Herbfacts

Beating summer tummy bugs

Foreign food and drink can wreak havoc with our digestive systems.

Medical herbalist Gabriella Clarke goes in search of some natural remedies that can help to keep things working as they should.

Whether you are jetting off to exotic locations or enjoying a barbecue at home, we all need to be mindful about preventing digestive health issues. Traveller’s diarrhoea or a bout of food poisoning from a dodgy barbecue can be really unpleasant and ruin what should otherwise be an enjoyable time.

Here are some ways we can keep our tummies healthy this summer.

PROBIOTICS

Our gut plays host to huge colonies of many different strains of bacteria some of which are harmful to health and others that can help protect us from illness. It’s essential that we do all we can to maximise the colonisation of the healthy, friendly bacteria strains.

Taking a good quality probiotic supplement is the answer. Choose a supplement that contains various common or ‘resident’ strains, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, especially if you are travelling abroad. Probiotics won’t stop all tummy bugs but they can help to keep them at bay, and if you do get one they help to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.

Include some fermented foods in your diet such as sauerkraut (perfect on burgers) as they help to create an hospitable environment in the gut where good bacteria flourishes.

ARTICHOKE

A delicious food and a wonderful herbal medicine, artichoke is great for reducing bloating, dyspepsia and digestive discomfort. Its chief ingredient- cynarin- has antibacterial properties and may help intercept some strains of bacteria responsible for food poisoning.

Studies have shown that artichoke can also have a beneficial effect on healthy gut flora. That’s because artichoke contains an abundance of a substance known as inulin, which has what’s known as a prebiotic effect, meaning it encourages healthy and beneficial bacteria to flourish in the gut.

Healthy gut flora not only helps with a healthy digestive system but also plays a huge part in the way our immune systems function. Artichoke is also great for hangovers and can help to treat nausea and vomiting.

GARLIC

This delicious pungent bulb exerts powerful antibacterial effects. It contains a substance called allicin, which acts as a natural antibiotic. Allicin also promotes the secretion of gastric juices. It can help reduce acidity and indigestion as well as having a regulating effect on the large intestine, helping to protect against diarrhoea and constipation.

Allicin is only present in fresh garlic as it is destroyed by cooking so eating raw garlic, or taking a supplement, is the best way to enjoy its benefits – be sure to pick one with a high allicin content. 

HERBAL TEAS

These are gentle tonics and can be soothing on the gut. Try peppermint or ginger to help nausea, and camomile or meadowsweet to counteract acidity and indigestion. Fennel or aniseed tea are also good if you are suffering from wind and stomach cramps.

FOOD HYGIENE

Wash salads thoroughly. There have been some cases of E. Coli outbreaks in the UK from pre-packed salads, in particular rocket leaves. Make sure you wash all salad vegetables thoroughly and store salads in the fridge as opposed to letting them wilt under the summer sun.

Make sure barbecued meat and fish are cooked right through – they can often look quite charred while still being raw on the inside.

Try to stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes in drinks. Also remember that drinking very cold drinks when you are out in the hot sun can actually irritate the stomach and cause discomfort and digestive problems.

In general it goes without saying that you should be careful about the foods you eat. Meat, fish and dairy are common culprits for cases of food poisoning so you may want to consider a more plant-based diet on your holiday.

REHYDRATION AND CONSTIPATION

Finally, don’t forget to pack rehydration salts, as vomiting and diarrhoea can leave you dangerously dehydrated. Constipation is also a common holiday complaint. Taking 400mg of magnesium on an empty stomach in the evening can help to solve the problem.