The digestive system starts in the mouth and ends at the rectum, with support organs involved in the digestive process. When taking a holistic approach, we consider each of the aspects involved in this process, to ensure we get to the cause of the problem and get things back on track as quickly as possible. Here we will look at some common digestive system problems, the digestive process and how herbal medicine can help ease your symptoms.
The mouth breaks down foods in two ways. Firstly mechanically, the teeth chew the food, to break it down into smaller parts, exposing more surface area for chemical changes to take place (Whitney, 2013, p485). Toothaches and missing teeth may make the mechanical breakdown of foods difficult. This can be an interesting extra consideration when looking to alter your dental health. Secondly, chemical breakdown is facilitated by the enzyme amylase in our saliva that partially breaks down carbohydrates (Whitney, 2013, p485). Stress and opioid-type medications slow the release of saliva (Bryant, Knight). Also, as we age, oestrogen production decreases which may contribute to a dry mouth (Trickey, 2016). A dry mouth can result in partially digested food being excreted, without the full absorption of the nutrients from the foods. In such a case, the patient will report seeing food in their stools.
Your herbalist may recommend for a dry mouth:
- Echinacea and Calendula mouth wash for toothaches
- Gentian tea to stimulate the release of saliva
- Wild yam to promote the production of oestrogen
Another anxiety-induced condition to consider is a globus sensation. This is the sensation that food is stuck in the throat causing difficulty in swallowing and fear of choking. The majority of these cases are a result of anxiety, with no physiological abnormalities (Rommel et al.,2016). If medical investigations have ruled out any known physiological cause, anxiety is the likely contributing factor. Herbal intervention is ideal in this instance to reduce anxiety.
Your herbalist may recommend for globus sensation:
The hormone ghrelin that is released when we are hungry stimulates the release of hydrochloric acid (Whitney, 2013). We need this hydrochloric acid to break down proteins so that they are small enough to be absorbed, as well as to kill any germs that may have been in the food that we ate (Marieb, 2014). When an individual does not make enough hydrochloric acid, they are more susceptible to the formation of stomach ulcers. This condition is known as hypochlorhydria. Sufferers will experience pain in their stomach, and will suffer from reflux, as the food within their stomach is not breaking down efficiently (Iwai et al., 2013). Hypochlorhydria can be experienced due to the reduction of intrinsic factors as we age (Whitney, 2013). Anxiety and some medications can also result in the slowed release of hydrochloric acid (Bryant, Knight).
The herbal intervention will include the introduction of a bitter herb 20 minutes before food is eaten, to stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid. Your herbalist will consider the cause, when suggesting other herbs, to prevent disease progression.
Bitter herbs you can help soothe reflux include:
- Dandelion leaf
Another tip – consider a dandelion lemon and ginger tea 20 minutes before meals.
The liver is one of the busiest organs in the human body. One of the many functions is the preservation of energy. When we eat foods that spike our blood glucose levels, our liver responds by saving fat within the liver cells. This “saving of fat”, fills the liver cells with fat, pushing the nucleus of the liver cell to one side, and leaves little room for other functions. This condition results from a life of processed foods and low physical activity. While the fat accumulation is taking place, very few symptoms are experienced, unfortunately (Byrne, Targher, 2015.)
On a Liver Function Test ordered by your natural health practitioner, they will be able to see any presence of elevated liver enzyme levels, as the liver tries to respond. The production of bile (a waste product from breaking down spent blood cells) is decreasing due to a reduction in function, they will see difficulty in metabolising fats. This is as the bile produced by the liver, required to emulsify fats, and make them easier to absorb is decreased (Marieb, 2014).
It is essential at this phase to change diet and lifestyle to avoid further damage to the liver.
Your herbalist may recommend aiding liver function by using:
- Globe artichoke
- Dandelion root
Constipation and or Diarrhea
The rate at which food passes through the small and large intestine will determine how many nutrients are absorbed, and how many spent hormones and lipids are eliminated (Whitney, 2013). Your stress levels have a direct impact on gut motility rates (Fukudo, 2007). This is due to an increase in cortisol (a stress hormone) present in the gut during times of stress, causing inflammation in the gut (Tash & Perdue, 2004).
A fantastic herb to utilise during these times of heightened stress affecting gut motility rates is liquorice. Liquorice downregulates cortisol, thereby reducing inflammation (Methlie, Husebye, Hustad, Lien & Lovas, 2011)
A Clinical Herbalist is trained to treat and prevent the disease from progressing utilising Western Herbal Medicine. This means that a herbalist’s role in health is to watch for signs of changes, that can result in disease, and stop them before any lasting damage takes place.
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