Did you know that digestion starts at the first bite of food you chew and swallow? Chewing and swallowing triggers the brain to begin the peristalsis process (the contraction of the walls of the gastrointestinal organs) that moves food through the digestive tract.
Along with the five organs directly involved with the digestive system (GI tract), the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are also involved. What could go wrong? While the system is perfectly designed to digest foods, extract nutrients, and eliminate waste, for many the digestion process can be an uncomfortable and chronic health issue.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, acid reflux, bloating, gas, cramping, heartburn, and constipation are a few digestive issues that many people experience on a daily basis. While there are medications that can help with symptoms, many of them can cause other problems or make the condition worse in the long run because they don’t address the underlying issues.
There are, however, other approaches outside of allopathic medicine that can relieve symptoms and help get at the root cause of GI tract problems. Here are a few natural remedies and suggestions to keep and restore gut health.
Herbal remedies can assist digestion, soothe the stomach, help heal conditions, and provide other benefits. For example, herbs like lemon balm and chamomile are calming herbs that help with digestive issues related to anxiety or nervous conditions.
Many herbal teas are known to aid digestion, soothe the stomach, and help heal. Those include ginger, licorice root, and slippery elm. Pu-erh tea, a fermented Chinese tea, is also said to help with digestion. Herbal digestive aids also come in tinctures and capsules. Many herbs such as fennel, dandelion, cardamom, dill, cumin, lemon balm, and mullein root can be used as culinary ingredients while aiding digestion.
Acupuncture is a branch of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system. Acupuncture uses needles to improve the body’s metabolic processes and clear blocked energy known as qi (pronounced chi). Research has shown that acupuncture may help with several digestive issues, such as reflux, obesity, irritable bowel disease, stomach ulcers, nausea, and vomiting.
Massages can is used in conjunction with other treatments for GI tract problems. A massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system that reduces stress and helps with digestion. Massage can be especially helpful for relieving constipation. Be sure to let the therapist know if you have digestion disorders so they can use techniques that are most beneficial.
Food and Nutrition
Foods play a significant role in digestion issues both in causing and healing. Foods that can cause or exacerbate GI conditions are white flour, sugar, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, caffeine, garlic, tomatoes, and others. Here, though, are some foods that will help encourage proper digestion, soothe tummy issues, or help heal the gut.
- Probiotics – The live microbial organisms (friendly bacteria) in probiotics can help restore digestive tract health, and they also help break down foods. Besides yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, miso, spirulina, tempeh, natto, kimchi, and wheat grass contain friendly bacteria. Probiotics are also available as a supplement.
- Enzymes – Enzymes help digestion by breaking down protein and complex carbohydrates. To get some of these enzymes, eat papaya which contains papain and chymopapain. Pineapple has bromelain. Amylase, maltase, sucrase, and lactase are some other digestive enzymes available in pills and capsules.
- Chlorella – While not a probiotic, chlorella helps in increasing beneficial intestinal bacteria to aid digestion. It comes from green algae. Chlorella is said to help with ulcers, colitis, diverticulosis, constipation, and other gut issues. When purchasing chlorella products, be sure to buy from a reputable source. It’s been found that dried chlorella products can have varying nutrient level depending on where it was harvested and processed.
- Fiber – Fiber from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are needed to prevent constipation. Artichokes promote the flow of bile which helps to stimulate peristalsis. Whole grain oats and oat bran help to clear out the intestines. Bananas act as an antacid and provide other nutritional benefits.
- Ghee – Ghee, unclarified butter, is one of the primary oils used in Ayurvedic cooking and healing. It’s high in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that improves gut health. Studies have shown that it helps digestive tract disorders like colitis and Crohn’s disease. It can be made at home from butter or purchased.
- Water – It’s crucial to drink plenty of water throughout the day. It aids digestion by breaking foods down and helps to prevent constipation. It’s also a misconception that drinking water with or after meals will dilute digestive juices and interfere with digestion.
- Exercise – Not exercising can interfere with muscle contraction essential for digesting food. Because of the link between stress and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), exercise can reduce the symptoms of IBS because it helps reduce stress. Exercise also helps to relieve constipation and reduce the chances of developing gallstones.
Eating healthily, exercising, staying hydrated, and reducing stress are necessary for gut health and are some of the basic natural remedies for digestive disorders. There are, fortunately, an array of alternative therapies like herbal medicines, acupuncture, and massages that can also help keep and restore gut health.
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