Disorders of Digestive System

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Disorders of Digestive System

The stomach and the intestines are the most misunderstood organs in our body. In order to get a better understanding of digestive disorders, it is essential to have some knowledge about the anatomy and functions of the digestive organs. The exact location of the stomach is a little below the heart towards the left side of the trunk and not on the navel as is the general notion. The slightest pain in the stomach sets many worrying about their heart, making some of them even rush for an ECG test. Even a clean chit from the ECG does not allay such irrational fears. A good physician can be of help to such people.

In nine out of ten cases, the heart is blamed while the real culprit is the stomach. Excess gas formation in the stomach can cause such pain. Likewise, whenever pain or discomfort is felt in and around navel, the stomach is suspected, whereas the real culprits are the intestines. That is why it is very important to know the exact location of the digestive organs.

Indigestion: An avoidable sickness

Indigestion is caused by the malfunctioning of either the stomach or the intestines, or both.
Indigestion, simple as well as serious, is the root cause of many disease of the stomach and the intestines. The symptoms of indigestion are the warning signals which are meant to alert as to take immediate action and prevent complicated disorders. Belching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, heart burn, acidity, flatulence, ulcers of the mouth, bleeding gums and the two extremes – diarrhea and constipation-are the symptoms of indigestion.

Ignoring these symptoms for some time may cause only tolerable discomfort in most of us but prolonged negligence results in complicated diseases. Some of them are, ulcers of the stomach and intestines, inflammation of the intestines, colitis (inflammation of the colon) liver disorders, appendicitis, gall bladder disorders, kidney disorders, etc.

Once these disorders occur, it is difficult to get a cure unless one is under expert medical care. But with little effort on the part of the patient who suffers from symptoms of indigestion, most of the above said serious disorders can be prevented.

Cause of indigestion

In majority of the cases, indigestion or dyspepsia, as it is called, is an avoidable malady that man himself invites to reside in his body.

The main causes for indigestion are:
Overeating, eating frequently in the absence of normal hunger, eating too fast without chewing properly, irregular meal times, eating the wrong type of food and eating under nervous stress.
Once the cause of indigestion is detected the symptoms can be treated. It is unwise to allow the symptoms to persist once the cause is clear. The direct cause of indigestion can be effectively handled by correcting our eating pattern and habits.

Why do we overeat?

Most of us overeat just to satiate our palates. Also when control over one’s appetite is lacking, overeating is the eventual result. Stomach has a limited capacity and any amount of excess food, will result in incomplete digestion and discomforting symptoms of nausea and vomiting will be the consequence. People overeat under stress and also due to social obligations.

Ill-effects of wrong and frequent eating

Different foods have different durations to get digested in the stomach. When a person eats rice, vegetables and the like, it takes two hours to get digested completely. If sweets and fatty food are consumed after regular meals {comprising rice, wheat, vegetables etc.) this time limit is interrupted. Desserts comprising ice creams and cold fruit salads further delay digestion as cold substances require at least there to three-and-a half hours for digestion. Such habits delay the digestive process resulting in the accumulation of undigested matter on the walls of the stomach. The sight of food is too irresistible for most people, making them nibble, munch, or eat at all hours, sometimes even immediately after a full meal. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the dangers involved.

As soon as a part of the food enters the stomach the process of secretion of various juices commences. They mix and blend the food to a digestible consistency. When the food already eaten is half way under the process of digestion, and more food is consumed on top of it, the process of digestion has to begin all over again for this new arrival. As a result, the semi-digested food is either pushed through the intestines or is simply stored. Imagine the damage caused, as this process is repeated every time one eats before the process of digestion of earlier food is completed.

Help your digestion by chewing thoroughly

Proper digestion begins in the mouth. A well chewed food that mixes thoroughly with the saliva, is rendered ready for further digestion in the stomach.

Eating too rapidly without chewing, is mostly due to childhood habit and damaged teeth. By doing this, there is every possibility of swallowing air involuntarily. This disturbs the food’s entry into the stomach.

