Disclaimer: The information in this post is solely for inspiring wellness based on my/others experiences; this is not medical advice. It’s always advisable to contact a medical professional before undergoing any form of conventional or alternative medical treatment. I also want to acknowledge my privilege in being able to trial some of these natural therapies. I have tried to explore as many varieties of treatments as I can as a result.
Welcome to the second post for Gastroparesis Awareness Month. This one is called Natural Therapies for Gastroparesis and we’ll be discussing how natural therapies can help to balance the insidious symptoms of Gastroparesis.
Before you read this post, have you checked out the first post, ‘What is Gastroparesis?‘. If not, this can help to outline some FAQs about Gastroparesis for either fellow sufferers or loved ones wanting to understand more about Gastroparesis (if you are that person, thank you on behalf of us all).
The second thing to add before I get more deeply into this topic is that last year I created a similar post called Natural Therapies for Scleroderma. There’s going to be a great deal of crossover between these posts as I have Gastroparesis as a result of Scleroderma and so I practise the same natural therapies for the conditions.
For both Scleroderma and Gastroparesis, I take a range of medications that have in turn been lifesaving. However, sadly they do also come with adverse effects and that’s where natural therapies can help, alongside my daily prescribed medication from my specialists.
Natural therapies tend to be holistic and include medicines from various historical and cultural backgrounds. As we dive into them below, it’s important to acknowledge and give thanks to the roots of these therapies.
In order to see and reap the benefits of using natural therapies, it’s also beneficial to examine diet, exercise, meditation or psychological exercises as well. The ways in which these therapies are thought to work are also diverse, although many are based on the idea of enabling your body’s ability to heal itself.
Fundamentally, both medical and natural forms of treatment emphasise the quality of the relationship between you and the practitioner. And when both natural therapies and medical treatment approaches are used, this is called integrated medicine.
Here are the natural therapies that I have found to help my Gastroparesis the most. Do you have any to add? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I learn so much from you all and I love to hear from you.
Diet and Supplements
So the first big topic: Diet and supplements for Gastroparesis….where. to. start?! To be honest, I don’t think I will ever understand this topic in its entirety.
You see, whilst there are diet plan suggestions for GERD and Gastroparesis I find they constantly contradict themselves.
For example, one diet will say Avocado is a great product to enjoy with Gastroparesis, but others will say it’s too high in fodmaps.
Tomatoes, in their raw state, are renowned for being a huge irritant for those with acid reflux (they are sadly one of my main triggers) but cooked peeled tomatoes from a can be more easily tolerated (this is certainly my case).
Do you see how this can be so confusing?! I’m sure if you do have either GERD or Gastroparesis you know this only too well!
And also, you might be wondering, what’s the difference between GERD and Gastroparesis? Do they have similar restrictions? From my experience with both, yes.
GERD/GORD is chronic acid reflux caused by a weakness in the lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), the valve that separates the oesophagus and the stomach.
On the other hand, Gastroparesis, often develops after an injury to the vagus nerve, which is responsible for stimulating contractions in the stomach and intestines. There’s my information on this in my ‘What’s Gastroparesis?’ blog post.
So then, what can you eat with Gastroparesis?
Before anything else, Gastroparesis sufferers, and in fact anyone suffering from a chronic illness, should always, always consult their doctor(s), specialist(s), and a dietician before using any vitamin or herbal remedies. Or before making any significant changes in their diet.
Secondly, the whole topic of nutrition in relation to Gastroparesis is more than anything I can hope to cover in this post alone so be on the lookout for a far more in-depth journey on this topic soon.
Moreover, as a disclaimer, I am not an expert in nutrition. I am just simply a girl who has lived for this for so long now that I weave my intuition and the wisdom I have learnt into the world through my blog to help as many people suffering as possible.
