Many women suffer from digestive problems at midlife, often along with weight gain. In fact, GI tract problems such as heartburn, 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.
Is the Traditional Approach for Gut Problems Helping?
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. If you take these medications regularly, you run the risk of suffering more serious health problems later. For example, inadequate absorption of vitamin B-12 has been linked to dementia.1
Finally, if you repeatedly take medications to quell your 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.
10 Tips to Heal Gut Problems Naturally
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:
Tip 1: Decrease your Consumption of High Glycemic Index Carbohydrates
Too many refined carbohydrates and saturated fats cause insulin levels to soar, which can lead to stomach damage. A diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in fat and protein often results in complete and fast relief of heartburn and indigestion. It’s helplful to eat some protein, healthy fat and low-glycemic carbohydrates with every meal or snack, but eat fruit alone. Consuming it with fat can cause bloating and indigestion.
Tip 2: Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Consuming large quantities of food at mealtime also increases insulin levels and makes bloating worse—even when the foods are healthy. Try five small meals per day.
Tip 3: Get off the Antacids
If you need to take one, make sure it does not contain aluminum because those that do can cause constipation, and long-term use may reduce phosphate levels (which can result in fatigue and loss of appetite), not to mention the fact that aluminum consumption may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. (Some antacids contain magnesium hydroxide, which also has side effects, such as loose stools or diarrhea). Antacids made from calcium carbonate (like Tums) can cause acid rebound over time and may also contribute to kidney problems.
Tip 4: Try Natural Supplements that Soothe the GI Tract
Some of these include Aloe vera, antioxidant vitamins C, E, and B, oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), Swedish bitters, licorice root (DGL), ginger, enteric-coated peppermint, and chamomile tea.
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. This appears to nourish the bowel wall during the absorption process, and can ameliorate the symptoms of chronic indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, as well as side effects of chemotherapy. (As always, it is advisable to work in conjunction with a practitioner with experience in nutrition to tailor your intake to your individual needs.)
Tip 5: Take Digestive Enzymes
These naturally occurring catalysts help the body process sugars, starches, proteins, and fats. They can dramatically improve bloating and gas as other problems stemming from faulty digestion. Look for a ph-balanced full spectrum formula such as Wobenzym.
Tip 6: Don’t go to Bed on a Full Stomach
Eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime to avoid acid reflux.
Tip 7: Drink Plenty of Water
It helps rid the body of toxins.
Tip 8: Stop Drinking or Cut Way Back on Alcohol
Alcohol is an irritant.
Tip 9: Try Eliminating Bread for One Week
Many women are sensitive to gluten and to grain products overall. Notice whether your digestion works better with this change.
Tip 10: 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 that 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.
The health of our G.I. tract is also related to how good we feel about our relationships, our bodies, our homes, and our lives in general. It is adversely affected whenever we feel overly responsible for the welfare of others or when we avoid taking responsibility altogether.
That’s why learning to take care of ourselves instead of everybody else is a major component of creating health at midlife. 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 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 are you afraid 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?
Learn More — Additional Resources
- 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.
- MicroMiracles by Ellen Cutler, D.C.
- Igniting Intuition and Body Talk audiotapes, 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
- Awakening Intuition, by Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D.
- Heal Your Body by Louise 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.
- Going Against the Grain, by Melissa Diane Smith
- Force, R. W., & Nahata, M. C. (1992). Effect of histamine H2-receptor antagonists on vitamin B12 absorption. Ann. Pharmacother., 26 (10), 1283â€“1286.
Sanduleanu, S., Jonkers, D., De Bruine, A., Hameeteman, W., & Stockbrugger, R. W. (2001). Double gastric infection with Helicobacter pylori and non-Helicobacter pylori bacteria during acid-suppressive therapy: Increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines and development of atrophic gastritis. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther., 15 (8), 1163â€“1175.
Termanini, B., Gibril, F., Sutliff, V. E., Yu, F., Venzon, D. J., & Jensen, R. T. (1998). Effect of long-term gastric acid suppressive therapy on serum vitamin B12 levels in patients with Zollingerâ€“Ellison syndrome. Am. J. Med., 104 (5), 422â€“430.