Gastro-intestinal (GI) health plays a significant role in your body's ability to feel well. The integrity of the gut mucosa is hugely important; it determines what enters the bloodstream and therefore influences all the systems of the human body.
Not least importantly, positive gut health creates strong physical and mental health.
During our blog 2 weeks ago, we dove into leaky gut, what may cause it, and how it
may impact the body and mind.
Herbal medicine can gently and powerfully help promote healing in the gut and aid in repairing damage associated with leaky gut.
When addressing an individual with potential leaky gut, I take the whole person into account. Doing so ensures no one's herbal formula will be the same. I look at the function of a person’s digestive system, their skin, immune system, mental health, and mood, along with any other
symptoms that may be presented.
In general, my herbal approach will focus on the following: inflammation, healing mucous membranes, immune support, and liver support.
Two of my favourite herbs used to reduce inflammation in the body, specifically within the
digestive system, are Chamomile and Meadowsweet.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is often referred to as “the Mother of the gut” due to its gentle
yet effective nature in relieving many ailments of the digestive system. Chamomile helps relieve
digestive pain, gas, bloating, and dyspepsia (indigestion). It brings comfort to symptoms experienced from Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Chamomile can reduce stomach acid, control inflammation, and promote healing of ulcers. It also helps relieve tense muscles and mental irritability.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is soothing and protective to the mucous membranes, making it worthwhile for most conditions of the GI tract.
Notable examples include dyspepsia, acid reflux, and ulcers. Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, from which acetyl salicylic acid (ASA) is derived. It is a wonderful plant for those who rely on NSAIDs for inflammatory pain, but wish to avoid the irritation that NSAIDs cause the gut. Meadowsweet works gradually but effectively on chronically inflamed tissues, like arthritic joints.
To further the repair of inflammation and degradation of intestinal lining, I incorporate
demulcent and vulnerary herbs.
Demulcents refer to soothing herbs that are rich in mucilage (moisture attracting - imagine oats in oatmeal) that protect and heal irritated, inflamed internal tissue.
My favourite demulcent herb for gut irritation is Marshmallow root (Althea officials radix). No, this herb is not a sugar-filled white puffy candy. Marshmallow candies are named from this mucilaginous herb.
Soothing Marshmallow root is used primarily for digestive problems. It contains large amounts of mucilage, making it an excellent demulcent to coat the GI mucosa.
This coating protects the gut from irritation, while countering excess stomach acid. This herb is also suitable for elderly clients who have chronic inflammatory conditions affecting the GI.
Vulnerary herbs have wound healing action, which includes those in the gut. To heal wounds within, I may consider Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), Marigold (Calendula officinalis), or Comfrey leaf (Symphytum officinalis folia). These herbs would come in handy to treat irritation in the lining of the intestines, healing and reducing the size of enlarged pathways. If seeking vulnerary herbal action with one of these herbs, I encourage a consult with a health professional, as they have specific functions within the body, and some with precautions to consider.
Of course, with foreign substances entering the body in the case of leaky gut, it is necessary to
support immune system function. The herbs I may use here include Echinacea (Echinacea
angustifolia or purpurea), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), Reishi mushroom
(Ganoderma lucidum), Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosis), or Ashwagandha
These are adaptogenic herbs that act to support the liver, improving phagocytosis, and the elimination of antigens, and immune function (each herb has a
specific action, and more information is needed for effective use). To support the liver in the process, I would use Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) - we have discussed in detail in an earlier blog. Supporting the liver in the case of leaky gut is crucial in strengthening the body to detoxify excess toxins that have entered through the leaky gut.
As Leaky Gut implies, antigens have entered the bloodstream and potential symptoms have
arisen elsewhere in the body, there will be other herbal actions to consider for a holistic and
effective approach to treatment. Herbal medicine can help heal damage, and promote
optional function of organs to protect and prevent future irritation, but complete healing cannot
occur with herbs alone; diet and other factors must be altered as well.
As a fan of living life to its full potential, including treats (occasional inflammatory food and drink), I think it is important to remember balance, and to remember our herbal allies when we need help regrinding into ourselves.
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC