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Good guts guide

You certainly know it if your gut is not working properly, with signs such as bloating and discomfort, acid reflux, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Digestion is one of the areas where we get the most queries from customers,” says Rob Whinnett of Blasta Wholefoods in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. “A misfiring digestive system can lead to malabsorbtion of nutrients and a compromised immune system as well as making life pretty miserable on a day to day basis. Your independent health store has access to a huge range of products and a wealth of advice to deal with all sorts of digestive issues. You can also rest assured that we won’t be embarrassed by whatever you tell us because we’ve heard it all before! There are a number of natural ways to support your digestive system.”


Bloating is caused by the body finding it difficult to break down carbohydrates, fats or proteins. Try digestive enzymes designed to help with each of these as well as formulations with multiple enzymes.


For indigestion try digestive enzymes which combine herbs such as slippery elm, papaya and chamomile with aloe vera juice. Chewing fennel seeds after eating can help to push air out of the intestine.

Acid reflux

Acid reflux is actually caused by too little acid, so avoid antacids. Make sure you are getting enough magnesium from dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, fish, advocados and bananas. Take a centaurium tincture and drink camomile tea after meals. “We have had good results with apple cider vinegar for acid reflux,” says Rob Whinnett. “Although it might sound counter-intuitive, sometimes acid reflux is caused not by too much stomach acid, but too little. So 1tbsp of vinegar with 1tbsp water taken in the morning may really help.”


Live bacteria (probiotics) can help restore the natural bacteria in the gut if you are constipated. Try eating seeds such as chia to help the bowels move food through the gut. Herbal teas can help – nettle is great for the bowels, ginger before meals can help, fennel is good for reducing gas. “Psyllium husk is my go-to for constipation,” says Rob Whinnett. “A powder or capsule taken with plenty of water, it is a great source of soluble fibre which keeps everything moving.”


Flatulence is a sign that your stomach is not working properly, so take liver supporting herbs such as antichoke and dandelion, consume more fibre and drink enough water. Flatulence can be caused by a sluggish system so take linseed products with extracts of senna and frangula.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a syndrome with symptoms including bloating, pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation. The typical Western lifestyle with a nutrient-sparse diet, lack of exercise, sleep and sunshine, stress, alcohol consumption and the overuse of antibiotics is believed to affect our gut flora balance and overall health.

IBS can be caused by chronic stress, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), low consumption of vegetables, non coeliac gluten sensitivity and lack of vitamin D. Advice includes taking probiotic foods and drinks to repopulate your gut microbiome, eating high fibre foods including plenty of fruit and vegetables, chicory, garlic, leeks, onions and bananas, fibrous wholegrains such as oats and brown rice, beans and lentils, chia and flax seed and plenty of water.


“Our understanding of probiotics is developing all the time, and many probiotics are tailored for use with specific digestive conditions,” says Rob Whinnett. “Probiotics are not just of value following a course of antibiotics; we have found them very useful in managing inflammatory bowel conditions over the long term as well as dealing with short term issues like traveller's tummy and constipation.“

Probiotic foods include fermented milk, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar and supplements. Choose a supplement with 22 billion organisms or more.

Natural help

Good supplements for digestion include:

• Aloe vera – soothing and healing to the digestive tract.

• Centaurium tincture or camomile tea after meals – for acid reflux.

• Chlorella – great source of protein, can increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.

• Digestive enzyme – try one with herbs such as slippery elm, papaya and chamomile and aloe vera juice, before meals to prevent gas and bloating.

• Glutamine powder – healing for the digestive tract.

• Herbal teas – chamomile, valerian or peppermint teas have antispasmodic properties. Ginger, fennel teas relieve gas and bloating.

• Magnesium – from dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, certain fish, avocados and bananas. Can help to relax the muscles in the intestine.

• Vitamin C – has a healing and cleansing effect in the gut so is good for constipation.

Lifestyle tips

“A good night's sleep, regular meal times (little and often rather than a big blow out meal is best), gentle exercise, plenty of fibre, fruit and veg, stay hydrated and keep calm,” will all help says Rob Whinnett.

Take regular moderate exercise – walk for 30 minutes three to four times a week to keep everything moving.

Give up smoking – inhibits the absorption of nutrients from food.

Relax – if stress is the cause of your digestive problems find ways in your life to relax.

If you suspect a food intolerance – avoid the suspected food for a month and see if it helps. Or have a food intolerance test with a nutritionist.


“Understanding the link between stress and digestion is vitally important and often overlooked. We often find people who are in a vicious circle where their stress causes digestive discomfort which in turn causes them more stress. Sometimes it is difficult to see what came first, the stress or the digestive problems. Your independent health store can help you to break that cycle by taking a holistic approach to both the anxiety and the digestion.” Rob Whinnett

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

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