Millions of Americans suffer from chronic heartburn, constipation, and other gastrointestinal issues. As we age, our digestive organs secrete fewer enzymes, and peristalsis (the wave-like muscle contraction that moves things through the esophagus, stomach, and intestines) slows down. Consequently, digestive problems are among the most frequent complaints of our middle and later years.
It’s no secret that digestive problems can make life extremely uncomfortable. The good news is, there are several safe and effective ways to prevent and treat digestive problems.
For starters, try supplementing with digestive enzymes, such as protease (which breaks down protein), amylase (which breaks down carbohydrate), and lipase (which breaks down fat), and probiotics. Together, these supplements can help safely and naturally resolve existing digestive problems, and also prevent them from happening in the first place.
Beyond that, there are some other remedies you can try for three very common digestive complaints.
GERD and Heartburn Remedies
If you experience heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), your first stop might be your drugstore to pick up an over-the-counter remedy for heartburn. But before you grab an acid blocker, bear in mind that these drugs have been linked to increased risk of bacterial infection, hip fracture, nutritional deficiencies, and memory decline.
Fortunately, there’s a better solution: melatonin. Best known as the sleep hormone, researchers are now discovering melatonin’s remarkable ability to suppress stomach acid and protect the esophagus from the caustic effects of gastric acid.
In one study, 351 people with moderate to severe heartburn were either given the acid blocker Prilosec or a supplement containing 6 mg of melatonin plus B vitamins and amino acids. Within one week, those taking melatonin reported some improvement, and, after 40 days, they had complete resolution of symptoms. Conversely, only 66 percent of the patients on Prilosec had complete relief.
The recommended dose of melatonin for heartburn and GERD is 6 mg, taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Be sure you’re taking a quality multinutrient supplement too, since B vitamins and amino acids appear to boost melatonin’s efficacy.
Although we don’t like to talk about it, everybody passes gas. In fact, the average person has 10 to 14 “episodes” daily, producing a total of a pint or two of gas. It comes from air we swallow, chemical reactions in the gut, and bacteria living in the intestines. That’s why I want to tell you about an old, inexpensive, over-the-counter drug that can give you quick, safe relief.
Simethicone is the generic name for the active ingredient in Gas-X, Maalox, Mylanta, and related products. It works by decreasing the surface area and tension on gas bubbles in the gastrointestinal tract. This causes them to form larger bubbles that can be passed more easily (and in a more socially acceptable manner) by burping.
Available in drugstores in liquid, capsule, or tablet form, simethicone should be taken as directed after meals and at bedtime, if needed. It is so safe and well tolerated that it is even used in infant formulas for colic.
Two other flatulence remedies I recommend are Beano and fennel seeds. Beans, cruciferous vegetables, and grains contain raffinose sugars that our bodies are unable to digest, which is why we often experience gas after consuming them.
Rather than avoiding these foods altogether, take Beano with meals. Beano contains the missing enzyme that enables our bodies to break down these sugars before they reach the large intestine where gas is produced.
Chewing fennel seeds after meals is a traditional Ayurvedic therapy for gas and indigestion. Another option is to make fennel tea by steeping 1–2 teaspoons of seeds per cup of boiling water. You can find fennel seeds in the spice aisle in grocery stores.
Natural Remedies for Constipation
Many people rely on laxatives for alleviating constipation, but there are better ways to address the problem. To keep things moving, be sure to get regular exercise, eat plenty of high-fiber foods, and take supplemental fiber, such as flaxseed and psyllium.
Prunes are also an effective remedy for constipation because, in addition to fiber, they contain sorbitol, which attracts water and softens stools. Also drink lots of water plus a cup or two of coffee first thing in the morning, which works wonders for some.
You should also make sure you’re getting enough magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is an independent risk factor for constipation. Start with 400–500 mg a day (the amount in most multivitamins) and increase up to 1,000 mg, if necessary. If that doesn’t loosen things up, take more vitamin C—500 mg several times a day.
Now it’s your turn: Do you know of any other remedies for these common digestive problems?