by Lisa Stag-Tout, Wellness Manager
I personally have four standard remedies for occasional stomach upset: chewable papaya tablets, an Ayurvedic herbal tea blend by Yogi Teas called Stomach Ease, acidophilus, and miso soup. Any one of these simple remedies has always been enough to relieve any temporary breakdown in my usual cast iron stomach. That is, until recently. You see, a few days after the topic for this article was suggested I experienced an agonizing case of indigestion and heartburn, correctly termed functional dyspepsia. This took me by surprise as it lasted over 24 hours, and I felt anything but functional. I can now sympathize with those individuals who have gone to an emergency room believing that they are having a heart attack when in actuality they are suffering from a bad case of indigestion.
Looking back I realize that I had ignored some common sense practices for healthy digestion. I was understandably stressed in my new role as manager in the Co-op’s Health and Wellness department and for me that meant I rushed around while trying to get too many things done in too little time, including eating. I was also sampling delicious but new-to-me deli foods as well as trying new dietary supplements given out by well-meaning product reps. My stomach was giving me a clear signal to slow down and simplify.
Papaya tablets have always been my first choice for common indigestion because they are readily available and as easy to take as Tums or Rolaids. But unlike these antacids, papaya contains the proteolytic enzyme called papain which digests proteins and can reduce the overproduction of stomach acids. This safe and tasty food-based remedy was also recommended by my naturopath for my kids when they were younger.
Unfortunately this time, papaya alone was not enough to bring relief.
Onto my family’s current favorite remedy for most any digestive upset—Stomach Ease tea. This Ayurvedic blend of carminative herbs starts to ease my stomach as soon as I get a whiff of its pungent fragrance. Cardamom, coriander, ginger, fennel and black pepper are aromatic, warming herbs that support gastrointestinal function and reduce gas. Licorice root is soothing and has a high mucilage content which can protect the mucous membranes of the stomach from digestive juices and acids. Peppermint is widely used for stomach complaints as it acts as a mild anesthetic to the stomach wall which can allay feelings of nausea. At first glance these herbs might appear too strong or conflicting to work well together, but let me assure you that they do. With a little honey and soy milk this tea is quite a treat after a potluck meal or buffet.
I don’t usually think of taking acidophilus powder for a stomachache because I know it’s best taken on an empty stomach and quite frankly, when my stomach is empty it doesn’t ache. However, it was the first thought I had upon waking in the morning after realizing that the tea hadn’t completely eased my discomfort. I mixed a tablespoon of the powder into a glass of water and I have to say that most of my pain was alleviated within an hour or so. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a lactic acid producing bacteria and the powered or encapsulated supplements usually work quickly and effectively because they contain as many as one billion individual friendly bacteria per gram. If the digestive system doesn’t have enough L. acidophilus and other friendly bacteria, such as L. bulgaricus and L. bifidus, digestion can be impaired. I decided to give my digestive system a rest by keeping my stomach as empty as possible throughout the day. I knew there would be a good chance that I’d want some form of nutrition however, and miso soup was the perfect choice.
Miso is an excellent source of digestive enzymes, friendly bacteria, essential amino acids, vitamins, easily assimilated protein and minerals. It is also low in calories and fat. Available in many varieties, Miso (fermented bean paste) is a concentrated, savory paste made from soybeans—often mixed with a grain such as rice, barley, or wheat—that is fermented with a yeast mold (koji) and then combined with salt and water. The mixture is aged from one month to three years. While it is a good source of protein and carbohydrates, miso is, nonetheless, high in sodium and should be consumed sparingly if you are salt-sensitive.
Depending on how and where the miso paste is processed, there are different types of miso, with each type having its own aroma, flavor, and color. Some of the varieties of miso include: mugi miso (made from soybeans and barley), hatcho miso (made from soybeans and sea salt), genmai miso (from soybeans and brown rice), kome miso (made from soybeans and white rice), and natto miso (made from soybeans and ginger). The longer the soybeans are fermented, the darker (and stronger in flavor) the miso. Misos generally range in color (and pungency) from white to dark brown. White miso is the lightest in flavor, aged for one month. It is particularly well suited for soups, salad dressings, and sauces. Yellow miso is also light in flavor, but is saltier. Red miso is strong and salty and is generally used for stews, soups and braised foods. Dark brown miso is the most pungent and was the type I enjoyed drinking all through the day. By the time the soup was gone, so was my indigestion.
So slow down and simplify if you find yourself feeling those familiar digestive discomforts, and remember to consult with a health care practitioner if you have any additional questions related to specific health issues.