Tag Archives: digestive health

Cure Heartburn Naturally

A new study gives us another reason to pause before we take some of the common drugs for heartburn. The use of these drugs known as proton pump inhibitors correlates with a 20% higher risk of heart attack. These drugs were intended to be used for 6 months or less while many Americans are using them for much longer periods of time. This longer use is possibly part of the problem.

This study doesn’t necessarily show that proton pump inhibitors are to blame for the increased heart attack risk. We only know heart attacks happen more often in people taking these medications. The good news is there are other ways to deal with heartburn.

As one researcher commented, some of the same lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease can also cause acid reflux. He mentions bad diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. So yes, it makes absolute sense to improve our diet and lifestyle instead of using a drug to mask the symptoms of heartburn.

heartburn

When I am discussing acid reflux with my patients, I generally start with diet and stress as the two most common factors contributing to heartburn. Sometimes people know the foods that trigger their heartburn, such as fried or spicy foods. Other times there can be a hidden culprit like gluten or dairy.

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While my patients are working on appropriate diet changes, I might treat the symptom temporarily to help them feel more comfortable while the body heals. On popular product is DGL, a chewable licorice tablet that soothes as well as promotes healing. Blends containing zinc carnosine like Endozin may also help protect and heal the lining of our digestive tracts. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, I might also employ some of the other steps of my gut healing protocol.

Fix the underlying problem driving heartburn and you often can prevent other health complications later in life. If you have been using medication for heartburn, discuss your heart disease risks with your doctor and see what steps you can take to improve both your acid reflux and your long-term health.

Steps to Heal the Gut from Food Sensitivities

Since I help a lot of people with their gastrointestinal issues, I frequently get the question “Can we recover from our food sensitivities?”

The answer is yes and no. I often see people who are reacting to multiple foods. I explain that there is usually one major food like gluten that is creating inflammation in the gut. Because of this inflammation or leaky gut or some other factor we don’t understand yet, we can develop secondary sensitivities to other foods that we eat frequently like blueberries, coconut, or avocado. I have seen these food reactions decrease by avoiding these problem foods and using a gut healing protocol. Often, the original culprit like gluten or dairy still needs to be avoided, but the other secondary reaction foods can be added back after an appropriate time.

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Here are the basic steps of my gut healing protocol:

Step 1: Reduce Inflammation

In addition to cutting problem foods out of our diet, we sometimes need to examine the balance of organisms growing in the gut. Inappropriate bacteria and fungi growing in the GI tract can cause conditions such as dysbiosis or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). These issues are often intertwined with food sensitivities and contribute to the inflammation that is fueling our discomfort. Depending on the case, I might use an anti-microbial herbal blend or encourage increased consumption of inflammation fighters like fish oil and turmeric.

Step 2: Replace Good Bacteria

Inadequate beneficial gut bacteria are often associated with food reactions. Rebuild these populations by taking probiotic supplements or emphasizing fermented foods in the diet. Also include foods that are rich in prebiotics, nutrients that help probiotic organisms thrive. Finally, cut sugar out of the diet. Not only does it increase inflammation, but it can also feed troublesome organisms in the gut.

Step 3: Strengthen Digestion

There are numerous ways to improve our digestion. Depending on the person, I might recommend digestive enzymes or bitters. Stress can also wreak havoc on our ability to digest our food, so choose appropriate stress reduction activities unless you are one of those few people who aren’t stressed out.

Step 4: Repair the Gut Lining

Feed the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract with glutamine powder. As their preferred energy source, glutamine can help these cells replicate and repair themselves. N-acetylglucosamine is also used to rebuild the protective mucus layer of the GI tract. Some probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG actually encourage replication of intestinal cells and stimulates the production of this protective mucus layer.

I am not saying that this type of plan is either fast or easy, but with some diligence, we can turn around many of our health issues by taking care of our gut.

N-acetylglucosamine for Rebuilding the Gut

When food reactions, medication, or other gut irritants damage the gastrointestinal tract, we need rebuild the gut as well as get rid of these offending agents. Along with improving the diet, replacing good bacteria, and reducing inflammation, I frequently recommend N-acetylglucosamine to aid in gut repair.

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N-acetylglucosamine (also known as NAG) is similar to the glucosamine we take for arthritis and joint pain. While NAG might have some of those benefits, it is best know for supporting the body’s creation of a healthy mucus layer in the gut. This normal mucus layer protects our cells from damage by enzymes, acids, bacterial toxins, and more. Additionally, NAG might support the growth of beneficial gut bacterial like Bifidobacterium bifidum. Some interesting studies on multiple sclerosis demonstrate that it may improve immune function as well.

