- prolapses – such as uterine prolapse where abdominal muscles and linings fail to hold structures in place.
Another function of Stomach and Spleen is to hold blood in the blood vessels. If blood is not held we can get problems like –
- varicose veins,
- spider veins,
- easy bruising.
The Stomach and Spleen are said to transport and transform fluids. With a weakened system, fluids are not transported and transformed fully and we develop Damp in the system. This can manifest in many, many ways but a few examples are –
- fluid retention in lower body,
- fluid (mucous) on chest and in the nose,
- loose or runny bowel movements,
- stiff achy joints where the fluid accumulates,
- dizziness and inability to fully concentrate,
- heaviness and weight gain.
- no thirst or feeling thirsty but not wanting to drink much
We need to look after all our body systems but as far as digestive health is concerned, if we look after the Stomach and Spleen by eating well but simply, at the right time of day and in a relaxed fashion, then we will grow older more easily with fewer old age symptoms.
Face reading / reflexology
I have been studying face reading for personality traits/health issues on and off for a few years. Problems in the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver and gall bladder can often show up on or around the lips and can help to pinpoint where the problem area is. Likewise areas of tenderness on the feet can help to show up if there is a problem in a specific area of the digestive system. There are tender areas on my feet which indicate I have something going on in my transverse colon (part of the intestine that goes across the body under the rib area), it also shows up as a slightly darker area on my lower lip. Working on the feet can help stimulate healing within the digestive system (and can help with constipation). Try a reflexology treatment or a foot massage to see if it helps you.
Massaging the belly – massaging the belly can help to get things moving too but it must be done in the right direction. Starting with hands around the right lower abdomen and move up towards the chest, go across the tummy just under the ribs and then downwards – in other words, in a clockwise direction. Try adding some essential oils – fennel, marjoram, rose, black pepper – are all said to be useful for constipation.
o It may be that you have low levels of digestive enzymes in the stomach. If this is so, then food isn’t properly broken down and particularly some proteins are not available for the body’s cells to be used. This can be remedied by take herbal bitters, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in water before meals, or digestive enzymes in tablet form.
o Normal bowel flora is disrupted by taking antibiotics or the contraceptive pill. This leads to discomfort and bloating. Pro-biotics are a good way to restore good bowel flora. A really good pro-biotic supplement such as Bio Kult is quite expensive but preferable to by far to the supermarket ‘drinks’ as they contain many more millions of cultures.
o Liver and bowel cleansing routines and even enemas are an excellent way to clean up the system.
o I thoroughly recommend a book by Philip Weeks, Naturopath and Acupuncturist, called Make Yourself Better. Phillip’s book is easy to read and follow and explains much of what I have said here but in much more detail.