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Tummy troubles

A photo of a woman holding her stomach

How to choose the best natural help for a healthy digestive system – we ask for independent health store advice

Natural help

“Some of the most common complaints we are asked about include bloating and discomfort, acid reflux, constipation, and IBS which is a mix of constipation/diarrhoea, bloating and just general discomfort,” says Alison Kingston, nutritional therapist based in An Tobairin in Bandon, Co Cork.

What’s the cause?

“The main reasons for digestive issues would be a lack of fibre and fluids in the diet, combined with a lack of exercise and a diet high in processed foods,” says Gillian Hudson of Hudsons Wholefoods in Ballydehob, Co Cork.

“The modern diet is a major cause of digestive issues,” agrees Alison Kingston. “An overall increase in processed foods, less fibrous vegetables, people eating too quickly and while stressed all contribute to poor digestion. Also the high use of antibiotics is a factor as these disrupt our gut bacteria balance.”

Foods to enjoy

“I suggest swapping wheat for spelt instead and other easier to digest grains, such as oats, rice and millet,” says Alison Kingston. “I believe that we should be getting most of our carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit. The rest of our diet should consist of good quality proteins and healthy fats.”

“I would recommend a diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre from brown rice, pasta, bread etc,” says Gillian Hudson. “Garlic has a cleansing and antibacterial action on the gut and yoghurt restores natural bacteria, so they should be eaten regularly. Good quality water is very important. Flax seeds are particularly effective when ground over porridge or cereals.”

Cut it out

“It’s best to avoid highly processed foods which have little fibre, salty foods, coffee, alcohol and dairy products,” according to Gillian Hudson. “Sugary and soft drinks particularly support bacterial growth. Meat is known to take days to pass through the gut so should be limited.”

Bloating

Bloating can be caused by the body finding it difficult to break down carbohydrates, fats or proteins and there are digestive enzymes designed to help with each of these as well as formulations with multiple enzymes. “Supportive herbs can help produce the right amount of stomach acid if you are not producing enough,” says Alison Kingston.

Indigestion

“Indigestion can be eased by digestive aids such as ones which combine aloe vera juice with herbs such as chamomile, slippery elm and papaya,” says Gillian Hudson. “A herbal remedy based on artichoke can be good for flatulence and indigestion.” If you feel indigestion coming on after a meal chew ½tsp of fennel seeds which may help to push air out of the intestinal tract.

IBS

“Probiotics can really help people with IBS and other digestive complaints as the right bacteria balance is vital for good digestion and immunity,” says Alison Kingston. “They support healthy lining of the intestines, proper breakdown of food, produce vitamins and support immunity. Raw sauerkaut is a fantastic fermented food to add to meals, this has trillions of bacteria and helpful enzymes.”

Many people find peppermint to be a soothing digestive remedy. Peppermint oil is available in coated capsules and as herbal tea.

Acid reflux

“Conventional medicine unfortunately treats acid reflux with antacids as they believe the stomach is overproducing acid, but it’s usually the opposite,” according to Alison Kingston. “Stress, overconsumption of coffee and a lack of nutrients like zinc can mean the stomach produces too little acid. This can mean that the sphincter at the top of the stomach does not close properly as the pH is too high and the right signals to the rest of the digestive system are not sent. This results in not enough enzymes and bile being produced so food isn’t broken down properly; gas is produced and can then push up through the stomach and push open the sphincter. To help acid reflux it is vital to support the right amount of stomach acid and ensure food is fully been broken down properly. A great remedy is a bitter herb called Centaurium which is available in tincture form.”

Many people find that a cup of camomile tea can help with heartburn and acid reflux when taken after a meal. Magnesium is really important for the relaxation of intestinal muscles, so make sure you are getting enough dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, certain fish, advocados and bananas.

Constipation

“For constipation I would suggest probiotics to help restore the natural bacteria in the gut,” suggests Gillian Hudson. “This could be combined with essential fatty acids to help soften stools and ease discomfort. Vitamin C also has a healing and cleansing effect in the gut.”

“Seeds such as chia with lots of insoluble fibre can help the bowels move food through the gut,” says Alison Kingston. “Herbal teas specific to the digestive system can help – nettle is great for the bowels, ginger before meals can help, fennel is good for reducing gas. I tell people not to drink while eating as this can dilute the digestive enzymes and may prevent proper breakdown of food.”

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

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