The GIT starts in the mouth and ends at the anus, with support organs involved in the digestive process. When taking a holistic approach, we consider each of the aspects involved in a process, to ensure we get to the cause of the problem.
The mouth breaks down foods in two ways. Firstly mechanically, as the teeth chew the food, to break it down into smaller parts, exposing more surface area for chemical changes to take place (Whitney, 2013, p485). Tooth aches, and missing teeth may make the mechanical breakdown of foods difficult. Secondly chemical breakdown facilitated by the enzyme amylase in our saliva that partially breaks down carbohydrates (Whitney, 2013, p485). Stress and opioid type medications slow the release of saliva (Bryant, Knight). As we age, oestrogen production decreases. A lowered oestrogen level can also result in a dry mouth (Trickey, 2016). A dry mouth can result in partially digested food being excreted, without the full absorption of the nutrients from the foods. In such a case, the patient will report seeing food in their faeces.
Herbal intervention for a dry mouth could include:
- Echinacea and Calendula mouth wash for tooth ache.
- Gentian tea, to stimulate the release of saliva.
- Wild yam, to promote the production of oestrogen.
Another anxiety induced condition to consider is a globus sensation. This is the sensation that food is stuck in the throat causing a difficulty in swallowing and a fear of choking. The majority of these cases are as a result of anxiety, with no physiological abnormalities (Rommel et al.,2016). If medical investigations have ruled out any known physiological cause, anxiety is the likely contributing factor. Herbal intervention is ideal in this instance to reduce anxiety.
Herbal intervention for globus sensation could include:
- Passionflower and Valerian
The hormone ghrelin that is released when we are hungry stimulates the release of hydrochloric acid (Whitney, 2013). We need this hydrochloric acid to break down proteins, so that they are small enough to be absorbed, as well as to kill any germs that may have been in the food that we ate (Marieb, 2014). When an individual does not make enough hydrochloric acid, they are more susceptible to the formation of stomach ulcers. This condition is known as hypochlorhydria. Sufferers will experience pain in their stomach, and will suffer from reflux, as the food within their stomach is not breaking down efficiently (Iwai et al., 2013). Hypochlorhydria can be experienced due to the reduction of intrinsic factor as we age (Whitney, 2013). Anxiety and some medications can also result in the slowed release of hydrochloric acid (Bryant, Knight).
Herbal intervention will include the introduction of a bitter herb 20 minutes before food is eaten, to stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid. The herbalist will consider the cause, when suggesting other herbs, to prevent disease progression.
Bitter herbs you can choose include:
- Dandelion leaf.
(Consider a dandelion lemon and ginger tea 20 minutes before meals.)
The liver is one of the busiest organs in the human body. One of the many functions is the preservation of energy. When we eat foods that spike our blood glucose levels, our liver responds by saving fat within the liver cells (Stoker). This “saving of fat”, fills the liver cells with fat, pushing the nucleus of the liver cell to one side, and leaves little room for other functions. This condition results from a life of processed foods and low physical activity. While the fat accumulation is taking place very few symptoms are experienced (Byrne, Targher, 2015.)
On liver function tests, we see raised liver enzyme levels, as the liver tries to respond. The production of bile (a waste product from breaking down spent blood cells) is decreasing due to a reduction in function, we see an increase in a difficulty in metabolising fats. This is as the bile produced by the liver, required to emulsify fats, and make them easier to absorb is decreased (Marieb, 2014).
It is essential at this phase to change diet and lifestyle to avoid further damage to the liver.
Herbs to consider to aid the liver function include:
- Globe artichoke
- Dandelion root.
Constipation and or Diarrhea.
The rate at which food passes through the small and large intestine will determine how many nutrients are absorbed, and how many spent hormones and lipids are eliminated (Whitney, 2013). Your stress levels have a direct impact on gut motility rates (Fukudo, 2007). This is due to an increase in cortisol present in the gut during times of stress, causing inflammation in the gut (Tash & Perdue, 2004).
A fantastic herb to utilise during these times of heightened stress affecting gut motility rates is liquorice. Liquorice downregulates cortisol, thereby reducing inflammation (Methlie, Husebye, Hustad, Lien & Lovas, 2011).
By speaking to a Clinical Herbalist, we are trained to prevent disease from progressing utilising Western Herbal Medicine. This means that our role in health is to watch for signs of changes, that can result in disease, and stop them before any lasting damage takes place.
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