by Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is a Greek word meaning “a weakness of movement.” This disorder slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Symptoms of gastroparesis include a feeling of fullness after eating a very small meal, sometimes just one or two bites, vomiting undigested food, nausea, stomach pain, burping, and abdominal bloating.
The most common conventional treatments for delayed gastric emptying are prokinetic agents (gastrointestinal motility enhancers). Perhaps the best known one is Reglan (metoclopramide). The antibiotic erythromycin is also used as a prokinetic. These are just two examples of several available medications.
Excessive antibiotic use often causes more health problems than it treats. Since antibiotics do not discriminate against good or bad bacteria, they wipe out everything, including the good bacteria you need to digest and absorb your food. Possible side effects of erythromycin include antibiotic-resistance, neurological impairment, liver problems, skin rashes, hives, vertigo, pancreatitis, and even hallucinations.
Reglan had a “black box” warning attached to it in 2009 because of its tendency to cause debilitating movement disorders such as tardive dyskinesia. Despite the fact that Reglan should only be used for 8 week maximum to treat gastroparesis, many patients remain on it for months or even years at a time.
You can treat gastroparesis naturally without the risk of these potentially-dangerous side effects.
Medical Conditions That Cause Gastroparesis
Diabetes is the most common medical condition associated with the development of gastroparesis. Over time, high blood glucose levels damage the vagus nerve, which is responsible for sending signals to and from the brain and gut. Once this nerve become paralyzed, gastroparesis can result.
Diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis can cause gastroparesis. Delayed gastric emptying can also develop as a side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Thyroid disease has also been shown to be a contributing factor.
According to a study published by the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology[1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9246707], 27% of the patients with gastroparesis also tested positive for H. Pylori infection.
Many other things can cause gastroparesis, including:
Many medical practitioners diagnose the cause of gastroparesis as idiopathic meaning, “no known cause.”
How to Treat Gastroparesis Naturally
- Take Insulin After Meals
In the case of diabetic gastroparesis, patients are often instructed to take insulin after meals, instead of before to avoid the excess flood of glucose into the system that often precedes intestinal paralysis.
- Get Tested for Thyroid Disease
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone output) is the most common, yet under-diagnosed autoimmune disease in the world. One of the most unfortunate aspects of this is that standardized thyroid testing often misses this disease. The most accurate thyroid test and the only one I have trusted for years is the Complete Thyroid Panel + Thyroid Antibodies from Direct Labs.
This test carefully measures your Free T3, Free T4, TSH and tests for any antibodies which may have developed as a result of an autoimmune response. This panel of tests will not only tell you whether you have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, but Hashimoto’s thyroiditis as well. Just take the test order slip to any LabCorp location to get your blood drawn and LabCorp will send it away for you.
You’ll get your results back in 5 business days.
- Give Acupuncture a Try
Acupuncture uses hollow-pointed needles in lines on the body called meridians. Based on their placement, these needles are believed to restore healthy immunity and neurological function while removing blocks in your life-force energy called ‘chi’.
If you’ve never used natural modalities before, the idea of acupuncture might not appeal to you at first. However, scientific studies have shown that this ancient Eastern practice is quite effective in treating gastroparesis naturally.
For example, a study on a 61-year-old woman with a 2-year history of gastroperesis published by Dr. San Hong Hwang of Southern California University of Health Sciences, Whittier, CA[2. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acu.2008.0605]. revealed that after 5 acupuncture and herbal treatments, the digestive motility of the patient was restored 100%.
Another study, this one published by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine[3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15510787], acupuncture resulted in a 94.2% total effective rate in the relief of symptoms in patients with diabetic gastroparesis.
Make Dietary Changes
- Gluten Free – The most common diet suggested for the treatment of gastroparesis is low-fat, low-fiber, and low carbohydrate. I go one step further in also advising a gluten free diet. Even mild gluten intolerance can result in the development of thyroid imbalance, which could worsen gastroparesis.
- Fermented Foods – I also recommend a diet rich in lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, black garlic, and kefir.
- Bone Broth – Bone broth is very nutritious and healing for your gut, as it contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, glucosamine, chondroitin, and glycine to ease digestion and soothe inflammation.
Here is a good, simple recipe for chicken bone broth I found on this website:
Easy Slow-Cooker Bone Broth Recipe
Place 1-2 lbs of chicken bones in pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 T of organic, raw apple cider vinegar and let sit for 30 min to an hour. This pulls the nutrients and minerals off the bones for a more nutrient dense soup.
Simmer on low for 12-24 hours – 20 hours produces great results.
Remove the bones. Next, fill sink with ice and water then poor through a cheese cloth lined strainer into a separate pot sitting in the ice bath. Stir until cool and place in fridge.
Once completely cooled down the fat will solidify on top which can be scooped out and discarded. At this point divide into containers, saving enough for the next few days, and freeze what’s left.
Tip: Freeze in ice cube trays. In a standard size tray each cube is 1/8 cup.
Juicing is another healthy option to get the nutrients your body needs. As organic fruits and vegetables move through your juicer, the bulk of the fiber content is removed, making it easier for those with gastroparesis to digest.
If you have diabetes, take care to avoid adding too many starchy vegetables and sweet fruits. Try preparing your juice with tomatoes, green pepper, celery, ginger root, garlic, asparagus, cucumber, and/or romaine lettuce.
Start slowly and experiment until you get a combination that works best for you and your own individual needs.
- Take the Right Supplements
Chelated Magnesium – Neurological dysfunction (including vagus nerve paralysis) is often caused in part by magnesium deficiency. This is why I recommend Diamond Nutritional’s Chelated Magnesium for my patients with with both chronic digestive and neurological dysfunction. I believe chelated magnesium is the best type of magnesium supplement for those with digestive issues as it is easily absorbed.
High-Quality Probiotics – Probiotics are the live, active cultures found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Since you may have been given antibiotics to treat your condition, it is vitally important you “re-seed” your gut to avoid further complications. For this, I recommend Diamond Nutritional’s Probiotic Formula. It contains a full complement of healing, high-quality cultures designed to help you break down and absorb nutrients from food.
Digestive Enzymes – Digestive enzymes are critical in the digestion and absorption of the essential nutrients from food. Diamond Nutritional’s Digestive Enzyme Formula contains pancreatin, an enzyme derived from porcine pancrease and also amylase, protease, and lipase to ensure you receive the most nutrition you can from any bit of food you take in.
Vitamin D3 – According to a study published by Hormone and Metabolic Research[4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22956309], those with idiopathic gastroparesis experienced improved stomach emptying the higher their levels of vitamin D3. Without adequate levels of vitamin D3, immune, digestive, and neurological health suffer. This is why I recommend taking a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement daily to return levels to optimum.
- Do Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep, slow belly breathing can help stimulate your vagus nerve and help it to heal itself. Inhale through your nose, allowing your stomach and abdomen to expand. Exhale through your mouth, letting your exhalation last longer than your inhalation. Do this periodically throughout the day to induce feelings of calm while improving your digestion.
- Try “OM” Chanting
“OM” meditative chanting stimulates a vibratory sensation that is transmitted through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve, stimulating its function. A study performed by the International Journal of Yoga in 2011[5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099099/], noted that OM changing it more stimulatory to the vagus nerve than other traditional forms of chant.
The best way to perform the ‘OM’ chant is to hold the vowel part of the ‘OM’ (O) for 5 seconds then continue into the consonant (M) and hold it for 10 seconds. This chant should be performed for 10 minutes once per day for best results.
Even if you’ve had gastroparesis for several years, this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of the same. These natural treatments can improve your digestion and return you to a healthier state.
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