Compromise for irregular meal-time

Irregular meal-time prevents the stomach from functioning as it should, and indigestion is triggered. If sticking to the same time of meals is not practicable due to working time or if the job involves outdoor duties, the morning breakfast should consist of food items like vegetables and dal and whole meal home-made bread. Avoid white bread, because it makes one feel hungry before the next meal-time and results in heart burns and pain if one does not eat.

The noon meal should be light, if delayed. Fruit and fruit juices can replace snacks or even regular lunch. Fruits, while filling the stomach, do not interfere with the appetite for the evening meals. Once the stomach gets used to such adjustments, regular lunch can include other food. Until all the symptoms disappear, artificial food should be strictly avoided.

Other causes of indigestion

Sometimes allergic reaction is caused by eating food that is not suitable to a particular individual. Indigestion is caused also by eating badly cooked food, when one eats under pressure or when emotionally upset, when constipated and when there is excessive smoking. At times, it also occurs when there is deficiency of enzymes that aid digestion.

For instance, in some cases indigestion is caused by a congenital deficiency of lactose (an enzyme) needed for the digestion and assimilation of lactase (a carbohydrate) contained in milk. In case of such deficiency, milk ferments instead of being digested and assimilated. So taking milk even in ombination with other enzymes, causes indigestion in such persons.

Heartburn

Heartburn is one of the many symptoms of indigestion. It is usually confused with excess acidity. In simple heartburn, a type of burning sensation is felt in the upper middle part of the abdomen or along the food pipe. It is caused by the stretching of the lower part of the food pipe. This happens when food in larger quantities are swallowed or too much drink is swallowed in a single gulp. Though heartburn does not indicate any acidity, it is present when one suffers from acidity.
Thorough chewing, before swallowing, is very important because the more the saliva mixes in the food, the more perfect would be the digestion.

Let us see how the actual digestion starts in the mouth itself. The salivary glands in the mouth secrete two kinds of juices to break the food into tiny particles, and render it digestible. One type of juice is for moisturizing dry food, the other, more sticky, is for binding together the liquids and moist food.

Those having false teeth are prone to all sorts of indigestion, unless the dentures are perfectly made. When the food is thrown into the stomach half chewed, the other juice producing organs in the stomach which are meant to do their function at a certain stage only, cannot tackle the semi-digested food. The gastric juice which is acidic, then creates disturbances like burning in the upper abdomen.

Hyperacidity and peptic ulcers

Hyperacidity is another symptom which, if neglected, will lead to ulcers, notably peptic ulcer. Peptic ulcer includes gastric ulcer in the stomach and ulcers of small intestines, just beyond the stomach’s outlet. The glands of the stomach produce gastric juice containing hydrochloric acid. This also contains an enzyme known as pepsin, which separates the protein from the soft tissues of the stomach. These tissues possess some protective mechanism. The failure of this mechanism results in ulcer.

Persons under stress and those who worry too much mainly due to emotional disturbance, often suffer from hyperacidity and develop ulcers. These two problems never bother those who lead a calm and peaceful life.

Those who eat rich fatty food, artificially processed food, drink excess amount of coffee, tea, alcohol, and cola drinks, are prone to hyperacidity and ulcer. Heredity is also a factor, because just as a person actually inherits the tendency to work under pressure, he also inherits wrong eating habits.

Consuming too much of aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs have corrosive effect on the stomach’s lining and can cause ulcer.

Nervous activities affect the speeding up or slowing down of the digestion in the stomach. When a person is irritable, angry and is in a great hurry, he is likely to develop ulcers.

The main symptom of peptic ulcer is pain. There may be sensitive spot below the beast bone, noticeable on pressure. Other symptoms include acid belching (leaving sour taste in the mouth), heartburn, nausea, loss of appetite and steady weight loss. The pain usually appears two to three hours after meals and gets relieved on taking some more food or after consuming some antacid preparations. But this brings only momentary relief. To neutralize the alkali present in the antacid, more acid gets secreted by the stomach which increases the demand fro more antacids, resulting in a vicious circle.

Normally, those who do brain work beyond their physical strength, overactive and anxious persons and those who worry too much owing to irrational fears or stress, are prone to hyperacidity.

