Intestinal Motility

Normally rhythmic contractions of the muscles in the walls of the stomach and small intestines continue for hours after eating, mixing the food mass with digestive juices, enzymes, and bile and bringing the already digested food into contact with the absorbing surface of the intestinal walls. Without such contractions, foods cannot be well digested or absorbed.

A potassium deficiency causes the contractions of the intestinal muscles to slow down markedly or these muscles to become partially or completely paralyzed. Such a deficiency occurs following surgery, diarrhea, and other forms of stress; the taking of cortisone or diuretics; and the consumption of highly refined foods or too much salt. This condition, which allows gas pains to become excruciating, is usually associated with constipation. For instance, a study of 655 colicky infants–probably enduring the combined stresses of having no pantothenic acid and nervous, overanxious mothers–revealed that the lower the blood potassium dropped, the worse the colic became. When 1 gram of potassium chloride was given them by injection, the colic quickly disappeared. Pantothenic acid, added to formula or drinking water, would probably have been equally effective.

Relatively normal individuals can obtain ample potassium by eating fruits and vegetables, especially cooked green leafy ones, and by avoiding refined foods. Potassium chloride can also be mixed with table salt. Severely ill adults often require much larger amounts of potassium. Although physicians frequently give 10 grams or more of potassium chloride daily, it is rarely used to relieve digestive disturbances. The movements of the stomach and intestine also slow down or become intermittent when the diet has been deficient in protein, vitamin Bl, pantothenic acid, or other B vitamins; again undigested food stagnates for hours or days and so much gas forms that acute suffering may result. Giving the missing nutrients usually increases the motility of the intestine within a day or two. “Relaxing” drugs interfere with the movements of the intestines and increase gas pain.

Food is not Vengeful

When digestive disturbances occur, some innocuous food is almost invariably blamed, yet the digestive system processes all food impartially. The problem, which lies with the eater and not with the eaten, has many causes. So-called “sour” or “acid stomach” is usually the result of eating too fast or when exhausted or emotionally upset. Foods often have symbolic meanings which cause individuals to become unconsciously tense and fearful. Adults also swallow air during meals, particularly when anxious or high-strung, in the same way that infants gulp air while nursing. This air expands as it heats to body temperature and may be belched with sufficient force to carry the strong stomach acid into the esophagus, irritating delicate membranes and resulting in the discomfort spoken of as heartburn. The problem is that no one tucks such an adult over a kindly shoulder and pats his back. Taking anti-acid tablets and alkalizers–which are said to cost Americans 90 million dollars per year–or baking soda neutralizes the valuable stomach acid, interferes with digestion, decreases mineral absorption, causes vitamins to be destroyed, and can even harm the kidneys; thus temporary relief may cause permanent damage.

The obvious remedy is to eat slowly only small, frequent meals; prevent air-swallowing by sipping cold liquids through a straw temporarily; avoid eating when exhausted or emotionally upset; search out the symbolic meanings of foods; get additional rest; and improve your nutrition. If the problem persists, ask your doctor for a thorough physical examination.

Bloating and Gas Pain

The most common digestive disturbance is gas in the intestines. This gas includes both swallowed air, which if not expelled orally continues to expand and can cause considerable discomfort before reaching the rectum; and gas liberated by putrefactive bacteria living on undigested food. Often both occur simultaneously. Swallowed air, passed rectally, however, has no odor whereas gases from undigested food have a foul odor. A stool passed by a healthy individual is odorless.

The person who eats too much overwhelms his digestive enzymes. If the amount of food eaten at one time can be efficiently digested and absorbed, none remains to support the growth of undesirable bacteria, and no gas is formed. Unfortunately, when the digestion is so below par that much food remains undigested, improving the nutrition also improves the diet of the putrefactive bacteria; hence these bacteria may multiply especially rapidly, causing much gas to be formed. Excellent food is then foregone and recovery is defeated. Efficient digestion and freedom from gas depend on the production of hydrochloric acid, bile, and digestive secretions and enzymes; on the type of intestinal bacteria; and the motility of the stomach and intestines. These problems can usually be corrected by an adequate diet taken in small frequent meals with temporary supplements of enzymes, bile, and hydrochloric acid.

Some well nourished adults on excellent diets nevertheless suffer severely from digestive disturbances, yet repeated medical examinations reveal nothing wrong. On questioning, I have found that these persons feel unloved or are lonely and have’ had severe colic as babies. In such cases, the unconscious mind allows one to feel loved by reliving infant colic, when attention was showered on the child. Indigestion is but the price paid to regain this wonderful feeling.