By Danielle Elliott
Bloating, pain & excessive gas can be a real pain in the bum……pardon the pun. These would have to be the most frequent symptoms my patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) & digestive dysfunction report to me. These symptoms can make work hard to concentrate on, clothes hard to pick out in the morning and social situations awkward & anxiety provoking.
But there are ways to help relieve these symptoms & I feel Natural Medicine truly excels in this area. That is because it helps to deal with the underlying causes that could be causing your bloating, pain & gas.
Digestion actually begins in the brain & not the mouth or stomach as most of us would think. The brain is the one that detects if we are ready to eat and then stimulates saliva production. This is the first chemical digestion that helps us with breaking down carbohydrates in the mouth. Being in a ‘rest & digest’ state before meals is important for this saliva production to occur, as well as blood being redirected to the digestive area to help these organs work.
Mindful eating also means we do a better job at chewing our food, this is the first mechanical digestion of our food. Chewing enough is important as it gives more surface area for the digestive enzymes to work on. Digesting our food really well, means you are able to absorb nutrients effectively, it means less irritation to the immune system and that the bacteria in your gut have access to the right food at the right time. This definitely leads to less bloating & gas.
Some ways to eat mindfully are, taking some deep breaths before, eating at a table, eating in a calm environment without technology or work to distract you, chewing well and tasting all the flavours.
As we touched on in Mindful Meals, digesting your food fully reduces symptoms throughout the digestive system. Sometimes over time our body can produce less digestive enzymes & this can create many symptoms including pain, gas, bloating, reflux, heartburn, diarrhoea & constipation. Some of the reasons for a decreased production of enzymes can include stress, eating when rushed, age, dehydration & medications like acid suppressants.
You can support your digestive system by taking a digestive enzyme supplement to replace the enzymes you are lacking. Most comprehensive formulas will help you break down carbohydrates, fibre & protein. You always want to look at ways of increasing your own enzyme production too.
Specific strains of probiotics have been studied & proven to reduce bloating, gas production, inflammation, functional abdominal pain & can support the normal function of the gut. It is very important to choose the right strains, as only then do you know that you will get the function you are after.
For example one of the probiotics I commonly use is Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 19738 , due to its proven effectiveness in clinical trials. If you took Lactobacillus reuteri without the same letters & numbers following the name, then you can’t expect to get the same results, as you are not using the same strain.
Would you believe that constipation is something I consider with every patient? Even those with a daily bowel motion or even diarrhoea! I have seen many patients experiencing gas & pain who feel they have good evacuation daily but on x-ray they have impacted stool & constipation. I have also seen children with diarrhoea because they are so blocked up only liquid stool can pass the hard masses.
Constipation is one of the number one causes for gas & bloating & natural therapies offer many ways of dealing with this. Lifestyle & dietary measures like enough movement, water, vegetables & fruit & addressing stress are very effective. I also use fibres that normalise bowel function, specific strains of probiotics and herbs that assist forward movement of the bowel like ginger.
Calm your nerves
As previously discussed we want to be in ‘rest & digest’ when eating, the other state we can live in is ‘fight or flight’. This is where our nervous system is excited and we are producing stress hormones. Living in this state is ok some of the time. It can help us perform better, like before an exam, presentation or big game. But if we spend too much time in this state it can reduce digestive capacity, change the forward movement of the gut, have negative effects on the microbiome (community of bacteria in the gut) & increase the production of inflammatory chemicals. This can all increase bothersome symptoms.
So what can we do to support your nervous system? I prescribe herbs that support happy hormone production and make patients more resilient to stress. Herbs like Withania, Rhodiala, Passionflower & Lavender can help. Gentle movement, yoga, deep breathing, gardening & meditation are all other ways to support your nervous system to live in ‘rest & digest’ more often.
As you can see there are so many wonderful natural ways of helping you reduce your symptoms of bloating, pain & gas. It is just a matter of working out which ones work best for you. This will of course depend on the underlying cause of why you are experiencing functional digestive issues.
Please note that more serious diseases should not be overlooked. These symptoms can be due to a functional problem or just as easily to a specific disease like Coeliac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Diverticulitis. So investigation & ruling out more serious conditions is definitely advisable.
About the Author: Danielle Elliott
Danielle Elliott is a naturopath, herbalist & homeopath with a special interest in digestive complaints. She has been in clinical practice for 15 years and began specialising in gut health 9 years ago. Since then, Danielle has published a book entitled “Gluten Free and Happy”, which helps educate people with Coeliac Disease and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity on how to optimise their digestive health and overall wellbeing. Danielle also does a lot of work with patients with SIBO and functional digestive disorders as well as running “Tummy Rescue”, an online community for patients with GI disease go to www.tummyrescue.com.au.