Case studies: Have a Healthy Colon

Cleansing herbs can minimize gas and digestive discomfort


Content Tools

Sometimes it’s valuable to have a client’s spouse in the treatment room during a consultation—it can bring out details that wouldn’t be discussed otherwise, especially when a topic is hard to talk about. When Ken and Marjorie came in together, they looked at each other nervously while we talked about Ken’s digestive problem.

“I can’t seem to digest anything without a feeling of fullness, rumbling, and pain,” Ken said. Marjorie rolled her eyes, and I knew some point of contention existed here. “Why don’t you tell him about the constant gas?” she said.

I avoided this obviously touchy topic for the moment and asked Ken about his diet and eating habits. Marjorie interrupted in the middle of his description of a breakfast of orange juice, bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee.

“I’ve been reading about food combining,” she said. “And that combination has to be tough on anyone’s stomach. Fruit juice and fried meat—what a nightmare!”

Ken looked a little hurt. “I have bacon only a few times a week,” he said. This back-and-forth went on for some time, so I finally asked Marjorie if I could talk with Ken alone. By then I had an inkling of what was going on.

Food combining

Ken described his usual meals, most of which were combinations that are pretty tough on the body. The result was that he had a condition known in Chinese medicine as “food stagnation.” This showed up in his pulse, which was hard and full, in the ample girth around his mid-section, and in the thick, slightly yellow, greasy coating on his tongue. Food stagnation can become extreme and lead to nausea, vomiting, constipation, and a feeling of pain and fullness after even a small meal.

The thick coating on his tongue showed an “excess” condition. In Ken’s case, it was excess food moving listlessly, fermenting and even putrifying along the way. Not ­wanting to get too graphic, I let him know that good elimination is a key ingredient to good health. I suggested that he follow a complete cleansing program for a month or two.

We talked about food combining. I’m not a fanatic about the topic, but I have found that paying attention to a few commonsense rules, which follow, can make a big difference.

• Don’t eat meat and fruit or high-sugar foods together. Dried fruit like raisins can turn a gas-free meal into a musical experience.

• Keep meals simple, and try to eat high-carbohydrate meals separately from high-protein meals.

• When cooking, use olive oil only, and that in small amounts. Try not to coat the food with oil, which greatly inhibits the digestive process. Avoid fried foods.

• Some foods, such as peanuts and guacamole, are naturally gas-promoting for some people. If you find you simply cannot digest these foods, avoid them.

Ken picked up on the concept quickly when I went over how many billions of ­bacteria were living in his gut. A meal that combines sugary fruit juice with fried, fatty proteins such as bacon increases gas production because it provides the bacteria ample sugar for fuel, while also coating the food with oil. The result is that food molecules aren’t properly broken down by the time they arrive at the large intestine, where unsavory types of bacteria have a feeding frenzy and produce smelly waste products. This leads to unpleasant gas.

Completing digestion

I assured Ken that by adhering to the following program, along with sensible food combining, he could be gas-free and pain-free within a short time.

• Keep the bowels open with regular fasting and bowel cleansing, and eat enough soluble and insoluble fiber. Regular cleansing is important to minimize gas production and optimize elimination of waste products. Here’s the easy bowel-cleansing program I gave Ken.

Grind 1 tablespoon of flaxseed in a coffee grinder or blender, along with 1/2 teaspoon of pectin powder (citrus or apple). Add 1/2 cup of prune or apple juice and 1/2 cup of distilled water to the powder in a blender and blend until smooth.

Follow this cleansing drink with two cups of an herb tea such as my Cleansing Polaritea. Simmer 1 teaspoon each of burdock root, flaxseed, fenugreek seed, and fennel seed in 5 cups of water for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat off and add 1 tablespoon of peppermint leaf. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink two cups. Don’t eat breakfast for at least an hour, preferably two. Refrigerate the other two cups for the following morning.

Ken did three ten-day rounds of cleansing, with a week between each round. For him, I also added 1 teaspoon of a liquid extract of cascara sagrada, a gentle stimulant laxative that encourages bowel movements, taken before bed in something sweet. (Caution: Start with 1/2 teaspoon of cascara to check for sensitivity. As long as you don’t experience diarrhea or cramps, go to a full teaspoon.)

• Complete digestion is another key to gas-free living. Keep the digestive juices flowing with bitter tonics. Eat some bitter greens, such as dandelion greens, or drink a bitters formula thirty minutes before each meal.

I had my pharmacy make up a special bitters tonic for Ken, which he took at least twice daily, ten to twenty minutes before his big meals. The ingredients were artichoke leaf, gentian root, yellow dock root, orange peel, and peppermint. Many ready-made bitter formulas with similar ingredients are available at your local natural food store or herb shop. I told Ken to use the bitters for at least six months.

• Use carminative (gas-relieving) herbs to relax the bowels, reduce pain, and regulate the movement of gas and food.

I gave Ken a carminative tea and tincture to use regularly as needed. The tea consists of 1 part each fennel seed, caraway seed, and cumin seed. I asked him to simmer the herbs in the same proportion as the Cleansing Polaritea (above), then add the peppermint at the end. The pharmacy made up a tincture with the same ingredients that he could use when he was away from home.

I also told Ken about the convenience of peppermint oil and enteric-coated peppermint capsules. Two drops of the oil can be added to a cup of hot water after meals. The enteric-coated caps deliver peppermint oil right to the small intestine and can help relieve even the most difficult case of gas.

Better bowels

Ken was eager to get going on his program and was enthusiastic when he left. When I saw him again two weeks later, he already had felt some improvement. I checked his tongue, and the coating was clearly less greasy and not as thick. Six weeks later, Ken had gone through his three rounds of bowel cleansing. I must say, I was impressed. His tongue was nearly clear, and he was delighted with the results. And I suspect Marjorie was too. 8

Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his thirty years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and licensed acupuncturist. He is the author of St. John’s Wort: The Mood Enhancing Herb, (Botanica, 1997), Stress and Natural Healing, (Botanica, 1997), and many other books.

“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” are not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.