by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCP, NNCP, CCII
Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.
Few malfunctioning body systems can grab one’s attention as quickly as the digestive tract. A single little episode of heartburn, stomach pain, or diarrhea can really ruin one’s day.
For the purposes of this article we are focusing on the upper gastro-intestinal tract – mouth, esophagus, and stomach. The rest of the gastro-intestinal tract (small intestines and large intestines/colon) is addressed in this article.
Digestion begins in the mind. We don’t often give the brain and senses their due credit in the digestive process. Thinking about food, seeing pictures or displays of beautifully made food, and/or smelling pleasing aromas begin the nervous system reaction of stimulating the release of digestive juices in the mouth, stomach, and small intestines. This physiological reaction can be stifled, however. Stress is the first and biggest culprit when it comes to poor digestion. The sympathetic nervous system knows that when there is stress there are more important things to be done (like running from bears, dodging ricocheting bullets, and dealing with a fast-paced life) than digesting that sandwich of alfalfa sprouts and cream cheese on multi-grain bread.
Assuming that life is good, and that one’s sympathetic nervous system is not over-worked, the next step of digestion happens in the alkaline mouth. This is the location of the teeth and salivary glands. I repeat, this is the only location of teeth. They are supposed to be used to crush food to a very fine consistency, like cake batter, mixing it (with the help of the tongue) with enzyme-rich saliva. Without adequate chewing to mechanically break food particles into smaller bits, the rest of the digestive processes cannot progress. You may be surprised to learn that humans do not have teeth in their stomachs (just in case you missed this fact earlier in this paragraph), so all chewing must be completed in the mouth.
I liken this to Lego and Duplo blocks. When you chew your food thoroughly you give your body Legos to work with – lots of little building blocks that can be used to build a myriad of important and necessary things for your body. When you don’t chew your food well it’s like giving your body one or two Duplo blocks – not nearly as fun or useful.
When I was a teenager I learned a camp song, sung to the melody of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. It went like this:
Chew, chew, chew your food
Gently through the meal.
The more you chew
The more you eat
The better you will feel.
As a teen I certainly didn’t understand the truth of this little ditty. The key here is “the more you chew.”
Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion of carbohydrates. These are the only enzymes that can begin the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates. Washing food down, even with water, defeats the purpose of saliva and chewing and compromises all further digestive activities. Drinking water with meals often prevents thorough chewing, thus preventing adequate mechanical breakdown of foods and adequate chemical breakdown of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (and proteins and fats) that are not properly masticated in the mouth cannot be further digested anywhere else.The result will be large amounts of gas buildup in the digestive tract and poor assimilation of nutrients, and maybe even stomach pain. Drinking fluids with meals, and the resulting poor breakdown of food, leads to more acid reactions at the blood level and increases one’s chances of developing leaky gut, arthritis, gout, gut inflammation, mucous congestion, and other inflammatory reactions.
From the mouth, food and drink are propelled down the muscular esophagus to the stomach. The rhythmic muscular contractions of the esophagus are called peristalsis.
The ‘valve’ that is between the base of the esophagus and the top of the stomach is actually a circular band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. It relaxes during swallowing and serves to help keep food from backwashing up the esophagus.
When backwashing does occur it is called reflux. Since the contents of the stomach are acidic and the esophagus is alkaline, reflux creates the burning and pressure known as heartburn.
Reflux is generally worse when lying down, so it makes good sense to avoid reclining soon after a meal. Some doctors also recommend elevating the head of the bed a few inches to reduce reflux at night.
Reflux is also made worse when a hiatal hernia forms, creating a bulge of stomach that has worked its way above the diaphragm. Food trapped here creates pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and increases reflux. Some chiropractors and osteopaths know how to correct this.
The stomach is supposed to be acidic. It is in this acidic environment that proteins can be broken down into amino acids if they have been mechanically broken into smaller pieces by thorough chewing. If there is not enough acid to do the job, the result is very foul intestinal gas, very sour belching, abdominal distention, and stomach pain. As humans, we usually begin to lose our stomach acid around age 35. By the time we are 55 we are lucky to have even one-half of our acid production capabilities left. Can you imagine what kinds of problems this can cause?
