by Mary Broedell, Certified Health Coach
The causes and contributing factors to an unhealthy digestive tract are eating unhealthy, highly processed, fatty foods, drinking too much pop and coffee, not getting enough quality rest, and an inactive lifestyle. Indigestion is caused by an imbalanced digestion system which can cause constipation, diarrhea, bad skin (i.e. acne, rashes…), bad breath, bloating after eating, gas, and sluggishness. It can also cause heartburn, acid reflux even abdominal pain.
Good digestion begins with good self-care of exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and finding an outlet for stress and fatigue. Exercise keeps our body’s juices moving, taking in healthy oxygen into our cells, eliminating toxins, and producing energy. It is important to get moving, whether by a walk through nature or time on a stationary bike.
Our body love’s to move, when they do they release not only toxins, but stress and fatigue from hectic, sedentary lifestyles. A balanced diet is most important. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those in season, are the best way to maintain a healthy, vital life. Feeding your body what it needs in the form closest to nature, whole foods, allows your body to quickly and efficiently process the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that it needs to sustain a healthy life without overworking or producing a lot of waste. Organic whole foods, fresh grown foods without chemicals and pesticides, are high-quality foods rich with nutrients and your best choice when choosing fresh fruits and vegetables. Drinking enough water daily regulates normal body temperature, lubricates and cushions joints, protects the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and gets rid of toxins and waste through elimination via sweat, urination, and bowel movements. Getting proper rest allows the body to rejuvenate and repair itself while we sleep. A balanced lifestyle of exercise, whole foods and rest and relaxation keep our bodies in harmony but we can do more by adding herbs to our everyday diet.
Herbs can be added to an everyday diet to keep healthy and vital for a long, healthy life. Herbs can and are used when we start to feel weak, run down and sick. But using them on a daily basis keeps all the systems working well so they are better prepared to fight off the effects of stress, sickness and fatigue. To enhance wellness on a daily basis, Rosemary Gladstar suggests nutritive herbs, such as horsetail, cleavers, chickweed, red clover, and lemon balm; tonic herbs to feed, tone and rehabilitate, such as dandelion leaf, nettle, and burdock root; and longevity herbs to increase the quality of life, those could be dandelion, nettle, burdock, and oats. (p.19)
The roles of vitamins, proteins, and fats in a healthy diet are very important. Vitamins should be achieved through a balanced diet of whole foods so the body can metabolize them naturally. But if you should need to supplement, make sure you use a supplement made from whole foods and not over-processed, and synthetic.
Proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy are considered high-protein foods. Proteins have two major functions: “to repair damage to tissues and cells as they normally breakdown, and to stimulate and maintain bodily metabolism.” (Tierra, p.51)
A certain amount of unsaturated fats and oils is essential in a good balanced diet for added absorption of Vitamins A, D, E and K and for the breakdown of stored fats. Fats and oil lubricate the body, they protect against invasion and damage by intruders and keep the cells of the body strong.
Kitchen spices not only add flavor to our cooking but also have health and healing properties. So go crazy, and add more spices to your cooking. For licorice-clove flavor try basil in your cooking, it can be added to soups, stews and made into a pesto sauce with a little garlic and olive oil. It has tonic qualities for melancholy and low spirits. A great tonic in traditional Chinese medicine, black pepper is warming, energizing, and stimulating, and good for flus, coughs clods, slow circulation, and poor digestion, says Rosemary Gladstar. (p.107) For culinary fire, use cayenne. It is a heart tonic and used for colds and flus, to increase circulation, rebuild blood cells, lower cholesterol, and is even a great insect repellent. It comes from red hot chili peppers whose fruit or body are dried then ground down. Cinnamon is another favorite kitchen spice that is also a valued traditional Chinese medicine. It is a warming herb used to stimulate circulation, digestion and has an anti-microbial effect. In more recent times, it has been proved to help with blood sugar and keeping it stable. And there are many more that you can experiment with in your own kitchen.
For good digestion support, the following herbs and supplements can be introduced into your pantry: spearmint, ginger, calcium carbonate and acidophilus. Peppermint is great for indigestion and easing nausea and freshening the breath. Spearmint belongs to the same family as peppermint, so they share some of the same attributes plus has a cooling, refreshing quality. It aids in digestion, colic, colds, flu, flatulence, sore throats and helps to open up congested nasal passages. Ginger has the ability to stimulate the circulatory system helping to keep the body in homeostasis. Ginger is used to treat headaches, alleviate pain, bladder inflammation gas and colic. Calcium carbonate, like popular antacids out on the general market, also help to ease indigestion. And lastly, good colon health is imperative to good digestion. If the proper bacteria are not present in the colon to digest and break down food then constipation, gas and bloating, and even bad breath can occur. To pump up good colon bacteria levels, acidophilus can be taken. Acidophilus, depending on the brand you buy, is a concentrated source for good bacteria. It will balance your good bacteria with the bad bacteria and get it working in a more productive way, reducing gas, bloating and relieving constipation. These are a great start to some herbs and supplements that are helpful in achieving good digestion but the way in which you use herbs is also just as important.
Herbal tea is just one way to include herbs in your everyday life. Creating herbal teas is rather simple. Find a good recipe and add the dried ingredients to an air tight jar. When you are ready to make some tea, take one teaspoon of the tea and add it to 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and allow to cool. Infusions are made from the delicate parts of the plant, like the leaves, flowers, and buds. To make an infusion you must steep 1 oz of herbs in 1 quart of water, let stand for 30 to 60 minutes. A decoction is made from the roots, bark and seeds of the plant and is a little harder to extract the constituents. In a small saucepan, cover herbs with cold water and slowly heat then simmer, covered, for 20 to 45 minutes. The longer you simmer the stronger the tea will be.
Good digestive health is imperative to a healthy life and is so easy to maintain with simple, easy, balanced living. Good exercise gets the oxygen into our cells and the toxins circulating out of the body. Whole, fresh foods allow our bodies to easily assimilate nutrients, vitamins and minerals into our bodies in the way nature intended. Keep processed foods at a minimum in your diet; fast foods should not be a mainstay. Drink plenty of water to flush the system of toxins and keep everything in proper balance. And incorporate herbs into your daily routine to maintain a healthy, vital lifestyle.
Gladstar, R. (2008). Herbal Recipes for Virbrant Health. Storey Books
Tierra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nutrition for everyone. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/water.html