I would describe my diet as a blend of Mediterranean, Japanese, Nordic, vegan and plant-based inspired. I don’t eat meat or dairy but occasionally, especially if I’m out or in hospital/travelling etc it might be necessary for me to eat fish as my gut is so sensitive to other options that might be present at the time.
As of 2020 I have now removed gluten from my diet and follow the Low Fod-Map Diet (I’m still on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free bread. If you know of one, please let me know!).
The first thing I’d recommend is a wonderful cooking book for Gastroparesis. This makes life so much easier. My can’t live without choice is The Gastroparesis Cookbook by Karen Frazier. It’s just wonderful. The front is packed full of information about Gastroparesis, from biology to daily management. It’s a source I will use as my reference for this blog post.
At the start of The Gastroparesis Cookbook by Karen Frazier the introduction recommends the following that can help Gastroparesis:
- Eat small frequent meals (IFFGD recommends eating 4 to 6 small meals a day)
- During a flare-up, stick with a liquid diet (such as broths, clear sweetened liquids. I take vegan protein drinks). As symptoms ease, eat a limited diet of low-residue, liquid or pureed food (this includes low-fibre, well-cooked, low-fat foods such as broths with the addition of rice, low-fibre crackers and so on)
- Avoid high-fibre foods (as of 2020, during a series of severe flares, I have been on a low-fodmap diet. It’s helped a lot to balance my symptoms and I would recommend it. Click here for a wonderful low-fodmap food chart you can download created by Stephanie)
- Avoid raw or uncooked fruits and vegetables (peel and cook fruit and vegetables. This will require investigation and trial and error to find your triggers)
- Eat foods low in fat (your body needs fat to function so don’t cut this out completely, for example, I eat a lot of omega-3 rich food)
- Chew food thoroughly (so hard to do I know, but approach eating with deep mindfulness)
- Avoid red meat (these are particularly hard to digest whilst fish and white meats are easier for those with Gastroparesis)
- Don’t drink with meals (take sips of fluid during the day and stay as hydrated as possible however avoid drinking anything 30 minutes before a meal)
- Take a walk/ do any light activity after meals (I currently eat in the middle of the day for my ‘main meal’ I go for a light walk after this meal. In the evening, I work on light jobs around the home)
- Don’t lie down for 2 hours after eating (as for the above)
- Sleep slightly upright (if you are able to do this, it’s a huge benefit)
- Avoid fizzy drinks, smoking and alcohol
Ultimately I find that by balancing the above throughout my day, it can help to alleviate the worst of my Gastroparesis symptoms.
In order to really get into this topic, head to my recipe section to discover some of the meals I love to eat. The next post will be scrumptious picnic ideas!
When it comes to eating out, have a print out of the food that you are able to eat. Again, click here for a Fodmap list for Gastroparesis as a handy starting point. Always bearing in mind, individuals may react differently to things either on here.
I must admit, eating out for a big sit down meal, especially in the evening, is something I struggle with immensely. Both physically and emotionally. It makes me very anxious.
To get around this, it’s important to learn and know your triggers and find ways of alternating the menu if possible.
Try to stay away from big chains as possible and favour independent businesses who can tailor-make your requests more easily.
The final note on nutrition in this post would be to find a good dietician who can order Blood tests to assess serum haemoglobin, iron, ferritin, total
iron-binding capacity, zinc, vitamin D, folate, and vitamin B-12. This really helped me tailor the ideal eating program for me.
It may also be worth researching Probiotics. I’m currently using Biomel, but it’s early days, so I can’t confirm how effective they are at this stage (I, of course, will let you know if the result is positive!).
I have also visited a Homeopathy specialist who helped create a custom blend for me to take for of areas my body is depleted with. There’s more on this below.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve
What is the Vagus Nerve? And can stimulating it help with Gastroparesis?
The Vagus Nerve is the longest nerve in the body. As discussed in my post ‘What Is Gastroparesis?’, we know that with Gastroparesis, the Vagus Nerve and/or muscle damage can impair the stomach’s ability to contract and release properly.
