Stomach Aches

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Finding a good herbalist

Note that, whilst this article is written primarily for children, everything in it may be just as applicable to adults. The recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that your child needs further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary
to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Conventional Medicine's Approach

All children get stomach aches sometimes, but if they have become chronic; more lasting and more serious, then you may well have been to your GP. If, as usually happens, you have then been told that there is no obvious reason for them, you will probably have been given a prescription all the same.

I suggest you think very hard about the wisdom of giving children a drug like losec, omeprazole (or any kind of medication that reduces stomach acid). It may well alleviate the discomfort, especially at first, but at what cost?

Why do we make something as dangerous sounding as ‘acid’ in our stomachs in the first place? Is it some kind of evolutionary mistake that modern medicine is luckily able to correct? No, not at all. People, and children, need to make this intensely powerful stuff because that is what it takes to break down proteins into small enough bits that your blood can absorb, and use.

Proteins are incredibly important, we use them for everything. Every cell in your body needs proteins to be there in the first place. You need them to rebuild yourself every day from the wear and tear of being alive. If you are a child, you need them even more; to grow!

Messing with what it takes to get the building blocks of your body is a really dangerous long-term strategy. I am not anti-drug philosophically, believe it or not, but I am anti antacids. I think that they can do deep and invisible harm and that they are especially dangerous because we don’t instinctively connect the injuries, chronic infections and failure to thrive that happen months later with the drug that fixed the stomach problems back then and that are still being taken today.

The mainstream system recognises the long-term risks of interfering with the natural development of the digestive system in infants and children. Medical journals and Medical Councils give strongly worded advice to only use proton-pump inhibitors, i.e. the drugs that are used for stomach aches in children, for as short a period of time as possible. Sadly, this advice is frequently ignored by a system that is too time-poor to work holistically when the simple prescription of a drug can, seemingly, make the problem go away.

If your child is already using these kinds of medications then, even before exploring further the causes and how to best treat them as we talk about next, you may need to consider finding an alternative approach that allows them to get off the acid-inhibiting drugs so that their body can start to correct itself with further treatment. A detailed article (on reflux, gastritis etc.) that goes into this subject and recommends certain herbs to help the transition is found here


Treat the Cause

Many children get stomach aches but there is always a reason. It can be a physical reason such as constipation, liver congestion or food intolerances, or it can also be how your child is telling you that they are stressed.

Bowel trouble

Firstly, make sure the bowel is emptying well. It will depend on the age and awareness of the child as to how much you will need to monitor this yourself and how much you can depend on their self-assessment. Many children have some degree of constipation without realising it and this can create all kinds of havoc in their health, including chronic stomach aches.

The generous inclusion of plenty of vegetables and fruits such as prunes and kiwi-fruit will sort out many children who need to improve their bowel health. Likewise, it can be important to check how much they are drinking as low-grade dehydration is a very common cause of constipation. If all these steps are being taken and they are still not fully and regularly emptying their bowels, then it is time to start using herbal medicines. Firstly, start by using the great bowel regulator Plantago husks. This has been seen to help many cases of people who need to improve bowel cleansing. It might not be easy for a child to take Plantago mixed into water, but it could certainly be mixed into foods or smoothies. More about it here

If plenty of fruit and vegetables, adequate hydration and a couple of tsps a day of Plantago still wasn't working then I would not hesitate to use a strong but gentle laxative herb and the most gentle but effective one for children is Cascara sagrada taken as a tincture. Here is a sample formula

Cascara Formula

Cascara sagrada 60mls
Fennel seed 30mls
Licorice root 20mls

This makes 110mls which will easily fit into a 100ml amber pharm round bottle. The Fennel and Licorice make it a lot easier to take and also for the body to better tolerate the Cascara. Bear in mind that the doses I am recommending are based on the tinctures we make from organic dried herbs in our own clinic, so a different supplier of herbs might have a higher or lower effective dose range.

I would suggest trying just 2 mls of this mixture in a little water in the evening and to see how effective it is the following day. If it was too strong and they got some stomach 'griping' (crampy pain) then wait until it was needed again and try taking just 1 ml to see how that went. If it was not obviously having a clear, cathartic action on the bowel then I would go up to 3 or even 4 mls the next night to see how this amount worked.

