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Plant Based, Year-Round Health

“All Disease Begins in the Gut” - Bitters for Stomach Troubles

Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND
by Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND

In Canada, digestive issues afflict more than 20 million people per year and cost the health care system more than $18 billion.  

Season’s GrievingsAt no time do the challenges of digestion come back to haunt us more than during the festive season. Not only do we overeat, consuming large portions of holiday fare, brimming with sugar and fat, topped off by generous libations of alcohol, but we endure the many other stresses that can aggravate digestion—cooking, cleaning, shopping, travel, and family chaos, for example. Which makes it all the more important to pay heed to this most important system of the body.  

People at a Christmas party clanging glasses together at the table

Listen to your gut. The maxim, attributed to Hippocrates, that “all disease begins in the gut,” is still apropos. We know as NDs that many of today’s chronic ills, especially conditions like autoimmune diseases, have their origin there. Numerous afflictions can be remedied by optimizing digestive health, as I can attest from the experience of 24 years of naturopathic practice.  

If you suffer from acid reflux, gas, bloating, indigestion or dietary sensitivities, don’t ignore these symptoms. These should alert you that something needs to be addressed, or, to quote English jurist Henry de Bracton, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  

The Fasting Cure. If I could make only one recommendation, I would say, eat moderately. A patient told me this week that he has adopted a habit to “eat until I am no longer hungry, not until I am full.” No better advice can be given. Another option is to fast intermittently, i.e. to rest the GI tract for a period, whether it be for 18 hours per 24 or for a full day or two each week. This can be very effective for restoring GI health. Remarking on the transforming effectiveness of self-restraint for his health, 16th century author Luigi Cornaro writes, “I betook myself entirely to a temperate and regular life, and … in less than a year, it rid me of all those disorders which had taken such hold on me, and which appeared at the time incurable.” (Cornaro, Discourses on the sober life, ca 1550)

Eminent herbal authority Paul Bergner adds that the effectiveness of herbal “gut-healing formulas … are greatly enhanced during the fasting … state”. Thus, combining a herbal approach with fasting is even more effective than either approach alone. 

A bitter way to better digestion. Herbal bitters have long been an essential component of traditional medicine and a digestive aid used around the world. Individuals who have trouble with dyspepsia—gas, burping, bloating and indigestion—will benefit from bitters. 

Corollary Symptoms of Impaired Digestion. Ancient Ayurveda agrees with modern Naturopathy, which holds that mandagni, a loss of digestive fire due to lack of and/or poor quality of digestive juices, is the root cause of every disease. In addition to the usual digestive upsets, Ayurveda adds other symptoms associated with mandagni, including asthma and respiratory problems, fatigue, nasal obstruction and sinusitis, edema, and hemorrhoids.

A Canadian Bitters bottle sitting on a log in the middle of a green forest

Whole-Body Tonic and Energy Tonic. By optimizing digestion, bitters act indirectly as tonics to the whole system, improving well-being, endurance, and energy levels. Eclectic physicians Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D. and John Uri Lloyd, Pharm. D., Ph. D. explain further that gentian should be used “where the powers of life are depressed and recovery depends upon (the) ability to assimilate food.” 

Consider herbal bitters as a time-honoured natural remedy to help stave off chronic disease and remedy digestive problems, especially during a hectic, sometimes stressful holiday season, when our normal eating habits can be a bit topsy-turvy! 

For more information on Guts and digestion look at our blog on 3 ways to deal with sensitive stomachs for tips on which foods you’re eating that may be causing sensitivity.

Have questions? Just visit our Great Questions Answered page to learn more or to submit a question.

Canadian Bitters®


Globe artichoke


A low-growing, daisy-like annual native to Europe and Asia and known to medicine from classical antiquity, chamomile is commonly found in overgrown fields. Its name is derived from the Greek word that means "earth apple" on account of the scent of its fresh blossoms.


For all the brilliant yellow profusion of its flowers, dandelion is a perennial plant so common and hardy that it is considered a weed throughout the northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, it has impressive healing properties, and there's a good reason why its Latin name means "remedy for disease."


A large tuberous perennial with yellow blossoms and narrow green leaves that stands about a metre high, ginger has its origins in southern Asia, but can now be found in nearly all tropical and subtropical countries.

Globe artichoke

Not to be confused with Jerusalem artichoke, which is a tuber, globe artichoke is a large thistle-like perennial native to the Mediterranean region, and its leaves have been used medicinally from ancient times.

Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND
Author: Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND


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