You probably know that plants, including herbs, may be extremely important for gut function and the health of your resident gut microbiome. Herbs have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory “phytochemicals” that promote digestive health and nourish your digestive tract lining.
Herbs may have an impact on virtually all aspects of digestive tract function, starting before we even eat a meal, by stimulating the appetite. Let’s begin our exploration of how herbs support digestive health. Some herbs promote food breakdown and nutrient absorption. Others support the health and integrity of the esophageal, stomach and intestinal lining. Herbs may also reduce diarrhea or constipation, and in some cases may even get at the root cause(s) of digestive upsets. Herbs provide support for bloating, spasm and discomfort. There are even herbs that influence the microbial balance our gut.
So, take bloating as an example. Herbs have traditionally been used for bloating for thousands of years. How do herbs help relieve bloating? Depends on the herb and the cause of the bloating.
Bloating may result from simply swallowing air, especially if we’re wolfing down a meal. Or, bloating may result from poor gastrointestinal (GI) tract motility, which means that our digestive tract is a little sluggish when it comes to pushing our food (and any gas) down the digestive tract. Gas may accumulate anywhere along the line: The stomach, the small intestine or the large intestine. In these cases, an herb such as Fennel may help to promote proper peristalsis (the rhythmic contractions that moves things along).
Weak digestive function may also cause bloating, because partially digested food molecules may be fermented by resident gut microbes, resulting in gas. In this case, a digestive bitter herb such as Gentian, Angelica or Dandelion may fit the bill, by improving food break down before they get to your bacteria through multiple effects on the digestive process.
Let’s use ulcerations in the GI tract lining as another example. There are herbs for encouraging tissue healing or for preventing the ulcers to begin with in the stomach or duodemum (the first section of the small intestine where ulcers commonly occur). And even further down the line to the gut, herbs such as Yarrow, Chamomile, Plantain and Calendula have been traditionally used to promote gut lining health in the face of inflammatory, tissue-damaging conditions. And, indeed, emerging research science is starting to support the use of botanicals for aid in inflammatory bowel disorders.
Research also shows that different herbs may even have a variety of effects on intestinal permeability, related to “Leaky Gut Syndrome”. You want your intestinal lining toned, as it is the barrier that determines what does and doesn’t cross over into the body.
This is just the start, but we are here to guide you through how herbs can be supportive in any gut healing protocol.