Stomach Flu, Probiotics and Digesting the World

Here are three paragraphs about supporting and strengthening your digestion:

When you have an acute gastroenteritis (more commonly know as the stomach “flu”), a simple, but very helpful trick:
If you get a stomach virus–the kind that quickly goes around schools and workplaces and causes multiple episodes of vomiting–it is very easy to get dehydrated.  This makes you incredibly thirsty, so then once you have a break in the vomiting it feels good to gulp down a bunch of liquid.  The trouble is that usually the stomach is swollen and irritated because of the virus, and when you gulp a bunch of water it stretches the swollen stomach, which makes you vomit again.  This can become a vicious cycle–vomit, gulp, vomit, repeat.  So here’s a recommendation:

  • Wait until you (or the sick person you are caring for) has not vomited for two hours before starting any liquids by mouth.
  • Then, take a cup of cool or room temperature water, but initially give only a teaspoon.
  • Wait five minutes—if the person hasn’t vomited, give another teaspoon, then wait five minutes. If no vomiting, repeat.
  • One the person has taken about a cup of water, then you can start with small sips of water.
  • Why do it this way?  Taking liquid only a teaspoon at a time avoids stretching and stressing the stomach. Slowly rehydrating in this way helps break the gulp-vomit-gulp-vomit cycle.  And everything starts to feel better, including the swollen stomach, once you begin to rehydrate.
  • Remember: it is hard to heal if you are not hydrated.  That is true for almost any kind of illness.  So share this piece of info with your friends the next time there is a stomach flu going around.
  • Oh, and a hot compress with chamomile tea, right over the stomach and upper abdomen, can really help with stomach cramps.

Did you know that the importance of the population of bacteria we have in our gut, the “microbiome,” was already being discussed within anthroposophic medicine as early as 1920?  The balance of bacteria we have in our gut usually mirrors the general vitality in our digestive system, but our gut bacteria can easily become imbalanced in several situations:

  • Lots of diarrhea
  • Bowel prep (like the stuff you drink for a colonoscopy)
  • Every time we use antibiotics—so we really should be selective about when we use these medicines.

Many traditional cuisines have historically included healthy bacteria as a normal part of the diet, often in the form of naturally-fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha.  Anytime our “inner world” is disturbed it helps to replenish healthy bacteria. So you should truly consider taking in these kinds of foods as a proactive step whenever you have had a lot of diarrhea, or when you have had to take an antibiotic.  In fact it’s even helpful to take some natural probiotics if there is a stomach flu going around—a little boost and balancing to your inner vitality.  But really this is a support, not a replacement for our own immunity and healing forces.

Our health and the microbiome:
What if you find that you constantly need to take probiotics?  Should we all be taking probiotics for the rest of our lives?  Does this make sense?  Are we all somehow broken?  The answer surely first rests in working to find out why our inner world, our inner vitality, is continually being drained and threatened.
Any time we are being told that we need to take a medicine for the rest of our lives, it means that we are not able to get to the root of the problem.  Now sometimes the “root problem” may be gone, like needing to take thyroid hormone because our thyroid gland has had to be removed or is no longer functioning, but most of the time our digestive organs are still intact, though they may be sluggish or sleeping.
There are many ways to waken and stimulate better digestion, through rhythm, through herbs, through bitters, through compresses, through mineral preparations, through massage. Some of the very nicest anthroposophic medicines for digestion are actually made out of willows and ferns! (see the beautiful New Zealand ferns above). There are many natural anthroposophic medicines that work to strengthen and rebuild our intrinsic capacities to properly digest.  They are always worth trying before you resort to taking something for the rest of your life…

Be well,
Dr. Blanning

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