While N-acetylgluosamine might benefit anyone who has substantial digestive issues, it looks particularly promising for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. People with conditions like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis tend to have much thinner mucus barriers in the gastrointestinal tract. In a recent study, patients with inflammatory bowel disease taking NAG for 1 month had substantial improvement in their symptoms. Specifically, they had less abdominal pain, diarrhea, and mucus passed in the stool. Even though this wasn’t a placebo-controlled study, the results were impressive enough to make NAG an important consideration for these and related disorders.

Since your digestion is the root of your health, make sure you have a happy GI tract. And stay tuned for more tips on healthier digestion.

P.S. My cat is getting NAG too along with his probiotics.

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Sharing Probiotics with my Cats

I am not saying that you need to share your probiotics with your cats. But Moonpie, Bois D’arc, and I have been enjoying this morning ritual, and it had me thinking again about the nature of different probiotics.

Moonpie and Bois D'arc

Moonpie and Bois D’arc

Here is what I have been doing. When I am feeding the cats in the morning, I sprinkle about ¼ of a capsule of my probiotic on each serving of cat food. Then I dump the rest of the contents of the capsule into my mouth. Most probiotics are very mild tasting so the cats and I don’t mind the flavor at all. A few probiotic brands add fruit, vegetable, or herbal extracts, which can make the taste sour or bitter, so I can’t say the same about every brand.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help with gastrointestinal symptoms, immune function, detoxification, and maybe even healthy weight loss. Moonpie had to take a round of antibiotics recently, and I always follow antibiotics with at least 2 weeks of probiotics to help restore the normal balance of gut bacteria.

The particular brand I am using right now is Culturelle. It contains a single strain of probiotic known as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. There are a few unique things about this strain.

It is resistant to stomach acid. That is why I am not worried about dumping the contents of the capsule straight in my mouth. For conditions like sinus issues or heartburn, you might get more benefit from the probiotics by putting the powder in your mouth. For instance with heartburn, some studies show that the wrong organisms are living in the esophagus. We are not sure if this is a cause of the problem or a consequence of the symptoms, but probiotics seems to be a helpful part of the solution for many. I have my patients with heartburn take their probiotics this way so the organisms are getting to the esophagus and stomach.

At other times when I am taking strains that are not resistant to stomach acid, I look for products that are enteric coated. This means the capsules are designed to release only after they past the stomach. With this type of capsules, our stomach acid doesn’t destroy other important organisms, like Bifidobacteria for the large intestines.

Another unique thing about Lactobacillus GG is that organism grows particularly robustly in our upper GI tract when we are taking it regularly. This gives it the potential to outcompete harmful microorganisms, particularly in the small intestines and stomach. Because of this, I would particularly choose a product like this for travelling abroad.

When we stop taking Lactobacillus GG, this protective barrier might start to disappear. This is a good time to make sure you are replacing them with other healthy bacteria so the bad guys don’t have a chance. Choose probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kim chi. Add to this some prebiotic foods to help feed the beneficial organisms. Prebiotics are found in foods like garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, rye, asparagus, banana, maple syrup, oats, and Jerusalem artichoke.

We don’t have to take probiotics all the time, nor do our cats. But since these beneficial organisms boost our health in so many different ways, it is important to make sure we are maintaining a helpful population of gut bacteria. Once the body is in balance, you can emphasize the probiotic and prebiotic rich foods in your diet.

P.S. No, I am not just writing about my cats because cats rule the Internet.

Brighten Your Day with Lemonbalm!

Meet lemonbalm. She could be your new best friend especially if you are dealing with a lot of stress. Many of us push ourselves so hard everyday, and this can contribute to mood issues. So we need an herbal best friend to bring a little sunshine to our days.

Lemonbalm

Lemonbalm is just such a friend. Her bright lemon taste sums up her personality. Lemonbalm can work to both lift low spirits and help calm us when the stress just gets to be too much. And then when you hear her scientific name, Melissa officinalis, you will definitely want to invite her over for a cup of tea (a cup of lemonbalm tea that is). Her name Melissa means honeybee because bees love lemonbalm so much, and I hope you will too.

Lemonbalm can help calm the nerves and is used for anxiety, nervousness, and irritability. Lemonbalm is wonderful for digestive problems and headaches, especially when they are caused by nervousness. Lemonbalm also mildly reduces blood pressure that is elevated due to stress. Some cases of mild insomnia respond well to lemonbalm. Lemonbalm is also a mild anti-depressive, making it a good choice for people who have a mixture of anxiety and depression. Lemonbalm is a nootropic herb meaning it can enhance memory and cognitive functioning. So, lemonbalm is for both brighter mind and brighter mood.

I feel that we can get more out of our herbs when we taste them. We learn more about their nature than if we are taking capsules of herbs. Try lemonbalm and you will see how the flavor really matches her uplifting nature. You can also taste and smell the essential oil in lemonbalm that help ease an upset stomach.

