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Ugly Reflux

August 21, 2010

Tags: food, herbs, movement, order, water, acidity, alcohol, aloe vera, antibiotics, artichoke extract, Ayurvedic Medicine, Barrett's esophagus, betaine HCl, bone-enhancing drugs, cabbage juice, caffeine, calendula, chamomile, chewing, chocolate, citrus, coloring, corn syrup, dairy, DGL, digestion, eggplants, elm - slippery, enzymes - digestive, eating late, endoscopy, enzymes - digestive, esophageal cancer, flavorings, food allergies, food - cooked, food intolerance, food - processed, food - raw, foods - spicy, germs, gluten, grains - whole, gut, heartburn, HFCS, hiatal hernia, H. pylori, indigestion, infection, inflammation, junk food, licorice, marshmallow, mastic gum, meals - too big, neem, nightshades, nuts, over-eating, peppermint, peppers, plantain banana, potato, PPIs - proton pump inhibitors, preservatives, probiotics, reflux, SAD (Standard American Diet), stabilizers, starches - white, stomach, stomach acidity - high and low, stress, sugars, timing of food intake, tomato, trans-fats, Ugly Reflux, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

Reflux is one of those ailments which keep people going to the doctor and take medication forever – and on the face of it, there’s no cure.

And, in the long run, it can be a dangerous disease. Longstanding erosion of the esophagus can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and even cancer.

Why are so many people with the diagnosis of reflux?

Reflux is, in most parts, another disease with owe to SAD – the Standard American Diet. People have intolerances to certain foods and allergies, and those keep the esophagus (and possibly the stomach and the whole gut) inflamed. Instead of eliminating the offending foods, the doctor prescribes Zantac or Tagamet or even one of the stronger proton inhibitors. And has gained a life-long patient.

In the long run, those stomach medications create new problems: Since they all reduce acidity, they also may hinder digestion, and further infections as the stomach acid is supposed to kill invading germs.

PPIs (proton pump inhibitors, drugs lik, Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium), the strongest anti-heartburn medications can also be addictive, can trigger food allergies, and can weaken your bones.

Heartburn only comes in very rare cases from producing too much acidity for no good reason (that condition is called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and should be ruled out by your doctor if the burning goes on relentlessly, regardless what you do). Normally, your stomach reacts with acidity when you eat something wrong. Or if you just each too much, period. So, why fighting the acidity, if you can eliminate the underlying cause?

Sometimes physicians diagnose a “hiatal hernia” – a gap in the diaphragm that allows the stomach to come a bit into the chest area. No connection has been found between HH and reflux. It seems that many people have a hiatal hernia, for reasons unknown – or for carrying a paunch that pushes the organs up into the lung cavity; for instance, it is very well known, that heartburn is extremely common in highly pregnant women. Perhaps also lacking exercise makes the diaphragm go limp. Whatever it is, hiatal hernia does not cause reflux.

If you want to break that cycle – here is what you can do:

Find out what your body does not tolerate. It is not difficult. Write a food journal. The most common culprits are, in my experience,
• Gluten
• Dairy products
• Corn syrup (HFCS)
• Tomatoes (and the whole nightshade family actually – peppers, eggplants, potatoes, too).
• Chocolate could be the culprit.
• Or nuts.
• Harsh foods: alcohol, caffeine, citrus, and spicy foods.
• ANYTHING can lead to a reaction. And not only burning in your esophagus; bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, joint pains, migraine headaches, and many more symptoms can stem from food intolerance.
• Certain medical drugs are the culprits – Fosomax, for instance, that is intended to make your bones stronger (I would not touch it because of its side-effects. Better food and more movement certainly gives you stronger bones without side-effects).
• Sometimes it is not the kind of food but how it is prepared: raw versus cooked. Usually, cooked is easier on the stomach.
• It might be the timing: Some people get away with a raw salad or an acidic fruit during the day, but not at night, as the last meal that lingers in their stomach.
• Or a whole food group: Many people do better without sugars and white starches and reduced whole grains.
• Basically, all junk foods and processed foods are under suspicion. They contain trans-fats and preservatives, coloring, stabilizers, flavorings that are alien to you body.
• Drink enough water - but not with meals or right afterward.

Of course, it is better, to not be indiscreet in the first place. But if you are looking for healing alternatives:
• Mastic gum is my favorite; it is an agent that covers the stomach and helps if you have been indiscreet, food-wise. Unfortunately, mastic is not cheap. An alternative, paid by insurance is Carafate, with a similar action.
• DGL licorice helps – it is a deglycyrrhized licorice that does not have the bumping effect on blood pressure. This comes also as a lozenge.
• Other herbs that soothe the stomach are chamomile tea, aloe vera juice (or eat directly from the plant – the jelly-like inside of the leaf; avoid the green outside leaf – it is a harsh laxative), slippery elm, plantain banana, calendula and marshmallow (the real herb – not the sweet candy!), cabbage juice, artichoke extract. But watch it: I, for instance, have a chamomile allergy; that would make the situation worse.
• It is always a good idea to start out with the Ayurvedic herb neem which kills all sorts of infections because, unbeknownst, germs can cause all the indigestion. Ask your doctor.
• In an acute attack, sleep with your upper body a bit elevated (turns the flux downward).
• Always chew your food well! Big chunks might lie in your stomach like stones.
• Help your whole digestive tract with probiotics.
• Eliminate stress – especially when you eat. Sit down for three meals a day – don’t gobble things down on the run!

