Bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue after eating, heartburn, distension, constipation, diarrhea…digestive issues are something almost everyone can relate to. Tummy troubles come with a wide range of symptoms, but one thing is apparent; the number of people suffering from some type of digestive upset is on the rise. There were almost $900 million in over the counter private label antacid sales in the U.S. in 2016, almost $40 million in antidiarrheal sales, and almost $300 million in laxatives in 2015. So why are so many people reaching for their Tums, Imodium, and Metamucil?
There could be many reasons, but one of the most likely culprits is poor diet. Over consumption of processed food products, over eating, or even eating at irregular intervals or times can all offset the digestive system. Considering this is the system that fuels your body, it is worth the trouble to get to the root of the problem. Think of a car; you use good engine oil and premium fuel to ensure the system runs efficiently for as long as possible. Our bodies are very similar. What we put in will directly affect the system’s ability to function optimally. The major difference is that if you ruin your car engine, you can buy a new one.
The first step in assessing digestive issues is to examine what type of fuel you are using. We get it, there are a million fad diets claiming to be the best at any given time. So which one is actually the best? Probably none of them. You could be gluten free, dairy free, sugar free and still be eating poorly. Ask yourself this: is your diet predominantly whole foods (this means food that is still in it’s natural state, unmanufactured), or convenience products that have been manufactured and marketed to look like food and or replace food? Whole foods (not the supermarket chain, actual whole FOODS) will always win.
Another issue many of us are guilty of is not chewing our food thoroughly. This is the first step in digestion, it needs to be done well in an effort to assist the following steps. Each part of our digestive system has a unique role. The mouth and teeth are meant to break down food. This seems obvious, but so many of us are guilty of scarfing down food without a thought. Enzymes are released in our mouths while we chew that assist in breaking down certain aspects of our food almost immediately. If we get lazy with this step, this means the job of the mouth is then passed off to the next in line; the stomach. If your stomach has to work extra hard to break down food, it will tire out and/or break down sooner. This is not good. Do your stomach a favor, chew your food.
Another easy fix is to avoid self diagnosing. If you suffer from some sort of digestive upset on a regular basis, seek outside advice. Your acupuncturist or functional medicine practitioner would be more than happy to help. It’s very easy to make assumptions and buy over the counter medications, but just because these products are available without a prescription, doesn’t mean they are intended (or safe) to be using on a regular basis. For example, it is not uncommon for people to experience discomfort after eating and assume they have heartburn when the real issue may be a lack of stomach acid. If someone were to take antacids (which decrease our production of stomach acid) when they already have low stomach acid, it would exacerbate the issue and could lead to bigger problems down the road.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on a conversation about digestion, but here are two take aways:
Eating (or pooping) should not lead to discomfort, pain, fatigue, or suffering. If you associate digestion with suffering, book an appointment to see your acupuncturist. They will know what questions to ask to determine the source of your discomfort.
Written by Janel Gehrke – To book your next acupuncture appointment, call – (424) 744-8366