gut discomfort

Top 4 GI Healers: Get your gut in working order

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When digestion works seamlessly, we hardly give it a thought. Unfortunately, trouble can start brewing as soon as a mouthful of your favorite dish is swallowed. Faulty digestion causes a lot of unnecessary discomfort due to indigestion, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.

These digestion-related conditions exert a considerable toll on comfort, health, and quality of life. If you feel like food (and your body's processing of it) has become your enemy, then read on for four herbal ways to settle a variety of GI troubles.

1. Ginger

The tasty herb ginger can be comforting to all sorts of unsettled tummies. Ginger is particularly adept at calming queasiness, whether it's from motion sickness, pregnancy, or even the nausea that is common after surgery. Ginger can be taken as ginger tea, candied ginger chunks, or even dried in gingersnaps. Herbal supplements of ginger are available; aim for 500 milligrams (mg) in capsule form (or the equivalent amount in food) every few hours as needed. Ginger has a strong safety record; however, people with gallstones should avoid this herb.

2. Aloe Gel

Aloe gel is a one-stop shop for digestive healing, since it encourages the healing and treatment of heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, and celiac disease. Aloe gel cleans the digestive tract by removing toxins and impurities; soothes the gut by relaxing the muscle lining of the intestines; prevents overacidity in the stomach; and reduces general inflammation. Try drinking two ounces of aloe in juice form daily with a meal. (Note: This is different from "aloe latex." Aloe in the latex form is a potent treatment for constipation. It should only be used for a few days at a time and avoided completely while pregnant or breastfeeding.)

3. Licorice (DGL)

Licorice (the herb, not the candy) protects the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract against the damaging effects of stomach acid. This effect is helpful for those with heartburn or healing from an ulcer. Licorice root extract in the form of deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is preferable since the glycyrrhizin component of licorice can cause high blood pressure. DGL comes as a tasty chewable. Try 1 or 2 chewable DGL tablets 250-500 mg per tablet) 15 minutes before meals and another one an hour before bedtime.

4. Gentle Herbal Laxatives

Psyllium, flaxseed, fenugreek, and glucomannan are laxatives with a high fiber content that supply extra bulk to the stool to resolve constipation. They also contain mucilage, which expands when it comes in contact with water (which is why these laxatives must be taken with plenty of water). These herbs are fairly mild laxatives that can be used on an ongoing basis. These bulk-forming laxatives generally lead to a bowel movement within 12 to 24 hours.

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Excerpted/adapted with permission from User's Guide to Healthy Digestion by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, whose latest book is Life After Baby: Rediscovering and Reclaiming Your Healthy Pizzazz (Basic Health Publications, 2012).