Dr. James Chandler, N.D.,  Ph.D - Chandler Naturopathic Health Center
Acid Indigestion
     Acid indigestion (dyspepsia) affects many Americans on a daily basis. Indigestion, abdominal pain, bloating, premature feeling of fullness, heartburn, and burping, accounts for nearly 70% of all gastrointestinal complaints and affects about one fourth of the American adult population at any given time, Internet research, 6/24/07, John Hopkins Medicine, www.johnhopkinshealthalerts.com. Some find it to be a relatively infrequent affliction, while others have a more chronic condition.  Since most of nutrient absorption is through the proper breakdown of the food within the digestive system, acid indigestion should be viewed as an important complaint as it can have a definite influence on the entire body and its systems. Chronic acid indigestion can manifest itself as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ulcers, and even cancer. It is estimated that Americans spend millions of dollars each year in the treatment of indigestion and related conditions.
     One might ask, what causes indigestion? There are many reasons. The digestive system, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, large and small intestines, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, appendix, and rectum, relies on a balanced acidity level to break down the foods for energy needed for proper cell growth and health. A change in acid production, causing the digestive system to become unbalanced, creates symptoms associated with acid indigestion. A weakened digestive system from over consumption of refined carbohydrates, flour, sugar, and grains, can change the acidity level within the stomach.  Improper food combining, i.e. eating proteins with starches or fruit, can increase digestive acids.  Another way acidity can be changed is by the progressive weakening of the digestive system because of metabolism or because of aging.  Stress, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and other types of prescriptive drugs can also increase acid levels. Poor eating habits will manifest themselves through warnings signs of indigestion. Activities such as eating too fast, poor food combining, excess water taken with meals, excessive use of raw food, and overeating are eating problems to look for.  It is best to research the underlying cause of acid indigestion and eliminate it, if possible, at the source. 
     As stated earlier, millions of dollars are spent annually on the treatment of acid indigestion and there are both over-the counter and prescription pharmaceuticals available for symptom relief.  However, it should be noted that these pharmaceuticals only treat the symptoms and not the underling cause.  The repeated use of antacids and proton pump inhibitors can have an opposite effect upon the stomach causing it to increase the production of acid.
      The key to total nutrition is a balanced diet.  Diet can play an important and amazing role in reducing digestive acid levels. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary foods could provide much relief to the digestive system and even eliminate excess acid, providing a more natural balance.  The primary foods should encompass 40% to 60% of the diet and includes: Whole grains, 20% to 30% of the diet, protein (including animal protein, tofu, tempeh, and beans (20% to 30 %).  It is important to use whole grains rich in dietary fiber verses the milled or refined flours and grain products.  The high fiber slows the absorption of the grain and prevents over stimulation of the pancreas. Animal proteins have little to no fiber content and require a higher acidity than grains, vegetables, and fruit.  The secondary foods provide important vitamins and nutrients to the body and are useful in detoxifying and stimulating the elimination process which removes toxins and waste.  These foods are the fresh, local, and seasonal vegetables and should make up approximately 30% to 40% of the diet.  The vegetables should mostly be slightly cooked as this makes them easier to digest.  The third food group is the tertiary foods that would consist of 5% to 10% of the diet.  These foods include dairy, eggs, and fruits (5% to 10%), fats and oils, including olive, sesame oils, and ghee (2%).  Also included is red meat. These foods could be eliminated entirely from the diet and if not, should be consumed in smaller portions.  Fruits, when eaten, should be of the season and limited in the diet because of the higher sugar content and should be eaten alone two to three hours before or after a meal.  The added benefits of a well balanced diet are it is low cost, its nutrient rich, and it assists the digestive system in its absorption of nutrients.  Generally, the vitamins, proteins, and fats provided in a balanced diet are sufficient to maintain good health.