Flatulence

One of the more disgusting symptoms of digestive disorder is flatulence. Flatulence is excess wind and rumbling in the abdomen, which on escaping, makes the situation very awkward for the sufferer.

The fat contents in the food we consume cannot be broken completely if sufficient bile from the liver is not produced. These unbroken globules of fat become tiny capsules and enclose even smaller food particles. These capsules then stick to the walls of the intestines and start to rot, emitting unpleasant gases. The gases collect into wind pockets (flatus) in the bowels and cause discomfort. Unless they are passed or relieved, they get further fermented and start spreading the poison in the whole system.

The inability to expel the accumulated gas in the stomach or intestines causes pain and distress due to the distension of these organs. Sometimes, these gases also escape through belching.
Flatulence is mostly caused due to swallowing of air while eating and drinking, nervousness and anxiety. Those who chew chewing gums, have more chances of swallowing air, resulting in flatus.
Some foods that are really good for health and excellent in all ways, may be wrong food for some persons. So eliminating such food after identifying them will bring quicker relief.

Diarrhea

Weather can also affect the functioning of the digestive organs. If coupled with indiscretion in eating habits, it creates exactly the opposite conditions of constipation and diarrhea.
For instance, during cold weather, there is an overall contraction of the muscles of the orifices, creating constipation. Likewise, rainy season and summer are notorious for causing diarrhea even in normal persons. When there is infection by parasites or germs, or when inflammation and ulceration are found in the large intestines or when any strong antibiotics are used for some other diseases, diarrhea could be the result. But under other circumstances, it is the direct consequence of man’s indifferent attitude towards his food habits and health.

How is diarrhea caused?

Our diet supplies water. Added to this, the stomach secretes juices, which when they reach the intestines, are in sizeable quantity. If all this liquid is not absorbed, the problem begins.
Bowels only have limited capacity for water retention. When even this is affected, the bowels, unable to hold the water, discharge, the contents in the form of diarrhea.

Allergic reactions of certain foods can at times induce diarrhea. Fermentation of improperly digested carbohydrates, prolonged use of laxatives, overeating, irregular eating hours, emotional upsets like fear and anxiety, can all result in diarrhea. Often people suffer from diarrhea before an examination or an interview.

Juicy fruits, juices and vegetables that contain water cause diarrhea in rainy season. Spicy, fatty and artificial foods irritate the intestines and the already weak intestines cannot perform their function. As a result, the already weakened intestines expel the undigested food frequently.
During hot months the extreme heat produced in the body makes absorption of food difficult without natural fluids. However, if combined with dry and artificial food, it worsens the condition resulting in the expulsion of the food in the form of diarrhea. In some people artificial fluids like cool drinks make matters worse.

It is only during the cold season that even heavy and dry food are easily digestible. Diarrhea never bothers persons show eating habits are moderate throughout the year. Others whose digestive system is weak, should follow the prescribed diet at least temporarily.

Seasonal diarrhea can be checked and prevented by selecting the correct type of fruits, vegetables and other foods during that particular season.

When a person gets an acute attack of diarrhea, the first thing he does is to stop the loose motions. The fear that the watery stools would be washing away valuable body fluids an salts and reduce the vitality and resistance of the body, makes him take immediate steps to get hold of some astringent to stop the motions. When diarrhea is caused due to indigestion or overeating, it is better not to stop the purging till the toxic waste is expelled.

To get relief from indigestion in the two opposite conditions – constipation and diarrhea, which are not associated with any other serious diseases, two valuable rules must be followed. They are:

  • If constipated, avoid taking laxatives.
  • If suffering from diarrhea, take no astringents.

Vomiting

Food is not always a welcome sight. There are occasions when the mere sight to food and eatables creates an aversion or nausea. Eating forcibly at such times, makes the person bring out everything through vomiting. This is what is referred to as throwing up.

Vomiting is one more symptom of deranged function of the stomach. Allergy to certain food items tends to trigger nausea and vomiting in some individuals. Nausea and vomiting are associated with many severe illnesses and disorders, like jaundice, migraine, morning sickness, ulcers of the stomach and gall bladder disorders. Such vomiting is usually caused by defective digestion, lowered vitality and poor resistance. The initial symptoms of vomiting are acidity, indigestion and chronic and obstinate constipation.

