For many Australians, the discomfort
that comes from a long standing digestive disorder can have
a major impact on ones lifestyle. Digestion plays a vital
role in our ability to stay well and healthy, and if compromised
the result can be long standing chronic malnutrition, pain
and energy loss.
The main digestive complaints fall into one of two broad
categories. Digestive issues can affect the upper digestive
tract – heartburn, ulcers, reflux, for example, or the
lower digestive tract. Lower digestive complaints can include
irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease,
bloating and cramping, chronic constipation and coeliac disease.
Treatment for this range of conditions is fairly straightforward
but can take a while to resolve completely.
Reflux and Heartburn
One of the most commonly prescribed classes of medication
is medication designed to reduce stomach acidity. Reflux can
be an extremely uncomfortable condition to put up with and
reducing stomach acidity will often provide good temporary
relief. There is a longstanding issue, however, when medication
is taken repeatedly to reduce stomach acid. Stomach acid is
vital for the correct breakdown of food and the subsequent
absorption of nutrients to fuel the body. If stomach acid
is compromised on a long term basis, poor nutrient delivery
to the body can result in a malnourished state.
Another option that many people fail to look it is to strengthen
the tissue that is constantly being affected by the acids
of the stomach. While stomach acid can be neutralized by medication,
consideration should also be given to making the mucous membranes
in the upper digestive tract more able to handle the acids
they are constantly coming into contact with. Once mucous
membrane strength has been restored, there may be less need
to keep taking long term acid neutralizing medication, which
will only benefit the body by allowing a greater absorption
There is an anatomical feature that may also contribute to
feelings of heartburn and reflux. The oesophagus – the
tube that carries food to the stomach, is usually closed off
at the bottom by a one way valve, or lid. The purpose of this
is to allow food to pass into the stomach without any of the
contents of the stomach returning back up the oesophagus.
In many people who suffer from reflux, this lid no longer
closes as it should, so not only does food pass down into
the stomach, partially digested, acid coated food can also
re-enter the oesophagus.
By improving tone to this lid, we can begin to train the
body to properly close off the oesophagus once again, thus
preventing that feeling of reflux and burning. This is done
with the use of very specific herbal compounds that work directly
on this part of the digestive tract.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is known as a multi-faceted
disorder. In people with IBS, symptoms result from what appears
to be a disturbance in the interaction between the gut or
intestines, the brain, and the autonomic nervous system that
alters regulation of bowel motility (motor function) or sensory
function. This is a primary reason for why stress can play
such a big role in this condition.
Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by a group of symptoms
in which abdominal pain or discomfort is associated with a
change in bowel pattern, such as loose or more frequent bowel
movements, diarrhea, and/or constipation. One of the classic
signs of IBS is an alternating constipation with diarrhoea.
IBS is also frequently associated with inflammation of the
Inflammatory Bowel Disorders (Ulcerative
Colitis, Crohns Disease)
Crohn's Disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) that
can be found in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from
the mouth to the anus, but most commonly it involves the lower
end of the small intestine (ileum) and/or the large intestine
(colon). Areas of inflammation can appear interspersed with
healthy parts of the intestine and may involve the full thickness
(all layers) of the intestine.
Sometimes different names are used to describe the part of
the intestine that is involved.
Ulcerative colitis, or simply 'colitis', is also an inflammatory
condition, but is confined to the inner lining of the large
intestine and rectum. It is almost always present in the rectum
and involves either the lower part only, or extends further
along the entire length of the large intestine.
In recent years there appears to have been a dramatic rise
in the number of people with Crohn's disease, whereas ulcerative
colitis seems to have levelled out.
The most common age groups to be diagnosed with Crohn's disease
and ulcerative colitis are those in their teens and twenties,
followed by those in their forties and fifties, although people
of all ages are diagnosed, including young children and the
The symptoms of IBD vary depending on the area of involvement,
extent and severity of disease, and whether any complications
have arisen, but abdominal pain, diarrhoea, the passing of
blood and fatigue are commonly experienced.
Other signs and symptoms may include nausea and vomiting,
constipation, a low-grade fever, weight loss and nutritional
In Crohn's disease, symptoms usually have a gradual onset
over many months or years, whereas ulcerative colitis tends
to develop more quickly.
