It takes guts - not a pill - to improve your digestive health

I must say I admire the actress in that series of drug commercials advertising to help folks with intestinal problems by swallowing a pill. You know the one — the redhead girl who wears a nude unitard and plays the role of the intestines. I had to wear a nude unitard on stage once when I was playing a naked doll in a ballet. It takes some serious guts.

Speaking of guts, do you frequently suffer from symptoms such as an upset stomach, acid reflux, excessive gas and bloating and irritable bowel? Do those symptoms coincide with sugar cravings, low energy and lack of motivation? If so, there could be several reasons why, and with some focused care and attention your symptoms could be alleviated without needing to taking medications. 

If you suffer from chronic digestive problems, your body is urging you to take better care of yourself. If you ignore your body’s pleas for help, those pleas become louder and louder by giving you signs and symptoms that will worsen over time. Often, those signs and symptoms spread to other organ systems, thereby affecting your emotional and physical state in various ways. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the digestive organs correlate with the “Earth” element. Just as the earth provides sustenance for life on our planet, the digestive system provides sustenance for the entire body, placing our digestive systems at the center of our entire health picture. Underlying causes of digestive distress could be from one or more of the following possibilities:

Eating yucky food. Eating foods rich in sugar, transfats or artificial sweeteners, genetically modified food, meat fed with antibiotics/hormones and processed with toxic preservatives can damage the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients. As the epithelial lining of the gut becomes compromised by eating these toxic substances, problems such as leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel ensue.

Inability to receive emotionally. Acupuncturist Koko Evans speaks to the possibility of the digestive system being unable to digest food if there is “an aspect of life one has trouble ‘digesting’ or if a person has the habit of nourishing others more than oneself.”

Excessive worrying. All organ systems in TCM correlate with specific emotions. The emotion that depletes the digestive system is worry. Worrying about that which we cannot change is lost energy. That lost energy translates as creating “qi deficiency” in TCM. This qi deficiency renders the digestive system unable to “churn the food” properly, causing acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation and abnormal gas or bloating after eating.

Excessive stress. Prolonged abnormal levels of stress secrete stress hormones which affect insulin levels, thereby leading to digestive weakness and blood sugar imbalances. Doctor of Chiropractic Joe Heinecke points out that stress hormones also weaken digestion by “reducing the absorption of minerals and B vitamins.” According to Dr. Heinecke, chiropractic adjustments gently remove subluxations or misalignments of the spine, allowing for nerves to properly send messages from the brain to the muscles that help control stomach function. This can be particularly helpful for stubborn cases of acid reflux or GERD.

Alongside myriad over-the-counter and prescription medications to help with symptoms of digestive upset, there are several supplements commonly being marketed to promote digestive health, including L-glutamine, probiotics and digestive enzymes. While each of these substances may or may not have a valuable place in treating some digestive imbalances, they are unlikely to get to the root of a digestive problem if the above factors are not considered and addressed appropriately. Even if one or more of the substances provides some relief, the root of the digestive problem will likely remain present. When seeking care from a health care professional, it is more efficient in the long run to find someone who can connect the dots between each system of the body, emotionally and physically. 

Don’t let the redhead intestine girl fool you. A pill will not solve your problems. It is not a stretch to relate the quality of our food and our emotions to our physical health, even when considered purely from a Western medical perspective. By taking the time to address your symptoms properly by adjusting your lifestyle, you will be avoiding side effects associated with medications as well as costly health ramifications in the future.

Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine. Learn more at, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.


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