Natural health: Gilbert’s disease and a hiatus hernia

Q. I was wondering if you have come across Gilbert’s disease, and if you have any suggestions to treat it?

A. Gilbert’s disease, once considered to be a very rare condition, now affects around 5% of the population. What basically happens is that the liver is unable to properly process bilirubin, leading to an excess in the blood.

Typically this condition doesn’t cause much trouble for the sufferer, but can result in a feeling of tiredness, loss of appetite, and mild depression.

With the liver being the place where bilirubin is formed, it makes sense to support and protect this organ. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), also known as St. Mary’s thistle, has long been used for liver health, and has been shown to actually help regenerate liver cells as well as improving liver function.

Find a supplement that provides around 100mg of the active constituent, silymarin, and take this three times daily for best results.

You will also need to consider cutting out any substances that place any additional stress on the liver, such as alcohol, caffeine, and highly-processed foods. Drinking a reasonable quantity of water will help – around 2 litres of filtered or pure water daily to assist the detoxification process.

Q. My business partner is considering surgery for a hiatus hernia. Is there anything naturally that he should be doing to prepare for this event? The surgeon wants him to lose weight before he will perform the surgery.

A. Obesity is a common trigger of hiatus hernia, along with jobs requiring heavy lifting. What happens is that a portion of the upper area of the stomach protrudes through the oesophageal hiatus into the chest cavity. It does appear that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to this condition, but factors such as smoking, poor posture, long-term constipation, or chronic coughing are also an issue.

It is important that your business partner is aware of which type of hernia he is dealing with – either sliding or fixed. A sliding hiatus hernia occurs when the upper portion of the stomach slides up through the hiatus as a result of increased pressure in the abdominal area, sliding back to a normal position once the pressure is released; whereas a fixed hiatus hernia occurs when the upper stomach actually becomes trapped in the chest cavity above the diaphragm.

I mentioned constipation as a possible trigger for this condition, although it should be noted that constipation can also occur as a result of the hiatus hernia, exacerbating the symptoms associated with this condition. It is also common for heartburn to become a problem since the weakness in the hiatus (diaphragm opening) allows stomach acids to reflux into the oesophagus.

Psyllium husks can help with the constipation, and also to improve cholesterol levels and assist in losing some of the excess weight. Take 1-2 teaspoons stirred into 250-300ml of water or freshly-pressed juice each morning and again in the evening. Food and drink should be avoided in the 2-3 hours before lying down, to minimise the discomfort.

Taking care to chew each mouthful thoroughly is very important both in terms of minimising symptoms, and helping to lose the weight before surgery. Smaller meals eaten more frequently are best, and keep the ingredients very natural and simple. Soups and stews are great options. There are foods that are also best avoided due to the distress they may cause – including spicy and/or fatty foods, strong foods and beverages such as coffee, peppermint, chocolate, and alcohol.

Surgery is necessary where the hernia is quite large, or in cases where there is a pre-existing pulmonary condition. Doctors will only recommend this in a small percentage of cases, so it is wise for your associate to heed the surgeon’s advice in this situation!

Slouching, heavy lifting and bending (including gardening) are all likely to trigger symptoms, so your partner should keep these activities to a minimum. He may also find that the simple step of raising his bedhead by 4-6 inches in order to sleep on a slight incline will help with symptomatic relief.


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