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Herbal Healing Week - The Digestive System

Monday, 17 January 2005

Nicky Treacy - Medical Herbalist
Nicky will tell us what herbal medicine is and what she does as a medical herbalist.

Nicky has been practicing as a medical herbalist since 1999.  She became interested herbal medicine as she wanted to explore alternatives to conventional medicine especially in the scientific, spiritual and holistic benefits of herbs.  The study and practice of herbal medicine dates back thousands of years.  Nicky recommends two textbooks on the subject.

"The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Holistic Herbal:  A Safe & Practical Guide to Making & Using Herbal Remedies" by David Hoffman is published by Element Books.  ISBN 1852307587.
"Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants" by Andrew Chevallier is published by Dorling Kindersley.  ISBN 0789410672.

The Digestive System
"We are what we chew, absorb and evacuate"
Nicky will discuss herbal healing in the digestive system;  from mouth to anus.  Nicky says it is not just about what we put into our body, it is how we chew it and digest it.

Nicky will have a variety of herbs with her and will discuss the benefits of each one as she talks about their different benefits to the body.

The Mouth
One of the most common problems in this area is mouth ulcers.  Mouth ulcers, also called canker sores, aphthous stomata and recurrent aphthous stomatitis, mostly occur on the inner cheek, inner lip, tongue, soft palate, floor of the mouth, and sometimes the throat.  They are usually about three to five millimetres in diameter although sometimes significantly larger.  They often appear two or three at a time and there can be ten to 20 or more in severe cases.  They often seem start by themselves as a small bubble or blister (this stage is easy to not notice) which then becomes an open and ulcerated pit or crevasse when the pain really starts.  Alternatively they can be started by trauma to the lining of the mouth (e.g. by accidentally biting one's self).

The worst thing about mouth ulcers is the pain that they cause, which is constant,    excruciating and made worse by eating, drinking and talking.  The picture of the homunculus that you may recall from schooldays shows how very sensitive the mouth and tongue are compared to most other parts of the body - which explains the amount of discomfort caused by something so small.

Severe ulcers cause sufferers to actively avoid eating, drinking, talking, kissing and some sexual acts, which can be awkward socially.  Speech is painful resulting in a loss of clarity or enunciation - and sometimes spitting, which doesn't help.  Sufferers often get worn down by the pain and become fatigued and depressed.

No specific single cause has yet been isolated, though it seems they are not caused by infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria and are therefore not contagious.

The current popular theory is that they are linked to the auto-immune system and an allergic reaction, in that certain triggers (that may be different from one person to the next) cause the mucosal lining (protective layer on the cheeks, gums, tongue, throat etc.) to become compromised, such that it is attacked by one's own saliva, or unfriendly bacteria within it.

The Herbal Cure
Nicky advises taking tea tree oil.  This is available in a ten-millimetre bottle priced around €6.95 from all good health stores.

The Stomach
There are many conditions of the stomach, but one of the most common conditions especially in Ireland is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem that affects mainly the bowel which is also called the large intestine.  The bowel is the part of the digestive system that makes and stores stool.  The word syndrome means a group of symptoms.  IBS is a syndrome because it can cause several symptoms.  For example, IBS causes cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

IBS is not a disease.  It's a functional disorder, which means that the bowel doesn't work as it should.

With IBS, the nerves and muscles in the bowel are extra-sensitive.  For example, the muscles may contract too much when you eat.  These contractions can cause cramping and diarrhea during or shortly after a meal.  Or the nerves can be overly sensitive to the stretching of the bowel (because of gas, for example).  Cramping or pain can result.

IBS can be painful but it does not damage the bowel or cause any other diseases.  The bowel can overreact to all sorts of things, including food, exercise, and hormones.

Foods that tend to cause symptoms include milk products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and fatty foods.  In some cases, simply eating a large meal will trigger symptoms.

The main symptoms of IBS are:
. Crampy pain in the stomach area.
. Painful diarrhea or constipation (most people have either diarrhea or constipation, but some people have both).
. Mucus in the stool.
. Swollen or bloated abdomen.
. The feeling that you have not finished a bowel movement.

IBS sufferers can discover what foods cause them to have discomfort by eliminating certain foods from their diet.  This can be phased in over a two week period to see what effects they have on a person's body.  For example foods such as tea, coffee, white bread, milk, pasta.  For those who are constipation prone, white bread should be eliminated immediately and for those who have diarrohea, oranges and tomatoes should be taken out of the diet.

The Herbal Cure
Nicky recommends Slippery Elm for IBS sufferers.  Slippery Elm looks like flour and can be purchased in most health food stores prices €6 per 100g.    

The Liver
This is the factory of our body and is a crucial in keeping our body running properly. 

One of the most common ailments is a sluggish liver.  Common signs of this are sluggish bowels, yellowish eyes and in more extreme cases, jaundice.  It can be caused by too much processed foods, too much alcohol, smoking, contraceptive pill.  It is also important to keep liver up and running property to so that it processes hormones properly.  If hormones aren't processed properly, this can result in a sluggish liver and can cause PMT.

The Herbal Cure
Dandelion Coffee is available in all good health stores priced at €4.10 per 100g.  Note that Dandelion Coffee looks like normal coffee but apparently tastes vile!
Milk Thistle Capsules are priced at €12.25 for 30 and again are available in most health stores.

The Bowels
Problems in the bowels are very common and can range from the mild to the more serious, such as Crohns Disease.  Two of the more common disorders are diarrhea and constipation.  Constipation is normally caused by an intake of bad nutrients whereas diarrhea can sometimes be a symptom of something more seriously wrong.  Nicky advises dietary change, eating more fibre, more fruit and more fluid.

The Herbal Cure
Psyllium is used to treat diarrhea and works by creating a bulk effect on the bowel thus pushing the bowel along.  Nicky advises people stop eating for a while when they have diarrhea and also take flat lemonade.  Senna is a muscular and nerve laxative used for constipation.

250g of Psyllium seeds costs €5.45 and 60 Senna tablets cost €7.45.  Both are available in most health stores.

Call the National Institute for Medical Herbalists on 0044 1392 426 022 or visit their website www.nimh.org.uk to find a Medical Herbalist near you.

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