Gut Supporting Herbs: Herbal Medicine For Digestive Health

Prioritizing your gut health is arguably the most important thing you should do for your body. Your digestive tract is responsible for so much, that if something is off there, everything is off. We’ve all been told that healthy digestion is key to our health, but, did you ever look into why? Do you know everything the gut is responsible for?

Nutrient Absorption

Digestion plays a crucial role in nutrient absorption

Immune Function

80% of your immune system is in your gut

Inflammation Control

Since so much of the immune system is located in the gut, it makes sense that when the gut is off, our immune system is too. When the immune system is not operating correctly, it can cause high levels of inflammation throughout the entire body.

Metabolism

A healthy gut microbiome supports healthy metabolism

Mood and Hormone Regulation

Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? Traditional medicine has even done lots of research on how important our gastrointestinal health is. The vagus nerve connects the gut and the brain, allowing them to communicate and influence hormone release. These communications influence hormone-producing glands like the ovaries, the adrenals, and the thyroid. Without a healthy gut, hormone balance can be off and cause a large variety of problems across the entire body.

 

Gut Problems

There are many important parts to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. The gut microbiome contains millions of gut-friendly organisms that support healthy digestion. Without these organisms, you will start to experience digestive issues.

Some of the digestive issues you may experience when your gut is damaged include but are not limited to:

-Leaky Gut Syndrome

-Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

-Indigestion Symptoms

-An increase in autoimmune symptoms

-Functional bowel problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain, and upset stomach

-Chronic diarrhea

Even when we’re doing everything right, sometimes there are things outside of our control that can start gut issues in us. Antibiotic use, allergic reactions, and virtually any illness can wreak a healthy gut fast. The good news is that there are many things you can do to protect and support your gut. How we respond to these types of events can determine what direction our gut health is going to take. Starting a strong gut protocol during these situations can support your system and help prevent problems before they start.

Gut-Supportive Herbs

Herbs have the potential to provide multiple health benefits because they contain many different beneficial properties that can support your overall health. Some of the best herbs that can be used to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract include:

Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra)

Slippery Elm Bark contains a mucilage that is both soothing and nourishing to the digestive lining. It has an absorbent property that will help rid the body of irritants and excess acid in the stomach. However, this herb should only be purchased from a sustainable source or harvested sustainably as it is at high risk for extinction. Our next herb shares many of the same properties and can be used if you cannot acquire a sustainable source of slippery elm bark.

slippery elm bark

Marshmallow Root (Althea officinalis)

Marshmallow plant and flower

The demulcent and anti-inflammatory properties of marshmallow root are highly beneficial to those who have an inflamed and damaged gut. Marshmallow root produces a thick mucilage that coats the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, providing a soothing layer on the digestive tract. It is highly beneficial for a damaged gut lining that can occur from chronic conditions such as leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel disease, ulcers, and gut-centered autoimmune diseases. **Important to note: The barrier that marshmallow leaves on the gut can cause issues with medication absorption. If you are on pharmaceuticals, especially mental health medications, and diabetic medications, be sure to allow several hours between using marshmallow and taking your medication.

 

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice root has strong anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive system. It can also be helpful in supporting healthy blood sugar levels. **Important to note: Licorice root comes with several warnings and contraindications. If you would like to consider using this herb, consider purchasing deglycyrrhizinated licorice root. This type of licorice root is less likely to cause adverse reactions and can be used for short periods.

licorice root

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

peppermint

Peppermint has several gut-loving properties that can help in acute situations. The antacid, anti-emetic, carminative, and tonic properties make it ideal for settling an upset stomach, calming nausea, relaxing the gut effects of motion sickness, and expelling gas. **Important to note: Peppermint can cause an increase in symptoms for those who have GERD and for those who have gallstones.

 

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Chamomile is another excellent anti-inflammatory herb for the gut. It has antispasmodic properties to help with abdominal conditions that cause cramping, and carminative properties help expel gas from the digestive tract. It’s a powerful herb but is gentle for sensitive people and for infants suffering from colic or other gut upset.

