One of the most common problems, but, sometimes one of the most difficult to talk about for people is digestive issues. Whether it is abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, gas, bloating, feeling congested or alternating constipation or diarrhea with pain, mucous, flatulence, unusually thin stools, large stools, hard stools, pellet like stools, you name it, we talk about them all!
Generally, the bowel is not functioning properly and thus the term Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is the most common gastrointestinal condition reported and is also known as nervous indigestion, spastic colitis or intestinal neurosis.
The causes of IBS are a variety of dietary, physical, physiological and psychological factors.
The first step is to correct the choices of food. It is important to increase dietary fibre. It is best to use fibre from vegetables, fruit, oat/rice bran, psyllium husk/seed, ground flax/chia seed and legumes (beans/peas). However, All Bran/wheat bran cereals are often suggested. Unfortunately, wheat is among the most common causes of allergic and malabsorptive conditions.
In other words, wheat has been highly hybridized and our bodies have a hard time recognizing it’s structure and therefore treats it as an irritant in some cases, or with others, people eat wheat too often each day. For example, some folks have cereal or toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner. All these carbohydrates, if they are from wheat, can just become too much for the system and so, eventually becomes irritated and inflammed. Therefore, the use of wheat bran is not advised.
The second step is to have a variety in our food choices. Some people eat seasonally. For instance, fresh greens and salads in the summer and root veggies and squashes in the winter. The same is true of grains. You should have a good variety, such as oatmeal for cereal, a sprouted mixed grain bread, quinoa or brown rice for dinners/lunches, a variety of crackers, such as RyVita, Rye Krisps, corn thins, oat cakes, brown rice cakes and Mary’s crackers and brown rice or quinoa/corn pasta as examples. This minimizes the chances of having too much of any one grain.
Thethird step is to have a balance of veggies, fruit or grains to protein. This helps keep the pH in balance. Ideally, if you look at what you are eating and you have a 1:1 ratio, your pH should be 6.8-7.2 ideally. An example would be ½ your dinner plate wild salmon and the other ½ swiss chard/broccoli and quinoa. You should try to limit acidic foods/drinks as they compete with your ability to break down your food and make you too acidic. Therefore, I minimize coffee, tea (black/green/white), herba mate, honeybush, rooibos, Pop, citrus fruit and tomatoes. They often give folks trouble with digestion.
The fourth step is to identify food sensitivities/irritants/intolerances or allergies. Often reactions are not initiated by the immune system, so do not form antibodies against the food or foods. Therefore food allergy tests (scratch/blood IgE-RAST) will not pick up these intolerances/irritants/ sensitivities. It is better to do an elimination diet or to have VEGA testing done, which is measuring the patients’ electrical resistance to foods. This will pick up on any food that disturbs the system.
The fifth step is to determine if there is an over-growth of the yeast Candida albicans in the intestinal tract. This means there is an imbalance, since everyone has some yeast in their systems, but, if balanced, they are controlled by the good bacteria. If there is an over-growth of yeast it can lead to the development of allergic reactions. This is commonly known as thrush in a child. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain the probiotics or good types of bacteria in the intestinal tract to make sure they keep control of any un-friendly bacteria, viruses or any other harmful bugs. They also produce many of our digestive enzymes, so, we need to re-colonize these after antibiotics.
Thesixth step is to maintain the proper amount of stomach acid. I have folks use2 tsp/day of plain rice vinegar on their salads, veggies or stir-fries to maximize the body’s ability to break down the food properly and absorb the nutrients well. Part of that is to eat slowly, relaxed and not to drink fluids with meals. All these maximize the proper amount of enzyme released.
The seventh step is to identify issues of anxiety, fatigue, hostile feelings, frustration, depression and sleep disturbances. This imbalance of handling stressors affects the adrenal gland. An increased production of cortisol decreases digestion by decreasing the release of the proper amount of stomach acid. Biofeedback, counselling, physical exercise, yoga, meditation and stress handling strategies often help.
This should give you some ideas on how you can improve your digestion. As a patient once said to me proudly, “There’s nothing like a good bowel movement!”
Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.