Three tips for healthy digestion
‘You are what you eat' is a well-known adage, but perhaps a more accurate phrase is, ‘you are what you digest and absorb'. Optimal digestion is undoubtedly the foundation of health. Here are three signs your digestive system needs support and strategies that can help.
You have no appetite
If you wake with no morning appetite or the thought of food in the morning leaves you nauseous, then chances are your liver could do with assistance. Traditional medicine has considered a poor appetite in the morning as a sign that cleansing is required. The liver is at its busiest whilst we sleep, packaging up metabolised, redundant or harmful substances for excretion. When this process works seamlessly, you wake with a healthy morning appetite and abundant digestive juices, ready to ‘break the fast'. However, when impeded due to too many liver loaders (alcohol, processed foods and sugar) or a lack of nutrients that facilitate detoxification, a sluggish digestive system can result.
The strategy: Bitter plants
Bitter plants may help those with lack of appetite. Bitter flavours stimulate digestive chemicals and liver function, and for this reason we suggest taking them before meals, especially first thing before breakfast. As well as helping to restore appetite, the daily cleansing helps support your body to function as best as it can. Our favourite bitter plants are globe artichoke (cynara scolymus), dandelion root (taraxacum officinale) and St Mary's thistle (silybum marianum).
Frequent bloating and gas
One of the most uncomfortable digestive symptom - frequent bloating - is caused by improper digestion of food. A lasting solution must address the root cause - this may be lack of digestive enzymes or a taxed liver, poor food choices, stress, or an incorrect balance of gut bacteria.
The strategy: carminative plants
Medicinal plants are a wonderful ally for anyone with bloating. They bring symptomatic relief whilst also improving the overall function of digestive organs. In many countries there is a long-standing tradition of consuming carminative plants as a medicinal tea following meals to promote the proper breakdown of food and relieve the discomfort of bloating and gas. ‘Carminative' means to expel gas from the stomach or intestines, thus relieving flatulence, abdominal pain or distension. Rich in essential oils, the main action of these plants is to soothe and settle the gut, reducing inflammation and coordinating gut contractions. A good quality carminative plant will have an almost immediate soothing effect on an unhappy gut. Our favourites are peppermint (mentha piperita), fennel seed (foeniculum vulgare) and aniseed (pimpinella anisum).
You're tired all the time
This is a surprising one, but second only to sleep problems, poor digestion is one of the most frequent reasons for sub-optimal energy. If underlying health problems have been ruled out and you sleep deeply but are still tired, then the next step is to look at the quality of your digestion.
The strategy: a comprehensive approach
Start by introducing bitter plants before meals (St Mary's thistle, globe artichoke, dandelion). By stimulating digestive juices, nutrients from food can be more effectively absorbed by the body and utilised for the production of energy.
Next address how and what you eat. Eat slowly, mindfully and not too much. Avoid drinking large amounts of fluid, coffee or alcohol with your meals, since all of these will affect absorption. Focus on real, whole foods, omitting processed alternatives that are lacking in nutrients.
Usually one or a combination of these strategies will be enough to improve energy if you have sub-optimal digestion.
Sandra Clair is the medical herbalist/anthropologist who founded plant health products company Artemis. She holds degrees in health science and medical anthropology and is completing a PhD exploring the relevance of traditional plant medicine today.
This article isn't intended to substitute for medical advice. Consult your health practitioner for any issues or conditions.