A child could safely take up to 8 mls of such a formula in a single dose, though it would be most unusual that they would even need such amounts. If no amount of Cascara was working then the next herb to go to is Senna, which is even stronger than Cascara but is also more likely to cause griping.

Once you have got the bowel working well you then phase out the Cascara and try to keep things going well with fruits, vegies, and water, and maybe think about trying the Plantago again. Sometimes the system just needs a proper clean out and then everything becomes a lot more responsive and easy to maintain.


Liver Health

Liver health is a crucial issue for many people and this does include some children. Far more than simply a filter for excess alcohol that people associate it to, this largest and 2nd most complex organ in the body (only surpassed by the brain) is involved in well over a thousand vital metabolic processes. It is unusual for the Liver to hurt by itself, unless it is very badly inflamed, but when it becomes congested, or stressed, it is common for there to be such symptoms as stomach aches, fatigue, irritability and an intolerance to the demands of life, diet and the environment.

It does not require a medical degree to gently palpate under the right side of the rib cage. If things feel soft and pliable, as they would on the other side on the left bottom-most rib when they stomach is empty, then all may be well. But in some children this area feels hard, stiff, taut, and one can feel through that most reliable of senses, our touch, that all is not well. A heavy coating in the middle and back of the tongue can be another useful indicator.

In practice, if I have any reason to think that a child who has been getting chronic stomach aches has any degree of liver health trouble I won't hesitate to give a formula of our liver activating and cleansing herbs. If they are not needed, then no harm will come to the child. If they are what is required then the turnaround to their general health, let alone how much their digestive health improves, can be nothing short of profound. Here's a sample formula

Liver Cleansing Formula

Dandelion root 50mls
Burdock root 50mls
Barberry 50mls
Chamomile 30mls
Licorice root 30mls

To make 210mls which will easily fit into an amber pharm round bottle. Again, bearing in mind that the dose range here is recommended from tinctures that we make in our own clinic, I would give between 2-5mls of this mixture twice daily until finished. A child of 3 or 4 about 2 or 3 mls, 5 or 6 years old around 4 mls, and older a strong 5 ml dose twice a day. Whilst using such a formula, I would likely ask the parents to do their best to follow a cleansing diet such as is written up here

Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)


Food Intolerances

If the child had any history of eczema or asthma, then you must consider food intolerance as a very high likelihood. Undiagnosed food intolerance is clearly a major source of chronic stomach aches in children.

Many people have now become aware of this possibility so there is a lot of literature and different approaches out there to read through or be aware of. I want to caution anyone reading this to be very careful about how they go about diagnosing food intolerance, as there are quite a few shonky methods being touted as accurate. This important subject is covered in the article on allergy and intolerance found here


Stress in the Gut

Having now worked with many children who suffer from this, whilst you have to very carefully rule out the above physical causes, I can say that the number one cause of chronic stomach aches in children is stress. The history will usually show the pattern that, when they are on holiday or things are going well at home they are much better but when they are in school or in stress the problem comes on worse. If they are better when they are relaxed and worse when they are stressed, then you must consider this as a primary cause. Fortunately, there are a number of herbs that are entirely safe for children to take and that have a marked physically relaxing action on the gut. This is a sample formula using some of the best of them

Relaxing GI Formula

Chamomile 40mls
Fennel 40mls
Licorice root 40mls
Wild Yam 30mls
Cramp bark 30mls
Peppermint 30mls

To make 210mls which will easily fit into an amber pharm round bottle. Again, bearing in mind that the dose range here is recommended from tinctures that we make in our own clinic, I would give between 2-4mls of this mixture up to four times daily as needed. A child of 3 or 4 about 2 mls, 5 or 6 years old around 3 mls, and older a strong 4 ml dose between two to four times a day.

Equally important is to use hands-on techniques to relax the belly. When I have a parent with the child who is getting stress-related stomach aches I show them some simple massage techniques tthen and there in my rooms and give them a cream or salve with relaxing herbs in it to use. I can't demonstrate those techniques on this page, but I want to encourage anyone reading this to trust their instincts and, so long as they set a clear intention with the child to do a belly massage for a few minutes each evening until the condition has cleared away, they are highly likely to get an excellent result in whatever way they do it. It is the loving contact and the intention to acknowledge and release the tension that does the work. if needed there are a number of other practical strategies that have been seen to be effective in the treatment of anxiety written up here

Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd