Medical herbalist Nicola Parker  explains that If you suffer with indigestion introducing a herbal bitter before you eat can go a long way towards fixing the problem.

Indigestion is a vague term that can include heartburn, bloating, belching, general discomfort and food that rises back up gullet.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 12:30 pm

Whatever symptoms you are describing when you complain of indigestion, it usually suggests that part of your upper digestive tract is malfunctioning.

I think of the digestive system as a factory line. Food enters the mouth, then moves through various sections, undergoing specific processes in each. In the mouth, we chew, physically turning it into mush while enzymes in our saliva get to work on breaking it down into nutrients we can absorb.

Once swallowed, food enters the gullet, then passes through an opening called a sphincter to enter the stomach. We have multiple sphincters, acting as gates between different sections of our digestive tract. These gates keep things where they should be, stopping things like stomach acid from going beyond them and damaging delicate tissues that it shouldn’t come in contact with.

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If you’re a sci-fi fan, think of air locks on a space craft, letting humans pass through but closing tightly when they need to keep air inside or stop anything else getting in.

A malfunction of these sphincters or gates is one of the most common causes of indigestion. If you experience burning pain or food coming back up the gullet, it is because the airlock at the top of the stomach isn’t closing tight enough.

Years of seeing advertisements for antacid medication makes it seems like the problem is the acid. We need to quench this burning acid, to stop the pain, right? Well, yes this will stop the pain, but it won’t fix the problem.

See, the acid should be there to do it’s job. We need it for the next digestive phase in the factory line. It helps us absorb nutrients and breaks down the little chunks that our teeth couldn’t grind up. It turns solid mouthfuls of food into tiny, digestible pieces that our body can use for fuel. It’s powerful stuff!

Taking antacids helps to neutralise this powerful acid, so that when it rises into the gullet it is less damaging and less painful, but long-term, this just contributes to further indigestion and perpetuates the cycle. Nobody is focusing on the gate that is letting the acid out.

Bitter foods trigger the on switch for our digestive tract. When you eat something bitter and start to salivate immediately, that’s because your body is being given a strong message that food is on it’s way. The sphincters all tighten and digestive secretions are primed and ready for action. All systems go, we need saliva, enzymes, stomach acid, bile and all muscles and sphincters prepared for action!

The problem is, that modern eating doesn’t include the same bitter compounds that our digestive systems evolved to respond to. We like sweet foods, easy to digest foods, things are easy to chew. So the message isn’t always as strong as it should be.

I use herbal bitters to help turn digestive systems back on. If the gate is letting acid out, it needs to be fixed and using herbal bitters can help to tighten this muscle over time. It’s not a quick fix, like you might get from some antacids, but it can help to resolve the issue so the problem no longer reoccurs.

I use a number of bitters depending on the other problems associated with your indigestion. If you’re bloated, I use a complex with yarrow, if you feel sick I use Bitters with ginger, If you just have heartburn, I use centaury.

If you suffer with indigestion, introducing a herbal bitter before you eat can go a long way towards fixing the problem. Eat gentle, easy to digest foods for a while.

Choose cooked foods over raw ones and avoid excess fats and sugars which can aggravate the problem. This should lighten the load on your system while the bitters get to work. Digestion is a complex process but a necessary one, so it pays to take the time to give it a little love.

l For more information on this topic or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.