Common digestive problems solved

The digestive system is wonderful if it goes about its functions relatively unnoticed. However, as soon as this complex system has any difficulties, we become very much aware of it, says Andrea du Plessis.

The digestive system is a wonderful and complex system, responsible for digesting or breaking the foods we eat up into small components for absorption into our blood circulation, as well as excreting digestive waste products.

The digestive system includes the digestive tract, which stretches from the mouth through to the anus, as well as its associated organs and glands. 

Digestive problems range from mild discomfort, such as heartburn, to agonizing or painful symptoms such as found with constipation or diarrhoea.

Many of the less serious and common digestive system complaints can be either prevented, or managed with the support of very simple guidelines, home remedies and natural products.

Heartburn

Definition and Symptoms

Heartburn is a painful burning sensation behind the breastbone, at the junction of the oesophagus and the stomach. Although it is often felt in the area of the heart, it has no relevance to the cardiovascular system. Heartburn may radiate up the chest area, into the neck, throat and even the face.

Causes

Reflux: Heartburn results from regurgitation, or reflux, where the acidic contents of the stomach flow back into the oesophagus. This may be caused by pressure from an overextended stomach, opening the oesophageal sphincter, a muscular valve between the stomach and the oesophagus.

Posture: Heartburn is most often noticed when a person is bending over or lying down.

Other causes: It is often caused by overeating, but may also be triggered by stress, wearing tight clothing, smoking or consuming coffee, chocolate, garlic, hot or spicy foods, deep fried foods and alcohol. Chronic heartburn occasionally signals a serious condition, but is harmless in most cases.

Preventative Measures

•    Avoid large meals, especially before you go to sleep. Also, avoid exercise or other activities that would require bending over, immediately after a meal.
•    Avoid clothing fitting tightly over the abdomen and chest.
•    Avoid smoking, coffee, chocolate, garlic, hot or spicy foods, deep fried foods and alcohol.

Natural Remedies

•    Ginger drops, or *home-made ginger tea is known to help relieve heartburn.
•    Raw potato and cabbage juice, made with a juice extractor, is believed to bring relief from heartburn. Raw ginger root can be added for flavour and for its soothing properties.
•    Chamomile tea may help to relieve heartburn due to its soothing effects on the digestive system.
•    Dolomite, which contains calcium and magnesium, is often used as a natural remedy to help bring relief from heartburn.
•    An Aromatherapy Essential Oil Compress: Add a total of 2-3 drops of Ginger, Chamomile or Peppermint essential oil into a basin of hot water. Dip a folded facecloth into the water, wring out excess water and place it on the stomach. Remove the compress when it reaches body temperature and repeat 3 times.

Indigestion

Definition and Symptoms

Indigestion is a general term for symptoms experienced within two hours of eating, relating to an impaired digestive function. Indigestion is characterized by various unpleasant symptoms, such as upper abdominal pain, rumbling noises in the stomach, belching (burping) and a feeling of fullness or abdominal bloatedness.

Causes


Meal size plays a role, as eating too much, or too fast may cause indigestion.

Ageing is accompanied by a reduction in digestive secretions, contributing to indigestion.

Stress may interfere with the flow of digestive secretions and may aggravate indigestion.

Other causes: There are more serious ailments that may cause indigestion, such as food intolerance or other digestive disorders relating to the pancreas, which would require medical investigation.

Preventative Measures

•    Avoid large meals, especially late at night. Rather eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
•    Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. The digestion process starts in your mouth, where your teeth breaks up the food in more digestible, smaller pieces, while mixing it with saliva, containing water and digestive enzymes.

Natural Remedies

•    Chamomile Tea is known to have a soothing effect on an upset stomach.
•    Ginger drops, or *home-made ginger tea is known to help relieve many digestive complaints, including indigestion.
•    Culinary Herbs and Spices: Fennel, Parsley and Turmeric are believed to help prevent or treat indigestion. Add these to your foods for flavour or use to help relieve digestive complaints.
•    An Aromatherapy Essential Oil Compress: Add a total of 2-3 drops of Ginger, Chamomile or Peppermint essential oil into a basin hot water. Dip a folded facecloth into the water, wring out excess water and place it on the stomach. Remove the compress when it reaches body temperature and repeat 3 times.

Flatulence

Definition and Symptoms

Flatulence is a digestive system disorder caused by excessive amounts of gas (usually foul smelling) formed in the stomach and large intestine, which may cause anything from mild discomfort to agonizing embarrassment.

Causes

Gas forming foods may cause flatulence, such as the Brassica family of vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), garlic, onions, lentils, beans, excessive digestive fibre (wheat bran) and eggs.

Preventative Measures

•    Avoid gas forming foods that are mentioned above.
•    Avoid large meals, especially late at night. Rather eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Eat slowly and make sure to chew your food thoroughly.

