Think about the basic mechanics of your car. It has an engine that needs to run smoothly in order to keep all the other systems moving along. And most automotive hoses are designed to move fuel, air, wastes, and information in one direction only without blockages and mishaps.

Well, your body operates in much the same way. The "engine" that runs everything else is your digestive system. Its functions are to break down, absorb, and assimilate food and nutrients in order to optimally use the fuel you put in your tank.

But what if your digestive system isn't functioning as well as it should? A malfunction at this point can disrupt your whole body's balance, resulting in anything from discomfort, heartburn, bloating, and other inconveniences to more far-reaching and longer-lasting conditions such as arthritis, allergies, moodiness, autoimmune issues, skin problems, low energy--actually many more repercussions than I can fit into a list right now.

We've all experienced digestive problems from time to time. That's only natural--after all, not all of us have "iron stomachs." On the contrary, many of us have more delicate systems, resulting in two conditions that I see in my office day after day: acid reflux (also known as GERD) and IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, disorders of the upper and the lower digestive systems respectively.

Ever had a burning feeling in your chest or a sour or bitter taste in your mouth more than twice a week, each episode lasting for up to a few hours after you eat? If so, it may be acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This condition is caused by the backup of acid and stomach contents into the esophagus. Acid reflux is so common that "the purple pill" and other prescription and over-the-counter remedies are now well-known household names.

You could also have another, quieter type of acid reflux while you sleep and not even know it. The chronic dry cough, hoarseness, and even allergy-like nasal congestion that many patients suffer throughout the day is actually caused by acid reflux. This is reflux that occurs at night without any burning sensations at all. Your doctor may diagnose this condition as "silent reflux."

What causes acid reflux? Many things! Here are just a few of the most common offenders: stress, weight gain, alcohol, caffeine, eating large meals, eating too close to bedtime, eating too quickly, citrus, dairy, chocolate, tomatoes, diet soda, and spicy food. Other health conditions can also contribute.

What about IBS? Characterized by alternating constipation and diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, may be mild or merely inconvenient in some patients. For others, the condition can be painful, cause urgency, or trigger bloating, fatigue, and headaches. These symptoms are often made worse by certain foods (see above), stress, and other irritants. I've actually treated patients who have had to stay home or plan trips around restroom availability! Not fun at all.

Enough talk--let's take action.

If acid reflux or IBS affects you or someone you know, take control. Begin with a doctor's checkup. But don't stop there. Also learn about the many holistic, natural ways to approach and ease these conditions so they don't run your life.

Remember that the digestive system is responsible for the assimilation of the "fuel" that you put into your tank to keep the body's systems running. If there is a backflow, you may experience acid reflux (or GERD), and if there are problems lower down, you may develop IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

These problems are very unpleasant, but they don't have to be permanent. Apply my 3Rs to make the changes you need to get your system running smoothly again.

RECOGNIZE what's going on. Are you paying attention to what your body is saying, or do you wave off regularly occurring symptoms? Statements like "It's just indigestion," "It was only something I had for lunch," or "It's just stress at work" can actually be signs of denial, a signal that you're not listening to your body's cues. Be honest. You know who you are.

Those statements may be true, okay, but maybe they're not the whole story. Take a few minutes during your day to stop and listen to your body--to your gut specifically--to see whether it's happy. If it is, great. But if it's complaining, get on the road to feeling better with steps like the ones below.

REFRAME your thoughts and actions. Change your thinking to accept responsibility for your health from the inside out. Then follow each thought with a change in your habits. Here's the surprise: Most of these suggestions work to relieve both acid reflux and IBS!

1) I can effectively troubleshoot to identify potential pitfalls.
To identify possible food triggers, plan to do a mild detox. My suggested routine is doable and usually lasts only one week. During this time, you'll eat plenty of fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, and nuts while eliminating wheat, dairy, sugar, peanuts, citrus, fatty meats, yeast, eggs, sodas, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, processed food, and alcohol. Relief from acid reflux or IBS during the detox period might indicate that what you've eliminated is a problem food for you. This knowledge will help you manage your symptoms in the future.

2) I can gain support to lighten my load.
Too much physical body weight can exacerbate digestive conditions. Think about starting a nutrition plan to target both your digestion and weight management. You might be carrying too much mental weight, as well: your stress. Techniques such as guided meditation and NET (neuroemotional technique) can ease the heavy feelings caused by stress. And since there are so many receptors for emotion in your digestive system, it's no wonder that stress can be a leading cause of problems there.

3) I can look for ways to safely improve my digestive activity.
An individualized supplement plan is ideal. It might include probiotics to repopulate healthy bacteria; herbal or mineral treatments such as slippery elm and zinc; glutamine, deglycerized licorice, and digestive enzymes to soothe the intestines; and/or other nutritional components like fiber as an agent to clear the intestinal tract.

4) I can navigate curves in the road.
Your day presents challenges as well as opportunities to take positive actions. Are you eating too fast? Please slow down. Are you going to bed too soon after eating? Wait a few hours. Are you eating too much at once? Try smaller meals spaced three hours apart. Are you exercising? Try moving; it usually helps. Are you sleeping in a flat position? Acid reflux can be decreased by raising the mattress at the head.

5) I can try a time-tested route that's been used for thousands of years.
As a licensed acupuncturist, I am pleased to report that this modality helps to alleviate the discomfort of acid reflux and IBS as well as to rebalance the nervous system. Acupuncture can balance the meridians, especially the yin/yang partners, Stomach and Spleen, and infuse a calm energy that helps to alleviate distress and discomfort. I can even teach you helpful acupressure points that you can later use at home.

RECLAIM the health you deserve. A healthy digestive system will result in improved overall wellness. Find peace in knowing that you are doing your best to keep your body in optimal condition. Stay resolved to take the measures that will start you feeling and looking your finest.

Author's Bio: 

Bio with links: Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta's goal is not only to relieve patients' illness and discomfort, but to help them set realistic goals for physical and mental preventative care and overall wellness. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers.