Digestive Problems Self Help

Although each health condition has its own unique properties, many have similar characteristics that respond to similar treatment programs. You may want to work with a health professional to tailor a program that will best suit your needs. Health care is both a science and an art.

You may need the science in the form of lab testing, diagnosis, and evaluation of your needs. Your doctor will order the customary lab work. The art of healing comes into play when determining which paths to follow, which ideas have the most merit, and which dosages are appropriate.

Healing often happens in layers. Sometimes you try the right thing at the wrong time. Later, you try it again with great results because the initial obstacle has been removed. If the first program you try doesn’t work or only works partially, try another. You can feel better when you are persistent and patient.

Remember, our symptoms are our body’s way of telling us to pay attention, that something is out of balance. By listening, we often have the inner wisdom to know exactly what we need. This chapter contains classic digestive problems. We start our journey at the mouth and move south.

Some of the following ideas alleviate symptoms, while others work to help your body heal the underlying cause. You can begin your program by taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Be sure to purchase one that is hypoallergenic.

Think of a multivitamin with minerals as inexpensive health insurance, and arm yourself with an excellent supplement. Your diet is likely to be deficient in several nutrients that it can provide. Because minerals are bulky, you’ll find yourself taking anywhere from two to nine pills daily. Read the ingredients on the label carefully.

If it contains artificial colors, preservatives, shellac, or carnauba wax, put it back on the shelf and keep looking. Also, look for an expiration date and batch number. Look for a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains at least the following:

  • 1,000 milligrams of calcium
  • 400–600 milligrams of magnesium
  • 400 IU of vitamin D
  • At least 100 IU of vitamin E
  • At least 250 milligrams of vitamin C
  • 200 micrograms of chromium
  • 200 micrograms of selenium
  • 5–10 milligrams of manganese
  • At least 15 milligrams of zinc
  • At least 400 micrograms of folic acid
  • At least 10 milligrams of each B vitamin

If you do this, the rest of the nutrients will be in line.


The mouth is the first digestive organ, after the brain. The health of our teeth, tongue, and gums is integral to the health of the rest of the digestive tract. Digestive enzymes in saliva begin the process of carbohydrate digestion, and chewing sends signals to the brain, which in turn sends signals to the stomach that food is on the way.

Thorough chewing of food can help with indigestion. Irritation and inflammation in the mouth can be signs of food or chemical sensitivities or allergies. The mouth is our first contact with ingested allergens. Careful investigation of the mouth area can give information about a person’s nutritional status.

Cracks down the center of the tongue are an indication of the need for increased B-complex vitamins. Bleeding gums indicate the need for vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Receding gums indicate bone loss, so bone nutrients are needed. Deep pockets in gums indicate the need for vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

Bad Breath or Halitosis

Yes, bad breath can be digestive in origin. It can be caused by low HCl levels in the stomach, poor flora, and/or constipation. But, first, consult a dentist to see if it is caused by poor dental hygiene, periodontal disease, or tooth infections.

If so, follow your dentist’s advice, and also look in the section on gum and tooth health that follows. If your gums and teeth are healthy, look to your digestive capacities. Using mouthwash is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

Healing Options

  • Eliminate constipation. Make sure you are getting plenty of fiber and liquids and are having one to two bowel movements each day. Magnesium is essential for normal peristalsis. Take 400–800 milligrams of magnesium daily.
  • Try a probiotic supplement. Take 1 or 2 capsules of acidophilus and bifidus between meals.
  • Consider possible lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance can cause bad breath, other digestive symptoms, and headaches. The simplest way to discover if you have lactose intolerance is to avoid all dairy products and dairy-containing food for two weeks, then see if your symptoms have improved.
  • Look for other causes if the problem persists. If you continue to have problems, you might be fermenting rather than digesting your foods.
  1. Check out your HCl levels. Try one teaspoon vinegar in a glass of water with meals or betaine HCl tablets. If the HCl causes burning, you probably don’t need it. You can neutralize the acid with milk or baking soda.
  2. Ask your doctor to run a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) with parasitology evaluation. You may have dysbiosis, parasites, or a helicobacter infection (the bacteria implicated in ulcers). A CDSA can help you find out what’s amiss.

Corners of the Mouth and Lips Cracks

Our skin is continuously replacing itself, and the places where our skin folds need to be replaced even more often. B-complex vitamins, particularly vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine), assist in formation of new skin.