This is what to avoid – besides hurting foods:

• Too big meals.
• Eating after dinner.
• Peppermint – as it has a relaxing effect on the sphincter that closes of the stomach.

A reminder: Before you embark on a natural healing course, it is a good idea to have endoscopy – because you don’t want to overlook anything serious. And make sure your doctor looked for an H. pylori infection. On the other hand, there is evidence, that a bit of H.pylori might be necessary for normal digestion – and triple antibiotic definitely could do some harm.

And then – just to confuse things: Elderly people often have too low stomach acidity, and if they are taking medications that lower it even more, one can imagine that this will lead to problems. There is a supplement for this condition: betaine HCl. And some patients with can be helped with digestive enzyme – a whole new topic.

Soy - The Tainted Miracle Food

August 12, 2010

Tags: food, water, allergies, almond milk, beans, deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, edamame, fermented foods, garbanzo, gene-manipulated, health bar, indigestion, joint problems, legumes, lentils, milk, miso, organic, over-fertilization, pests - susceptibility to, rice milk, skin problems, soil depletion, soy, soymilk, Soy - The Tainted Miracle Food, tempeh

Soy is the new wonder food - sooo healthy! Drinking soymilk is a nice first step to get away with the ubiquitous milk and dairy. But there are problems with soy. But what with all the health claims?

Many people get allergies to soy. I observe it in my patients that, roughly after five years, the soy problems are starting – indigestion, joint and skin problems. But during those five years, people get out of the milk habit – and that is a good thing in my eyes. After soy, there is still rice milk and almond milk. And after those, there is always water.

Soy’s estrogenic effects are well-known. Less well-known is that all legumes (beans, lentils, garbanzos) contain estrogenic-like compounds: phyto-estrogens. Yes, soy is highest – but by now we could have learned that bigger is not always better. Especially not, when it is non-organic and gene-manipulated (the verdict on that is still out - until then, I prefer to be on the safe side). Avoid soy as a powder and filler. Especially, avoid it in so-called health bars which contain soy for a sole purpose: That you might think it is healthy and buy it.

New studies have shown that the marvelous properties of soy do not apply across the board; they only happen with fermented soy products – like miso or tempeh – but not with unfermented soy products. I think of soy as one of the beans. Not as a miracle food.

Soy has become the next super mono crop, with agricultural subsidizing, big time. And with all the ensuing problems: depletion of soils, over-fertilizing, and susceptibility to pests. Not to mention massive destruction of the Amazon rainforest to accommodate this new hyped-up crop. We need don’t more soy; we need a few healthy soy food items: Edamame (the young, tender soybeans still in the pod, often steamed with soy sauce. Miso: Use the fermented paste, not the dried stuff from a package. Tempeh, the Indonesian pressed and fermented soybeans. Delicious in all kinds of stir-fries - way better than tofu if you ask me. Tofu is a highly processed thing, coming in a perfect block. Once in a while, of course, you may indulge min tofu. But stop thinking about tofu as health food. Nothing in nature comes in a block.

Soaking and Sprouting

August 2, 2010

Tags: food, water, agricultural revolution, allergy, amaranth, animals - prehistoric, antinutrients, bean dishes, bloating, Brazil nut, bread - daily, calcium, calories, cavemen, colitis, cooking, dairy, deer, diarrhea, digestibility, digestion, famines, fermented foods, flavonoids, food allergies, fowl, fruit, gastro-intestinal tract, game, genetics, grains, greens, grubs, hunters and gatherers, indigestion, lectins, leftovers, legumes, lentils, mammoth, milk, minerals, mung beans, nuts, pigs, polyphenols, population growth, protease inhibitors, phytates, raw foods, roots, seeds, snacks, soaking, Soaking and Sprouting, sprouting, sprouting jar, sprouts - commercial, starvation, stomach - upset, World hunger

“Give us our daily bread” is a prayer. If somebody is out there to listen to this prayer, He seems to prefer to listen to First-World supplicants; the Third World does not need to apply, apparently.

World hunger is appalling, but perhaps it is beneficial that not all people get to have their daily bread. Because our staple bread, surprisingly, contains ingredients that might hurt you.

All seeds – including grains, legumes and nuts – contain indigestible parts. It is a survival strategy for seeds: They don’t want to be eaten, they want to germinate and build new life.

