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I am often talking about how important digestion is; as are many alternative health care practitioners. Good food, good eating habits and a healthy digestive system are the foundations of good health. Our food provides vital nutrients for our bodies to function properly. So we need the good food going in and the body working well to assimilate that food. Not a new concept but so important to remember.
Today I want to focus on the stomach, as digestion is a big topic and so many people have stomach issues. Starting with looking at the function of the body as metaphor, what does the stomach do? The stomach is where we take in nourishment; so it has to do with issues of receiving, nourishment, nurturing. Because of this, stomach issues can also be related to mother or father issues. If you have stomach issues and any of these topics are also issues for you, you might consider that they are interrelated and that both the physical and emotional need to be addressed to get deeper healing/balance.
Look at common expressions regarding the stomach: Can’t stomach it, tough to swallow. These expressions give a picture into our culture of how we view the stomach. The stomach is located near the third chakra so you can consider issues around personal power and will as well.
Many essences deal with these issues, here are just a few examples to consider:
Mother Temple (Bali Essences, http://janebellessences.com/) sense of home, comfort and security of belonging, safety, celebrating connections, love, opens the heart to trust and be nourished by or connection to the seen and unseen that we share life with
Monkeypod Tree (Hawaiian Essences, http://janebellessences.com/) healthy male nurturing energy that shelters us from outside influences that could confuse or distract us from living authentically with purpose; being sheltered in a big safe canopy of nurturing care while we discover who we are and why we’re here
Moon (Planetary Essences, http://stargazerli.com/essences/planetary-essences) comforting, nourishing, gentle
Covellite (Alaskan Essences, http://www.alaskanessences.com/products/gems_1.html) feeling unprotected and vulnerable, too easily stimulated by the energies of others, unsure of boundaries and unable to claim one’s own space; brings: strength, clarity and definition to your energy field, protective filter that allows you to relax energetically, enhances our ability to receive love and support from the environment
Maybe you think your stomach is working just fine but you have digestive issue further down the track, like your intestines or liver. Supporting your stomach to work optimally will help the related organs that are impacted; especially important if they are under stress.
Remember what you do before the food gets to your stomach plays a role in how well your stomach handles the food. Are you relaxed, chewing slowly and carefully? It is also important not to drink too much liquid during your meal, this dilutes the digestive enzymes in your stomach and you won’t digest your food as efficiently.
Of course you need to consider what foods you are eating, when you are eating, how they are prepared, etc. For the sake of this article, I’m not going to go over those specifics. While there are many schools of thought on food combining, most agree that fruit should be eaten by itself. Ideally two hours apart from other types of food.
If you are nervous do you get a dry mouth? If so, it is especially important for you to relax when you eat, because that saliva drying up in your mouth means that your stomach is secreting less gastric enzymes.
Consider taking bitters 10-20 minutes before meals. There are many wonderful herbal products on the market called bitters, or you can make your own blend, or you can take a simple, one bitter such as gentian.
Stress and anxiety
So, it is important to note that it isn’t just about what you eat or just how well your digestive system is working but it is also about what you are doing the rest of the day. Your lifestyle. There is no magic pill or food or herb. In order to fully participate in our health we have to look at our whole life. It is all connected. Even the scientists will tell you that; at least the physicists. A couple of herbs that really work on the physical/emotional connection of the digestive system are:
Chamomile – warming, relieves gas, colic, strengthens appetite, decreases inflammation, heartburn, emotional tension held in stomach, anti-anxiety
Lemon balm – cooling, flatulence with spasms, colic, stomach tension when worried, has a gentle emotional uplift
Many of these you will recognize as culinary herbs, this is no coincidence. Most culinary herbs either support digestion, inhibit unwanted microbes/germs or both. All of the herbs below work on many other issues as well, but I’m focusing here on digestive support.
Basil – cooling, aids digestions, carminative (stimulates the digestive tract to work correctly and with ease – soothes smooth muscles of the gut), nervine, slightly sedating, colic (gut spasoming)
Thyme – warming, carminative, antiseptic, antispasmodic
Oregano – Indigestion, cough, headache, emenagogue, poultice for painful swelling, EO for toothache
Ginger – hot and stimulating, stimulates appetite, nausea, with peppermint for motion sickness, increases pelvic circulation
Cinnamon – astringent, carminative, antibacterial, antimicrobial, helps dispel gas, helps diarrhea
Cardamom – flatulence, indigestion, sweetens breath, takes edge off adrenal stress from caffeine
Cayenne – hot, anti-microbial, carminative, promotes stomach secretions, stimulates peripheral circulation,
Fennel – warming, flatulence, indigestion
Coriander – seeds soothe upset stomach, aid digestion (tea or chew on seeds)
Black pepper – stimulating, increases flow of gastric enzymes, helps prevent constipation
Stepping away from the spice rack:
Gentian – cold, great bitter, stimulates saliva, gastric secretions and bile, stimulates appetite, sluggish digestion (gas, indigestion); contraindications: debilitated state, acute GI inflammation, w/ care in pregnancy
Note that most pharmaceutical and over the counter ant-acids exacerbate the problem. They reduce the stomach acid, the body gets a message that there isn’t enough acid and produces more. So a vicious cycle is in place without the healing happening.
Meadowsweet – cooling, anti-inflammatory, antacid, demulcent; contraindications: allergic to salicylates, on blood thinners, pre-surgery, animals
Calamus – carminative, calms stomach, relieves heartburn, ulcers, bitter, wasting syndrome, IBS; contraindications: pregnancy, bleeding disorders, MAO inhibitors
Stomach and duodenal ulcers:
St. John’s Wort oil – one tsp twice daily
Marshmallow root – cooling, demulcent, healing to mucous membranes, anti-inflammatory; cold infusion best
Comfrey – cooling, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, wound healing, promotes cell growth, stimulates mucous membranes contraindications: do not use root internally with severe liver issues
So consider what ails your stomach, why is it grumbling at you and see what you can do to not just relieve symptoms but get to the heart (or stomach) of the matter.
Some good books to consider:
Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus
Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz