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Hard to stomach

A photo of a woman holding her stomach

When your digestion is not working properly you can experience numerous unpleasant symptoms. Rude Health finds out how you can help yourself – the natural way

Common Digestive Issues

Maura O’Sullivan Dip Nutritional Therapist runs her own practice in Ennis: “The main digestive issues clients present with are gas and bloating, constipation and sometimes alternating with diarrhoea, nausea, pain and cramps in the colon. Usually by the time they have come to me their GP has made a diagnosis of IBS.”

Bloating & Constipation

Virginia Ziulu, DipNT IHS, mNTOI, is a functional medicine nutritional therapist who has a practice in Nature’s Options in Newbridge, Co. Kildare where she offers food intolerance testing. “Problems are quite often caused by a food intolerance and a diet lacking in fibre mainly from vegetables and fruit and water. Stress, lack of sleep and lack of exercise are among the lifestyle triggers for these health complaints. Drinking a warm glass of water with overnight soaked linseeds may bring huge relief. I recommend a probiotic from human strains with a minimum of 20 billion live organisms per capsule and digestive enzymes with HCL for three months.”

Try this:

  • For constipation take vitamin C as it has a healing and cleansing effect in the gut.
  • Drink nettle, ginger and fennel herbal teas.

Bad Breath

Virginia Ziulu: “Bad breath and coated tongue are often related to a yeast or bacteria overgrowth and an imbalance in the gut flora. The main lifestyle factors that can trigger it are high consumption of sugary snacks, carbohydrates, lack of probiotic food in the diet and prebiotics from raw vegetables and fruits. Start by adding some probiotic-rich foods such as kefir ice-cream, live yogurt, miso soup and tempeh. Supplements that can help are oregano oil, caprylic acid and cinnamon bark. Start gradually and always drink plenty of water.”


Try digestive enzymes which combine herbs such as slippery elm, papaya and chamomile with aloe vera juice. Chewing fennel seeds can help to push air out of the intestine and can help if you suffer from post-meal indigestion.

Acid Reflux

The most common treatment for acid reflux is antacids, but this problem is actually caused by too little acid; this means that food isn’t broken down properly and gas can push up the sphincter. Make sure you are getting enough magnesium from dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, certain fish, advocados and bananas as it can help to relax the muscles in the intestine. Take a centaurium tincture and drink chamomile tea after meals.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Natalie Lamb, nutritional therapist for Bio-Kult and Lepicol: “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not a disease in itself, but a syndrome with a collection of symptoms consisting of bloating, pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation. The typical Western lifestyle of a nutrient-sparse diet, lack of exercise, sleep and sunshine, busy often stressful lifestyles, alcohol consumption and the overuse of antibiotics are just some areas that are believed to affect our gut flora balance and our overall health.

Soluble fibre from rolled oats, linseeds, ripe fruits and non-starchy vegetables (carrots, celery, bok choy, lettuce) may be the easiest fibres to tolerate. Insoluble bran fibre is often too harsh for sensitive IBS sufferers, whereas psyllium husk has been shown to be a much gentler and efficient natural alternative. I would recommend an organic wholefood diet. Good quality meats and vegetables are often better tolerated when slow cooked in stews, soups and stocks.”

Lifestyle Changes

Maura O’Sullivan: “I usually ask clients to keep a food diary. Clients can see for themselves what may be the cause of problems. Eat little and often and choose foods which will nourish your body. Increase your fibre intake gradually and notice how your body is reacting. Avoid wheat bran and wheat-based products as they can irritate the intestines. Have lean protein foods, wholegrain cereals, ground nuts and seeds. Avoid dairy and try some non-dairy choices. Increase your fruit and vegetables, but if symptoms are bad cook your vegetables well until symptoms improve. Avoid caffeine, red meat, alcohol, salt, sugar and deep-fried foods. Chew your food very well. Drink two litres of water or herbal teas in between meals.”

Try this:

  • Food intolerance – if you suspect this, avoid the suspected food for a month and see if there is a difference. Or consider having a food intolerance test with a nutritionist.
  • Take regular moderate exercise – walk for 30 minutes three to four times a week.
  • Give up smoking – it has a detrimental effect on the digestive system and inhibits the absorption of nutrients from food.
  • Relax – if stress is the cause of your digestive problems find ways to relax.

Natural Help

There are a number of natural options available to help with digestive concerns. Maura O’Sullivan lists some of the best: “Take a multi-strain probiotic – many studies show supplementing with probiotics can help with most digestive symptoms.

“Try a digestive enzyme supplement before meals to prevent gas and bloating.

“Aloe vera juice can be soothing and healing to the digestive tract. Start gradually and build up to the dose stated on the product.

“The digestive tract uses glutamine as a fuel source and promotes healing of the digestive tract. Take glutamine powder on an empty stomach mixed with a water or juice.

“Herbal teas are also very useful to help relieve unwanted digestive symptoms – chamomile, valerian and peppermint teas have antispasmodic properties.

Ginger and fennel teas relieve gas and bloating.

Check with your professional healthcare practitioner before you take any new supplements or start a new diet.

Virginia Ziulu

Maura O’Sullivan

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