Cracks at the corners of our lips, called cheilosis, are most often associated with these nutrient deficiencies. They can easily become infected by yeast (Candida albicans). If they do not respond to nutritional therapy, have a physician look for other causes.

Healing Options

  • Take B-complex vitamins. Try 50–100 milligrams one to three times daily in trial for four weeks.

Mouth Ulcers or Canker Sores

Mouth sores are common. Most of us have experienced mouth ulcers, canker sores, or cold sores, but some have chronic problems. Usually found inside the mouth, canker sores, called aphthous stomatitis, or aphthous ulcers, are the result of poor intestinal flora, food sensitivities or allergies, stress, hormonal 178 Digestive Wellness changes, and nutritional deficiencies.

High-sugar and high-acid foods, such as pineapples, citrus, and tomatoes, sometimes trigger canker sores. If you have recurring canker sores, thoroughly investigate the possibility of food sensitivities. Also, make sure your toothpaste, mouthwash, and floss aren’t causing the problem.

A study showed that use of Piroxicam, an NSAID, caused mouth ulcers that resolved when the patient was taken off the medication. If you have canker sores that don’t resolve after several weeks, let your doctor or dentist examine you.

Healing Options

  • Investigate allergies and sensitivities. Cigarettes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and flavored dental floss can cause irritation. Make sure they are not the source of your problem. Food sensitivities often are. Rule them out carefully with the elimination-provocation diet and/or food allergy or sensitivity blood testing.
  • Try a probiotic supplement. Lactobacillus acidophilus is often beneficial in prevention and treatment of canker sores. Take one to two capsules or ¼ to 1½ teaspoons of the powder three times daily; take between meals.
  • Take B-complex vitamins. Deficiencies in vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12, and folic acid have been associated with recurrent canker sores. People with B-complex deficiencies showed significant improvement of mouth ulcers during three months of supplementation with B-complex vitamins.
  • Consider gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein fraction found in wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and oats. A considerable amount of research has been done on the connection between gluten intolerance and mouth ulcers because people with celiac disease (sprue) often have recurring mouth sores.

About 25 percent of people with chronic canker sores have elevated antibodies to gluten, which indicates a specific sensitivity. When they avoid glutencontaining grains, their mouth sores go away.

  • Address iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency is associated with canker sores. If you get recurrent canker sores and are anemic, you may respond to iron supplementation. People who are not anemic will not benefit. Ask your physician to test you for anemia. Take 30–75 milligrams of elemental iron daily.

Because iron tends to be constipating, a slow-release iron, like Feosol or generic equivalents, may be helpful. Floradix, an herbal iron supplement, is gentle and works well. Cooking in cast-iron pots and pans is another way to gain iron from your diet.

  • Practice stress-management skills. Ask yourself if stress plays a significant role in your canker sores. If so, work on your stressmanagement skills.
  • Take zinc. Zinc deficiencies have been linked to mouth ulcers. Zinc plays an important role in healing wounds and immune system function. In one study, zinc supplementation helped heal canker sores 81 percent of the time in people with low zinc levels or a low zinc-to-copper ratio.

Topical Remedies

  • Use ice. Ice compresses dry up canker sores quickly. Apply ice directly to the sore for either forty-five minutes once a day, or several times a day for five minutes. You’ll still have a scab that needs to heal, but the sores won’t be painful.
  • Try licorice root. Licorice root is soothing to the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, and chewable licorice can help reduce inflammation and pain from mouth ulcers. Licorice promotes healing of mucous membranes by stimulating production of healing prostaglandins.

Just be sure to buy deglycyrrhized (DGL) licorice that has had the glycyrrhizins removed. Glycyrrhizins can raise blood pressure and lower serum potassium levels. Chew two licorice tablets between meals as needed up to four times daily, or eat real licorice, such as Panda brand. Most licorice is made with anise, not licorice.

  • Try myrrh.Myrrh is an herb that has been used since biblical times to soothe mucous membranes. It has antiseptic properties and can be used in a variety of ways. Chewing gum with myrrh can be temporarily soothing, and a glycerin tincture can be used topically to soothe the sores. It can be combined with the herb goldenseal in tea, paste, or tincture.
  • Try goldenseal. Goldenseal is soothing to mucous membranes and also has antiseptic properties. It can be taken internally, dabbed directly on the sores, or drunk as a tea.
  • Try castor oil. An old Edgar Cayce remedy is to soak a cotton swab in castor oil and apply to the canker sore.


Thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth and throat. It has a white, cottage cheesy look and is common after use of antibiotics. Thrush can be treated with either prescription or natural medicines. If it persists, you must treat yourself systemically.

It is of primary importance to use probiotic supplements of acidophilus and bifidus to reestablish normal mouth-throat flora. Natural remedies such as garlic, grapefruit seed extract, pau d’arco, and mathake tea, along with dietary changes, can make your body inhospitable to candida.

Follow the protocols for candida infections. In one study, one-third of people with thrush were found to have folic acid, vitamin B6, or vitamin B12 anemias, so it’s worth having your doctor check you for anemias and B-vitamin status.

Tongue Problems

Glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue, which can be extremely red and smooth, like a bald tire. Other people may also develop what’s called a geographic tongue, where the center of your tongue looks like a miniature Grand Canyon. Look in a mirror, look at your friend’s and family’s tongues, and you’ll probably find one.

People may also have scalloping on the edges of their tongues. Tongue problems can arise from systemic illness, so celiac, diabetes, Behcet’s disease, anemia, and syphilis should be ruled out by your physician. More often, tongue problems are indicators of nutritional needs or mouth irritants, such as smoking or other chemicals.

Studies have found that glossitis is a sign of protein calorie malnourishment, nutritional deficiencies, or marginal nutritional deficiencies of several vitamins and minerals. It affects 5 percent of our elderly.

It most often signals the need for increased B-complex vitamins and iron. You will often find a reddened tongue with pellagra, which is caused by a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3). Therapeutics for glossitis are almost identical to those for canker sores.

Healing Options

  • Take B-complex vitamins. The most important B vitamins for tongue health are riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), vitamin B12, and folic acid. Choline is found in B-complex vitamins and also plays a vital role in tongue health. Take 50–100 milligrams of B complex one to three times daily for a trial period of four to six weeks to see if it helps.
  • Address iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can also cause a sore and inflamed tongue. Have your physician check to make sure your iron status is normal. Thorough testing would include hematocrit, hemoglobin, ferritin, TIBC, and transferrin.
  • Take zinc. Zinc is important for healing. Take 25–50 milligrams daily.
  • Investigate food sensitivities. Check for food sensitivities.
  • Take vitamin E. One study of elderly people with glossitis found that they had lower serum levels of vitamin E. It is not known if vitamin E is just a marker or if it will help therapeutically, but vitamin E has low toxicity and is worth trying. You should take 400 IU every day.

Belching or Eructation

Belching is a symptom of gas in the upper part of the digestive tract. It is a release of trapped air from the stomach and usually comes from swallowed air. Just as a baby needs to be burped if she swallows air, we also burp if we swallow air—it’s normal. Other than being culturally embarrassing, it’s usually without problem.

In fact, in China it’s considered polite to belch after a meal—it means you really enjoyed it! Foods and drink that contain air contribute to belching. Without fail, when I have a carbonated drink, I burp. Whipped cream and egg whites can have the same effect on many people.

Gulping drinks and food causes us to take in more air, while eating slowly prevents us from swallowing air. People also swallow air during exercise and while chewing gum, and sucking on pipes, straws, or cigarettes. If you are overweight, you are more likely to belch from exercise.

Be thankful that you belch; air trapped in the stomach can be painful and belching is a safety valve that relieves the pressure. If you have a problem with the amount of belching you do, here are some suggestions.

  • Functional Laboratory Testing. Sometimes H. pylori infection can cause belching, with or without other digestive symptoms. Ask your doctor to test for H. pylori. The Heidelberg capsule test measures your ability to produce hydrochloric acid when challenged with alkaline substances.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Eat slowly and chew your food well. Avoid carbonated beverages. Stop smoking. If you smoke, stop. Be glad you have such a benign reason to stop. Reach and maintain ideal body weight. If you are significantly overweight, lose some weight. Stop chewing gum or sucking on candy. As an alternative, you can suck on or eat umeboshi plum, or you can make it into a tea. These salty, fermented plums are highly alkalizing and aid in indigestion.
  • Try charcoal tablets. These can absorb toxins, make breath smell better, and calm an overexcited digestive system.
  • Check your supplements. Some can cause belching, such as fish oils. Try any of the remedies for heartburn, gastric reflux, and hiatal hernia.