I hear a lot of people complain about gastroparesis. I myself suffered from this at one time in my crazy journey but was fortunate enough to find some solutions that didn’t involve medical intervention or pharmaceuticals. I’m going to share those with you but for those of you who want to understand what is happening in your body and why, I am going to explain how gastroparesis happens. If you want to skip this part, feel free to scroll down to the part with the solutions.
Gastroparesis is exactly what it sounds like: When your Gastro-Intestinal or GI tract seems paralyzed. You eat food and it goes down to your stomach and then… nothing. It sits there. It doesn’t digest, metabolize or move in any way. Eventually it makes you feel sick with possible nausea, vomiting and GERD or acid reflux. If you are lucky it finally goes away and when you go to the bathroom you are left with constipation or diarrhea. It is dangerous not only because it causes the sufferer not to desire eating but also interferes with the absorption of nutrients which can in turn make any health problem worse while likely creating new ones.
Gastroparesis is caused because the muscles and nerves not doing their job to move and digest foods properly. Sometimes this is a result of nerve or muscle damage, hiatal hernia or even surgery (Many times the nerve and muscle damage is reversible, as is a hiatal hernia) But many times this is a side effect of our biochemistry of the gut-brain connection as a result of chronic stress, whether physical, emotional, or mental. The main nerve that is responsible for digestion is the vagus nerve. This specific nerve has gained some popularity in the medical world recently with its ability to connect the gut to the brain. It is also inactive when we are in “fight or flight” and is integral in our body’s ability to relax. It is also integral to digestion. To put it simply: when we are in fight or flight, our body shuts off digestion (and the vagus nerve) so we can fight or fly. This state also shuts down the production of hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes and juices. The brain tells the stomach not to digest or produce the things necessary to digest. And the stomach obeys. The problem comes when we spend too much time in fight or flight and our body gets “stuck” in that mode. (This is a clue you are probably suffering from Adrenal Fatigue or an associated disorder such as PTSD and treating that may be recommended as a way to treat the root cause of your gastroparesis. For more information on Adrenal Fatigue click here) The good news is that you can treat Adrenal Fatigue, you can replace hydrochloric acid with supplementation, you can reproduce stomach juices again, and you can stimulate the vagus nerve in order to get it to digest the food now. Even if you have nerve damage, it may be possible to repair damage nerves (mine have repaired in various parts of my body). The bad news is that you will have to take a pill or stimulate the vagus nerve manually to digest your food every time you eat until you treat the root cause and can get your stomach to reproduce the necessary juices. If you have a physical cause such as intestinal surgery, please use caution as these suggestions are meant for an intact GI tract and I do not know your situation. Please consult your doctor before trying any of these things. So let’s talk about some of these solutions in more detail.
- Hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid being low, or hypochlorhydria, is fairly common, especially in our high stress culture. It is a fancy word for “stomach acid” and it naturally decreases as we get older. Taking a hydrochloric acid pill is a fairly easy way to digest within 30 minutes to an hour. My mentors recommended that I take the pill 30 minutes to an hour before eating but I have also had good results if I forgot until I began eating. How much you take will depend on your body. Generally, a practitioner will say to start with one pill and gradually increase until you get some unpleasant side effects of too much stomach acid. If you have GERD or acid reflux, do not be concerned because this means that you actually have too little stomach acid. (For more information click here). If you get unpleasant side effects from taking too much then you will reduce the amount by one for the perfect dose for your body. For me, the unpleasant side effect was having an acidic bowel movement. You may need more if you eat meat than you will if you do not eat meat, as meat requires more hydrochloric acid to digest properly. For some, this alone will be enough to digest food comfortably until your body is healed. If you are uncomfortable experimenting then I suggest finding a naturopath, DO, or functional practitioner to help guide you with this experimentation.
