Digestive Ailments

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: Vitamin B1 - Thiamine

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    The family of B vitamins is collectively called the B Complex. B Vitamins are used in many ways, from helping the liver clear toxins and excess hormones to creating energy within our cells. Every system in your body requires B vitamins to function.

    B1, also called thiamine, is a unique nutrient that plays an integral role in the brain and central nervous system. B1’s coenzyme form is important for the synthesis of acetylcholine, which is critical in preventing memory loss and nerve inflammation. B1 is also important for the repair and prevention of any impairment of nerve function.

    Another of B1’s major contributions to the body is the dynamic way it facilitates proper digestion:

    B1 assists in the production of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which is vital to the proper breakdown and assimilation of food.
    B1 helps maintain muscle tone in the intestines and stomach, prevents constipation and plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
    B1 provides nourishment for all digestive organs, helps us to get maximum nutrition from our food and regulates appetite.

    Symptoms of B1 deficiency include loss of reflexes, peripheral paralysis or numbness in the extremities. These symptoms have engendered theories that B1 deficiency may be a player in diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Restless Leg Syndrome.

    B1 deficiency often stems from high amounts of exercise or a diet that’s high in carbohydrates or alcohol. An optimal amount of B1 for an active adult is between 1.2-1.5 mg daily. Dietary sources include pork, nuts, beans, peas, brown rice, egg yolks, asparagus, broccoli and raisins. It’s important to note, however, that B1 is often lost during food preparations in which the cooking water is discarded. A simple way to maintain the B1 content is to try soups and stews that combine some of the above ingredients—it’s a delicious way to enjoy the flavor and nutrients our bodies need.

    Supplementation is also an excellent way to support your body’s thiamine needs. Try taking a quality B-complex supplement and a food-based multivitamin every day to ensure your daily B1 needs are met.

    The Nutrition Desk Reference, by Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • What's the Difference Between Food Allergy and Sensitivity?

    The term “food allergy” and “food sensitivity” are thrown around a lot these days. But it’s important to know that these two things are not the same.  In fact, there’s a very big and important difference between the two.

    As described by the Food, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy “occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, which results in an allergic reaction.”

    The protein found in food is the most common allergic component. These proteins trigger the formation of an immune cell called IgE (Immunoglubulin E), which “tags” these foods or proteins as allergens and fools the immune system into thinking the person is under attack. The presence of the IgE antibody initiates the counter-reaction in the body in the form of an allergic response.

    Symptoms of an allergic food reaction range from mild--rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.--to severe, including trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc. That’s why a food allergy can be potentially fatal, and individuals who know they have severe reactions should carry an EpiPen (injectable epinephrine) at all times, since even the smallest trace of an allergen can trigger an anaphylactic reaction. Medical attention should be sought immediately should an individual show symptoms of anaphylactic shock.

    Food sensitivities, on the other hand, trigger a different process in the body. The medical terminology for food intolerance is non-allergic food hypersensitivity, also loosely referred to as food hypersensitivity. Where food allergies tend to produce a very quick and noticeable immune reaction, food sensitivities tend to show less dramatic symptoms that may take longer to develop.

    There are different bodily mechanisms that create food hypersensitivities. One common cause is if the body lacks certain enzymes for breaking down food (e.g. the absence of the lactase enzyme will create issues for digesting lactose in milk/dairy).

    Food hypersensitivities can also be triggered if there’s an abnormality in the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients--basically an imbalance in the gut flora (that’s why probiotics are so important!). When there’s something not right in the gut’s mucosal lining, food just won’t be absorbed properly.

    Some experts have theorized about a correlation between genetically modified foods (GMOs) and food hypersensitivities. Some of the most common food sensitivities are to foods such as soy, corn and wheat--which make up a large part of the standard American diet--which are also often genetically modified (unless they’re organic). Because of this, I highly recommend buying organic foods whenever possible.

    Food sensitivities are often harder to diagnose because of the delayed onset of symptoms and the difficulty in making the association between offending foods and their related clinical symptoms in the body. For example, one person may react to a food hypersensitivity with a skin issue like eczema, and another may have difficult bowel movements. That’s why it’s hard for the person, and even their practitioner, to make the connection.

    It’s estimated that between 2-20 percent of the population is afflicted by food sensitivities. (My feeling is that this number is conservative and there are even more underlying sensitivities that exist, but are ignored or mistaken for other health issues.) While food sensitivities usually cause less severe reactions than food allergies, individuals who suffer from chronic sensitivities can experience skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives), respiratory problems (nasal congestion, sinusitis, asthma, cough) or gastrointestinal tract upsets (mouth ulcers, nausea, gas, diarrhea, constipation). In addition, food intolerance has been shown to be linked to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and headaches, among other less common symptoms.

