Earlier this week Muslims around the world marked the beginning of the month of Ramadan. Unfortunately for many, fasting goes hand in hand with digestive problems. Whether you are fasting, and therefore break the fast with a large intake of food all at once (which is a sudden shock and never good for your body’s digestive system), or not fasting, but nevertheless taking part in sumptuous Iftars (the meal just after dusk to break the fast) or you are simply overeating at the continuing lavish brunches, you might be suffering with problems such as indigestion, bloating, acid reflux and heartburn and will benefit from reading on.
Although it is easy to reach over for an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-acid for fast relief, these ultimately are more harmful than good. Since they affect the balance of your microbiota (your intestinal flora), in the long run this will not only impair your digestion, but it will force you to take more and more anti-acids which will become less and less effective with time. It then becomes a vicious circle from which it is very difficult to break free. This is well document in medical studies and articles across the globe.
Recently, I came across the book by a famous Japanese-American gastroenterologist, Hiromi Shinya. A luminary in his field, he pioneered modern colonoscopy and the removal of polyps in the colon without invasive surgery. After about 50 years of studying people’s digestive tracts, he shared his theories and findings with the public in a book where he outlines the importance of (digestive) enzymes to our overall health. Since over 60% of our immune system resides in our gut – a fact he confirms with practical knowledge and experience – we should all be listening to him. You may not agree with all this theories but his stance against the use of OTC anti-acids, which ultimately kill digestive enzymes, is not to be ignored. Surprisingly, a decade later we are still using anti-acids regularly in the West, and ignoring all of his warnings.
Whether or not you have put into practice all, or part, of his recommendations for a healthy gut and overall health, and despite all your best efforts, there are times when we all need a helping hand. So, what are more natural options that will deal with the problem of heartburn and indigestion quickly without compromising our digestive system in the long run?
Option 1: Sodium bicarbonate
You know that white powdery substance you have been using to wash your fruit and vegetables, especially after reading the research outlined in one of my earlier blogposts (click here for the link)? Well, it also works as a natural digestive. In fact it alkalises the stomach and brings almost instant relief to that heartburn by neutralising the excess acid. However, I will not lie to you, alone it tastes terrible. This is why sachets of this are normally sold with a combination of other ingredients including lemon flavourings to make the bitter “pill” go down. Whilst great for travelling and when you are out, it is much lighter on our wallets and the environment (think of all the packaging involved) to make your own. Here’s how.
Bicarbonate and lemon – DIY natural digestive
- 1 glass of warm water (the warmer it is the faster the bicarbonate will dissolve)
- 1 tsp sodium bicarbonate
- 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Mix the sodium bicarbonate in the warm water and stir well.
2. Then add the lemon juice. This will cause it to froth a little, which is good.
3. Swirl it around just before you drink it, preferably in one go.
4. If the sodium bicarbonate didn’t dissolve properly and there is still some left at the bottom of the glass, add a little more water and lemon and repeat.
Some people find this still difficult to swallow, but believe me 2 seconds of discomfort can prevent hours in agony. Which do you prefer?
I have personally used this concoction on several occasions after a rich meal, or following a meal out, which is invariably not as light as my standard fare.
Suffering from weak digestion? Ayurveda to the rescue!
There are times when my stomach fire is not as good as it should be or I have overdone it. On those rare occasions, the bicarbonate might not be as efficient and it will not provide the kind of relief I am after. If that is the case with you then I suggest you turn to a classic Ayurvedic remedy made with lemon and ginger. Before you bolt just at the thought of the ginger, trust me, you might be surprised. I know I was! Try it once and see. You will need to prepare this ahead of time, but once ready it will keep in the fridge in an airtight jar for over 1 week.
Option 2: Ayurvedic Lemon and ginger digestive
- A piece of fresh ginger, about 3 cm in length (peeled)
- The juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt
1. Take a small airtight jar such as the ones used for toddler’s food and make sure it is perfectly clean.
2. Cut the peeled ginger into thin slices about 5mm thick.
3. Place these in the jar with the coarse sea salt, then pour the fresh lemon juice over the ginger and salt to cover well.
4. Close the jar tightly and leave in the fridge to steep for at least 1 hour before using. In my experience the longer you leave it the less strong the ginger will taste when you chew it.
You can prepare this Ayurvedic digestive for the following week and use it as preventive measure (especially useful if your digestion is weak, regardless of how much you plan to eat)eaten just before each main meal, or to relieve heartburn and indigestion instantly. Just take one slice of ginger (two if they are small) after the meal and chew carefully. Unless you had an entire banquet to yourself, one slice is usually more than enough.
Although it might be counter intuitive, even though lemon and ginger are acid, they become alkali in your stomach and help relieve heartburn and acid reflux. Obviously, prevention is the best cure and you should try to avoid overeating for overall health, regardless of acid reflux or other digestive issues. However, on those occasions when a little extra help is needed, you now have two natural remedies at your disposal.
Ramadan Kareem and happy digestion!