Digest your best
Many people suffer from everyday digestion problems such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, heartburn, and fatigue after eating. Here are some ideas to help prevent some of these common digestion issues.
Digestive enzymes are proteins, meaning they are large molecules made up of long chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. Our body produces enzymes in the pancreas and secretes them as needed into the digestive tract. Enzymes break carbohydrates into pieces called monosaccharides, proteins into amino acids, and fats into fatty acids and glycerol. The three main digestive enzymes are amylase, protease and lipase.
Amylase breaks down carbohydrates, including whole grains, white flours, sugars and starchy vegetables. Amylase is found in pancreatic and intestinal juices, but is also found in your saliva. This means that the digestive process of carbohydrates actually begins in the mouth, making chewing your food thoroughly important.
Protease digests protein. The proper digestion of protein is vital. Undigested protein particles can pass through your intestinal wall and end up in your bloodstream. This process is called “leaky gut syndrome” and can cause allergic reactions ranging from fever to abdominal pain. Proper absorption of protein is needed for energy and the rebuilding of muscle and tissue.
Lipase allows your body to properly digest fat, and is found in many foods that contain fat. Choosing the right healthy fats allows your body to burn fat more efficiently. Your body needs the lipase produced in your pancreas and stomach, as well as lipase from food sources, in order to optimally utilize the nutrients from the fat you eat.
Probiotics are living organisms. They are typically bacterial, but there are also some yeast species that function as probiotics. They can assist in vitamin and mineral absorption, alleviate lactose intolerance, and produce vitamin K. They do not, however, break down the food molecules we absorb.
Lactobacillus is one of the most common probiotics. It’s the one you’ll find in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can potentially alleviate diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk.
Bifidobacterium may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Bitters people often shy away from bitter foods; however, bitters perform a valuable function. Bitter greens, for instance, stimulate digestion. They prompt the body to release more digestive juices such as hydrochloric acid in the stomach and digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Bitter foods also stimulate the gallbladder to contract and release bile, which helps break fatty foods into small enough particles that enzymes can easily finish breaking them apart for absorption. This is important because fats carry essential fatty acids, such as heart-healthy omega-3s, along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoids such as beta-carotene.
A bitters formula may be an infusion, tincture, or distillation (usually in some type of spirits) of aromatic herbs, barks, fruits, and roots. Bitters have a range of medicinal qualities, but the primary effect is to improve digestion. This occurs predominantly through enhanced production of digestive enzymes, by nutritive support of the epithelial lining of the GI tract, and by reducing intestinal irritation and inflammation.
Bitter digestive stimulants include angelica, dandelion, burdock, and yarrow. Dandelion is perhaps the most popular digestive aid in this lineup. Juniper is not considered a bitter herb, but its’ aromatic properties increase hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach.
Carminatives soothe the gut wall, ease griping pains and reduce the production of gas in the digestive tract. This is usually due to the presence of volatile oils, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and mildly anti-microbial effect upon the lining of the alimentary canal. Culinary herbs like dill, fennel and ginger not only add taste to foods but also alleviate gas, bloating and indigestion.
Rosemary has been utilized for stomach problems such as dyspepsia, stomach cramps, bloating and constipation. It stimulates circulation, improving blood flow, and has been used as an appetite stimulant.. Rosemary has also traditionally been used for headaches, nervous exhaustion, memory and concentration.
Ginger is a digestive stimulant which increases salivary and gastric secretions. It can be used to reduce flatulence and nausea, cramping of the stomach and bowels, as well as menstrual cramping. It can be used in the treatment of motion sickness, and can also help to reduce morning sickness. The fresh root contains enzymes which enhance digestion.
Antispasmodic herbs reduce muscle tension. Herbs with this action can relieve stomach spasms and intestinal cramps. A warm cup of chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, or fennel tea will help to alleviate cramping.
Peppermint is used for digestive problems including heartburn, nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cramps of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract and bile ducts, upset stomach, diarrhea, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, and gas. Enteric coated peppermint capsules are used for lower GI cramping.
Chamomile contains fairly strong antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory constituents.
Community Pharmacy has a vast array of herbs and products for digestive health from companies such as Enzymatic Therapy, Florajen, Megafood and Enzymedica. Come visit either location and speak with one of our many helpful supplement workers!
By Flormaria Erazo Zurita
Cooperator, Community Pharmacy
Edited by Andrea Robinson