    If you have experienced any of these conditions on a long-term basis, it may be worth determining whether food sensitivities are playing a role. The best route for quelling symptoms of sensitivity includes avoidance of these foods, and supplementing with digestive enzymes, probiotics and high doses of fish oil. A Pharmaca practitioner can help direct you to the best supplements for your condition.

  • Pure Encapsulations: Offering the Best in Digestive Health

    Did you know? The gastrointestinal (GI) system is home to 75 percent of the body's immune cells and more than 400 species of microflora. Proper nutrient digestion, immune function and minimization of toxin and allergen absorption are all dependent on optimal gastrointestinal health.*

    A number of supportive nutrients can help address these issues. Pure Encapsulations offers a complete line of gastrointestinal health formulas designed to support detoxification, digestion, and microbial defense, in addition to GI comfort, integrity and motility.*

    Enzymes and Digestion Aids

    Pure Encapsulations’ Digestive Enzymes Ultra is a comprehensive blend of vegetarian digestive enzymes that supports enhanced protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber and dairy digestion and promotes optimal nutrient bioavailability across a wide pH range. Digestive enzymes promote digestive function for overall comfort and relief of occasional gas, bloating and heartburn.*

    Protein digestion also relies on gastric-juice components, such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid (HCl), or supplemental Betaine/HCl. Pure Encapsulations’ Betain HCl/Pepsin incorporates these gastric-juice components to support a well-functioning digestive system.*

    Heartburn Essentials combines enzymes to enhance digestion with gamma oryzanol, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) extract, marshmallow and more to help soothe the digestive tract, offering potential relief for occasional heartburn and indigestion.*

    Amino Acids/Proteoglycans

    l-Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, promotes intestinal integrity by supporting the protective mucosal lining and maintaining healthy villus function in the gut. Proper villus function allows for optimal nutrient absorption while limiting the number of toxins that pass through the intestinal barrier. Pure Encapsulations offers l-Glutamine in a convenient powder form, including the amino acids glycine, taurine and methionine that help support liver detoxification.*


    Research indicates that beneficial bacteria including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium lactis may have particular health promoting properties for gastrointestinal and immune function. Probiotics support healthy B cell, T cell and natural killer (NK) cell function and promote healthy cytokine production. Several trials have also revealed that mixed probiotic supplementation helps maintain intestinal flora, supports healthy yeast balance and promotes GI comfort. Probiotic-5 is a high strength, dairy-free blend of five key lactobacilli and bifidobacteria to promote GI tract health and comfort, immune cell function and overall health.

    In a two-year, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled PANDA trial involving pregnant women and infants, supplementation with 3 g of Ecologic PANDA (B. Bifidum, B. Lactis and Lc. Lactis) provided a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of skin sensitivity in the infants at 3 months of age. PureBaby Probiotic provides the specially designed three-strain species probiotic formulation Ecologic PANDA and was developed and clinically researched especially for mother and baby to provide a healthy start for immune balance and skin health.*

    When you order Pure Encapsulations' supplements, you will receive the highest quality nutritional supplements and health information available. Ingredient quality, manufacturing excellence and quality control are their most important priorities.

    *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.*

  • Good Digestion All Stars

    InflammationDigestion issues? Good news. There are a variety of tools that can help smooth out indigestion and other intestinal issues. Here, Kate Brainard, naturopathic doctor, gives some suggestions for natural digestive aids that can make everyday meals more pleasant.

    If you need long-term digestive support

    "There's not anyone out there that shouldn't be on a probiotic," says Kate. "Especially if you have regular bouts of indigestion, like constipation or diarrhea, probiotics are crucial."

    For travel-ready probiotics that don't need refrigeration, turn to Dr. Ohhira's or Jarrow Formulas' Jarro-Dophilus EPS. But Kate's favorite is Bio-K: "It's a life-changing product. They're in a live culture, so once it goes into the digestive tract it immediately starts colonizing," says Kate. "I've had people say 'this product has saved my life'."

    If you're about to eat something you know doesn't agree with you   

    "If you're eating a big meal, or something that you know will cause heartburn," says Kate, "that's a great time to take enzymes to help break down the food." As we age, especially, our natural production of enzymes decreases and can leave behind big food molecules that enter the bloodstream and throw our immune system out of whack.

