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Solving The Gas Crisis:
Supplements For Digestion ©

By Lisa Schofield

Some of us eat to live; others, live to eat. Either way, proper digestion is imperative for health maintenance. As our leisure time dwindles to near non-existence, we pile more on our plates, literally and figuratively. Very few of us ingest a diet of mostly raw whole fruits and vegetables, very lean meat and fiber.

Convenience dictates innovation in the massive food industry, and consumers are buying in: Open the can or box, dump it into some sort of container, add water, stick in microwave, plop the glop on a plate and eat the instant "meal."

By getting our sustenance in packaged form, we are also ingesting too many chemicals - preservatives, chemical colors and pseudo-flavors in a pre-cooked, dehydrated, practically embalmed mass with all the once-existing, long-ago nutrients cooked out and killed.

Add to this increased levels of psychological and physical stress, and this equates to - digestive disorders and chronic digestive diseases and syndromes.

Some Gut-Wrenching Facts
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, oh what big business heartburn is: A study conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), Bethesda, MD, shows that gastrointestinal diseases present a monumental burden of more than 283 million cases with a cost of $42 billion each year.

This study, conducted by the Lewin Group, analyzed major national and local databases to assess prevalance and cost of 17 digestive disorders - including gastroesophageal reflux diseease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcers, and Crohn's disease. Besides gastroenteritis and gallbladder disease, which topped the list, the most prevalent GI conditions are: GERD (18.6 million), IBS (15.4 million) and peptic ulcer disease (6.7 million).

Direct costs include visits to physicians' offices, inpatient, outpatient and emergency visits to hospitals, as well as the costs of prescription and OTC medications. Indirect costs measure the cost of time away from work. Overall, GERD is the most expensive in total cost with $10 billion each year. (For more information, visit

Popular OTC and pharmaceutical solutions to problems caused by excessive digestive acid include Pepcid AC, Tums, Zantac, Maalox, Prilosec, and Mylanta. And their parent pharmaceutical companies spend lots of money promoting them. According to The Tan Sheet (June 18, 2001), direct-to-consumer spending for Prilosec in 2000 amounted to $107.5 million - a 34 percent increase from the prior year. In comparison, the combined spending for Pepcid AC, Tums and Zantac 75 amounted to $93.4 million.

Healthy Digestion: The Path of Least Resistance

By Tom Bohager

Digestion begins in the mouth where the act of chewing breaks down and grinds the food into smaller pieces to be swallowed. Think of the mouth as a food processor where mixing and grinding take place. Here is where three different types of amylase are secreted to digest the carbohydrates. We then swallow the food; it travels down the esophagus, which transports it to the stomach.

There are two sections of the stomach. The Cardiac section (upper) is where the majority of the carbohydrate digestion occurs due to the activity of the amylase found in the saliva. Nothing else is secreted here. Other than the small amount of carbohydrate digestion that occurs here, only the foods we eat that have not been cooked or processed are digested. This is because these foods contain the enzymes that nature provides to break down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates contained in that particular food. The food stays here about 30 to 45 minutes then enters the lower section of the stomach.

The Pyloric section (lower) of the stomach is where pepsin and HCL are secreted for protein digestion. The amount of protein consumed and the efficiency of the individual's digestive system will dictate the duration the food remains in this portion of the stomach. It is usually about two hours. The combined activity of hydrochloric acid, pepsin and muscular movement result in a thoroughly mixed watery solution called chyme. Chyme leaves the stomach through the pyloric sphincter and enters the small intestine.

When the chyme enters the small intestine (duodenum) it is mixed with lipase from the pancreas and bile secreted by the gallbladder for fat digestion. The acid is neutralized by bicarbonate ions, which the pancreas also manufactures and secretes.

It is at this point that the body takes a type of inventory of what we have eaten and what has been digested. It then determines the additional amount of enzymes that will be needed to finish the process. The pancreas will continue to manufacture and secrete them as needed. This is called the law of adaptive secretion. The body will only make the amount of enzymes required to digest, assimilate and transport the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals found in the foods we consume.

As the mass continues to travel through the intestinal tract it finally enters the large intestine. The large intestine is basically responsible for absorbing water and electrolytes (ionic compounds). Much of this is actually re-absorbing what the body has provided in the way of gastric juices. The large intestine is also home to a variety of probiotics. These beneficial bacteria live off of some of the foods that make it this far without being digested.

Finally the waste is eliminated. This entire process normally takes three to 10 days. The more raw foods and less processed (junk) foods one eats, the less time the entire digestion process takes.

As The Stomach Churns

"The four most common simple digestive problems are gas, bloating, indigestion and heartburn," said Tom Bohager, director of education for Punta Gorda, FL-based Enzymedica. "If these are allowed to continue without proper intervention and adjustments, such as diet and lifestyle changes, they can lead to more serious issues such as ulcer, acid reflux, colitis, IBS or Crohn's Disease," he pointed out.

Excessive flatulence is frequently caused by matter that is fermenting in the intestines, notably in the colon. As Stephen Holt, MD, author of Natural Ways to Digestive Health, explains, "Various bacteria, molds or yeasts occupy the colon in states of health. These microorganisms can use a variety of agents in the diet (especially undigested food) as substrates to form gas."

Other causes of excessive gas are naturally occurring air in foods, such as certain fruits and vegetables, swallowing air while eating and drinking, and stress. Note that a certain amount of gas is normal and healthy, and is not really noticeable, as it is a consequence of food interacting with digestive juices.

Carminatives are herbs that contain specific volatile oils that calm and soothe the stomach. Examples of carminatives include peppermint leaf, ginger root, fennel seed and chamomile flowers.

Gastric acid is needed for the disintegration of food into its various nutritive components and for the eventual evacuation of waste matter. However, certain factors compel the stomach to produce too much acid or upset the delicate balance of the pH within the stomach. Thus, after eating a meal already abundant in acid, excess acid in the stomach often gets pushed up through the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation in the back of the throat that is much more pronounced while the sufferer is lying down.

In his book, Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery, H. Winter Griffith, MD, describes GERD as, "A reflux (backward or return flow) of fluid of gastric or intestinal contents into the esophagus. Normally, the esophagus transports food from the pharynx to the stomach by coordinated contractions. Heartburn (pyrosis) is a symptom of this disorder."

The OTC and pharmaceutical arenas have a host of products for both heartburn and GERD. In summary, the sufferer can choose to use antacids, histamine H2 blockers, which are taken prior to meals and which reduce stomach acid production before ingestion; and proton pump inhibitors, which temporarily shut down the 'pump' that supplies the acid to the stomach, thereby suppressing stomach acid.

Calming The Colon
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has received much recognition and numerous diagnoses in the past few years. Once called "spastic colon," this condition is not harmful to the intestines, but it is excruciatingly painful. Symptoms include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, frequent diarrhea or constipation and the urgent need relieve one's self.

IBS, explained Donald Snyder, PhD of Proper Nutrition, Reading, PA, is a common digestive tract disorder that is suffered by one out of five Americans. Women are three times more likely than men to develop IBS.

Putting It All Together
"In the digestive health section of health food stores there are five basic choices," said Enzymedica's Bohager. These five sub-groups are: soothing herbs called bitters (herbs that promote the production of HCL and lipase), plant enzymes (papain, bromelain), glandular enzymes (pancreatin, trypsin, chymotrypsin), and plant-based enzymes (protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase from Aspergillus), and blends of these.

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This article is reprinted with permission from Vitamin Retailer magazine and is provided for educational purposes only by your local retailer. No part of this article is intended as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider for any medical problems.

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