The brain is directly connected to the gastrointestinal tract via the Vagus Nerve. It really is a powerhouse in the body that connects your brain to so many vital organs.
In fact, fascinatingly, the word ‘vagus’ means ‘wanderer’ in Latin, which truly epitomises how the nerve wanders all over the body connecting itself to our most important parts.
Most importantly for our discussion of Gastroparesis, the Vagus Nerve is a key part of the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous system.
As a result, it influences not only our digestive function but also our breathing and our heart rate. This trio has a huge impact on our mental health.
Understanding the role of stress and emotion in modulating the motility of the gastrointestinal tract is a truly vital step in our discussions of natural therapies for Gastroparesis.
Let’s look at just a few ways we can stimulate the Vagus Nerve:
- Cold Exposure: This is so hard for me, but have you ever heard of people taking cold showers? That’s because they know how powerful it is for Vagus Nerve health! If you have Raynaud’s like me, try using an ice-cold flannel on your face, a crystal or other type of face roller/eyemask from the fridge, or a 30-second blast of cold water on your hair whilst showering. All of these increase parasympathetic activity.
- Deep and slow breathing: If you also suffer from anxiety this step is really powerful. We’ll look at this in more detail under the breathwork section.
- Singing and Chanting: Did you know that the Vagus Nerve is connected to the vocal cords? Singing, humming, chanting and gargling have all been proven to help the heart-rate and ultimately vagal tone. Maybe this one is a step you want to resist if you don’t like singing, but even just gargling with mouthwash could help!
- Probiotics: I spoke about Probiotics briefly in the Diet section and I’m currently trialling Biomel. However what is known about Probiotics, is that good gut bacteria can help to improve brain function, by affecting the Vagus Nerve.
- Meditation: A favourite relaxation technique that can stimulate the Vagus Nerve and Vagal tone. I love to meditate in the bath. I find I’m most peaceful then and away from distraction. I add Epsom salts to the bath and then rinse this afterwards from my body to draw out any toxins.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are the essential fats you should seek to add to your diet wherever possible. They are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system. Find it in fish or supplements.
- Exercise: Exercise is shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, and is beneficial to both brain and mental health. Walking, weightlifting and sprinting are the best forms of exercise for Vagus health however only walking from those is accessible for me. For some wonderful videos for gentle exercise see below.
- Massage: Massages can help to stimulate the Vagus Nerve. I really love Reflexology for this and massages from a qualified therapist. Self-massage is also very powerful and I love to massage in lavender oil to my tummy and the base of my feet.
- Socialising and Laughing: A lovely one to finish! This can really help to reduce your body’s main stress hormones.
There might, of course, be additional ways to stimulate the Vagus Nerve so I highly suggest reading into this topic. For now, I hope the above can help.
I have some more powerful examples to share as we dive even deeper into natural therapies.
Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants and have been used throughout history in many cultures for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits.
I’m hugely passionate about aromatherapy and essential oils, and that’s why I’ve started with this natural therapy first because I find it to be one of the most beneficial things I have ever done for my health.
Here are some of my favourite essential oils for Gastroparesis:
- Lavender: I use this with a carrier oil (almond is lovely) and massage it into my tummy every single night after a bath. I also massage it into the bottom of my feet before going to bed. It’s also wonderfully relaxing in a diffuser.
- Peppermint: I also love to massage this into my tummy. I, however, don’t drink peppermint tea as it causes me acid reflux. Just one of the many contradictory foods I mentioned above! Having said that, it’s lovely to apply to your body, in your bath, or in a diffuser in oil form.
- Melissa Oil: Also known as Lemon Balm. This is a relative of the mint family but I find this fine for my acid reflux. I most enjoy it in tea the most (you can find teas such as Pukka will have this ingredient in already). This tea is a favourite of mine.
- Chamomile Oil: This is another of my favourite things in the world! Enjoy it in tea, or again, mix it with a carrier oil and apply to affected areas.