    That's why Kate suggests taking enzymes right at the beginning of a big meal. "It's going in and supplementing what your body is already making," she says. For a simple approach, chew papaya enzymes like Zand Herbals' Quick Digest. You can also try MegaZymes by MegaFood, a formula that combines powerful enzymes with probiotics, as well as carminative (or gas-fighting) herbs like ginger and marshmallow. For more chronic digestive issues, try Enzymedica's Digest Gold.

    If you tend to get heartburn

    Heartburn can come from a number of issues, including dysfunction in the lower esophageal sphincter caused by low stomach acid, hiatal hernia or even certain foods (acidic or fatty foods are often culprits).

    If you're worried about heartburn, take some preventive measures-Kate recommends Natural Factors' Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) , which goes in and coats the lining of the esophagus to promote healing. "It doesn't necessarily treat the heartburn, but will definitely make the meal experience more pleasant," she says.

    Kate also suggests a customer favorite called Heartburn Free, from Enzymatic Therapy. Formulated from orange peel extract, the capsules only need to be taken every other day until you get more permanent relief.

    If you overeat

    Those carminative herbs--like fennel, ginger and other spices--can be a great post-meal digestive as well. Try a cup of hot tea like Traditional Medicinals' Eater's Digest, which combines digestion-enhancing herbs with the benefits of warmth, which Kate says will naturally help move digestion along. Or simply take a few of Gaia Herbs' Gas & Bloating capsules.

    Ultimately, Kate recommends simply slowing down and enjoying your holiday meals. "We all know that this is the time we're going to indulge," she says. "But you're going to walk away feeling a lot better if you can take breaks between eating."

    Bring your specific digestion questions to a Pharmaca practitioner.

  • Natural Ways to Treat GERD

    Millions of Americans suffer from the painful symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms. The good news is there are plenty of natural ways to treat GERD.

    How does GERD occur, exactly? When we eat and drink, food and liquids pass from the throat to the stomach via the esophagus. A group of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) sits at the base of the esophagus. If the LES does not close properly, hydrochloric acid and food and drink can make their way back to the esophagus, and, because this tissue is not intended to handle strong acidity, inflammation occurs. The inflammation causes the feeling we know as heartburn. Risk factors for GERD are smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity, as well as some prescription medications.

    People diagnosed with GERD often take over-the-counter antacids or even prescription medications such as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI). But don’t fret—there are plenty of natural remedies for GERD that won’t just relieve the pain of heartburn but will actually improve the pH level of the stomach, allowing for better digestion and less esophageal inflammation. (There’s also a danger of magnesium deficiency that comes along with prolonged PPI use, but we’ll cover that at a later date).

    A more holistic treatment for GERD involves a diet rich in phytonutrient-dense vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins. Coconuts, avocados, olive oil and omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplements (cod liver oil, for instance) are healthy fat sources. Healthy protein sources are wild-caught fish (salmon), grass-fed meat and free range poultry and eggs.

    In addition, anti-inflammatory herbs such as cinnamon, ginger, oregano, garlic and turmeric can greatly aid in the digestive process. Avoid large, heavy meals and always eat at least two hours before going to bed. Another idea: drink water with 2 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar before a meal high in protein, as this will lower stomach acid and help prepare the stomach for digestion.

    Finally, Pharmaca carries a number of natural and herbal formulations for GERD relief. Winnie, herbalist and lead practitioner at our South Boulder store, really likes treating heartburn symptoms with products like these:

    Winnie says she’s also seen great success with New Chapter’s Supercritical Omega-7, which helps repair the digestive lining instead of just treating symptoms (and is also great for the skin!).

  • Essential Oil of the Month: Ginger

    Most of us don't know much about ginger (aside from its ubiquitous presence, in pickled form, on our sushi plates). That's why we decided to celebrate its warmth and spiciness as April's essential oil of the month. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) essential oil is created by steam distilling the extensive root of a perennial herb that's indigenous to southern Asia.

    What it does
    Ginger can help relieve aching muscles, stimulate circulation and soothe the stomach.

    Bonus use
    In the British Herbal Pharmacoepia, ginger is indicated for flatulent intestinal colic.

    Ways to use it
    •    Add to a hot bath to bring stimulation to sore, overworked muscles
    •    Combine with a carrier oil (in very low doses) to add soothing, warming effects to a massage
    •    Rub on temples and stomach to help quell motion sickness
    •    Heat in a diffuser to bring energy to a room

    Interesting tidbit
    In Ayurvedic cooking, ginger is added to dishes to enhance a meal's digestability.

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