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In order to avoid confusion, it's best to get a basic understanding of how menopause and digestion work together to create symptoms of distress.
Your digestive (or gastrointestinal -- gi for short) system is designed to extract nutrients from the food you eat and turn them into substances that your body requires to make your blood, tissues, etc.
It does this in two ways: through secretions and mechanical action.
Digestion starts in your mouth, where chewing begins the mechanical process of breaking down your food and saliva contains an enzyme that begins to break down carbohydrates.
Once the food is chewed and swallowed, the stomach breaks it down further with churning and digestive enzymes. The process of breaking down protein begins in the stomach and continues in the small intestine.
You can improve menopause and digestion by increasing the flow of your digestive juices and getting better absorption of nutrients with a few simple ideas.
The environment you are in, the preparation of the food and your emotional state all contribute to the effectiveness of your digestion.
Your nervous system has a say in the amount of digestive juices that get produced in your mouth and stomach, so if you're in a bad mood, or feeling rushed, or the food is not very appealing, you will produce less digestive enzymes, leading to less digestive effectiveness.
You might wonder why I have stress-relieving herbs in this section. The reason is this: the first place to get impacted by stress is your digestive system. Taking herbs to relieve stress will have a direct impact on your digestive function. See stress relief for more about how this works and a list of herbs that you can use.
Carminatives and Bitters
A carminative relieves gas and pain.
Spicy foods, herbs and bitters stimulate the nervous system to improve digestive function.
Ginger is a good, spicy, bitter herb. Try slicing up some fresh root and boiling it in some water for about 20 minutes (this is called a decoction). Then drink. Or take an herbal extract, such as Herb Pharm's. I cannot tell you how many times a dropperful of ginger before bed has saved me from that awful feeling of being woken up with that intense burning feeling in your throat due to reflux. Ginger is almost magical for this purpose. Of course, I only need it when I have overindulged with my diet -- too much pasta or dessert or other foods that set me off.
Other carminatives are chili, cayenne, cinnamon, dill seed, oregano, peppermint, sage, thyme, cloves, rosemary and turmeric.
Bitters signal your stomach to start secreting digestive juices. You must taste them for them to work. My favorite bitter is gentian. It is safe for long-term use and will change the function of your digestive system over time (making it more effective). Take 10-20 drops twenty minutes before each meal. Remember, you must taste the bitters for them to work (meaning capsules won't get the job done).
A tea of cloves has a mixture of bitters and spicy carminatives. It's very good for stimulating digestion and also helps with protein digestion.
Herbs to support liver function
During menopause your liver is working overtime to process all the extra hormones your body is dealing with. If you are taking any kind of external hormone products, this is even more true. Sometimes this is so much extra work that the liver doesn't have any energy left over for digestive activities. The following herbs for menopause and digestion help your liver do it's job better.
Burdock Root (Arctium)
Simmer 1/2 to 1 ounce of the root in 1 pint to 1 quart of water for 20 minutes. Burdock cools the liver and helps it get rid of waste better. This is often a good herb for people with a more stocky, muscular body, prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides. Burdock helps purify your blood. It also gets your kidneys to let go of sodium (which helps with high blood pressure).
It also helps with fat digestion.
Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officianle)
Dandelion Root helps regulate and normalize female hormone production. Another good choice for those with a tendency towards high blood pressure. Use the tincture, 30-90 drops, 3 times/day.
Oregon Grape Root (Berberis, Mahonium)
15-30 drops of tincture 3 times/day
Oregon grape root stimulates the liver. It's also a bitter, so helps with getting stomach juices flowing. The arteries that go to your liver contract under stress. This herb keeps them from contracting. Oregon Grape Root also helps with protein assimilation.
Yellow Dock Root (Rumex crispus)
Yellow dock works for chronic bloating, gas and indigestion. It promotes the flow of bile, which helps with fat digestion. It has a mild laxative effect. Tincture, 30-60 drops twice/day.
My Favorite Herbs for Menopause and Digestion
I am never without ginger and gentian. I love the taste of gentian, but it is very bitter. I use ginger when I've had a heavy meal and I want to avoid reflux during the night. It works extremely well for this. Neutralizing Cordial helps with acid indigestion.