Q. I have a problem with intestinal gas that has got worse over the last year. I eat fish, vegetables, fruit & grains and drink peppermint tea after meals. I don’t eat meat, bread or dairy. I only eat fruit for lunch at work as even salad produces embarrassment, which aggravates the stress that is definitely a contributory factor. This helps, but it has not completely gone. I feel that I am being held hostage by food and am not sure what to do for the best.
A. From your letter it sounds like the problem could have a mixed cause.
Yes, certain foods such as bread can be the culprit and you say you have cut out bread because “even one roll causes a problem”. Have you eliminated all gluten? This includes pasta, biscuits, and many ready meals and sauces, not just bread. It sounds as if you have but if you are sensitive to gluten, even a little flour as a thickener in your mayonnaise or salad dressing can be enough to set off the symptoms.
Keeping a daily food diary can often help to identify the offenders if you think that food intolerance is the problem. Write down in a notebook everything you eat and then each evening score 3 symptoms from 1 to 5 where 1 = As good as it can be and 5 = As bad as it can be. The three most common symptoms to track would be a) flatulence b) bloating and c) cramps or colic.
However, a very healthy high-fibre diet (lots of vegetables, fruit, and especially beans and plant foods high in the carbohydrates raffinose and stacyose, will produce natural, healthy, albeit unwelcome gas. Your body doesn’t produce the enzymes to digest these carbs so bacteria ferment them eventually which causes gas.
It does sound as if a digestive enzyme such as bromelain (a natural enzyme found in pineapple and papaya) may help. Many people also find mixed probiotic combinations helpful (acidophilus, lactobifidus, etc).
Try to keep to your healthy current diet by looking at how you prepare your food. Reduce bean flatulence by soaking them overnight, then throw away the water and cook them thoroughly in clean water. Add sweet cicely in season or a small whole carrot to the cooking water. English peas, soybeans & black-eye peas are the ones to watch most, followed by lima beans, pinto beans & black beans.
It is also worth eating fruit separately from meals. Fruit eaten at the end of a meal can ferment on top of all the other foods, causing lots of gas that adds to the effect. It’s important to keep eating fruit but have it on its own early in the morning, or after dinner as a late evening snack, as well as your lunch.
Dairy, particularly cows milk and cheese, can cause gas in lactose-intolerant people and it make be worth eliminating these for a month or two to see if it helps. Once you reintroduce eliminated your body is likely to quickly tell you if it objects!
It sounds as if you are taking the right measures with herbs and supplements to help yourself but with some of the things you are trying you may benefit from stronger amounts or action.
Herbs that help include ginger, dandelion, peppermint, fennel, dill, coriander, sage and thyme. Make a spice mixed from ground ginger and helpful spices; allspice, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and turmeric. Add this to beans while cooking, use as a seasoning rub for your fish, or add to your salad dressings.
Ginger has the advantage of not only reducing flatulence but also reduces bloating and cramps. I love freshly grated ginger boiled for 10 minutes as a tea. Add a little lemon juice. Or juice the ginger and take a teaspoon of ginger juice mixed with a teaspoon of lime juice after each meal.
Peppermint, fennel and dill are great herbs that are easy to get. Another is the wildflower herb Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) which country folk traditionally boiled with cabbage and Brussels sprouts to reduce their flatulent side effects. These and dandelion are available as food supplement tinctures from any good herbalist. I you live in the countryside add dandelion leaves to your salads.
Peppermint as a tea is a good digestive but not particularly strong if you are buying teabags. Grinding the herb small enough to fill tea bags causes it to lose many of its volatile oils. Fennel is very specific to flatulence as is dill. Monks in the Middle Ages would eat handfuls of fennel seeds when fasting to decrease their appetite and avoid the flatulence which can accompany fasting.
Instead of teabags, use loose Organic Peppermint Tea and add some crushed fennel seed to it. You need to make a strong infusion by simmering in a pan for 5-10 minutes instead of just pouring boiling water over to make a tea. You can also take Fennel Juice. You can also add all these herbs to your cooking as well, or chop them finely and add them in to salads too. Tabbouleh type recipes use large handfuls of chopped herbs like mint, and fennel and dill go so well with fish. Alternatively to tea, Napiers makes a digestif food supplement After Dinner Mint Mixture. Stronger than a tea and made of Peppermint oil, Fennel extract and Acacia, you add 5 ml (a teaspoon) to a little water and sip slowly after meals.
If you did find that turmeric helped when you added a pinch to hot water in the morning, you could try a course of Turmeric Xtra tablets – a combination of high strength turmeric extract and artichoke.
If your situation does not improve you should get professional help. Your GP can arrange food allergy tests or, if you prefer, you could speak to a medical herbalist or qualified nutritionist.
Napiers the Herbalists
Links to Food Supplements mentioned
After Dinner Mint Mixture: http://www.napiers.net/after-dinner-mint-mixture.html
Organic Peppermint Tea: http://www.napiers.net/organic-peppermint-tea.html
Fennel seed: http://www.napiers.net/fennel-seed.html
Fennel Juice: http://www.napiers.net/salus-haus-fennel-juice.html
Turmeric Xtra: https://napiers.net/schwabe-pharma-turmeric-xtra.html
Telephone 0845 002 1860 for advice on which tinctures are available from our dispensary as food supplements. Many products can only be sold now by prescription unless they have a THR registration. We can also advise you on finding a qualified practitioner in your area.