Digestion is a process of breaking down the foods we eat and changing them into a form which is easily assimilated by the body’s cells to use for energy, tissue replacement and growth. The digestive process begins in the mouth. All food should be thoroughly chewed to break apart fibers and other hard matter. Chewing is also important to ensure the first digestive enzymes in the saliva (pytalin) are properly mixed in with the food. The next stage of digestion takes place in the stomach, where more enzymes are added along with HCl. Only alcohol, water, some vitamin C and certain sugars are absorbed in the stomach. The food moves on to the small intestine where additional enzymes are secreted, from both the pancreas and the small intestine itself. Here bile, which comes from the liver, is also added and acts as an alkalizer and laxative and assists in the breakdown of fats. Most of the absorption of nutrients takes place in the small intestine. The nutrients are then carried by the blood to the cells. The waste products of digestion are passed along to the large intestine, where some minerals and water are reabsorbed and finally, the waste is excreted. In this long chain of events, we often see many symptomatic problems manifested. These can include heartburn, gas, acid indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, colic and other conditions (treated individually under the particular heading for that problem). The digestive system must be functioning properly if we are to get the healthy nutrients we need into our bodies. Otherwise it is possible to starve in the midst of plenty, while the much-needed vitamins and herbs are flushed away.
Overeating, eating in a rushed or excited (stressed) state, improper mastication (chewing) and salivation, and poor food combinations (eating the wrong foods together) are the most common causes of digestive problems. The solutions are obviously simple: never overeat, eat moderate amounts and only when hungry. Take the time to eat in a relaxed state. Avoid eating if you are rushed or emotionally upset. Chew each mouthful slowly and thoroughly, and avoid ‘inhaling’ food. Finally, foods such as refined starches and sugars contribute to poor digestion and putrefaction, resulting in gas and other improper acid balances in the stomach, and so should be avoided. To help correct the acid balance in the stomach (whether too high or too low) take 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water sweetened with 1 teaspoon honey, before meals. Fermented foods such as yogurt, miso and sauerkraut can aid digestion and help prevent intestinal putrefaction. Garlic and bee pollen are also beneficial in preventing putrefaction and will help eliminate gas. Herbs of a stomachic, bitter and aromatic nature will aid digestion, while those that are carminative will eliminate gas. Herbs such as comfrey, which is demulcent in nature, will soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract.
Single Herbs: Catnip, Chamomile, Ginger (aromatic); Cayenne, Ginseng, Peppermint (stomachic); Fennel, Fenugreek, Wild Yam (carminative); Saffron, Meadowsweet (antacid); Papaya Leaves (digestive enzyme), Garlic, Goldenseal, Bee Pollen, Comfrey, Chlorella.
Nutritional Supplements: B complex, Pro-biotics.