You can make a tea out of the dried or fresh leaves. I also like to add a few dropperfuls of lemonbalm tincture to a whole glass of water when I don’t have time to make tea. I prefer the brands like Herb Pharm that use both alcohol and glycerin to make their tinctures because this improves the taste significantly or you can add a few drops of stevia to sweeten it a little. Lemonbalm has such a delicious taste that is often used to improve the flavor of herbal blends.

Lemonbalm is a gentle herb that requires either large doses for acute issues or long-term use for optimal results. You can use it either way but since you have just found a new herbal best friend, I bet you are going to want to hang out everyday. Lemonbalm has no side effects except for possibly very rare cases of allergic reaction. Theoretically, lemonbalm could suppress the thyroid, but no cases have been reported of worsening symptoms with hypothyroidism.

So try a little lemonbalm, and make your brain and taste buds happy.

You Can Heal Nearly Anything with Plantain

No, not this plantain.

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I am talking about this common weed that grows in nearly every yard and roadside in the United States.

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Plantain weed is a first aid miracle that is usually close at hand for summertime boo-boos. And if you want it even handier, local midwife Maria Chowdhury uses it as a key ingredient in her Birth Song Botanicals Healing Salve, where she combines it with other great skin healing herbs like comfrey, calendula, pau de arco, and Oregon grape root. She made it as a nipple salve for nursing mothers or a diaper rash ointment for uncomfortable babies, but it is has such versatile herbs it can be used for nearly any skin complaint.

Plantain is a common choice for insect bites and cuts and scrapes. It is well known for its ability to soothe itchy and irritated skin through its high mucilage content, which moistens and protects inflamed tissues. Plantain can also reduce inflammation and calm itchy rashes such contact dermatitis and hives. Plantain speeds the healing of skin as well as having antimicrobial properties, making it a very useful herb for cuts and minor wounds.

Internally, plantain can be used as a soothing herb in similar ways. It is helpful for inflamed and sore mucous membranes such as sore throats and irritated stomachs. Its other internal uses range from coughs to constipation, hence my statement that this handy herb can heal nearly anything.

The dried herb is not commonly available because a lot of these medicinal benefits are lost when it is dried. In the summertime, it can be used straight from the yard. A common application is a spit poultice where a few leaves are chewed up and then put directly on a bug bite or sting. In the wintertime when plantain is not so plentiful, reach for Birth Song Botanicals Healing Salve.

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Granny’s Pickled Okra Recipe

This unusual cool spell has made me start thinking it is already fall. Like women and grannies of the past, I spend considerable effort in the summer and fall getting ready for winter. While my husband gathers firewood for us, my job is to preserve the summer’s harvest so we have an abundance of our own food through out the winter.

I particularly love making pickles. I give them as gifts as well as enjoy different pickled vegetables throughout the winter. When it comes to okra, this is a great way to preserve it without adding a bunch of calories like frying okra does. Okra is a good source of several vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, which is important for colon health and blood sugar. Finally, there are other health benefits from that okra mucilage, which is responsible for its slimy texture. This mucilage can soothe the gut and help absorb toxins in the digestive tract. It may even promote healthy cholesterol levels.

My friends tell me I make the best-pickled okra. I use the red okra we grow on our farm and sell at Ozark Natural Foods. It gives it a pretty pink tint.

Pickled okra

This recipe is one I got from husband’s granny who got it from her mom. I am proud to continue this Arkansas tradition by making it for my friends.

Granny’s Pickled Okra

20 ounces of small okra

2 pods hot red or green pepper

2 cloves garlic peeled

2 cups vinegar

¼ cup water

3 Tablespoons salt

¼ tsp celery seed or mustard seed (optional)

Pack okra into 2 hot sterilized pint jars. Put 1 pepper pod and 1 garlic clove in each jar. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil and pour over the okra leaving a ½ inch head room.

Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath following professional instructions like these from Ball. http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning

Let stand for 4 weeks before using.

 

I have to admit I usually quadruple the recipe and use this ratio of water and vinegar for the brine:

1 scant cup salt

2 quarts apple cider vinegar

1 quart water

1-2 tsp celery or mustard seeds (or combination of both)

I sometimes additionally put in 1 tsp of dill seeds to the brine and/or 2 whole black peppercorns per jar. I also bring the brine to a boil while I am sterilizing the jars, but I wanted to give you granny’s original recipe the way she wrote it.

Here is an interesting recipe for bread and butter okra pickles I’ll have to try next.

And finally, here are some pictures of my husband from today doing his winter preparations. One of our shade trees died of Dutch elm disease, but at least we know where our firewood is coming from this year.

