The Natural Medicine Cabinet: Digestive Aids
I bet you struggle with poor digestion from time to time. How’d I guess? Elementary, my dear body builder.
First, you eat few carbs, meaning you consume little fiber.
Second, you change your diet frequently, throwing your system into mass confusion.
Third, you supplement with things meant to bulk you, which often means water retention. Water retention means that water is redirected from your bowels to your muscles, causing your colon to become sluggish.
Fourth, you often liven up that boring chicken with spicy things, subjecting you to heartburn. It’s a vicious cycle.
Most estimates from the cleansing types will tell you that most people maintain 5-10 lbs of waste in our guts. It’s not fat, not muscle, just waste. No matter whether you’re over- or underweight, those pounds aren’t helping you. Why not get rid of them?
Next, you’ll have more energy when your system isn’t so taxed with digestion. It’s one of the most energy-robbing processes in the body, and for good reason. Your supplements will hit your bloodstream faster and more effectively, as they won’t have to battle through the muck in your digestive tract.
There are many reasons to avoid chemical products such as Tums, Kaopectate, and Pepto Bismol besides just preferring natural remedies. They’re dangerous!
What’s so wrong with these over-the-counter remedies? So glad you asked!
First, Tums. Too much calcium carbonate can cause kidney problems. Because of the high protein diet most builders follow, your kidneys are already taxed. No reason to add more work for them.
It also reduces stomach acid. That’s the point, I realize, but you’re setting yourself up for problems.
If you’re regularly consuming Tums, the body will adapt and produce less acid. While that’s great for heartburn, it will give you indigestion before you can say “Pepto”. When the body is producing less than an optimum amount of gastric acid, you’ll simply hit the other end of the spectrum.
Most contain aspartame (ie cancer-in-a-sweetener), several artificial colors, and of course artificial flavors. Others contain “real” sugar, but also talc and mineral oil. It just keeps getting more disgusting!
Next, Kaopectate. The active ingredient was changed a few years ago, making this medicine more dangerous than before. Now the supposed stomach-soothing ingredient is bismuth subsalicylate. It’s the same active ingredient in Pepto Bismol.
The problem is that this is related to aspirin. If you’re allergic to aspirin, you’ve got a problem on your hands.
Also, if you give this product to a child with a fever, you risk them developing Reye’s Syndrome. This disease is serious and causes brain and liver damage. It can lead to death.
Also, if you take meds for diabetes, arthritis, gout, or to prevent blood clots, you’re risking internal bleeding if you take both your Rx and Kaopectate or Pepto Bismol. Pretty terrifying outcomes for treating heartburn!
Pepto Bismol’s page spells out the dangers. It says to not take the product if you have an ulcer, a bleeding problem, or bloody or black stools. While I applaud their forthrightness, I still find it unconscionable to make such an unhealthy product.
The key, of course, if bringing the system into balance. Because OTC remedies are designed to be immediate and strong, they rarely achieve balance! So what will act both gently and effectively on the system?
Last week we started talking about the basics in the natural medicine cabinet. Whether you suffer from indigestion or diarrhea, I’ve got some great remedies.
An Ounce of Prevention
This is a daily supplement that you can help balance your entire system and make the remedies that follow less necessary.
They won’t always work, especially if you’ve eaten a great deal of greasy or processed food, but it’s a good start.
Personally I prefer Natrol’s BioBeads. This is because they contain no “yeast, wheat, milk, egg, glutens, artificial colors or flavors, added sugars or preservatives”. Score.
Probiotics populate the intestines with healthy flora which help build your immune system as well as keep you healthy. The best kinds use more than one bacteria (as they all work on slightly different stuff).
Despite the hype of Activia yogurt, I find that beads survive the acidic environment of the stomach better and live to go into the colon. Also, yogurt contains a great deal of added sugar to make it palatable. If you prefer to go the food-source route, might I suggest kefir.
Not only does kefir have the bacteria that yogurt has, it also contains wild yeast. Kombucha is a great alternative for vegans, especially those who avoid soy.
Pineapple and Papaya Enzymes
This is my miracle product. I actually can’t take credit for “discovering” them, but have to give props to my mother-in-law. She used to pack them in The General’s first aid kit for college, and he told me about them.
We lived with the in-laws for a while as we transitioned to Georgia, and every time we sat down for a family meal, we’d have the tablets sitting by our plates.
First, they taste like candy, which is a bonus. They also happen to work. When I sit down to a meal that doesn’t begin with raw food (such as a large salad), I use the papaya first. The natural enzyme in both pineapples and papayas is bromelain. It’s amazing for digestion.