- Stimulating the Vagus Nerve. You will hear many ideas of how to stimulate the vagus nerve and while they may stimulate a healthy functioning vagus nerve, things like chewing gum or singing are not stimulating enough for someone with gastroparesis, in my experience. A person with this ailment needs some “industrial strength” vagus nerve stimulation. While I do suggest things like 4-7-8 breathing, karaoke, and other vagal stimulating practices throughout the day as part of your healing protocol, when you need to digest now then I suggest following this link here to a video for a yoga pose. It is actually 2 poses and they take about 60 seconds a piece and are very effective. They require no special equipment and can be done in your home. I noticed that about 30 minutes after performing this pose, I was hungry and ready to digest! This was very impressive.
- Chewing your food properly. Chewing itself is a powerful trigger to the body. The simple act of chewing sends signals to the brain to produce the necessary chemicals to digest the food. Your saliva and the teeth work together to properly prepare the food for the stomach. In times where your stomach is impaired, it shouldn’t be required to do all the work by itself. This would be like asking the one person with no legs to do all the walking! Chew your food until it is a liquid. This will increase the absorption of the nutrients and take some of the work off the stomach while helping the stomach know it is about to go to work.
- Mindful eating. If your brain is doing something stressful such as working or stressing in any way, it may send signals to your body to not digest. Make sure that your brain is focused on digesting and the things that are relaxing. If simply doing something relaxing during mealtime is not enough, focus on the act of eating and chewing to help send the right signals to your brain.
- Drinking enough water, at the right times. Your body needs water to make stomach juices. Drinking enough water (approximately half your body weight in pounds in ounces of water) is crucial to your body haing enough water to make digestive juices. But there is a caveat. If you are drinking large amounts of water while you are trying to digest, then this may dilute your stomach acid and make it not as effective. I know one client whose stomach issues cleared up by simply not drinking liquids with meals. If you cannot do this for some reason, then at least limit your liquid intake to 4 ounces maximum with your meals and leave your hydrating to other times of the day.
- Digestive enzymes. Acid is not the only thing needed to digest your food. Enzymes are extremely important in digesting foods. It is not uncommon to be low on certain enzymes. For example, lactose intolerance is a result of not having the enzymes to properly digest lactose. But this is one of many enzymes necessary to properly digest and utilize foods. (If you are lactose intolerant, please do not consume lactose even if you are taking enzymes unless instructed by your doctor)
- After getting your body to digest with these short term solutions, we need to start implementing some long term solutions. This refers to practices that will get your body to do its job on its own. The first thing I am going to suggest is to drink freshly made celery juice each morning on an empty stomach. This tip comes from Anthony Williams, author of the Medical Medium. You will need a juicer or blender for this. If you choose the blender, You will need to separate the juice from the fiber using a cheesecloth. According to the Anthony, this will get your body to produce hydrochloric acid and the many other stomach acids necessary for digestion, again. If you cannot handle the celery you can juice cucumber or drink lemon in hot water but the celery is most effective. For more information on gut health and healing solutions according to Anthony Williams, click here (affiliate link).
- Detox the Body. You will hear people say that there is no need to detox because we detox naturally every day. These people are half right. But they are also missing an important piece of the picture. Our body is tasked everyday with the job of getting rid of toxins via our liver, kidneys, bowels, etc. We were made to do this job well. But several thousand years after we were made to do this job, we developed lives that introduced much more toxins than we were made to detox. Our bodies simply cannot keep up with the endo and exotoxins in our bodies and environments. Short version: these toxins are effecting your muscles, nerves, and digestive organs. Getting them out is not pleasant but is necessary. When you can handle juices, I suggest a juice fast. There are too many options for detox to list here in the case a Juice Fast is not an option for any reason. (please consult a healthcare practitioner to see if a Juice Fast is right for your body) Focus on detoxing juices such as celery, cucumber, beet, apple, lemon and others. Do the fast for 1 to 7 days at a time while drinking as much juice as you can digest. You may experience some unpleasant side effects such as mood swings, fatigue, headaches, achiness, cravings and other signs of detox. This is normal. Just do the best you can and do this regularly. I do one day a week while I am trying to heal from anything. Additional detox habits include dry brushing, epsom salt and baking soda baths, detoxing massage, yoga, exercise, colonics and more. As far as dietary methods of detoxification, please contact your natural health care provider for suggestions and different options to detox your body. A jammed up liver will jam up all of your digestion and cleaning out the jammed up organs can make all of them work better.