About five to ten thousand (depending on where people lived) years ago, the agricultural revolution happened. Suddenly we were eating grains (the other part of the agricultural revolution was coaxing cows into give up their milk for human consumption). When people still were hunters and gatherers, grains barely ever showed up in their meals – grains then were trifling kernels, not worth the effort. Cavemen ate greens, roots, nuts, small fruit (big fruit are the result of modern hybridization), game, fowl and grubs – whatever was available. Not much was available, so famines and starvation were frequent – especially after mankind had successfully hunted to extinction the huge animals that populated the world in prehistoric times: huge deer, woolly mammoths, giants pigs, and so on.

Agriculture was a step forward. It provided more calories, and reliably so. More children could survive; populations slowly increased.

But grains come with a price: They contain antinutrients (such as lectins, phytates, protease inhibitors) that have negative health consequences. These ingredients interfere with the successful uptake of important molecules – mostly minerals, like calcium – and they are harsh on the gastro-intestinal tract. As they are indigestible, eating them can lead to upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, even colitis.

But things are never easy: Polyphenols and flavonoids are also antinutrients, and we surely want those in our daily fare (though not in overdose).

Antinutrients can be destroyed or at least reduced by cooking, sprouting and fermentation. About fermentation and its benefits we have already talked. We also discussed raw foods-only diets, and that cooking makes more nutritional components available.

Soaking and sprouting is a method still not used widely enough. I can't marvel enough that the simple fact of adding water to a seed will make it easier to digest (be aware that for some people it is not enough to eliminate the digestive problems). Store-bought sprouts in the past have occasional had problems with germs, alfalfa and soy bean sprouts, for instance - a good reason to do it at home. Just keep your (simple) equipment clean. There are a few tricks for different sprouts from amaranth to Brazil nuts, from mung beans to lentils which I don’t want to discuss here – information is easily found on the Internet.

This is my stress-free methods: Soak in clean water overnight. There are plastic jars available at health food stores with sieves of different sized hole, for small and bigger seeds. One can also just (and perhaps healthier without plastics leaching out) use glass jars and paper towels and/or cheese cloth for straining.

Pour off the water next morning, rinse in clean water (repeatedly, if the water is cloudy) and let stand for sprouting (or beginning to sprout). Eat your sprouts during this day. For me it works – without being too meticulous about it. I like sunflower, flax, sesame, almonds. Make sure you start with seeds that have not been irradiated, roasted, salted or processed in any way; organic is preferable. Make sure you don’t let them sprout for too long, they might get bitter. Experiment with different soaking/sprouting times. Anything longer than two, utmost three days can lead to mold – discard it. Always clean jars and sieves thoroughly.

Add sprouted seeds and nuts to bean dishes, leftovers and as snacks.

If you seem to have “allergies” to every single nut or seed there is, try removing antinutrients by soaking and sprouting. After all, yours might not be a real allergy, you might just not be able to digest certain indigestible food ingredients. Which is determined by genetics.

Bitter Medicines

May 26, 2010

Tags: Herbs, food, angelica, angostura bark, artichoke, Bitter Medicines, bitters, cassia, cinchona bark, dandelion, digestive problems, gentian, goldenseal, indigestion, orange peel, quinine, roots, sugar, sweeteners, vegetables, yarrow

Life was never supposed to be sweet. We ate bitters all the time, from prehistoric times, plucking green leaves right and left as we roamed the savannah, until only a few generations ago when the home-made herbal bitter (an alcoholic extraction of bitter herbs) was always brought out after a big meal.

But in our modern times, we think we deserve better than bitter – we like sweet above all other tastes - and consequently, digestive problems are increasing.

Bitters stimulate the appetite (not that we really need it – I always wonder why a hundred years ago loss of appetite was a major problem, and nowadays my patients rarely ever complain about it). Bitters increase digestive juices, thus helping to digest heavy meals. By digesting faster, we feel earlier relief in our overstuffed stomachs (for the same reason - to get relief after a too-big feast - a family walk after the big Sunday midday meal is a beloved practice in Europe).

Bitters shorten bowel transit time, alleviating constipation.

What goes into bitters? The recipes are often family, factory or monastery secret, but there are some staples like artichoke, dandelion, yarrow, cinchona bark (quinine), ginger, orange peel, cassia, angostura bark, and lots of bitter roots like angelica, gentian, goldenseal. The recipes are legion, and every country has their specialties.

It helps to have Swedish Bitters (or any bitter) at hand when indigestion strikes (beware – they all contain around forty percent of alcohol – some even more). However, incorporating more dark greens and roots into you food is equally - or more - important. And so is eliminating the sweet taste from our foods so predominant now. Don’t use sugar, don’t even use sweeteners – come back to the healthy bitters! Let your taste buds rediscover the real world of tastes.

In the long run, your life will be sweeter with bitters: more health, more joy, more sweet life.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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