With Dr. Angelina Riopel, ND
As we move into holiday season restrictive diets go out the window, and rightfully so. Unfortunately with holiday indulging many are plagued with digestive drama, such as gastric reflux, gas, bloating and bowel changes such as constipation and diarrhea. Alcohol, fatty foods and excess sugar put stress on the liver, leading to “liver stagnation” and large, complex meals can lead to incomplete digestion, due to insufficient gastric juices.
Traditionally herbal bitters and digestive cordials were taken to prevent indigestion and improve digestive efficiency. The flavor of bitter is one that the western diet is lacking, culturally our preference being for sweet, salty and fatty. Traditionally and in many other cultures bitter herbs, bitter greens and bitter aperitifs are taken before or after meals to improve digestion and avoid the unpleasant digestive symptoms that follow heavy meals.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the flavor of bitter is used to balance sweet cravings by improving the flow of qi in the liver and strengthening the spleen. When the spleen is out of balance the result is sweet cravings, gas, bloating and loose stools. Along with improving digestion, bitters also have the added effect of moderating appetite, curbing sugar cravings and assisting in keeping blood sugar balanced.
Sipping Herbal Bitters before meals prepares digestion and gets gastric juices flowing. Digestion begins in the mouth, and is alerted by our senses – sense of smell, sight and the taste of the food prompt saliva production. The flavor of bitters has a reflex action on the digestive organs. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid which breaks down proteins, the liver and gall bladder release bile assisting in fat breakdown and the pancreas releases enzymes and insulin further supporting digestion but also assisting in blood sugar balance.
Herbal Bitter formulas can be custom made for individuals, depending on their specific digestive concerns and are available through Herbalists, Naturopathic Doctors. Traditional formulas are available at many health food shops. Herbal Bitters should be sipped in a bit of water or dropped on the tongue before meals. Learn to love them, as they will not only wake up your digestive system, but are considered to be a “splash of cold water” for the entire body and soul!