The Instagram logo

Gut reaction

When your digestive system is not working properly you can feel miserable. Rude Health magazine consults the experts for their tips on dealing with the most common stomach-related health issues

Your gut has a vital role to play in your overall health including supporting your immune system, digesting and absorbing nutrients, moving waste out of the body and balancing your hormonal health. A digestive system that's not working properly can make you feel miserable, lead to malabsorbtion of nutrients and a compromised immune system.


"Eating carbohydrate-heavy diets, rushing meals or eating on the go has made bloating a modern day side effect of a busy life, but it need not be the case," says Frederika Le Cain from health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork. "Make sure you chew your food completely before swallowing, take time to sit down and digest before continuing your day and supplement your diet with a high quality digestive enzyme and probiotic complex."

"A high-fibre diet can make bloating worse for some people as can foods such as garlic, onion, apples, pears and cruciferous vegetables," says Alice Bradshaw DN Med, Head of Nutrition Education & Information, Terranova Nutrition. "A temporary elimination of these foods (followed by a slow reintroduction) may be helpful. Additionally, gluten-containing foods and dairy products may be difficult to digest for those with sensitive digestive systems. Digestive enzyme supplements can help to break down some of these difficult to digest foods. Ginger and fennel may help eliminate excessive gas production and alleviate bloating. Probiotic (microflora) supplements are important for helping to balance the bacteria within the large intestine which is central to good digestive health."

You could also try:
Activated charcoal - helps absorb excess wind in the gut.


"Indigestion may manifest as extra gas, belching and/or feeling uncomfortably full after meals," says Alice Bradshaw. Many people find that chewing more thoroughly and avoiding large, irregularly timed meals can help to relieve discomfort. Eating easily digested foods, such as warm, cooked foods may also be helpful along with the addition of a digestive enzyme supplement. Rushing through meals, wearing tight clothing and exercising soon after mealtimes can make indigestion worse, so consider making lifestyle choices to avoid these factors."

"The pain of indigestion can be debilitating," says Frederika Le Cain. "Try a peppermint oil capsule for relief, long-term a probiotic formula to help the gut rebalance. Alkalising herbal teas such as yarrow are helpful."

You could also try:
Chewing fennel seeds after eating can help to push air out of the intestine.

Digestive enzymes that combine herbs such as slippery elm, papaya and chamomile with aloe vera juice

Acid reflux

"Acid reflux occurs when the gut is out of balance," says Frederika Le Cain. "Try eating your evening meal no later than 7pm, and sit upright at a table to eat. Do not drink with your meal as this can cause too much dilution of digestive juices. Some people find a gentle digestive walk after main meals helps."

"For some reflux sufferers the muscle that prevents backflow of the stomach contents into the oesophagus opens too easily or too frequently," says Alice Bradshaw. "It's thought that certain foods including peppermint, chocolate, tomato sauces and spicy foods may relax the lower oesophageal sphincter and exacerbate reflux. For some, poor digestion of carbohydrates may play a significant role in reflux conditions. Numerous studies show that a low carbohydrate diet can offer great relief from reflux. Supporting digestive health with a microflora supplement, digestive enzymes and ginger, fennel and gentian may offer further support to relieving the unpleasant symptoms of acid reflux."

You could also try:
A centaurium tincture.

Drink camomile tea after meals.

Good supplements for digestion include:

Aloe vera - soothing and healing to the digestive tract.

Bone broths - contain a range of vitamins and minerals such as collagen, calcium and magnesium that help repair cells in the gut lining.

Centaurium tincture or camomile tea after meals - for acid reflux.

Chlorella - can increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.

Glutamine powder - healing for the digestive tract.

Herbal teas - chamomile, valerian or peppermint teas have antispasmodic properties. Ginger and 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.

Probiotics and digestive enzymes - facilitate the digestive process. Foods include fermented milk, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar and supplements. Choose a supplement with 22 billion organisms or more.

