April 2019 Edition
A custom (read: non-stinky) version of Kimchi, South Korea’s national dish, accompanied Yi So-Yeon, the first Korean astronaut in space. When stored properly, a jar of kimchi can last for a couple of years.
Digestive Distress: Holistic Approaches to Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When the smooth rhythm of the muscles of the digestive tract is disrupted, either moving too quickly or too slowly, we experience digestive distress. For some of us, this distress can be frequent and painful, creating a major disruption in our life and in our lifestyle.
Several health conditions are marked by severe digestive distress including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While all of these conditions involve inflammation of the lining of the bowel, IBS can be healed through careful shifts in diet and lifestyle.
What is IBS?
IBS is marked by abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, and a cluster of symptoms that last for three months or longer. Symptoms vary for each person and can include:
- Stomach gas and bloating
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Mucus in the stool
- Nausea after eating
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night
- Weight loss not explained by dieting or other health concerns
IBS can be caused by one or several underlying health factors that cause a disruption in the digestive tract. These factors can include:
Food Allergy or Sensitivity. Research has shown that IBS can be triggered or made worse in people who are consuming foods to which they have a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity. For some people a specific category of carbohydrate foods known as “high-FODMAP” create symptoms of IBS. For a list of food culprits, read the article below and see how you can help determine what is causing your distress.
Imbalance in Gut Flora. In the digestive system, we have friendly gut flora that support the process of digestion, nutrient absorption, and immunity. If we don’t have enough friendly flora, or there is an overgrowth of unfriendly flora, or an “invader” yeast or bacteria, then inflammation, nutritional deficiency, and digestive distress can result. Toxins, processed foods, stress and antibiotic use can also increase inflammation and trigger or worsen IBS.
Hormones. Changes in hormones, particularly for women, can cause a cascade of changes in the body, including digestion.
A Holistic Plan for Healing IBS
Holistic practitioners assess for IBS using diagnostic tools such as physical exam, lab tests, stool and urine tests, food allergy or intolerance testing, dietary assessment, and assessment of lifestyle factors including stress level, fatigue, etc. The goal is to identify sources of inflammation that have set the stage for developing IBS. Once identified, doctor and patient, and sometimes a nutritionist, will develop a plan to minimize/ eliminate exposure to triggers, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
The “healing plan” for IBS will be different for every person because so many factors interact to produce inflammation and symptoms. This plan can include following a Low-FODMAP Diet (useful for a variety of GI conditions), nutritional and herbal supplementation, stress management, avoiding smoking and caffeine, moderating alcohol intake, adjusting sleeping habits, homeopathy and exercise.
If you suspect that you are affected by IBS, contact a holistic health practitioner about an evaluation and put yourself on the road to wellness. It is possible to enjoy food again and heal from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Food for Thought. . .
“A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.” – Wade Boggs
You can support your gut health with fermented, nutrient-potent foods. Ranging from tangy to bitterly-sweet in flavor, these foods originated decades ago in the cultures of Japan, China, India, and Germany.
Fermenting imbues foods with the health-enhancing properties of live bacteria, providing an ample source of probiotics, which are essential to a strong digestive tract. Probiotics help build up antibodies to pathogens and provide for a strong “gut immunity” which is key to maintaining overall vibrant health.
Fermented Foods Short List
- Cultured Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, and some cheeses
- Veggies: Beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kimchi, green beans, sauerkraut
- Condiments fermented at home or commercially: ketchup, relish, salsa, chutney
- Other: Miso, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce, and kombucha (check that sugar content is not high on any pre-packaged or bottled fermented food).
Tips for Choosing & Storing Fermented Food
- Food labels must be marked “fermented.”
- Fermented and “pasteurized” do not go together. Pasteurization kills live cultures.
- Pickled is not the same as fermented (unless indicated on the label). Pickled foods are soaked in vinegar or brine.
- Choose organic, non-GMO items or locally farmed products.
- All fermented foods must be kept cool to maintain the live cultures.
Adding Fermented Foods to Your Daily Diet
When introducing fermented foods to your daily diet, start with small servings such as 1-2x a day. A few easy ways to sneak in fermented foods: Toss fermented veggies into salads or rice dishes. Enjoy fermented food as a snack or as a side dish (e.g., beets, tempeh, kimchi). Add a spoonful of a fermented food to your morning smoothie (e.g., beets, kefir).
Fermented Vegetable Medley
When you hunger for something tangy, nutritionally potent, and full of beneficial bacteria to help heal an aggravated digestive tract, fermented veggies are a wonderful option. They’re a great side to any meal (vegan or carnivore) and can be added to a hearty stews. This recipe gives you a variety of options, with a focus on veggies that are least likely to irritate those with sensitive digestion.
Equipment Needed for Preparation & Storage
- 1-gallon or 4-liter glass, enameled or clay jar which will be your fermentation jar
- 1 small plate that fits into the fermentation jar
- 1 small glass jar, filled with water
- 1 head of red cabbage, roughly cut
- 1 medium-size beetroot, sliced
- Handful of garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 T of sea salt
- 1 t. dill seeds or dill herb (fresh or dry)
Personal Choice of Additional veggies & herbs: carrots, bell pepper, fennel, parsnip, radish, shredded broccoli, etc.
- Combine all the vegetables and herbs and put them into the fermentation jar. The amount of vegetables should not go beyond the half-way mark on the jar.
