Medical herbalist and columnist, Nicola Parker, of Morecambe Health Foods, writes about herbal remedies to ease anxiety and a knotted stomach.
You know that feeling of your tummy doing backflips when you start to feel anxious? Have you ever needed to rush to the loo before a big event as nerves get the better of you? Do you experience sickness or stomach upsets whenever you’re faced with stressful situations?
That’s your nervous system reacting with your digestive tract.
Our nervous system controls everything. The part that controls our digestive system is so complex in how it orchestrates our digestion, it has become known as the second brain.
Even if you’re not prone to symptoms of irritable bowel, everyone knows that familiar surge of butterflies when something exciting happens or how difficult it is to eat a big meal an hour before a stressful event.
Treating nervous digestive disorders can be confusing.
Many people experience more than one symptom so it is difficult to strike a balance.
Perhaps your symptoms involve alternating constipation with diarrhoea and you’re not sure which to treat. There could be indigestion or feelings of bloating and sickness after eating that don’t have any obvious explanation.
It’s very common in children who complain of tummy aches and feeling unwell when other events are getting on top of them.
In cases like these, rather than treating the digestive symptoms, it’s important to treat the anxiety at its source.
Lots of herbs have a reputation for being relaxing, but try to find ones that have an affinity with the digestive system, to gently calm the nerves that supply it.
Lemon balm is one such herb. A lovely green herb that makes a refreshing tea that can treat mild symptoms of nervous digestion. It can be drunk regularly through the day and this time of year is perfect for growing it in your garden. Do be cautious, though, as lemon balm will take over gardens if you let it.
Lemon balm relaxes the muscles and openings of the digestive tract, letting wind pass through easier to eliminate gas and bloating and preventing cramps and spasms that could lead to toilet trouble. It’s what herbalists call a carminative, a herb that calms the overexcited nerves that control what our digestion is doing.
I personally use a blend of herbs called Balance for Nerves, designed to calm the nerves that supply the digestive system. It contains lemon balm alongside theanine, an ingredient that calms the mind.
By working on both the mind and the digestive tract, it can offer all round anxiety support which provides
rapid relief from stress-
induced digestive symptoms.
Since it works so quickly, I often recommend it before standard digestive remedies if I believe that anxiety is having a role to play.
This was the case for one lady who came to me asking for help with her mum’s diarrhoea.
It had started a few weeks ago and the doctor had confirmed that there was nothing obviously wrong.
I began asking questions about changes in her diet, possible exposure to infection, medical history, allergies, all the usual culprits that can trigger diarrhoea.
During this questioning, it became apparent that the diarrhoea had come on after her mum had moved into a new nursing home.
The unfamiliar location, the absence of her friends, being surrounded by strangers, all these things had triggered a range of digestive symptoms including feeling sick, tummy aches and diarrhoea.
The symptoms then generated more worry about her health, spiralling her into a self-feeding anxiety cycle.
Scrapping all the usual digestive remedies, I suggested she try a week on Balance for Nerves to see what soothing lemon balm could do.
Before the week was out, I was visited again by the lady’s daughter, informing me that her mum’s digestive symptoms had fully resolved.
Naturally her mum was delighted, now able to get out and about more, away from the loo without the oppressive diarrhoea that had been plaguing her.
What is wonderful about using lemon balm for digestive stress support, is that no matter what your digestive symptom might be, the lemon balm should do the trick.
So if you’re unsure what is causing your stomach upsets, consider how your current circumstances may be affecting your nervous system and in turn, what those nerves could be doing to your gut.