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Natural Remedies for Common Digestive Complaints

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Even if you eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, digestive problems still happen. If they happen a lot, you should check with your doctor to rule out underlying serious health issues. But for once-in-a-while nausea, indigestion, constipation and/or diarrhea, there are easy, natural remedies that will soon have your gut feeling better.

FOR NAUSEA

When a queasy stomach is putting you off food (or even if you’ve vomited), try one of these remedies…

Glucomannan. A water-soluble fiber supplement made from the root of the konjac plant, glucomannan helps control appetite and blood sugar and is also helpful for nausea and vomiting. Once swallowed, it forms a gel in the stomach that not only soothes but can absorb toxins that might be causing the nausea. It’s sold as capsules or a powder, but the powder is harder to use and not recommended. A typical dose for occasional nausea is one 575 milligram (mg) capsule with at least eight ounces of water. Don’t skimp on the water—not consuming enough water with glucomannan may contribute to an intestinal obstruction. If swallowing so much water all at once seems daunting, it’s OK to sip it as long as you consume the whole amount within a few minutes. Take glucomannan for nausea up to twice a day, away from meals—at least two hours after and half an hour before.

Slippery elm bark powder. Made from a native North American tree, slippery elm bark contains mucilage, a substance that becomes thick and viscous when mixed with water. Stir one teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder into one cup of very hot water for a few minutes, then let it cool slightly and sip while still quite warm. Slippery elm is fairly flavorless, but you can add an herbal tea—hops, anise, peppermint or chamomile are good choices—or regular tea and/or honey if desired. As the tea cools to body temperature in the stomach, the gel coats and soothes the stomach—similar to the way bismuth, the active compound in Pepto-Bismol, works but without the artificial colors and flavoring. Take up to three times a day.

Gentian root. This herbal supplement has been used for centuries to soothe queasy stomachs and to improve digestion. Gentian root is available in powder form or as a liquid extract. Sipping a cup of tea made with one teaspoon of gentian root powder and hot water can stimulate secretion of saliva in the mouth and digestive acid in the stomach, speeding up the sluggish digestion that can cause nausea. Important: Since gentian root can reduce blood pressure, discuss with your doctor before using it if you have low blood pressure or are taking medication to reduce high blood pressure. Also, discontinue use of gentian root at least two weeks before surgery because of its potential to interfere with medications used in the procedure.

Note: Whether to take glucomannan, slippery elm or gentian root is a matter of personal choice. In general, glucomannan is good at “sopping up” and clearing out the toxins that could be causing your nausea…while slippery elm is best at coating and soothing…and gentian is good at calming stomach spasms. Start with glucomannan, and if you feel you need more help, follow with either slippery elm or gentian a few hours later.

FOR OCCASIONAL INDIGESTION

If you ate too much, or too fast, or if something you ate “didn’t agree with you,” you can try…

Baking soda. Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, neutralizes the acidity in your stomach. Mix about one-half teaspoon of baking soda with four ounces of water, and slowly sip the mixture. Relief should come quickly (and maybe a belch or two). Important: Wait at least two hours after eating to drink this remedy—you do not want to partially neutralize the acid that is needed to digest food and absorb nutrients. Slippery elm powder (see above) also helps with indigestion.

FOR OCCASIONAL CONSTIPATION OR DIARRHEA

Both of these conditions can be the result of a poor diet…the wrong mix of organisms in the gut microbiome…and/or certain medications. Not drinking enough water also can cause constipation. One or both of the following remedies can help…

Probiotics. There are many different kinds of beneficial probiotic bacteria that we need to have in our guts for good digestive health. Some of the most well-studied strains for evidence of gut benefit are Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (gg)—all particularly good for treating diarrhea but also helpful for treating constipation. Lactobacillus supplements are available over-the-counter in grocery and drugstores. A good brand with a patented strain of another probiotic that works well with Lactobacillus and that has shown gut benefits in industry-sponsored studies, Bifidobacterium infantis, is Align. Follow the label directions for the correct dose. You should get relief within 12 to 18 hours, although complete healing can take three to five days. Bonus: Probiotic products containing Lactobacillus have been found to significantly reduce flatulence.

Glucomannan (for constipation only). Besides relieving nausea as described above, the fiber supplement glucomannan is also an effective “bulk-forming” laxative. This type of laxative swells in the intestine, softening the stool and making it easier to pass. When using to relieve constipation, take one capsule of glucomannan with at least a full eight ounces of water up to three times a day, away from meals.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR DIGESTION WORKING GREAT

While the remedies above are good to have on hand, it’s best if you don’t have to use them often. Here are some strategies to keep your digestion functioning smoothly…

  • Chew thoroughly. You’ll eat more slowly, enjoy your food more—and give your stomach a break. Chewing sufficiently allows enzymes in saliva to start digestion in your mouth, as they’re meant to do—and breaking the food into smaller particles lets your intestines better absorb nutrients.
  • Drink water, but not with your meal. Drinking water or other liquid at mealtime dilutes the hydrochloric acid your stomach needs to digest food, slowing digestion and inhibiting absorption of nutrients. It’s OK to slowly sip just enough liquid at a meal to help you wash down mouthfuls of food, if you want—but keep it to no more than four ounces. It’s best to not drink close to meals—a half hour before to an hour after. On the other hand, do drink enough liquids during the rest of the day.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats not only help fight inflammation, they also promote a healthy gut microbiome. Unless you regularly consume wild-caught cold-water fish, you probably do not get enough from diet alone. One good brand of omega-3 supplements is Nordic Naturals. Whatever brand you use, aim for a daily dose of at least 650 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and 450 mg of docosahexaenoic acid.

Important: Digestive ailments that are more than just occasional or that are accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, pain or blood in your bowel movements or vomit, should be checked out by a health-care provider.

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Source: Andrew L. Rubman, ND, founder and medical director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut. He writes the Bottom Line blog, “Nature Doc’s Patient Diary.” Date: March 29, 2018
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