    Nutritional support in the form of vitamin supplements are commonly not needed  in a well balanced diet;  the body has the capacity to produce enough of the necessary vitamins needed from the food to maintain health. However, in today's world food products are grown in nutrient deficient soils and contain contaminates making a well balanced diet almost impossible to achieve.  Protein is necessary to repair damage to tissues and cells as they normally break down and protein stimulates and maintains body metabolism.  Animal protein should be limited in use (no more than three ounces per day) because of environmental and food toxins in addition to the drugs and hormones given to them.  These toxins tend to be stored in our own bodies in the same way they are stored in the animal.  Excessive consumption of animal protein combined with the environmental and food toxins is a major cause of degenerative diseases and cancer.  Protein digestion starts in the stomach where as most carbohydrate and fat digestion starts in the small intestines.  Protein found in grains and beans are more readily digested and absorbed in the body without causing the potential problems of animal protein.  Beans, combined with whole grains, are the best protein and contain all of the essential amino acids.  Fats and oils are important to have in the diet and they aid nutrition. Fat is essential for the absorption of many vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, and K.  The use of unsaturated fats and oils such as olive oil, sesame oil, and clarified butter (ghee), in moderation, assists in burning stored fat. Fat, as with herbs and spices, add flavor to foods.
     Herbs are useful as a part of a well balanced diet and as an aid in correcting long term nutritional deficiencies.  Tonic herbs improve the assimilation of vital nutrients by the organs and nutritive herbs provide substantial amounts of balanced minerals and vitamins in an easy to assimilate form.  A convenient place to discover the medicinal value of herbs is the kitchen spice rack. Culinary herbs and spices added to foods for flavor also have considerable medicinal use.  Most herbal spices are carminatives (preventing and relieving gas), stimulants and are an aid to digestion. Included below is a partial list of some beneficial kitchen herbs and their method of application.
Herbs to aid digestion:           Method of Application
Sweet Basil                             use as a tea for indigestion
Bay                                         add leaves to soup or beans prevent gas and
Caraway                                 use as a tea for indigestion and colic
Cardamom                              use with fresh ginger as a tea for
                                               indigestion and gas
Cayenne                                  taken as a tonic for diarrhea and cramps
Cinnamon                                simmer in milk for relief of diarrhea and
Cumin                                     take gelatin capsules at meal times
Cloves                                    use as a tea for improving digestion, treating
                                               flatulence, vomiting and nausea
Fennel                                     use as a tea for colic, gas, and cramps
Fenugreek                               use as a decoction for ulcers and inflammation
                                               of the stomach and intestines
Garlic                                      use as fresh juice or take as oil
Ginger                                     use as a tea for indigestion, cramps, and
Marjoram                                use as a tea for upset stomach and colic
Nutmeg                                   powder added to milk, baked fruits, and
                                               desserts to help digestion and relieve nausea
Rosemary                                used as a tea for indigestion, colic, nausea,
                                               and gas
Sage                                        use as a tea for diarrhea and dysentery
Thyme                                     use as a tea for diarrhea, chronic gastritis, and
                                               lack of appetite.
     Each month six million people, especially the older population, suffer the unpleasant symptoms of acid indigestion.  Prescription and non prescription over the counter products are advertised through the print media, over radio and television for this disorder.  Acid indigestion is a multi million dollar business.  Diet has a major role in the prevention and correction of indigestion.  A well balanced diet consisting of high quality whole grains, fresh local vegetables and fruits, and high quality oils and a reduced consumption of refined grains, flour, and sugar,  not only provide for a healthy digestive system that reduces acid but also builds a healthy body.
If you suffer from the symptoms of acid indigestion, GERD, or acid reflux and would like more information how you can reduce or eliminate the problem without the use of prescription medications, contact Dr. Chandler.
Structure and Function of the Body, 12th Edition, by Gary A. Thibodeau and Kevin T.  Patton III, published by Mosby, St. Louis, Mo., 2004.
The Way of Herbs, by Michael Tierra, published by Pocket Books, New York, NY, 1998.
John Hopkins Medicine, www.johnhopkinshealthalerts.comJune 24, 2007.
Microsoft Encyclopedia Encarta, Microsoft, Inc, 2006
Staying Healthy With Nutrition, The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, by Elson M. Haas, MD, and Buck Levin, PhD, RD,  published by Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA,  2006
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