If you prefer the fresh fruit route, that’s great! Pineapples are in season now through July, so slice one up and enjoy the flavor and positive digestive impact. Papaya plants beat fruit throughout the year, so they’re always technically “in season”
Enteric-coated Peppermint Capsules
If you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), you know pain. A friend of mine deals with it, and it’s a constant battle to keep her body in bal
ance. As a preventative, she takes enteric-coated peppermint capsules.
Why enteric–coated? It helps the oil reach the intestines and not break down in the stomach, just as with the probiotics.
Peppermint capsules work by producing an anti-spasmodic effect on the bowels. You want to be sure to take them at least an hour before meals on an empty stomach with just a sip of cold water.
If you’ve recently eaten and the capsules break down before they reach the intestines, then it can cause indigestion. The calming effect will instead work to inhibit peristalsis, which you don’t want. Follow the instructions and you should be fine.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a cure-all in the truest sense of the word. It’s great for everything from bruises to acne, and is especially good for your digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Drinking vinegar increases saliva production due to its acidity. This, in turn, helps begin the immediate breakdown of carbohydrates.
Builders will love it because it works best in breaking down proteins. It increases the activity of both HCL (hydrochloric acid) and digestive enzymes. It’s a win-win!
For the best effect, you’ll want to use raw, unfiltered vinegar such as Bragg’s. If you want to use it as a digestive aid, your best bet is a daily tonic.
1-2 tsp. vinegar in 1 c. filtered water. I also know people who take it in a shot glass. If you can stomach it, it’ll also give you a pretty amazing burst of energy. It’s recommended that you take it before each meal.
A Pound of Cure
Sometimes we overindulge. Other times our systems just revolt for no apparent reason. And once in a while, we get sick, ugh. While cures aren’t quite as wonderful as prevention, at least they help make the problem go away faster!
I confess to not being a peppermint tea lover, but I suppose that’s because I’m not a peppermint lover in general. However, peppermint tea is great for soothing a troubled tummy.
I find it best for quelling the flu sort of nausea as compared to the morning sickness type, but that could just be me.
The best way to keep your tea potent is to rip a few leaves from the pot of peppermint you have growing on your windowsill. Steep the leaves for a few minutes and drink it down.
Slightly less effective, but still good, is to use an herbal dried tea. Sure, it’s not living and therefore not quite as powerful, but it’s still helpful.
The beautiful part about peppermint tea is that it starts working right away. You can literally feel it soothing your gastrointestinal tract as it slides down your throat. You can also drink it hot or cold, which is a nice option. Who wants hot tea in the heat of summer, after all?
If you want to go the tea route but can’t handle the minty tingle of peppermint, why not give ginger tea a try? It’s just as easy, and I prefer this flavor.
I actually prefer ginger tea because I make several servings at a time. It keeps well in the fridge and doesn’t lose its flavor.
To make ginger tea, just peel and thinly slice a 2-inch knob. Boil it for 15-20 minutes in 4 c. water, and strain out the pieces. If you have a sore throat, add some lemon and honey to taste.
The lemon is a great antibacterial and alkaline, and honey coats the throat and keeps it from getting as raw. However, I digress.
Buzzle.com says, “Ginger’s property of being a digestive aid is largely due to the shogoals and gingerols that it contains. These help to neutralize the acids in the stomach, stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, and tone the digestive tract’s muscles.”
For nausea, ginger is tops. If you have gas, it also helps prevent flatulance. It’s pretty great for any and all digestive problems, so start steeping!
Slippery Elm Bark Powder
Slippery elm might not be the prettiest tree on the block, but it’s one of the most useful. It’s great for heartburn, because the powder from the bark is mucilaginous, meaning it absorbs acid.
Be sure to buy finely ground powder if you intend to consume it, as it comes in both a fine and a coarse grind. Coarse is generally used for topical applications such as poultices.
It’s mighty potent, as you mix just one teaspoon of powder with a bit of cold water to form a paste. Then you pour a quart of boiling water over the paste to drink.
If you have chronic digestive problems, drink three times per day. If you’re struggling with something in the moment, take at any time. I prefer this method after dinner, as it makes me sleepy. This is relatively common, as many people use slippery elm as a sleep aid, but just be warned.
Slippery elm powder also helps the mucosal lining of the stomach heal, which is great is you have ulcers. Because its mucilaginous, it’s also a wonderful remedy for constipation. Essentially, it helps sweep along anything in its way on the path to elimination.
I hope you’ve picked up a few tips for battling digestive problems today. Next time, ditch the Immodium and pop some enzymes!