Saccharomyces boulardii (SB) is a yeast that promotes gastrointestinal health. This microorganism, which is sold as a supplement, is a “probiotic.” Probiotics help maintain a normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Well-known probiotics include the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria found in yogurt.
Few herbal remedies have been as widely used or as carefully examined over the centuries as licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), a botanical member of the pea family that is still widely cultivated in Greece and Turkey. The herb’s key therapeutic compound, glycyrrhizin, is found in the rhizome (or underground stem) of this tall purple-flowered shrub. Hundreds of other potentially healing substances have been identified in licorice as well, including compounds called flavonoids and various plant estrogens (phytoestrogens). Researchers are currently excited about the diverse healing properties of licorice, from its anti-inflammatory abilities to its capacity to soothe stomach upset and control coughs. Even the National Cancer Institute has investigated the medicinal benefits of licorice.
Naturopathic doctors have long recommended a classic herbal digestive combination (variously known as Robert’s or Bastyr’s Formula) for controlling the intestinal pain and inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both inflammatory bowel diseases.
Most foods contain a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber, which together make up the dietary fiber family. Compounds that dissolve or swell when put into water are called soluble fibers and include pectins, gums, mucilages, and some hemicelluloses. These compounds are found inside and around plant cells and exist as gum arabic, guar gum, locust bean gum, and pectins. Soluble fiber is found in cereals and a variety of foods such as salad dressings, jams, and jellies.
Insoluble fiber is a subclass of dietary fiber. Like its soluble cousin, insoluble fiber differs from starch because the chemical bonds that join individual sugar units can not be digested by enzymes in the human gastrointestinal tract. Insoluble fiber is considered a “noncarbohydrate carbohydrate” since the components that make up insoluble fiber are lignins, cellulose, and hemicelluloses. All of these compounds form the structural parts of plants and do not readily dissolve in water and are not metabolized by intestinal bacteria. Bran fiber is rich in hemicelluloses, while a cotton ball is pure cellulose.
Cascara sagrada is a natural laxative made from the reddish-brown bark of a tree (Rhamnus purshiana) native to the Pacific Northwest. It was used by various Native American tribes, who also passed their “sacred bark” on to Spanish explorers (cascara sagrada means sacred bark in Spanish).
Like its better-known bacterial cousin, acidophilus, the bifidobacteria group (also called ‘bifidus’) are considered a “probiotic.” One of the hundreds of beneficial bacteria that inhabit your body’s intestinal tract, bifidobacteria helps to fight off infection. Probiotics such as these are especially helpful in preventing the diarrhea that often results from antibiotic therapy. They ease other gastrointestinal conditions as well, including irritable bowel syndrome and flatulence. They also help to prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections, and counteract the overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans.
Poison control centers often recommend activated charcoal to treat accidental poisonings, making it a useful supplement to keep in the home. Activated charcoal is made from organic materials such as wood pulp and then treated to further enhance its absorptive powers. Once ingested, it binds with certain chemicals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being absorbed into your system and causing harm.
Of the 400 different kinds of bacteria and yeasts typically found in the human digestive tract, there are a handful of so-called friendly ones that are of particular importance: Lactobacillus acidophilus and other members of the Lactobacillus family. Acidophilus is considered a “probiotic” because it helps to maintain a normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestines and vagina. Like other probiotics, it does this by supplying healthy bacteria and inhibiting unwelcome organisms. Many people take acidophilus to prevent and treat various digestive disorders, vaginal infections, and other illnesses.
By far the most common reason patients visit gastroenterologists is for help with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, also known as spastic colon. Although the condition is not dangerous, nor does it lead to anything serious, IBS is a real challenge to treat effectively. In fact, conventional medical textbooks advise doctors to tell their patients that the condition is incurable, and many patients have come to believe that the best they can expect from conventional medicine is only limited relief. All doctors, including myself, hesitate to use the word “cure.” But at WholeHealth Chicago, we’ve found that a more integrated medical “toolbox” has dramatically improved our success rate.
Because conventional physicians are becoming more skilled at diagnosing and treating heartburn, a condition in which stomach acid splashes upward into the esophagus, this common problem is undergoing some name changes. Strictly speaking, when you used to feel as though Mount St. Helens was erupting beneath your breastbone, it was called “heartburn.” After doctors developed gastroscopes to actually see the irritated esophagus, your heartburn grew into the more respectable “reflux esophagitis,” or “reflux” for short.
Benjamin Franklin wrote a whole pamphlet on the subject. He suggested that if people added to their diet certain perfumes and flowers, they would soon be breaking wind as delectable as summer breezes. Of course, two hundred years later, our intestinal air is, well, as succulent as ever. Most of us, like it or not, do have our own ‘factory-installed’ Whoopie Cushions. The flowers didn’t work and flatulence prevails. Certainly one of those health issues in the realm of the genuinely annoying rather than medically serious, flatulence can still cause considerable discomfort, noise, and embarrassment. (Unless you’re about eight years old, in which case, expect considerable popularity among your peers.)
It’s best to have a positive mental attitude when struggling with a bout of simple diarrhea. It may be comforting, while you’re sitting there, to realize how none of the Beautiful People has ever been spared the experience. Believe me, the likes of Oprah, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise have all been there, just like you. Be philosophical and accept your body is doing its job. Your intestines are simply struggling to deal with the water you were told not to drink, the leftovers that tasted a little funny while you were eating them, or the virus which recently arrived in your neighborhood. Of course, any episode lasting more than a week, or accompanied by fever, severe cramps, or bleeding needs medical attention. As do episodes of recurrent diarrhea.
Just the way lots of people seem perpetually dissatisfied with their weight, some days everyone’s complaining about their bowels. It’s not the frequency, I tell them, or the failure to experience a daily movement that’s most important, but, rather, the comfort and ease of passage of your stool. If your passage is a struggle (and by this I mean a dried, hard movement with a lot of uncomfortable straining or a dependence on laxatives), then, yes, you are “officially” constipated. Hopefully, our WholeHealth Chicago suggestions will bring you relief.
At least once a week, a patient comes in, saying, “You’re the fourth [or seventh or tenth] doctor I’ve seen. I feel simply terrible but am always told that my tests are normal, and there’s nothing wrong with me. Recently I read about yeast overgrowth, and the symptoms seem to fit my case exactly. The doctors, however, all tell me there’s no such illness.”
If you’re under 50, you have my blessing to press the DELETE button and move on to your next message. Readers in their mid-40s might want to keep reading. Your time is coming.
For years, doctors have puzzled over why women who work the night shift are more likely to get breast cancer. Now they think they’ve come up with an explanation, and it has to do with melatonin–the same melatonin sold to promote sleep.
Among the many distasteful TV commercials for prescription drugs, my least favorite are the ones for people with heartburn. Although some people do have a legitimate problem with the valve between their esophagus and stomach, most heartburn is simple overindulgence.