Many diseases are silent and difficult to detect, but digestive
dysfunction usually announces itself loudly and odorously through burps and
flatulence, uncomfortably with distention, heartburn, cramps or nausea,
messily through diarrhea and bleeding, or difficultly with constipation. It is
hard to ignore digestive problems, although many people tolerate a low level of
indigestion without seeking treatment or changing their eating habits. They may
pop a Tums or R-O-L-A-I-D-S, but rarely do these really spell relief. Its only
when some of these symptoms become extreme, or the results of indigestion and
poor assimilation begin to affect general health that most people are willing
to do something about their digestion.
What can you do to improve your digestion? There are many simple
things you can do for yourself. Here are some basic guidelines that are sure to
make a difference for you.
1. Just eat. Put your attention on the process of eating. Don’t
read, drive, talk on the phone, work or make love while eating if you can
avoid it. Take time to have a meal, rather than catch your food on the run.
When your attention is on the eating process, digestion isn’t a distraction,
it’s the main event. Try eating in silence and you’ll be amazed at how
different your food tastes.
2. Eat slowly. This allows time for the signals from the senses to get
to the brain and stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, muscular
contractions and other processes necessary for digestion, before the food
arrives. Pavlov’s dogs salivated before the food arrived when their senses told
them by association that the food was coming. Take time to look at, smell and
savor your meals.
3. Chew well. Chew your food until it is liquid before swallowing.
Chewing shreds fibers, mashes and macerates food and mixes it with saliva.
If the food is not chewed properly, carbohydrate digestion is impeded and
digestion may take much longer because the food does not have sufficient
surface area exposed to the digestive juices for digestion to occur
efficiently. Carnivores who often bolt their meet whole, without chewing, have
much stronger digestive juices than human beings do, but for people, chewing
is very important.
4. Don’t wash your food down. Too much liquid with your
meals may dilute the digestive juices you need. Try to drink liquid before your
meals so you won’t feel thirsty during the meal. Cold or iced drinks may
interfere with digestion according to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. A little
liquid with the meal may not interfere with digestion and a glass of warm water
with lemon juice l/2 hour before a meal may promote secretion of hydrochloric
5. Don’ t eat too much. Yoga recommends eating two double handfuls of
food, two double handfuls of liquid, and leaving the stomach one third empty at
the end of a meal. Stuffing yourself doesn’t allow room for mixing the food,
and overloads the whole system.
6. Observe food combining principles. According to food combining
theory, starches and proteins don’t mix nor do fruits and vegetables. This
theory claims that sweet fruits and proteins are also a bad combination and
that melons should be eaten alone or left alone. When you eat them together,
indigestion may occur. Consult a food combining chart, or read Fit for Life
for the details. Eating too many combinations at a meal, the smorgasbord or
potluck syndrome, is, for many, a prescription for digestive disaster.
7. Eat whole, natural foods without additives, colorings and preservatives.
People who react to foods, react much more to processed foods. Also
processed foods tend to have and excess of fat, sugar and salt which are not
needed by the body and must be stored as fat or excreted. Energy and nutrition
are much more readily available from whole, vital foods.
8. Eat foods you aren’t allergic to. If your body reacts strongly to a
food, don’t eat it. It may at least cause digestive discomfort, gas, nausea,
diarrhea or constipation and at worst create other symptoms such as fatigue,
headaches, skin rashes, and joint pains.
9. Eating can be a spiritual practice. Eating allows us to partake of
the universal source of energy and sustenance. Each bite can be experienced as
communion with Spirit. The more consciously we eat and prepare food, the more
sacred our nourishment will become.
Following these principles will give you a good start toward digestive
happiness. We have found that treating digestive problems depends on a
willingness to change your eating patterns coupled with effective natural
treatments. Naturopathy, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and herbal
medicine can each be of great benefit to digestion. Below we have listed some
of the more common digestive problems and some home treatments.If your
digestive problems are severe or persistent, we recommend that you see your
naturopathic physician or other qualified health practitioner for diagnosis and
Acid Indigestion, Gastritis and Heartburn. When the body is
trying to digest protein it secretes hydrochloric acid. If too much is
produced and it gets into the esophagus or irritates the stomach lining,
burning pain and a full feeling occurs, often with sour belching. In order to
beat this version of the burps, you need to do two things, reduce the acid and
protect the mucous membranes. This is normally done by introducing an alkaline
subtance into the stomach like bicarbonate of soda, the basis of alka-seltzer
and tums. This will work in the short term, but is not likely to be curative.
Another approach is to coat the stomach with a neutral substance. This is the
reason for taking Maalox or Pepto-bismol. A more natural approach would be to
use the teas of slippery elm or licorice root, or to take these in capsules.
