'You should take fish oils if you've got arthritis/period problems/menopause symptoms.' The list goes on, and you hear it from friends and see it in all the health advice. But what if they upset your stomach or give you heartburn? I've seen a lot of people who give up on the oils because of digestive problems, and it's a shame. But there are solutions.
Fish oils – and oils from seeds, especially evening primrose and starflower – are important because they help build anti-inflammatory hormones in our bodies, and inflammation is at the root of all the ailments on the list. What's more, from a holistic point of view, long-term digestive problems can make you more prone to inflammatory disorders. In other words, your digestive troubles are not just an annoying obstacle, they may be part of the cause of the trouble in the first place.
You can work on strengthening your digestive system
So it's doubly important to deal with them, if they can both cause more serious problems and prevent you taking what you need to address them. Sometimes there may be particular foods that are upsetting your system, and it's worth trying exclusions – particularly of dairy products and wheat – to see if things improve. But at the same time, you can work on strengthening your digestive system so that it can cope with difficult things, and herbs really come into their own here.
So many herbs can help!
There's a whole range of herbs that can help, from the lovely aromatics like ginger and mint that we use in herb teas, to the bitters that help your liver to work well and regulate bowel action. There are herbs that reduce stomach acid, stimulate appetite, calm down griping and quell inflammation. And when, in due course, your stomach gets stronger, you can cope with things like fish oil. But by that time, the other problems may well have eased too.
Editor: Su is happy to answer any questions you may have via email on her website.