Tree cutting

Tree down

Winter is coming!

Drink Your Turmeric for Better Health: Bulletproof turmeric part 2

My bulletproof turmeric recipe has been very popular, partially because it is delicious and an excellent way to consume a more absorbable form of turmeric. I chose the ingredients for the recipe because I wanted to encourage people to consume whole turmeric instead of just the isolated “main” component, curcumin. The other constituents of turmeric have medicinal attributes of their own and can actually help increase the absorption of curcumin. If you do need that additional boost from the isolated curcumin, open up a capsule and add it to this blend.

Turmeric is such a tremendously useful medicinal herb and has been consumed as part of foods and teas for centuries. In additional to its inflammation modulating benefits, turmeric is high in antioxidants that might help prevent cancer and dementia. Among its gastrointestinal benefits, turmeric can help protect the liver and stimulate the gall bladder thereby improving digestion. It has also been shown to reduce the incidences of gastrointestinal infection. Finally, turmeric can improve cholesterol and reduce blood clotting making it a great cardiovascular ally.

By drinking your medicinal herbs as teas, you can sometimes get a better feel for what is working for your body. You can start craving something more or you may decide that you like it less. This can be a reflection of what is going to work well for your unique self. I have found that I love my bulletproof turmeric tea more with coconut oil instead of the MCT oil. MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are isolated from coconut oil, but again the more whole version of coconut oil is agreeing more with my body. It could just be the delicious coconut taste, but I think that the greater complexity of the coconut oil might provide some other components that I need.

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A quick note on MCT oil and coconut oil: There is a lot of hype of how these might help with weight loss. There could really be something to this. A colleague of mine has been working on his own substantial weight loss goal and has made some huge strides by taking the MCT oil shortly before meals. He has noticed it reducing his appetite as the literature claims. So, here we have yet another wonderful use for coconut oil along with the brain boost some people notice from it.

Here is my original recipe for bulletproof turmeric tea:

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric (optionally add one capsule of curcumin 95% extract)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric and garam masala for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Before-and-After-Blending

Bulletproof Turmeric Before and After Blending

This week I am trying a different variation. I am making a turmeric paste that I can store for future use. Most turmeric pastes are turmeric and water, but mine is turmeric and coconut oil.

Bulletproof turmeric #2

4 tsp turmeric

1-2 tsp garam masala

½ cup coconut oil

Melt the coconut oil and mix in the spices. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Stain immediately and store for later use. (If you have time let the mixture cool before straining, then remelt and strain)

When ready to use, mix 2 Tbs of this mixture with:

1 cup boiling water

1 tsp honey

And optionally, 1 tsp maca and/or contents of 1 curcumin capsule

Whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

This paste can also be used to season many savory dishes like stir-fry and curries.

Five Flavors, But Don’t Forget Bitter

Some cooking traditions focus on artfully combining the flavors our tongue perceives. The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. American cuisine doesn’t emphasize bitter as much as some other cultures. We will have coffee after a meal for something bitter or dark chocolate or maybe some slightly bitter greens in our salads.

Bitter is often thought of as an undesirable flavor, but it does have significant digestive benefits. The taste of something bitter on our tongues helps shift our nervous system to rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight mode. This is extremely important for getting the most out of our food. When we taste something bitter, our bodies increase their production and release of digestive enzymes. Bitters also improve muscle tone in the digestive tract and stimulate the liver, aiding in detoxification.

Gentian

Gentian

As I mentioned, we can add bitter tasting foods to our diet. There are also bitter herbs that are traditionally used as digestive aids. These included gentian, chamomile, yarrow, blue flag iris, and Oregon grape root. Often five to fifteen drops of one of these herbs, or a blend such as the classic Swedish Bitters, is taken with a small amount of water a few minutes before meals. Some people use these herbs instead of digestive enzymes. Bitters may also help relieve indigestion when taken after a meal, but slightly higher doses might be needed. Another classic use of bitters is for reduced appetite.

So chose delicious nutritious foods and get the most out of them by ensuring you have optimal digestion. Bitters can be a great way to stimulate a sluggish digestive tract.

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts, and having the right organisms in our bodies can have a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalanced gut flora is common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also contribute to less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.

Probiotics are normal, healthy bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These are the organisms like the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species you see in most probiotic supplements used to restore and repopulate normal intestinal flora. Some of my favorite probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. These are medium length carbohydrates that feed our good bacteria. The most common prebiotic in supplements is fructooligosaccharide, also know as FOS. Food sources of prebiotics like FOS include garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, beer, rye, asparagus, banana, maple sugar, oats, and my favorite Jerusalem artichoke. Eating high fiber foods is another way to support proper gut bacteria. So feed your good bacteria so they can in turn support your health.

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