- Heal the gut. Another long term solutions is to focus on gut health. There is a large possibility you are suffering from SIBO, candida, an inefficient gut microbiome, parasites, a lack of healthy bacteria, or one of many other gut conditions. The gut microbiome is a key player in digestive health. Take a probiotic daily and rotate the type and brand you take to get a variety of strains. Make sure your brand is of good quality and does not contain fillers. (Try this one for a suggestion: affiliate link.). Include any of the following herbs that help with digestion including DaVinci Labs Gi Benefits, Gi Synergy by Apex Energetics, Turmeric, Ginger, Licorice (contraindicated if you have high blood pressure as it tends to raise blood pressure)(affiliate links). Other gut healing foods are fermented foods, bone broth (make with organic, grass fed bones only), gelatin or collagen. For more information on how to heal your gut click here.
- Retrain Your Nervous System. If you can train your nervous system to “get suck” in a sympathetic state, you can train it to get out of one when it is not in danger. It is imperative that you address causes of chronic stress that may be preventing you from moving between a sympathetic (fight or flight) state and parasympathetic (relaxed) state. Some arbitrary causes of anxiety are low magnesium and its complimentary electrolytes/minerals (this can also cause constipation and effect the muscle’s ability to digest and move food), MTHFR complications, a toxic environment (physical or mental/emotional) and more. In order to address these things, I suggest optimizing your electrolytes (this should be done under the direction of a health coach or health practitioner) , B Vitamins (Do not use synthetic. Whole Food versions are probably safest. Please consult a coach or practitioner familiar with MTHFR for guidance) daily yoga and meditation, epsom salt baths (also good for detoxing and relaxing), biofeedback and other vagal nerve stimulating activities. Even having fun can help tell your body to “chill out”. Sometimes the chronic stress is unavoidable such as the work or home environment being emotionally toxic. If this may be causing you enough stress to make you sick, then please see a qualified professional to help you work through the necessary steps to get you out of that situation. Other things that may contribute to this chronic state of stress are a virus, surgery, chronic illness, chronic pain, ongoing chronic financial stress, loss of a loved one or family member or any other physical, mental, or emotional stressor. It can even be a combination of events and stressors that all work together to create this situation. Other things that can help retrain your nervous system are things like yoga, meditation and tai chi.
- Reverse any nerve damage. There are several options for giving your body its best chance to reverse nerve damage. My personal favorite is The Wahl’s Protocol (affiliate link) designed by Dr. Terry Wahls in the book of the aforementioned title. Originally designed to reverse MS, it was designed with neurological health in mind and is designed to maximize the function of every cell, neurological or otherwise, in your body. Under the guidance of a health coach or other qualified practitioner, it is a good starting point to reverse your own nerve damage. Remember that when you try any protocol, there are no guarantees. Trying something gives you your best chance at recovery but no one has a crystal ball to see how your body will respond. Another alternative is to try the Medical Medium (affiliate link) by Anthony Williams. He also has some thoughts on healing the body through diet. Though this protocol has less science behind its theories, the recommended foods and supplements can be backed up by science to a large extent, such as cilantro being good for clearing toxins or red algae being an anti-viral. As you make your way through your own crazy journey, you may take things from one protocol and combine them with another to make your own protocol for your body. Your health coach can help you do this.
Each body and situation is different so if this seems like a lot, then just pick the easy ones and start there. When you are ready to start some of the other suggestions, try them out and see what you think. This is your journey. You are in charge of what steps to take and where you are headed. Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions or comments in the form below and if you like this content and would like to sign up for articles, recipes and more, please sign up in the form on this page.