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Herbs For Healthy Digestion

Keeping Your Digestion Healthy
We all know what it feels like when our digestion isn’t working properly. For some, this is an occasional occurrence brought on by a heavy meal or excessive stress. For others, it can be a constant problem, where each meal causes discomfort, bloating, acid indigestion or worse.

What causes digestion problems?
There are many causes and factors to digestion problems, as each person’s body is unique. However, unhealthy digestion is one of the most common afflictions worldwide. The modern lifestyle, with its face pace, high stress and meals on the run is the biggest factor in digestive disorders. Eating fresh, local and simply prepared meals in a relaxed environment has been replaced by industrialized, processed meals that can be bought on the street corner, frozen and shipped thousands of miles to a microwave oven, picked up through the window of a car and all gulped down within minutes. All this has led to a diet of processed, sugar laden, nutritionally devoid foods that clog our organs and cause numerous digestive complaints. Thorough chewing, the first and major part of digestion, has also become a victim of this faced-paced lifestyle. 

How do you know if you suffer from digestive difficulties?
The symptoms of poor digestion are numerous; from acid indigestion/heartburn to constipation; from bloating after eating to feeling sluggish and heavy; from flatulence and belching to loose stool or diarrhea. Weight gain and weight loss are signals that food is not getting processed correctly. Even skin eruptions, foul breath and mental fog can be signs that you’re not digesting your food properly.
Assimilation is the process of your body breaking down all the nutrients from your food and utilizing them. Vitamins, minerals, protein, and fats are all important nutrients that protect your cells and organs and give them the fuel they need to function. When your digestion is off, your assimilation is affected and that can prevent your cells from getting their nutrients. Balancing your intake of these nutrients is important. According to Michael Tierra (1998), a healthy diet should be made up of primarily whole grains and beans, secondarily fresh vegetables and thirdly, of dairy, eggs, fruits and oils (p. 47). 

Look in your spice rack for help...
Did you know that many of the common spices in your kitchen can help with your digestive ailments? Many herbs and spices are carminative (gas relieving), like anise, caraway, cardamon, clove, cumin and fennel. Chewing on a mixture of anise, caraway, dill and fennel seeds can help digest a heavy meal, expel gas and soothe the stomach. Fennel can also stimulate digestion, neutralize excess acids in the stomach and intestines and regulate hunger. (Gladstar, 2008, p. 331) Ginger, a digestive superstar, is excellent for all types of stomach and intestinal upset, including nausea, gas pains, cramps and indigestion. Thyme is fantastic for the intestines. As a natural parasiticide, it can combat intestinal worms, treat diarrhea and chronic gastritis (Tierra, 1998, p. 80).

What supplements can help digestion?
Probiotic supplements are important for maintaining healthy intestinal flora. Digestive enzymes are also very important to healthy digestion. Enzymes break down your food so your body is able to assimilate the nutrients. Enzymes are easily available as supplements, and some are also found in fruits. Proteolytic enzyme supplements containing papain and bromelain are usually derived from papaya and pineapple.

What herbs can help digestion?
Herbs can provide the most effective treatment for many digestive ailments. Artichoke is a common digestive bitter in Europe, as it is also a diuretic, fat reducer and blocks cholesterol (Tierra, 1998, p. 88). One of the safest natural laxatives is cascara sagrada, which stimulates the entire digestive system and is also beneficial for colitis. Psyllium husk is another laxative that works as a bulking aid for dry constipation. Chamomile, a well known herb for stomach aches, is also good for most digestive problems, even diarrhea.

How are herbs supposed to be taken?
There are several ways to prepare herbs. The simplest way is to just eat the herb or seeds as needed, like with the anise and fennel seeds. But with other herbs, the most common preparation is as an infusion, where dried herbs are steeped in boiling water for several minutes. This way is good for any herb that is in a leaf form or finely ground. For whole pieces and harder roots, a decoction is recommended, which involves simmering the herbs for twenty to sixty minutes. Both of these methods involve drinking one to four cups of liquid to get an appropriate dose. In contrast, a tincture can be made with either an alcohol or vinegar base. This is then taken in a few drops and can be stored much longer than dried herbs, and is helpful when the taste of an herb is difficult to palate. Lastly, when herbs are very bitter, or just taste terrible, the finely ground powder can be put into gelatin capsules and taken with water.

Gladstar, Rosemary. (2008). Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. “North Adams”: Storey Publishing.

Tierra, Michael. (1998). The Way of Herbs. “New York”: Pocket Books