If vomiting is caused by allergic food, overeating and food poisoning, attempts should not be made to stop it. Instead vomiting should be encouraged until all the consumed stuff are forced out. Once the toxins are out of the stomach, the cure is instant.

But severe type of vomiting due to the dilation of the stomach needs dietary measures continuously for some days. This type of vomiting is caused due to the loss of tone in the muscles of the stomach. The inability of the stomach to contract after the contents are passed into the intestines results in lack of tone in the muscles.

Sometimes there are daily bouts of vomiting, dark in colour and extremely acidic in nature. Such vomiting is also caused due to some injury to the membranes of the stomach. Fumes and vapours of poisonous chemicals, inhaled or swallowed, also cause vomiting.

The symptoms of indigestion and any disease caused by indigestion must be managed mainly through diet reform. In addition to this, exercise in a well ventilated room or in the open should be performed at least till the symptoms completely disappear.

Treatment for digestive disorders

  • Hydrotherapy should be carried out regularly till relief is obtained.
  • Hip baths and cold compress on the abdomen in the morning upon rising from bed.
  • Alternating hot and cold spray.
  • Internal baths, enema, and the six-glass wonder. (Refer to page No. 163-165 in the chapter Water, the Powerful Healer).

Exercise

A specific exercise for flatulence, acidity, heartburn and heaviness in the stomach is as follows:
After every meal lie down first on your right side. Take deep breath eight times. Turn and lie on your back and take sixteen deep breaths, now turn on your left side and deep breathe thirty-two times.

Asanas like Vajrasana, Padmasana, Parvatasana, Pavanamuktasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, Matsyasana and yoga mudra are specific for flatulence. (Refer to the chapter Yogasana).

Breathing Exercises
Nos. 1,2,5 and 6. (Refer to the chapter Breathing Exercise.)

Massage

Refer to the chapter Massage on page 192.
Household remedies
Flatulence

To avoid

In general, all artificial food. Specifically, food that tends to produce gas, like raw cucumbers, cabbage, peas, tomatoes, peanuts, raisins, mangoes, rice, potatoes and milk.

Fruits and kitchen remedies for flatulence:

  • Take a glass of orange juice during breakfast.
  • Drink some warm water after a glass of apple juice.
  • Include papayas in the breakfast and dinner.
  • Apply and massage mustard oil around and above the navel.
  • Chew aniseeds (Saunf) in lemon juice after each meal.

Take one spoon of a jwain powder mixed with a pinch of black salt added to a glass of dilute butter milk twice daily.

Heartburn

To avoid: Milk and all artificial food in general.

Special instructions for dealing with heartburn: Eat only food that requires thorough chewing before swallowing. Eating cakes, pastries and soft food never allows thorough chewing, thus creating problems. Some people complain of heartburn if they eat rice because unlike rotis, rice is not chewed thoroughly.

  • Till the symptoms vanish, take a bland diet consisting of salads and lots of vegetables.
  • Avoid spicy, pungent and fatty foods.
  • Take juice of one lemon squeezed in a glass of tomato juice mixed with a spoon of honey twice a day.
  • Take juicy fruits and fruit juices for breakfast.

Hyperacidity and ulcer

To avoid: All artificial food. Specifically avoid all citrus fruits and raw vegetables.

Special instructions: People who suffer from hyperacidity and ulcer should take steps to stick to the diet prescribed for them and scrupulously avoid food that is forbidden at least for six to seven weeks at a stretch. Once the symptoms disappear, other items can be included gradually.

Include milk, butter, fruits, like bananas and sweet mangoes, boiled vegetables, dates, and milk extracted from almonds. Avoid all citrus fruits and raw vegetables,

 

  • Take milk, without cream, in moderate quantities three times a day.
  • Instead of three big meals, take four to five small meals.
  • Avoid overeating and drinking water in between meals.
  • Chew the food thoroughly. Avoid too hot or cold foods.
  • Do not eat when upset or tense or when nagged by worry. Have a calm and peaceful attitude towards everything.