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale)

This common weed is a powerful gut-loving herb. It has alternative (blood-purifying), bitter, cholagogue, tonic, diuretic, and hepatoprotective properties that all benefit the gut in a variety of ways. It is one of many digestive bitters and contains a compound called inulin which is a type of fiber that has prebiotic properties that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Though the entire plant is beneficial, the root is particularly beneficial for stimulating the flow of bile, offering great support for the liver.

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Aloe Vera juice is commonly used for topical application for burns, and skin irritations. But, it has wonderful properties that support the gut. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, demulcent, emollient, laxative, purgative, and vulnerary properties. All of these properties are beneficial to the gastrointestinal system, specifically for people who have inflammatory conditions in the gut. It is suggested to only use the diluted pulp of the plant to avoid any possible side effects. However, many herbalists suggest children, the elderly, and pregnant women should avoid using aloe vera juice.

 

aloe vera plant

Plantain (Plantago major)

plantain

Plantain’s herbal properties are antiseptic, antivenemous, astringent, decongestant, demulcent, drawing, emollient, and vulnerary. Its astringent and vulnerary properties are the most beneficial for a damaged gut. These properties support tissue healing in many areas across the body. In the gut, it’s particularly supportive in healing the digestive lining. Stomach ulcers, peptic ulcers, and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can cause significant damage to the sensitive mucus membranes that make up the gut. The vulnerary and astringent properties of Plantain help to knit those damaged properties back together and support healing.

Finding Healing

Herbs are fabulous tools to support healing. However, using herbs alone will not help you achieve that goal. When you start your healing journey, the most beneficial thing to do before you start any protocol is to evaluate 3 things:

 

Diet
 

 

It’s important to determine what you’re eating or not eating that could be contributing to your struggles. Keep a journal to track your foods and look for patterns in what you eat and how you are feeling. If you’re not getting any answers that way, you may want to consider doing an elimination diet. When I started looking for food triggers that would flare my health issues, I did the autoimmune paleo diet. It is a temporary elimination diet that is designed to help you identify what foods are contributing to your inflammation, pain, and other symptoms. It’s a very effective diet, but it’s very hard.

There are obvious things that you can do if you don’t want to try such an intense diet. Some things to try that could be beneficial are eliminating refined sugar, wheat, dairy, and high-starch foods, and experimenting with whether a higher-fat diet would be beneficial. Whatever way you choose, be sure to pay close attention to how your body reacts, and write it down. 

 

 

Lifestyle
 

 

Lifestyle is a big part of managing gut health. Just as I mentioned at the beginning of this, the gut-brain connection is responsible for regulating many things. If you’re not addressing things like lack of sleep, high-stress jobs, and unhealthy relationships, you’re missing a big part of what your gut needs to truly heal. If you’re someone who has a nervous stomach, IBS, or IBD, you’ve probably experienced cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when you’ve been super stressed. It all comes back to that gut-brain connection. Our stress, fear, and exhaustion, from whatever reason, can drastically increase symptoms.

 

 

Conditions, Medications, Supplements and Herbs
 

 

Before you start any herbal protocol or take any supplements, it is incredibly important to fully consider your medical history and your medications. Herbs are gentle but powerful, and they can have drug interactions, warnings, and side effects that you need to be aware of BEFORE you start an herbal protocol.

 

 

 

 

Real healing can only come when you’re considering the whole body. Especially when you’re talking about the gut. If you only choose to do a portion of what’s needed to heal your gut, you won’t have the best results. Healing is a long and hard road sometimes. But it is possible. If you’re struggling, don’t be discouraged. Remember that herbalism is an amazing gift from God. But, he also gave us the gift of allopathic medicine, and there is no shame in using conventional medicine and herbalism together to help you take control back and find healing.

 

 

 

 

 

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