Stomach Aches

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Finding a good herbalist

Note that, whilst this article is written with children in mind, it can all be just as applicable to adults. The recommendations in it are entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, there may be much benefit in going to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. Some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person are here

Conventional Medicine's Approach

All children get stomach aches sometimes, but if they have become chronic; lasting and more serious, then you may well have been to your GP, and as commonly happens, you may have been told there is nothing seriously wrong but have been given a prescription to reduce stomach acids nevertheless.

I suggest you think carefully about the wisdom of giving a child a drug such as omeprazole, or any other kind of medication that reduces stomach acid because, whilst it may alleviate the discomfort, especially at first, there can be a heavy price to pay later on.

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 fortunately able to correct? No, not at all. People, and children especially, need to make these intensely powerful digestive juices because that is what it takes to break the proteins down into small enough particles that we can absorb and use.

Proteins are incredibly important, we use them for everything. Every cell in our body needs proteins to exist in the first place. We need them to rebuild ourselves every day from the wear and tear of being alive. A child especially needs them, to grow!

Messing with what it takes to get the building blocks our bodies need is a dangerous long-term strategy. I am not in the least 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 starts happening later on with the drug that was started some months ago.

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, it can also be how a child shows their stress.

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 own 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, especially such fruits as prunes or kiwis, will sort out many children who need to improve their regularity. It may be equally or even more important to check how much they are drinking, because low-grade dehydration is also a common cause of constipation.

If enough fruit, vegetables and water are being taken, but they are still not regularly emptying their bowels, then it is time to start using herbs, starting with 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 simply mixed into water, not because of its taste as it has none, but because of its rapidly thickening texture, however it can 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 it may be time to use a laxative herb, the most gentle and effective one of these for children is called Cascara sagrada, and it is best taken as a tincture. For example, 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 much easier to take by way of taste and they also make it easier for the body to better tolerate the Cascara with little to no griping when it empties the bowel.

Bear in mind that the doses I recommend here are based on our own tinctures that we make from organic dried herbs in our clinic, therefore 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 to see how effective it was by 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 ever need such a high amount. If no amount of Cascara was working then the next herb to go to is Senna, which is even stronger than Cascara but also a lot 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 initially, then everything becomes a lot more responsive.


Liver Health

Liver health is a crucial issue for many people, including children. The liver is far more than just a filter for excess alcohol that it is associate to. It is the largest organ in the body and the 2nd most complex one, only surpassed by the brain. The liver is involved in well over a thousand vital metabolic processes and, whilst it is unusual for the liver to hurt by itself, unless it is badly inflamed, when it becomes congested and burdened 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 of a child. Trust the sensitivity of your own hands. If things feel soft and pliable, as they should on the left hand side, also just under the ribs, when they stomach is empty, then all may be well.

However, in some children this area, just under the right side of the ribs, feels hard and stiff 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 that the liver may need some help with cleansing.

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 digestive health, and then usually their general health too, can be quite dramatic. Here's a sample formula by way of an example:

Liver Cleansing Formula

Dandelion root 60mls
Burdock root 50mls
Barberry 40mls
Chamomile 30mls
Licorice root 30mls

To make 210mls which will easily fit into a 200ml 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 twice a day, a child or 5 or 6 years old around 4 mls twice a day, and an older child the strong dose of 5 mls twice a day.
Whilst using such a formula, I would also likely be asking the parents to do their best to follow the cleansing protocol as 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 being highly likely. 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 are now a number of different approaches to it and I want to sound a caution to be careful about the important matter of diagnosis as there are a number of unreliable methods out there. This subject is covered in more depth in the article on allergy and intolerance found here


Stress in the Gut

Having worked with many children who suffer from chronic stomach aches, and whilst you must carefully rule out the above physical causes, I will say that the number one cause of chronic stomach aches in children is stress.

Their history often shows the pattern that, when they are on holiday or when things are going well, they are better or even completely fine, but when they are in school or in stress the problem reappears or gets worse.

If the child is better when they are relaxed and worse when they are stressed, then stress is highly likely to at least be a contributor, possibly even the primary cause.

Fortunately, there are a number of herbs that are entirely safe for children to take that have a marked physical relaxing action on the gut. For example

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 from 1-4 times a day, a 5 or 6 years old child around 3 mls from 1-4 times a day, and an older child a strong 4 ml dose from 1-4 times a day.

It can be equally important to use some hands-on techniques to relax the belly. When I have a parent come in with their child who appears to be getting stress-related stomach aches I show them some simple massage techniques then and there in my rooms.

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 been cured, 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.

Further to this, 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