Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Healthy Digestion without Drugs: 10 Tips

I know by now that ailments show up in my clinic in groups, and these last couple of weeks have been all about indigestion and acid reflux. So let's tackle this question.  In Chinese Medicine there are several patterns responsible for acid relfux and indigestion.  So it's best to isolate the pattern and get to the root of the problem instead of taking a catch-all over the counter, or prescription medication.  In my clinic I diagnose the pattern and use acupuncture and herbs to treat the condition and I'm usually able to help my patients wean off their medication, much to their relief.  Here I'd like to outline a few ways to maintain a healthy digestive tract naturally in your everyday life.

Lots of people take antacids.  And yes, it's possible to take Tums or Pepcid or even a proton pump inhibitor everyday for the rest of your life and survive.  But at what cost?  There is even a common misconception that it is a good idea to take Tums daily for calcium!  Let me tell you why this is really not a good idea. 

Antacids neutralize stomach acid.  When the hydrochloric acid in our stomach loses it's potency our bodies are no longer able to fully digest our dinner, and partially-digested food causes systemic problems. Also, changing the pH of the gut causes an imbalance of friendly flora putting you at risk for infection by the unfriendly types. Some believe that antacids even help set the stage for infection with Helicobacter pylori the bacterium that causes ulcers. In fact, sometimes antacids will cause your stomach to produce more acid, a condition called acid rebound, which makes heartburn worse. 
Here's the really interesting bit:  "Once you let partially digested foods leave your stomach, your body treats this partially digested food as foreign. The resulting immune response can result in food sensitivities and fatigue. You begin missing out on some of the nutrients and fats that your body needs. In addition, partially-digested foods often ferments in the intestines causing more gas. Added to this is the upset of the balance of friendly bacteria needed for a healthy immune system and antacids can contribute to colon problems."
{"Digestion Problems," Women's Health Letter, Nan Fuchs, PhD, Feb. 2002}

In short, the best thing you can do for your digestion is to stop taking antacids.

So What To DO?  Try these 10 Tips.

1.  In Chinese Medicine the adage is "Drink your food and chew your drink." This means chew your food so well that it is liquid before swallowing.  And sip your water, taking your time, instead of gulping.  Interestingly, chewing each bite of food 50 times helps digestion dramatically, brings conciousness to eating, and slows down your eating which can also help in dropping excess body fat.

2. Take raw, unfiltered, organic  apple cider vinegar--2 tablespoons up to three times per day in warm water.  While it is acidic going down, it becomes alkalyzing in your system.  It is also thought to help when antacids have been used to excess, as it is balancing.   If the taste is too strong, add a teaspoon of honey to help it go down.

3. Avoid your triggers!  They are different for everyone.  The usual suspects are coffee, alcohol, (especially red wine), spicy foods, tomatoes, carbonated drinks, and chocolate.  One of the biggest culprits and something most every human should avoid: deep fried food.  Even something as healthy as ginger root which is often touted for its stomach soothing properties can aggravate acid reflux, as can peppermint oil.

4. Food sensitivities can often cause digestive upset.  Gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar can all be triggers.  I recommend cutting them all out for a week and then adding them back in one at a time to see if any cause disruption to your digestion.  Or ask your doctor for a blood test for food allergies.

5.  As we age, our body produces fewer digestive enzymes and less stomach acid.  Taking a digestive enzyme supplement daily can be very effective at normalizing digestion.  There are lots of good ones out there.  I like All-Zyme Double Strength (a plant source supplement) by Rainbow Light, but the important thing is to find a food based supplement with a combination of amylase, protease, lipase, and cellulase.

6.  About half the population over 60 has insufficient stomach acid.  This condition, called hypochlorhydria, can present with indigestion, brittle nails and hair, rosacea, asthma, food allergies, bacterial and yeast overgrowth.  Hypochlorhydria can also be caused by H2 blockers, antacids like Tums, and proton pump inhibitors.  This can usually be quickly helped with supplemention of Betaine HCl 500-1000 mg per day with meals.

7.  Pure 100% Aloe Vera juice is very helpful for settling the stomach after eating, and also a great way to regulate bowels.  It is cooling, alkalyzing, and soothing to mucosal tissue.

8.  Exercise regularly and your digestion will follow suit. 
9.  Dao yin, a special form of Qi Gong, designed to be done lying down, incorporates a belly-massage technique that is wonderful for digestion.  It works well.  With firm pressure, rub one or both hands in a circular motion over the abdomen, encircling the navel in a clockwise direction.  It is recommended to be done 81 times while lying down at night.

10.  Eat and drink everything at room temperature or warmer.  In Chinese medicine we say that the stomach is constantly trying to reach 100 degree soup.  In fact, soup is one of the best, most easiliy digestible things to eat.  The spleen and stomach become stressed by too many raw foods, according to CM theory.  Steaming, roasting or baking are your best bets. You will be surprised how much this one habit helps indigestion better than anything else.  So no ice cream, no cold drinks from the fridge, no cold salads. 

Questions?  Comments?  Post below, and please share.

Call to make an appointment 828-582-5403.  Lara Ferguson Diaz, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M. (NCCAOM)  is an acupuncturist in private practice partnering with Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville.




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