Although these conditions can be very difficult to “cure”
completely, there are a number of gentle yet very effective
treatment options that can make life infinitely easier for
Coeliac disease is a digestive disorder where sufferers are
unable to tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found
in wheat, rye, and barley. When people with coeliac disease
eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds
by damaging the small intestine. The lining of the small intestine
is where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, so when
this becomes damaged and is unable to function, malnourishment
The symptoms of coeliac can vary a lot from person to person
but some of the more common symptoms include:
weakness and lethargy
- the anaemia will either not respond to treatment or will
recur after treatment (iron therapy) until
the correct diagnosis is made and a gluten free diet is begun
and abdominal distention
- this may begin at any age and is often present for years
prior to diagnosis
- some are likely to experience constipation rather than diarrhoea
although a number of people
do not experience either and some experience both
loss - although many do not lose weight and some can even
put on weight
Integrative Medical Treatments
A lot of the digestive issues that are commonly seen in pharmacy
can be alleviated by removing the specific foods that are
aggravating that condition.
Many people who suffer from heartburn or reflux, for example,
would do well to avoid spicy foods and coffee, both of which
can make this condition a lot worse.
Irritable bowel sufferers often seem to improve their conditions
with the avoidance of wheat and dairy products. Wheat products
in particular with their insoluble fibre can prove to be quite
irritating for a bowel that may already be predisposed to
inflammation. Dairy foods, especially milk, also seem to feature
frequently on lists of foods that exacerbate irritable bowel
syndrome. Some people have a mild lactose intolerance they
aren’t even aware of which will make any IBS symptoms
considerably worse. A high intake of dietary fat and coffee
also trigger attacks in sufferers. High fat intakes can sneak
in with some foods like salami and processed meats so these
need to be watched carefully also. Finally, anything that
may trigger bowel movements should be avoided. An excess of
artificial sweetener (diet soft drinks, some chewing gums
etc) is a primary culprit here that many people don’t
These guidelines for avoiding wheat, dairy, coffee and fats
also apply for those people suffering from inflammatory bowel
disease. Refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners once
again, are two more food types that can cause many sufferers
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Many IBS sufferers have tried most of the preparations on
the market. It is a syndrome rather than a condition, so the
exact causes and distinguishing characteristics of IBS vary
from person to person. Symptomatic treatment revolves around
reducing gut specific inflammation and healing mucosal membranes.
Aloe vera is a specific mucous membrane restorative and is
used to bring about healing from the mouth through to the
anus and all points in between. It is very effective and is
usually noticed to be working within a week. It also has potent
anti-inflammatory properties (hence its use for burn treatment).
Probiotics have an anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive
tract and have been marketed specifically for use in IBS.
Probiotics may suppress the low-grade inflammation associated
with IBS and restore normal local immune function. Probiotics
are also effective at reducing colonic mucous secretions that
may contribute to functional diarrhoea or IBS with diarrhoea.
Combination herbal products that have an anti-inflammatory
and anti-spasmodic effect are excellent and very fast acting
tools in managing the symptoms of IBS. These typically feature
a combination of clowns mustard, liquorice, chamomile and
mint and are extremely gentle (so much so that they are also
frequently given to children as young as 6 months of age to
manage colic). The product we have had great success with
at Quality Pharmacy is the German formulation known as Iberogast.
Reflux is a relatively easy condition to bring under control.
While most people with this condition may be taking antacid
medication, they have probably not considered doing anything
to repair mucosal tissue or to strengthen the sphincter (the
valve or lid) at the end of the oesophagus.
Repairing and restoring integrity to mucosal tissue is accomplished
through the long term use of aloe vera – a well known
herb that is renown for its healing properties. Short term
healing can occur through the use of combination herbal products
such as Iberogast which contains a range of anti-inflammatory
and healing herbs.
Restoring tone to the oesophageal sphincter is done through
the use of bitter herbal extracts. These bitters herbs stimulate
a nerve response that sends a signal to the sphincter muscles
to contract – this closing off the valve between the
oesphagous and the stomach. Our pharmacists are trained in
the use of a range of bitter herbal formulations to help you
with achieve this.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)
As the name suggests, inflammatory bowel diseases are characterized
by an inflammation of the tissues of the bowel. While selecting
foods that won’t contribute to further inflammation
is half the battle, we also need to address the inflammation
that is already there and reduce it as much as possible.
A range of long term anti-inflammatory agents are available
to achieve this reduction in inflammation. As before, perhaps
the most specific digestive tract anti-inflammatory is aloe
vera, and it is a supplement that many people find gives them
a large degree of relief from IBD.
Some people may need stronger anti-inflammatory support than
that offered by aloe vera. For these people, turmeric and
frankincense herbal combinations are a better option. These
herbs are particularly effective at reducing arthritic pain,
but they also have significant clinical research to support
their use in inflammatory bowel disorders. For long term inflammatory
control, fish oil is a substance that has also been proven
to be very effective at reducing the symptoms of IBD.
Your Quality Pharmacist will be able to tell you more about
these specialised medications.