- Fill the rest of the jar with filtered water and add salt.
- Float the small plate on top and submerge it with the small jar (filled with water to keep it down). This way the vegetables won’t float to the top and get moldy.
- Leave to ferment for 1-2 weeks at room temperature.
- You will know the medley is ready when the vegetables are soft and tangy.
- To stop the fermentation process, transfer the medley to smaller jars and keep them in the fridge; they keep well for weeks.
Soothe Digestive Irritation with Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
Slippery Elm has a long history of use in American medicine. George Washington and his men found sustenance in Slippery Elm porridge during their 12 days at Valley Forge. It helped soothe “nervous stomach” and provided nutrition when they ran out of food. Medicinal preparations (teas and syrups) were used to soothe irritations of the mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines. In addition, the salve was used for treating wounds.
One of the few herbs approved by the U.S. FDA, Slippery Elm is a non-prescription drug that can help heal inflamed mucosa in the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is commonly used by holistic physicians for treating GERD, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, IBS and common bouts of diarrhea and other inflammatory GI conditions.
Slippery Elm bark first appeared in the United States Pharmacopeia in 1820. Since then, scientific research has slowly emerged. Recent studies, combined with the historical medical uses of Slippery Elm, show a variety of medicinal applications for tea, capsules, powder, lozenges, and topical ointments. Within the bark, is a group of compounds called mucopolysaccharides, which become like loose jelly when they come in contact with water. This property allows the medicinal preparation to coat and soothe inflamed tissue in the body. The unique consistency of mucopolysaccharides allows it to add “smooth bulk” to fecal matter, which makes Slippery Elm useful for both types of IBS – constipation dominant and diarrhea dominant.
Since there are a variety of ways to prepare and use Slippery Elm, and because it can affect the absorption of other medicines, consult with a holistic healthcare practitioner about the best way to take Slippery Elm for your health and well-being.
Aloe Vera Benefits the Gut
With long, thick, plump and pointed deep green leaves, Aloe vera is one of the most well-recognized medicinal plants in the world. It has a long history of use in pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetic products. A great deal of research supports the use of topical Aloe gel, balms and creams for wound healing, sunburn, frostbite, and other inflammatory skin conditions. But did you know Aloe juice is highly regarded for supporting digestive health and can be used to manage chronic constipation and IBS?
Aloe leaves consist of a fleshy tissue that stores water and contributes to the familiar pulp that oozes from the leaves when sliced open. The Aloe plant contains more than 200 different biologically active substances, most of which are found in the pulp. This includes amino acids; antioxidants; vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and E; and the minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chloride, and traces of magnesium and zinc. Many of these compounds are natural relaxants, helping produce a laxative effective for stressed bowels.
When selecting Aloe juice as a remedy for IBS related symptoms, look for juice without Aloe latex. Aloe latex contains anthraquinone, which is a natural laxative. Too much aloe latex can worsen GI symptoms; consult with your holistic health provider about how much, and which type of extract, supplement or juice is best for you.
For blending into smoothies, use in cooking, or adding Aloe to other beverages, remember that Aloe’s flavor is similar to cucumber. It’s best to use Aloe in recipes with flavors on the same spectrum such as watermelon, lemon, lime, or mint.
FODMAP Diet for IBS
Digestive complaints are among the most common health concerns. If you’re experiencing distress, a holistic practitioner will evaluate the foods and substances you are eating to identify where a reaction exists. There are many ways to conduct a dietary analysis, including food diary, food allergy testing, muscle testing, and elimination diets. The FODMAP Diet is often recommended by healthcare practitioners.
What is a FODMAP?
FODMAP stands for fermentableoligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. This scientific term is used to identify groups of carbohydrates – also known as “fermentable carbs” – that trigger digestive problems such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea.
FODMAPS in Food?
You will find FODMAPS in a variety of foods:
- Oligosaccharides: in wheat, rye, legumes, garlic and onions.
- Disaccharides: in milk, yogurt and soft cheese. Lactose (milk sugar) is the main carb culprit.
- Monosaccharides: in many different fruits, including fig and mango, and sweeteners such as honey and agave nectar. Fructose (fruit sugar) is the main carb culprit.
- Polyols: in blackberries and lychee, as well as some low-calorie sweeteners like those in sugar-free gum.
Why the Low-FODMAP Diet?
Research and clinical experience demonstrate that following a diet low in fermentable carbs reduces digestive distress, improves enjoyment of eating, and supports gut health by promoting the growth of good gut bacteria.
Starting a Low-FODMAP Diet
There are several stages, briefly outlined here:
Stage 1: Restriction of high-FODMAP foods. This involves strict avoidance of foods that have been identified or are suspected to be irritants to the digestive system. This stage lasts eight weeks for most people. You will record food intake and monitor symptoms and health variables, which you will discuss with your doctor/ nutritionist.
Stage 2: Reintroduction. You systematically reintroduce high-FODMAP foods to learn which ones you can tolerate and in what amount, or if you are sensitive to several/ all FODMAPS.
Stage 3: Personalization. With the data collected in the first two stages, you and your health practitioner will establish a personalized low-FODMAP diet. You will progress over time to ensure you have a diet that is flexible, manageable, and provides a variety of nutrients and flavors.
Remember: check with your health practitioner before you try adopting this diet because it has to be customized to your specific food intolerances/ allergies.