Some of the carminitive herbs like peppermint or fennel, may help to reduce the
belching. In order to cure this condition when it is chronic, Ayurvedic
medicine will decrease the fire principle or Pitta in the body by decreasing
foods which are too sour, too spicey or red and yellow in color and emphasizing
blander foods and green vegetables. Homeopathy may be used to stimulate the
body to decrease acid production by giving remedies in small doses according to
the law of similars. Remedies like Nux vomica, Arsenicum album, Phosphorous and
Carbo vegetabilis are often helpful when correctly prescribed by a homeopath.
Acupuncture and chinese herbs may also create a beneficial reduction in acidity
while increasing protective mucous formation.
Nausea and Vomiting. These symptoms occur usually when the food
or drink that is ingested is spoiled or poisonous in some way, but they may
occur from problems with balance, motion sickness or hormonal changes. If what
you have eaten has made you sick, it may be just as well to let the normal
vomiting reflex get it out of your body. Vomiting can be helpful in relieving
the feelings of nausea. You can induce vomiting with the gag reflex by sticking
your index finger towards the back of your throat or vigorously rubbing the
back of your tongue, or you can take an ounce of syrup of ipecac. If you want
to reduce nausea herbally, the best remedy is to boil fresh slices of ginger
root and drink a cup or two of the tea. The acupressure point Stomach 36 may
also be helpful in decreasing nausea. Homeopathically, the best first-aid
remedy for nausea and vomiting is homeopathic ipecac. Other remedies that may
be helpful homeopathically are cocculus, petroleum, tabacum, especially for
motion sickness and sepia for morning sickness in pregnancy. Persistent nausea
and vomiting should be treated by a competent health practitioner. Be sure to
replace fluids and electrolytes if vomiting is severe.
Gas. Gas is usually characterized by either belching or gas, and
sometimes by cramping pains and bloating when the gas is trapped in the bowels.
Digestive enzymes may be helpful in a pinch to improve digestion (papain from
papaya and bromelain from pineapple are two food sources) and decrease gas, but
if gas is a chronic problem, we find homeopathic remedies such as Lycopodium,
Carbo vegetabilis and Sulphur to be very effective. Colonic irrigation may be
of help in cleaning out the bowel and re-establishing healthy intestinal flora.
If the chronic gas is due to Candida ( intestinalyeast), it may be necessary to
change the environment of the bowel. Using garlic and acidophilus and
eliminating sweets are useful home treatments, but Candida often responds best
when treated more aggressively with homeopathy or natural fungicides.For acute
gas after eating, peppermint, ginger, fennel and fenugreek are useful. Charcoal
capsules or burned toast are extremely beneficial for absorbing excess gas. The
Ayurvedic formula, Drachsa, is very effective in preventing gas when taken
after meals and a diet which decreases the Vata or air principle in the body
often relieves gas. This diet eliminates most beans, raw vegetables, cabbage
family and nightshade family vegetables. The wind relieving pose and inverted
yoga postures may also help release trapped gas.
Diarrhea and Constipation. The colon maintains a delicate
balance between diarrhea and constipation. If too little water is absorbed from
the stool, diarrhea or loose stool results. If the stool becomes too dry and
hard because it is retained too long, it may become difficult to expel.
Emotional as well as dietary factors play a role. The following principles are
helpful for promoting colon health, prevention and treatment. Eat fiber-rich
foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables or take supplemental bran or
psyllium seed husk, which act as a scrub brush in the bowel. Herbs including
senna, buckthorn, and cascara sagradaare used for their laxative function.
Colonic irrigation can be tremendously helpful in restoring normal bowel
function. Never suppress the urge to have a bowel movement and make sure to
getregular exercise, especially walking or abdominal exercises. Specific yoga
exerecises as well as breath and cleansing practices eare very helpful for
improving bowel tone and function. Drink enough liquid, at least 4 to 8
glasses a day depending on your body type. If you have diarrhea, avoid fruit
juice, eat rice and grains or fast on water, and make sure to replace lost
fluids and electrolytes. Clay for internal use may be helpful in stopping
diarrhea. Homeopathic remedies such as Podophyllum, Arsenicum, or Sulphur may
stop diarrhea in minutes when correctly prescribed.
If you follow these suggestions, you will hopefully be well on the way
to absolutely divine digestion!
Drs. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are naturopathic and
homeopathic physicians and cofounders of the Northwest Center for Homeopathic
Medicine in Edmonds, WA. They are coauthors of The Patient’s Guide to
Homeopathic Medicine and Beyond Ritalin: Homeopathic Treatment of ADD
and Other Behavioral and Learning Problems. They can be reached at (206)