Incorporating Herbs for a Balanced Gut
Jun 30, 2020 06:00AM
By Julie Peterson
Herbs have been used through the ages for health and wellness. Whether in food, as medicine, or applied topically, herbs can offer benefits for the body. For those concerned about gut health, overall health and immunity, many herbs are effective and simple to incorporate.
The herbs needed for a healthy gut vary among people, as does the dosing and the method of delivery. Everyone’s gut microbiome is different and certain illnesses or conditions can cause it to be deficient in different ways, so a complete health history and advisement is recommended before consuming herbs to improve gut health.
Someone with Crohn’s, for example, may need herbs to heal and reduce inflammation throughout the digestive tract so that nutrients can be properly absorbed. Simpler issues, such as bloating or indigestion, could be resolved with something like slippery elm or ginger. Ginger could be made into tea or eaten as crystallized ginger. Even a natural ginger ale could be used.
Other herbs to promote a healthy digestive system include cloves, peppermint and turmeric. “[Turmeric] works on inflammation, it works on balancing your digestion, it gets that gut microbe microbiome working the way it's supposed to,” says Cecelia Avitabile, Master Herbalist and Certified Nutritional Consultant at The Herb Corner in Melbourne. Incorporating turmeric is simple when added to soups or smoothies.
Another aspect to gut health is to include herbs that are rich in fiber. “You might want to do some dandelion root or some burdock…use chia seeds or flax seeds just to add some natural fiber to your gut,” says Avitabile.
A common issue, Gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD, is caused by an overly acid gut, which becomes more common with age. “Slippery Elm is great for putting the proper mucilaginous enzymes in your gut and it helps to boost the mucus secretion, so everything stays balanced with the acidity that's in your gut,” says Avitabile.
Gina Kearney, Clinical Herbalist at Herbs & Owls in Jupiter, says, “Inulin…is a well-studied prebiotic that nourishes the beneficial gut flora including Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.” She adds that it also helps to regulate blood sugar, enhance immunity, lower cholesterol and increase absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Inulin can be found in chicory root, sunchokes, burdock, dandelion, elecampane, garlic, onion, asparagus, artichoke leaf, asparagus and beets. Kearney advises increasing inulin consumption by adding dandelion to salads or artichoke leaf to tea.
Whole Body Health
Joanna Helms, Registered Herbalist (AHG) and owner of Mama Jo's Sunshine Herbals in Indian Harbour Beach, points out that our microbiome is on all the surfaces of our body, inside and out,
and our health defenses begin with good bacteria. Unfortunately, overuse of sanitizers can alter that microbiome and kill off some of the good bacteria, leading to a compromised microbiome.
“We don’t have to look for what’s going to go after the virus to suppress it or attack it,” says Helms. By keeping the body healthy, the immune system is more capable of doing what it’s supposed to do. Common aromatic household herbs such as rosemary, cinnamon and ginger are great to incorporate into the diet for this purpose.
Thyme is another beneficial whole-body herb that is antimicrobial and antibacterial. And don’t overlook raw or cooked garlic in the diet. Raw garlic combines with chemicals in the body and creates new chemical constituents that fight off bacteria in the lungs. Cooked garlic enhances the immune system.
Not an herb, but apple cider vinegar can be a beneficial and natural solution. “Apple cider vinegar kills microbes that are negative to us, but builds the microbiome,” says Helms. It can be used as a diluted body spray, in the bath water or consumed to build the good bacteria in and on the body.
Consult with an Expert
Herbs can be made into teas, compresses, foot soaks, capsules, syrups, foods and more. Some people may have an aversion to drinking tea but will take a capsule. Others may prefer a liquid syrup. An herbalist can be helpful to ensure the correct delivery system. “I try to make it palatable and usable for the person that we're working with,” says Avitabile.
Consulting with an expert can help determine the root cause of what’s going on in the gut and elsewhere in the body. Sometimes digestive problems start with stressful events or are the result of a medication that’s being taken, it can be complex. Avitabile says, “I like to call myself an herbal detective.”
Kearney says, for example, that incorporating inulin when the gut microbiome is severely damaged may not be the best first step. Other healing herbs may be needed first, before general gut health herbs will be effective.
Helms says that dosing is also important. With some herbs, too much can cause problems, while the right amount can alleviate problems.
To learn more, watch our video and audio interviews with these herbalists at myNaturalAwakenings.com/HerbsForTheGut.