There are some easy changes that can be made to help prevent stomach gas and/or put out the fire of heartburn and reflux. First: avoid coffee and non-herbal tea. (It is my opinion that green tea is no better than regular tea because of its caffeine and acid content. I can pick up the promised antioxidants in many other places without the caffeine and acid, and so can you.) The acids in coffee and tea commonly and severely aggravate stomach acid problems for the vast majority of people. I have often ‘healed’ clients’ stomach reflux, stomach pain, acid problems, and gotten rid of their ‘need’ for antacid medications, by having them quit coffee and tea.
Second: peppermint oil has been used very successfully as a digestive aid. Remember not to touch the opening of the bottle with your skin; instead, turn the bottle upside down and gently tap one drop into a little warm water to drink or onto the back of your hand and lick it off. Used this way, peppermint oil stimulates the production of digestive juices and enzymes to get the food moving on through the system. It also helps reduce stomach gas and stomach pain.
Now personally, I don’t think extra food coloring and talc are things I want to be ingesting with any regularity, but the real clincher is the sodium hexametaphosphate. “This additive contains phosphorus which is an essential nutrient, but when consumed without the balance of other minerals, may affect kidneys, heart and bones. In animal studies, the following effects were reported: pale and swollen kidneys, increased kidney weights, bone decalcification, muscle fiber size changes, hyperplasia and severe skin irritations.”1
I find it interesting that sodium hexametaphosphate can demineralize bones (I don’t know how many Tums you’d need to eat each day to achieve this) since many doctors recommend Tums as a calcium supplement.
As a side note, according to a study reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism,2,3 calcium citrate is 20 – 66 % more bioavailable than other forms of supplemental calcium. What that means is much less calcium carbonate makes it into the bloodstream and then into the tissues than calcium citrate. In the ‘natural world’ we have long taught that calcium carbonate is poorly assimilated in bones and teeth and is much more likely to be deposited as arthritic deposits, bone spurs and kidney stones. In spite of doctors recommending it as a general calcium supplement, it does not help the bones much at all!
Fourth: for heartburn, slippery elm is very effective. Break two or three capsules open, mix the powder with just enough water to make a cookie dough consistency, and eat. By taking the herb out of the capsule the body does not have to take ten to twenty minutes to digest the capsule before getting the relief slippery elm has to offer.
Fifth: avoid diluting stomach acid with beverages at mealtime. You may even choose to enhance the quality of your digestive juices with one of the enzyme products listed in the table at the end of this article.
Sixth: the majority of stomach ulcers have now been proven to be the result of a bacterial infection in the stomach. Standard medical treatment is a heavy regimen of antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors for several weeks. This runs the potential risk of setting up a yeast/candida infection that usually takes at least another six weeks of herbal therapy and diet changes to eliminate. Instead, it makes sense to ‘first do no harm.’ Licorice root has been studied and produces good results in healing ulcers when combined with the less successful prescription medications.4 ULC-R+, with its deglycyrrizinated licorice root extract, is something to consider using if you are currently using medications to eradicate gastric ulcers. Another natural remedy, capsaicin, which is found in capsicum (which provided the impetus for the creation of Nature’s Sunshine Products) has also been beneficial in healing ulcers.5 It’s true – capsicum will burn going in and coming out but it heals everything in between. (Note – some people with sensitive stomachs cannot handle high amounts of capsicum as it may cause stomach pain for them.)
Find Part 2 – Abdominal Pain and Gut Problems – here.
Products referred to in this article:
|Nature's Sunshine Products CANADA||Nature's Sunshine Products USA|
|Peppermint Oil||Peppermint Essential Oil|
|Protein Digestive Aid||PDA Combination|
|Digestive Enzymes||Food Enzymes|
|Garden Essence Enzymes||Proactazyme|
|UCL-R+||Gastro Health Concentrate|
Copyright © 2015, 2017 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).