Herbs for Troubled Guts
On fragile, leaky and bloated guts
(by Jill Davies (www.herbshandshealing.co.uk))
Our stomachs are getting more fragile, leaky and bloated. Why and what can be done?
We are increasingly becoming more prone to food toxins and our guts ever more fragile, leaky and generally troubled. As the stomach is the engine room of our bodies and our everyday fuelling station, this is not a good trend. There are steps that can be taken to change this over time, so lets have a look.
Dandelions; their leaves are helpful for digestion, see below
An overview on the rise of gluten intolerance
Our intake of cereals and other processed foods (of which wheat is usually one ingredient) is as ever on the increase but the results of this diet trend is catching up with us all. So much so that many people are not just unable to process wheat habitually but many are becoming in general grain intolerant as well.
Cereal grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats) are not a naturally occurring wild plant. They have been bred and honed over thousands of years with recent changes enabling ever more efficient modern harvesting methods. Yet what still remains is the plants’ ability to compete and create toxic bio-chemicals to survive their predator, animals and indeed ‘us’ of course. These survival toxins deliberately aim to inhibit digestion and absorption of other essential nutrients including protein. Our ancient innate immune system predates (in evolutionary terms) our ‘adaptive’ immune system and will ‘non-specifically’ defend against these plant survival chemicals, with the result that the body goes into a minor or ‘violent’ inflammatory response.
One of these toxic compounds is the protein gluten which is in wheat and many other ‘everyday’ cereal grains. Gluten damages the intestine and allows it to leak like a colander. Indeed leaky gut syndrome is often a direct result of wheat intolerance. Leaky gut (LGS) is when the gut is both inflamed and porous, allowing large undigested food protein, bacteria, metals and toxic substances to go straight into the bloodstream. Dr. Kenneth Fine, a pioneer of gluten intolerance research has demonstrated that one in three Americans are gluten intolerant and that eight in ten, have the genes predisposing them to develop gluten intolerance. Celiacs are those who cannot tolerate any gluten but underneath this finite category are those all too close to that line in varying degrees of being affected, without realizing it.
What happens with a leaky gut and gluten intolerance?
We know that the freely moving toxins, leaking out of the gut cause inflammation, but what is less understood is that gluten intolerance can affect most tissue all over the body, and not just the stomach. The liver, the nucleus of cells, blood vessels, smooth muscle, the endocrine system, the brain are, or can be, all affected. This can cause Diabetes, Thyroid disorders, Osteporasis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and Neuro-degenerative disorders, the list is large. Not least, a whole raft of Psychiatric disorders which are being understood more and more by psychiatrists and ‘talking’ therapists. Many forms of gluten intolerance can include behavioural shifts, some slight, some severe. The gut brain alliance is very real and many people experience mood changes or depression type symptoms after eating. I’m a great fan of understanding P.N.E.I. (psycho-neuro endocrine immunology). This modern way of looking at pathology anatomy is very real.
The connection between Intestinal micro-flora, immunity & pro-biotics
The intestinal micro-flora will be hugely compromised so anything that re-populates the gut with good bacteria will be important.
Pro-biotics have been shown to reduce the toxicity of gluten as well as overpowering ‘unwanted’ ‘bad’ bacteria, fungus and virus.
Pro-biotics aid the manufacture of vitamins, aid the fermentation of fibres, help digest proteins and carbohydrates. They also help propagate anti-inflammatory factors and inflammation is huge with gluten intolerance.
Pre-biotics are found in many foods to include garlic, onion, leeks and of course chicory, which is rich in inulin. Consuming this prepares and keeps healthy the status quo for better pro-biotic activity.
Consume natural pro-biotics where possible to include sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice, tamari and miso, which is a soya paste rich in lots of lactobacillus and acidophilus (I really like the organic sweet white miso (Clearspring), great popped into smoothies, soups and other cooked and raw dishes.)
Note: avoid non-fermented soya products. The fermentation process particularly neutrilises the toxins in soya beans and turns the bean into a healthy, occasionally used food.
Avoid processed grains. Sprouted or fermented versions are okay and additionally these work as pre-biotics too.
Soothe, heal & transform
There are a great many ways to heal a leaky gut and re-populate the gut flora but it does take time; months or up to a year depending on the severity of damage. Here are a few suggestions:-
Use gut mucosal soothers and ‘re-liners’ like Slippery Elm, Marshmallow, Arrowroot, Turmeric, Flax seed.
Ensure plenty of ‘gas’ or flatulence relieving foods like Cumin, Ginger and Peppermint.
Eat plenty or take plenty of digestive herbs, those just mentioned are excellent but others include ‘bitters’ like Gentian, Artichoke and Dandelion leaf.
Never cook Black Pepper, always use fresh and at the end of cooking or in raw foods. Black Pepper encourages the curcurmins in Turmeric to be better absorbed.
Important for us ladies to realize; same digestive system as men but squeezed into a smaller space as our reproductive organs also need room. So wind for women can be much more painful and harder to relieve. Equally we usually have a smaller abdomen and shifting hormones throughout our lives. Hormone fluctuations also make matters much worse, menstruation, menopause really do accentuate the problem.
Use herbs to kill opportunistic bacteria & fungus but time them carefully
Many of the herbs used to kill off unwanted micro-organisms will also kill off the good guys too, so the protocol is to leave a two hour gap. Take the herb(s) to kill, leave two hours and take a pro-biotic either in a capsule or food form, or both.
Oregano oil and other culinary essential oil rich herbs are strong and effective. However they are indiscriminate killers but vital to help re-set the gut microbial environment.
There was a reason that stored foods (especially meats) were preserved with cloves. They are simply brilliant at killing a huge range of opportunistic bacteria, fungus, virus, worms and parasites.
Berberine rich herbs
The category of plants containing the bio-chemical berberine all help normalize the body’s intestinal flora. These herbs are Mahonia (Oregano grape). (See my Facebook entry and picture a few weeks ago on this.) There is also Berberis vulgaris (Barberry). Finally, there is the very strong (and expensive) Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).
There are so many reasons why olive leaves are excellent for leaky gut. The two main ones are their elenolic acid which disrupts receptor sites on pathogens, aiding the killing off of excess microbes. It is also very anti-inflammatory, helping soothe and calm.