Slippery elm - good for heartburn and acid reflux.

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


"Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements or discomfort when going to the toilet due to hard, dry stools," says Alice Bradshaw. "Some may benefit from soluble fibre, which binds with water in oats, fruit, flaxseeds and soft, cooked root vegetables. A lack of essential fatty acids may also contribute to constipation, so include these in the diet or take a supplement."

"Modern diets are often low in fibre, leading to a sluggish or constipated bowel," says Frederika Le Cain. "Include water soluble fibres in your daily diet such as pears. A small glass of natural prune juice in the morning is often enough to encourage a sluggish bowel to move. Maximising fluid intake is important too, the ideal amount is around 1.5 litres a day. Psyllium husks are a popular choice to add fibre and bring moisture into the bowel."

You could also try:
Live bacteria (probiotics) - to help restore the natural bacteria in the gut.

Seeds such as chia - to help the bowels move food through the gut.

Herbal teas - nettle is great for the bowels, ginger before meals can help, fennel is good for reducing gas.


"Excessive flatulence is embarrassing and can be a sign that your food is fermenting in a stagnant and sluggish gut," says Frederika Le Cain. "Once you have ruled out food sensitivities as a cause of flatulence, look at peppermint oil capsules as a natural carminative. Acidophilus Bifidus and a good plant enzyme will aid the digestive process."

"Remedies for flatulence should focus on the same protocol used to relieve bloating," says Alice Bradshaw. "Reduced intake of fermentable carbohydrates, digestive enzymes with meals, regular meals and keeping physically active. Occasionally food sensitivities may contribute to excess gas in the intestines. The most common foods include nuts, eggs, grains, soy and dairy produce. Ginger and gentian are helpful for relieving excess intestinal gas. Liver-supporting herbs artichoke and dandelion help to ensure the proper secretion of digestive enzymes and breakdown of food you eat."

You could also try:
Liver supporting herbs such as antichoke and dandelion.

Take linseed products with extracts of senna and frangula.


"IBS or irritable bowel syndrome describes a cluster of digestive symptoms - the most common include abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, excess gas, acid reflux and bloating," says Alice Bradshaw. "Contributory factors can be stress and poor eating habits, imbalances in digestive acidity, and gut microflora. Digestive botanicals such as gentian and ginger stimulate the release of protein-digesting compounds in the stomach. Fennel, ginger and cardamom relax the intestinal muscles, which may help relieve abdominal spasms and cramps and may also help release trapped wind."

"Once you have your diagnosis of IBS you will learn this unpleasant syndrome takes a lifetime of management to keep your gut calm, healthy and functional," says Frederika Le Cain. "Foods that disagree with you must be taken out of the diet, a high spec probiotic is a must, go for a broad spectrum of friendly bacteria strains. Herbal teas such as peppermint, fennel and caraway have a calming effect on the gut. Fermented whey liquid has an excellent track record of normalising a distressed gut."

Leaky gut

"Leaky gut syndrome is caused when gaps in the intestinal walls allow bacteria, food particles and toxins to pass into the bloodstream," says Frederika Le Cain. "This imbalance triggers the immune response and leads to acute inflammation, discomfort and tiredness. A good digestive enzyme is a must to help the breakdown of your food. I have seen good results from taking a silicea gel twice daily."

"It's thought that leaky gut may be a contributing factor underlying most digestive irregularities and food sensitivities as well as inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases," says Alice Bradshaw. "Avoiding refined, processed foods will support digestive health-limiting grains, dairy foods may also be worth a try. Gut-supportive nutrients such as zinc, vitamin D, glutamine, omega-3 essential fatty acids and beneficial microflora are all thought to help to support the restoration and function of the intestinal lining."

You could also try:
L-glutamine - helps repair the cell walls in the gut and intestines.

Aloe vera juice - soothing and protecting and helps your body replace the lost mucous associated with leaky gut.

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

Articles from our latest issue...