January - February 2020 Newsletter

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Do You have leftover holiday stomach pain? 

Love Your Stomach

Stomach pain, and the various abdominal maladies referred to as stomach pain, is a common condition throughout the year. But, during the holidays and the few months following, it can worsen.    

According to the most recent statistics that could be found, 1.2 million people suffer from stomach pain every year (2018). This is estimated to cost Americans slightly less than $136 billion in prescriptions and medical treatment, annually. $14-$27 billion of that figure is spent on over-the-counter medications.   

The digestive system is one of the many parts of the body most of us ignore until something starts going wrong. We tend to assume it is impervious to dysfunction  despite the lifestyle indiscretions we continuously throw at it. Yet, it is second only to the nervous system in importance to our health and quality of life.   

Many of the chronic diseases we experience in our culture actually can be traced back to a poorly functioning digestive system. Consider for a moment, what other system of the body can we ingest food, break it down to its smallest components to be absorbed so the rest of our body can convert that food into energy, hormones, or ingredients for repairing injured and worn out tissues? There isn’t any. Without the a properly functioning digestive system we quickly become ill, the body cannot repair itself, or create the energy needed for the muscle and nerves to function as nature intended.   

There are numerous things in our environment that we can point to as potential disrupters of the alimentary system. I talked about the implications of stress on health before, and while that has a huge impact on the stomach, the one factor that applies to the holidays is sugars and sweets, processed foods, and alcohol consumption. Throughout the rest of the year hormone imbalances, eating excessive amounts of high acid foods like coffee, citrus, tomatoes and spicy foods, food sensitivities, bacterial dysbiosis, frequent use of antacids, smoking, and as mentioned earlier chronic stress can significant factors in digestive disorders.   

What most of these have in common is their direct or indirect impact on the governing organ of digestion, the stomach.   

As the stomach goes, so goes the rest of the digestive system. If the stomach isn’t functioning on all cylinders, so to speak, every phase of digestion will be compromised throughout the rest of the system all the way to the eliminatory phase.

Many people turn to over the counter (OTC) medications to help “put out the fire”. And if that does not quell the pain they turn to their medical physicians for prescription drugs that while they may ease the pain they fail to actually address the root cause of the problem, usually making the problem worse in the long run. 

For decades the marketing of OTC medications and prescription drugs would have us believe that too much stomach acid is the cause of our heartburn, indigestion and reflux. While that may be so in a few cases, it is actually low or deficient stomach acid that is most likely the culprit. Add to this evidence that as we age we have a natural decline in stomach acid production, which may explain why senior citizens are the most prevalent age group to suffer from stomach pain.

By and large it is our diet that is most typically the cause of our tummy troubles, and the biggest factor is the amount of processed foods and high intake of starches and sugars, also known as carbohydrates. 

Why? When our stomach acidity levels decrease it allows bacteria to gain a better foothold. Bacteria love being

Nutritional Consultation

fed      carbohydrates. As they metabolize the sugar, just like us, they must get rid of metabolic waste like gases and toxins. This waste material can build up pressure in the stomach, contributing to the various musical tones for what we sometimes have to apologize. Additionally, if the protective mucous coating of the stomach is thin or compromised the toxins can act as irritants further causing stomach pain.

It’s understandable that when the “fiery” sensation in your stomach takes hold, all you can think about is quenching those flames – ASAP – and reaching for an antacid is the only thing you can do. But now you can see that if low stomach acidity is the cause of our pain, further decreasing the acidity level  will only aggravate the long term situation. So while you may get temporary relief with antacids they are a band-aid solution at best. 

There are several things you may want to try on your own before seeking help. The first is to change up your diet; minimize your carbohydrate intake, and take note of any specific foods that bring on the pain. Keeping a health diary can help you see the connections between food, mood and your stomach symptoms.

Second, there are herbs that can have a soothing effective by helping to reduce the inflammation and irritation to the stomach lining. These include but are not limited to marshmallow root, licorice root, peppermint, aloe vera, ginger, and chamomile. Whether in the form of teas or supplements they can help reduce the stomach inflammation and irritation and allow healing to begin. However, care is needed in not using these to excess. Herbs are not something that if a little helps, more is better, and herbs can potentially cause unintended effects. If this should occur, discontinue them immediately until you can discuss it with a practitioner with knowledge of herbal remedies.

Lastly, betaine HCl and digestive enzymes may be called for. The acid of the stomach doesn’t actually digest food. It activates the digestive enzymes that are essential to help breakdown food and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. If the stomach is thought to be low on acid production it is reasonable to assume the enzymes may also be low. A good functional medicine practitioner can help determine if this is necessary to resolve the pain. This is more likely as we get older.

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Check out our Wellness Coach, Liz's, columns published on Riverbender!

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