Household remedies for hyperacidity

Add the juice of a lemon in a glass of warm water. Divide into three portions. Take every one hour in the evening for a few days at a stretch. Sip slowly, retaining the juice in the mouth for some time; do not gulp.

  • Mash bananas, add milk and take during breakfast regularly for a few days.
  • Boiled bottle gourd (Louki) reduces acidity. Include it in the diet as often as possible.
  • Take baked potatoes regularly for a few days.
  • Mix a teaspoon of butter to a glass of papaya juice and consume twice a day for two weeks.
  • Grind a few drumstick leaves to paste, add half a cup of curd and mix thoroughly. Take this mixture for twenty days at a stretch.

Note: The difference between heartburn and acidity as explained in the foregoing paragraphs should be well understood. Milk must be avoided in cases of heartburn, whereas it is to be included in ulcers. Likewise, citrus fruits and raw vegetables should be included in heartburn whereas they must be avoided in hyperacidity and ulcers.

Diarrhea

Special Instructions : In diarrhea, caused by wrongly selected food, overeating or food poisoning, no attempt must be made to stop the stools. If it is stopped, the toxic waste will remain inside the system and get infected later damaging the organs. There is absolutely no fear so long as the stools are passing, which will later restore normal digestion. Plenty of plain water will suffice to make up for the lost fluids.

Avoid milk (strictly), rice, vegetables and even whole meal bread (rotis).
When diarrhea persists for more than a day and if evacuation of faces stops with only water getting expelled, fruit juices like pomegranate juice, butter-milk with a little salt and ripe bananas can be had to make up for the lost fluids.

This diet should continue till the weakened intestines gain a little strength in the function of digestion. Water must be taken very often. Once the diarrhea stops, after one more day of the specific diet, semi-solid and solid bland food, like boiled rice and moongdal, carrot soup, curds, juices of fruits like papaya can slowly be included. Do not take all at the same time, though.
In cases where diarrhea is accompanied with vomiting, carrot soup, if taken frequently every hour during the acute attack, will prevent growth of bacteria in the intestines and check vomiting. It should be kept in mind that nothing too hot or too cold should be taken during the attack. Nothing except a little salt must be added to the carrot soup, not juice.

Household remedies for diarrhea

  • Take two bananas with a cup of curd for a few days.
  • Boil tender guava leaves in water for five minutes and consume the water three to four times a day.
  • Add a spoon of honey in a glass of buttermilk and take it two to three times a day.
  • Take infusion of tulsi leaves three to four times daily.

In infants and young children when watery stools cause dehydration, give the rehydration syrup. This is life saving. It is to be prepared as follows : In a litre of boiled and cooled water, add eight teaspoons of sugar, one teaspoon of salt. Feed this solution frequently in small doses.

Vomiting

General instructions: Only diet and certain rules relating to eating and drinking habits, when followed strictly, will bring cure in this disorder.

Eat only easily digestible bland food. Avoid all sugar and starchy food. Avoid drinking anything, not even water, one hour before and half an hour after meals an during meals. Avoid large meals, take frequent small meals (every three hours) and take plenty of glucose.

If discomfort is caused by solid food then take semi-solid food like porridge, thick soup, milk puddings made of unpolished rice and sago. However, try not to cling to semi-fluid diets for long, but switch over to dry diet as soon as possible. This special diet should be continued till the tone of the stomach muscles is strengthened and complete cure is obtained.

Household remedies for vomiting

  • Take half a glass of mint juice, tow to three times during the day.
  • Powder three or four cloves and boil it in some water; filter and take it thrice a day.
  • Mix one teaspoon onion juice and one teaspoon ginger juice and take it three to four times a day.
  • Ice cubes can be kept in the mouth to control severe vomiting. 
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  • About The Author

    WLTS Client

    Gopakumar Nair belongs to a Hereditary Ayurvedic family of Kerala who were Practising Ayurveda and traditional Medicine for 200 Years . They can be traced back to over six generations. His experience under the guidance of his guru Valiya thampuraan has earned lot of trust and popularity.

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