The Digestive System

The digestive system is very important for the maintenance of health. The digestive system processes everything we eat and drink to supply the body with the energy and material that it needs to function, build and maintain itself. It comprises the digestive tract from the mouth through the stomach, small and large intestines, to the anus.

There are many areas in the digestive process where things can go wrong. Below we have addressed:

  • Crohn's disease,
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
  • hemorrhoids (piles),
  • indigestion, and
  • diarrhea.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease causes part of the digestive tract to become inflamed. Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain,
  • diarrhea,
  • weight loss, and
  • poor appetite.

Many Crohn's disease sufferers have above average sugar in their diet, which may contribute to the cause of the condition or make the condition worse. There is also evidence that the increased permeability of the bowel wall causes nutrients to be inadequately absorbed, which means that higher quantities are required. Food allergies and intolerances may also contribute to the condition and some think that the immune system has become overactive.

What you can do to help

Consume nutrients to boost and balance immune activity, including:

  • vitamins A, C and E;
  • selenium; and
  • zinc.

Where there is diarrhea take the supplements in a form that can be more readily absorbed before they reach the gut.

Iron may be necessary if there is blood loss.

Take acidophilus supplement especially if taking antibiotics so that the natural bowel bacteria can be restored.

Reduce the amount of sugar in the diet and eliminate any foods to which you are allergic or intolerant.

Herbal remedies for Crohn's disease

Herbs that can best help to sooth, heal and renew the lining of the intestines are:

  • soothers of the mucous membrane such as:
    • comfrey root,
    • marshmallow root, and
    • slippery elm.
  • anti-inflammatories such as:
    • wild yam and
    • meadowsweet.
  • astringents such as:
    • bayberry,
    • agrimony and
    • meadowsweet.
  • calmatives such as:
    • cardamon,
    • chamomile, and
    • hops.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by:

  • alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation,
  • abdominal pain,
  • wind, and
  • feelings of general tiredness and malaise.

IBS can be triggered by:

  • food allergies and intolerances,
  • stress, and
  • insufficient dietary fibre.

In many sufferers there is an infestation of Candida which makes the condition worse.

What you can do to help

Drink plenty of pure water (six to eight glasses per day) but avoid drinking with meals which will dilute the stomach acids.

Make sure that you get adequate fiber in the diet. This will assist in dealing with constipation and diarrhea and help to detoxify the system.

Take acidophilus which will redress the imbalance of bacteria in the bowel in favor of helpful organisms.

Take vitamin B complex which will help to deal with the stress and also encourage regular control of nerve and muscle function.

Magnesium relaxes the nerves and also helps relieve excessive muscle contractions and spasms.

Antioxidants help to relieve inflammation and damage to the tissue in the bowel wall. Vitamins C and E are also helpful with healing and inflammation.

Selenium will also work to complement the healing by Vitamins C and E.

Herbal remedies for IBS

These are the same type of herbs as for Crohn's disease.

Herbs that can best help to sooth, heal and renew the lining of the intestines are:

  • soothers of the mucous membrane such as:
    • comfrey root,
    • marshmallow root, and
    • slippery elm.
  • anti-inflammatories such as:
    • wild yam and
    • meadowsweet.
  • astringents such as:
    • bayberry,
    • agrimony and
    • meadowsweet.
  • calmatives such as:
    • cardamon,
    • chamomile, and
    • hops.
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Hemorrhoids (piles)

Hemorrhoids (piles) are varicose veins in the lower part of the rectum or anus. The veins become swollen because of increased pressure often as a result of constipation and straining during defecation. They are common during pregnancy and if the person is overweight.

What you can do to help

The most common cause of hemorrhoids is constipation which fortunately responds well to nutritional medicine.

Magnesium is likely to be deficient. It is required for the smooth muscles of the body (the lining of the bowel contains smooth muscle). When magnesium is deficient the muscles do not contract and relax in the correct sequence. Magnesium as a part of a good multivitamin and mineral supplement should assist in correcting the deficiency.

Ensure that your diet is rich in fibre. You can take a fiber supplement such as linseed. The fiber will hold a lot of water and stimulate bowel movement.

Ensure that you drink plenty of fresh water. The fluids will assist in softening the stool.

Avoid caffeinated beverages as these act as a diuretic and will deplete the fluids for softening the stool.

Vitamin C with bioflavonoids will help to ensure the integrity of the blood vessels which makes the hemorrhoids less likely.

Herbal remedies for hemorrhoids

The most important herbs needed here are astringents, especially ones that will tone the vessels involved. The herb to chose is pilewort (of course!). In addition the following herbs will be useful:

  • witch hazel,
  • periwinkle, and
  • tormentil.

If constipation is the cause then the gentle laxative plus the toning action of the following herbs should help:

  • bayberry,
  • dandelion root,
  • golden seal or yellow dock.

A soothing ointment can be made from pilewort. This should be applied after each motion.