Natural Remedies

•    Chamomile tea is known to have a soothing effect on an upset digestive system, reducing the risk of flatulence.
•    Ginger drops, or *home-made ginger tea is known to help relieve many digestive complaints, including flatulence.
•    Culinary Herbs and Spices: Fennel, Parsley, Peppermint, Cinnamon and Aniseed, are believed to help prevent or treat flatulence. Add these to your foods for flavour and to help relieve digestive complaints. Fennel tea is a popular remedy to help relieve flatulence.
•    An Aromatherapy Essential Oil Compress: Add a total of 2-3 drops of Ginger, Chamomile or Fennel essential oil into a basin hot water. Dip a folded facecloth into the water, wring out excess water and place it on the stomach. Remove the compress when it reaches body temperature and repeat 3 times.

Constipation

Definition and Symptoms

Constipation is a condition of the digestive system characterized by a reduction in the frequency of bowel movements. Constipation is also associated with uncomfortable and painful passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, or a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement.

Causes

Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation. Digestive waste products making up the fecal matter need a high moisture content to move comfortably through the digestive system. 

Insufficient dietary fibre may also cause or aggravate constipation, as the dietary fibre absorbs water in the digestive system and encourages excretion of fecal matter from the colon via the rectum.

Other causes may include lower intestinal obstruction by a tumor or growth, which require medical investigation.

Preventative Measures

•    Drink at least 6-10 glasses of water per day. Ingest fruits and vegetables that are rich in water, as well as dietary fibre.
•    Dietary fibre is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breakfast cereals, whole-wheat products, brown rice, wheat bran and oat bran. Fibre, absorbing water, increases the volume of the content of the bowel, stimulating peristalsis or contraction of intestinal muscles. However, increased fibre intake, without increased fluid intake, may exacerbate constipation, by causing the bowel content to be too firm and difficult to move with peristalsis. Therefore, remember to drink enough water.
•    Daily abdominal exercises may help encourage the peristaltic contractions of the digestive system, which may also help relieve constipation.

Natural Remedies

•    Flaxseeds (Linseeds) soaked overnight in water (1 teaspoon seeds in 50 ml water) may help relieve constipation. Combine with your breakfast cereal, porridge or yoghurt.
•    Dried fruit contain dietary fibre, while prunes specifically have a mild, natural laxative effect, which may help relieve mild constipation. Include 1-2 prunes, 3-4 times a week in your diet.
•    Fennel tea is recommended in cases of constipation.
•    Kelp tablets (2-4 per day) may help to relieve constipation.
•    Molasses is a traditional remedy used to help relieve mild constipation.  1-2 teaspoons per day can be enjoyed neat, on a rice cake or event stirred into a cup of boiling water as a tasty, hot drink.
•    An Aromatherapy Essential Oil Massage: Add a total of 10-15 drops of Fennel or Rosemary essential oil into 30 ml of Sweet Almond Oil. Massage clockwise onto abdominal area. Apart from the stimulating effects of Rosemary oil, the massaging will also help peristaltic movements within the digestive tract, to encourage bowel movements.

Diarrhoea

Definition and Symptoms


Diarrhoea involves the chronic or acute frequent passing of loose, watery stools.  Diarrhoea usually is a symptom of another ailment or disease, which would require medical attention. Other accompanying symptoms may include flatulence, abdominal bloating and cramping.

Causes

Gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning typically cause diarrhoea, where the body tries to expel the micro-organisms responsible for the infection.

Stress may sometimes induce diarrhoea.

Other diseases: Diarrhoea is often a symptom of another disease and is associated with irritable bowel syndrome, AIDS and other intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Medicine side effects: Diarrhoea may be a side effect of certain medicines, including antibiotics.

Preventative Measures


•    Food Safety: To avoid food poisoning, avoid prepared foods that have been reheated such as chicken, egg dishes, seafood, etc. Make sure to cook meats, seafood and chicken properly.
•    Avoid dairy products while suffering from diarrhoea, as the digestive enzymes responsible for the digestion of dairy components may be affected by the infection.
•    In cases of a gastrointestinal infection, make sure to ingest sufficient fluids and electrolytes from molasses or, sports drinks such as ESR Hypotonic Energy Drink or oral re-hydration preparations.

Natural Remedies


•    Oat Bran, added to yoghurt, breakfast cereals or cooked porridge absorbs fluids in the digestive system and has a soothing effect on digestive complaints.
•    Probiotics are bacteria known to benefit our own intestinal flora, the beneficial bacteria that are found in our digestive systems. Apart from probiotic formulations available at pharmacies and health shops, natural yoghurt, made with live culture bacteria is another source of probiotics.
•    Molasses may help replace electrolytes lost through diarrhoea. Take 1-2 teaspoons of Molasses per day as it is a great source of potassium, an important electrolyte in the body.
•    Chamomile Tea has antispasmodic and soothing effects, which may help soothe the abdominal cramps and pains associated with diarrhoea.
•    An Aromatherapy Essential Oil Compress: Add a total of 2-3 drops of Chamomile essential oil into a basin hot water. Dip a folded facecloth into the water, wring out excess water and place it on the stomach. Remove the compress when it reaches body temperature and repeat 3 times.

*Homemade Ginger Tea
Steep 3-6 thin slices of raw ginger root in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove ginger root and drink 100-150 ml to help bring relief from heartburn, indigestion, abdominal bloating or flatulence.

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