Flower Essence Therapy
Flowers have been used since time immemorial for their immense healing powers that lovingly take care of us and settle a wide range of physical, emotional and spiritual concerns.
A wonderful way to utilise and work with flower’s most loving gift is to learn about Flower remedies that have been used for many years as a way to heal the mind, body, and spirit.
Flower essence therapy was discovered in the 1930s by Dr. Edward Bach, a medical doctor who believed in the connection between illness and spiritual imbalances.
This is something I wholeheartedly recommend to soothe the nervous system.
I’ve recently been blogging a lot about flower essence therapy, and this interview with Honey Honey Healing is a truly potent portal into how flower essence therapy can soothe you with any ailments you have.
The four forms of exercise that I am able to do are: Walking, swimming, Yoga and Pilates.
I wanted to share a few videos here that have helped me to ease the symptoms of Gastroparesis. I do hope they can be of equal benefit to you too:
Next up is Reflexology, an ancient practice that’s been passed down for thousands of years.
It is thought that The Incas and Native Americans may have introduced reflexology to South and North America, but proof of the practice dates back to 3000 BC in pre-dynastic China.
It works that based on pressure points in the hands and feet, that are said to connect to the nervous system, reflexologists pinpoint specific glands and organs to treat with massage techniques.
Reflexologists claim to treat many ailments, particularly those associated with pain and inflammation, and whilst I didn’t feel an effect immediately, it certainly provided me with a huge sense of well-being and relaxation afterwards.
Breathwork is something we touched on above and I wanted to return to it here as it is so important for stimulating the Vagus Nerve.
But what is breathwork? Essentially, it is the name given to various breathing practices in which the conscious control of breathing is said to influence a person’s mental, emotional or physical state, with a claimed therapeutic effect.
I started Breathwork in 2020 and it has really transformed my health.
During a flare-up of intense nausea, and whilst on a liquid diet to manage my symptoms, I used the below videos and they truly helped me to find serenity during my flare-up.
My final recommendation is Homeopathy.
Homeopathy works to treats the person as a whole. It means that homoeopathic treatment focuses on the patient as a person, as well as their pathological condition.
The homoeopathic medicines are selected after a full individualising examination and case-analysis, which includes the medical history of the patient, physical and mental constitution, family history, presenting symptoms, underlying pathology and possible causative factors.
I have a custom made blend from my practitioner suitable for my individual symptoms. I take a few drops of this blend each morning and night.
I’m a huge fan of the approach to Homeopathy and would highly recommend it to all.
This is just so integral to any treatment plan for a chronic illness, or for each and every one of us.
There are so many things I do to find ways of tending to my needs and for nourishing myself.
Many of the natural therapies we have discussed form my self-care practise but I also adore music, crafts, reading, the arts, travel. My list of self-care practises are endless!
Only those suffering from Gastroparesis, or any other chronic illness can truly understand the daily pain, anxiety, and depression that can accompany this condition.
If you would like to read in-depth about how I tend to my mental health and optimise my self-care I have a full blog post here: ‘Chronic Illness and Mental Health’.
Ultimately, what enables you to be filled with peace, find wonder and enchantment, and what brings you pleasure? Chase these restlessly and repeat.
Other Natural Therapies to try for Gastroparesis:
- Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception, and blood pressure.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine. Fine needles are inserted at certain sites in the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes.
- Georgie xoxo Gastroparesis Blog Series
* Georgie xoxo Gastroparesis Recipes
* IFFGD Gastroparesis Awareness Month
* G-PACT Gastroparesis Awareness Month
Thank you so, so much for taking the time to read this post and engage in any way you can with this very important awareness month. I’m truly beyond grateful and your constant love and support is the strength that I will use to create the seemingly impossible things.
Meanwhile, do you have any questions about natural therapies for Gastroparesis? Perhaps you have some to add? Please leave them below and I would be thrilled to connect with you all xoxo