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Indigestion

Symptoms of indigestion include:

  • abdominal discomfort,
  • a dull ache or stabbing pain in the center of the chest after eating,
  • wind and
  • heartburn.

Always be sure to consult a health professional who can help to ensure that your indigestion is not actually heart related pain, or masking heart related pain.

Indigestion can be brought on by:

  • eating too fast,
  • certain foods,
  • anxiety and stress,
  • being overweight,
  • pregnancy, and
  • heavy smoking.

What you can do to help

Avoid eating fatty foods, which can make the condition worse.

Try to avoid eating a large meal late at night because this means going to bed with a large amount of undigested food and acid in the stomach.

Try eating a slice of fresh pineapple after meals to ease the symptoms (canned pineapple does not seem to be as effective).

Try to work out if you have any food allergies or intolerances that may be making the condition worse. Common culprits are:

  • wheat,
  • dairy products,
  • eggs,
  • citrus fruit, and
  • yeast.

Take acidophilus to help build up the healthy bacteria in the bowel to ensure optimum absorption of nutrients in the bowel and the health of the gut itself.

Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that the nutrients required for digestive functions are present.

Herbal remedies for indigestion

Herbs that soothe the mucus membrane can assist in indigestion - a very good one is Irish moss.

If the digestion is sluggish then consider herbal bitters, such as:

  • gentian,
  • golden seal and
  • wormwood.

If there is flatulence then the calmatives should be considered. These include:

  • aniseed,
  • balm,
  • cardamon,
  • fennel and
  • peppermint.

If there is nervous tension involved then the following herbs should also be considered:

  • chamomile,
  • hops,
  • lavender,
  • rosemary and
  • valerian.
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Diarrhea

Diarrhea is characterized by frequent loose stools and is often accompanied by vomiting. The most common causes are an infection of the digestive tract which leads to gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is caused by eating contaminated food, a viral infection or the result of an imbalance in the natural bacteria of the digestive tract.

Food allergies are also a common cause of diarrhea but they are unrelated to gastroenteritis.

If you are experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhea you will need to seek medical assistance. This should be attended to urgently if experienced by young children.

What you can do to help

Drink plenty of water to flush out the system and to prevent dehydration (which can be serious).

Zinc may reduce gut permeability, if this condition is causing chronic diarrhea to occur.

Increase your intake of potassium which is easily lost in diarrhea and vomiting. Potassium is not usually supplemented so ensure that you get plenty of foods that are rich in the mineral, such as avocados, bananas and vegetable juices.

Take extra vitamins B1 and B3 as a part of the vitamin B complex supplement. This will assist the digestive system.

Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement with food when you are able to eat properly again. This will assist in replacing the nutrients that have been lost.

Take plenty of fresh acidophilus for at least a month after an attack to ensure the growth of sufficient healthy bacteria in the bowel.

Herbal remedies for diarrhea

The herb meadowsweet is a good mild digestive astringent and can safely be used in all cases of diarrhea.

In childhood diarrhea a good remedy is a tea made from equal parts of lady's mantle and meadowsweet which can be sweetened with some honey and should be taken often.

For an acute attack in adults a very good mix would be:

  • 1 part American Cranesbill
  • 1 part bayberry
  • 1 part meadowsweet
  • 1 part oaf bark

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup every hour or until the symptoms subside and then before every meal until the digestion returns to normal.

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Constipation

Constipation is a symptom of some underlying problem in the digestive system. The problem could be inappropriate diet, a liver problem or even a physical blockage in the system. The cause needs to be identified and treated as the long term use of laxatives can lead to other problems such as headaches, colic or jaundice and loss of tone in the bowel, resulting in even worse constipation.

Herbal remedies for constipation

In most cases of chronic constipation the muscles of the bowel need to be retrained to move the bowel contents. In addition to drinking plenty of water, two things need to be done to retrain the intestines:

  • care must be taken to eat meals regularly (at the same time each day) and
  • small amounts of appropriate herbs should be used to restimulate peristalsis. The herb cascara sagrada could be used.

Another herb that can be of assistance is rhubarb root. While in large doses it is a purgative, taken in small doses it tones and astringes the intestine wall, promotes appetite and disperses any gas present. The following combination of herbs will also be of assistance:

  • 2 parts barberry
  • 2 part boldo
  • 1 part cascara sagrada
  • 1 part licorice
  • 1 part rhubarb root
  • 1 part ginger

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup before going to bed

A general digestive system remedy

This tea contains COZ-2 inhibiting ingredients which should provide the same sort of colon cancer protection as synthetic COX-2 inhibitors.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 teaspoonfuls green tea
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Any or all of the following herbs
    • chamomile,
    • clove,
    • ginger,
    • holy basil,
    • lavender,
    • marjoram,
    • oregano,
    • rosemary,
    • sage,
    • turmeric.

Mix the herbs of your choice and add these to the green tea and pour over the boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10 minutes and then strain the mixture. When the tea has cooled drink the mixture.

References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Shaw, N. 2002, Herbalism. Element

Tyler, Y. E. 1993, The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Haworth.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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