Many women suffer from digestive problems at midlife, often along with weight gain. In fact, GI tract problems such as bloating, gastric reflux, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers are the second most common reason why people seek medical attention in this country. It’s no wonder, when you consider the standard American diet. Most people living with these problems know that there are endless medications on the market that are claimed to fix these problems so that you can continue to eat the foods you like, and which may cause your GI problems. But it is important to know that this conventional approach just masks the symptoms. GI tract problems are not caused by an antacid deficiency, so taking the popular medications, whether they are over-the-counter or prescription, really won’t help in the long run. In fact, it is well documented that dumping these symptom-masking medications into your GI tract can, in fact, lead to other health risks.
The conventional approach in treating GI problems is to repress the symptoms. For example, if you have heartburn, which is the result of excess stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, or HCl), the conventional approach is to give a medication that will neutralize or halt the production of stomach acid. The medications most commonly used include over-the-counter antacids, such as TUMS, Mylanta or Pepto–Bismol; H2 receptor blockers, such as the prescription drugs Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet; or protein pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec and Nexium, also available by prescription.
Long-term use of antacids, protein pump inhibitors or H2 receptor blockers concerns me for several reasons. First, the bowel wall contains nearly two-thirds of your body’s immune defenses. You need a healthy bowel to keep harmful microorganism and toxins from reaching other organs in your body. If you constantly take symptom-masking drugs, you are changing the ecology of your gut. This can ultimately affect your immunity and the health of all the organs in your body.
Secondly, when you inhibit your body from making and using its own HCl to digest food, you prevent your gut from absorbing vital nutrients, such as vitamin B-12. Force1
Finally, if you repeatedly take medications to quell you GI tract symptoms, you are ignoring important signals from your third emotional center. Getting in touch with what’s “eating” you may solve your GI woes.
One other note: In addition to medications used to treat GI problems, many women have taken numerous courses of antibiotics and have also used aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, or NSAIDs. Whether used to treat acne, urinary tract infections (UTIs), or upper respiratory infections, antibiotics kill the normal flora in the bowel. Healthy flora are necessary for absorption of nutrients. Chronic use of aspirin and NSAIDs also affects the stomach and small intestine — ironically, often causing inflammation.
Your Plan for a Healthy Digestive Tract
If you have GI tract problems, you need to correct the underlying imbalance. Whether you suffer from chronic GI distress or just occasional bloating, the following options are safe and effective, and can restore your digestive health naturally.
- Decrease your consumption of high glycemic index carbohydrates. Eat foods that support optimal bowel function. Too many refined carbohydrates and saturated fats cause insulin levels to soar, which can lead to stomach damage.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Consuming large quantities of food at mealtime also increases insulin. Try five small meals per day.
- Get off the antacids. If you need to take one, make sure it does not contain aluminum.
- Try one or several of the following supplements: Aloe vera, antioxidant vitamins C, E, and B, oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), Swedish bitters, licorice root (DGL), ginger, peppermint, and chamomile tea. Some people find these to be soothing to the GI tract. Probiotics, which contain a range of friendly bacteria, such as Acidophilus and bifido species, can be helpful in restoring normal bowel flora. Also make sure you take a calcium supplement that contains magnesium and vitamin D. You may also want to try a polypeptide supplement made from predigested whitefish. (As always, it is advisable to work in conjunction with a practitioner with experience in nutrition to tailor your intake to your individual needs.)
- Drink plenty of water. It helps rid the body of toxins.
- Stop drinking or cut way back on alcohol. Alcohol is an irritant.
- Try eliminating bread for one week. Many women are sensitive to gluten, and many to grain products overall. Notice whether your digestion works better with this change. A book you may find helpful in this regard is Going Against the Grain, by Melissa Diane Smith.
- Check out Gut Reactions: A Radical New 4-Step Program for Treating Chronic Stomach Distress and Unlocking the Secret to Total Body Wellness, by Raphael Kellman, MD.
- Figure out what your gut is trying to tell you. Digestion, absorption and assimilation of our food are dependent upon our state of consciousness. Your gut health and your emotions are so closely linked, it is fair to say that the gut acts as a sort of primitive brain. Butterflies or nausea are often your inner wisdom speaking to you. You may want to consider keeping a journal of your symptoms to help you clarify factors associated with your symptoms.
Spiritual and Holistic Options
Heal Your Third Emotional Center Issues
A major component of creating health at midlife involves learning to take care of ourselves instead of everybody else. This includes regaining body acceptance and the self-esteem that many of us lose in adolescence. Self-esteem is created when we gain skills in the outer world of work, which is why, for example, many women can heal their digestive problems when they return to school to get a degree that they did not finish.
Learning to Take Care of Ourselves
Doing this is often difficult, especially for women who have always taken care of other people, or for women who have always been taken care of. The secret to healing your third emotional center issues is to learn to honor yourself. The following questions may set you on the path toward self-examination of these issues:
- Are you afraid of responsibility? Or, conversely, do you feel you need to be responsible for everyone and everything all of the time?
- Do you respect yourself? Do you confidently make changes, for example, to your hairstyle, and feel good — even if others are critical?
- Are you in a relationship with someone out of fear of being alone?
- Do you constantly seek approval of others? If so, why?
- Are you afraid to take care of yourself? What might happen?
- Are you critical of others?
- Do you often blame others for your own problems?
- In general, do you feel good about your home? Your body? Your relationships?
I have explained my personal battle with weight in both of my books, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. I went on my first diet at age twelve. I struggled for most of my life with what I thought-based on fashion magazines, Hollywood and other media images—should be my ideal weight. Finally, when I was 47 years old, I realized what my healthy weight and percentage of body fat were supposed to be for someone with my frame and muscle mass, and closed the door on my own diet mentality. To signify this as an act of reclaiming my personal power, I listed my correct weight on my driver’s license for the first time—and I encourage you to do the same.
Learn More — Additional Resources
- For further discussion of third-chakra concerns, listen to Igniting Intuition and Intuitive Listening, with Dr. Northrup and Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz.
- Appetites: On the Search for True Nourishment, and When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy, by Geneen Roth
- Heal Your Body and The Louise Hay Newsletter, by Louise L. Hay
- Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.
- Potatoes, Not Prozac and The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program, by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.
- The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Weight Loss, Health and Aging, The Schwarzbein Principle Cookbook and The Schwarzbein Principle Vegetarian Cookbook, by Diana Schwarzbein, M.D.
- Force, R. W., Nahata, M. C., 1992. Effect of histamine H2-receptor antagonists on vitamin B12 absorption, Ann Pharmacother, Oct;26(10):1283-6.