By Angela MacRitchie for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).
The digestive system starts in the mouth and is a tube that runs for nearly 9.0 meters from top to bottom – literally! It is a tunnel that permits the outside world to run throughout the body.
The digestive system is divided into the mouth, the oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine (also called ‘large bowel’ or ‘colon’) with accessory organs such as the salivary glands, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
The digestive tract serves to transport, break down foods and provide us with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Finally the waste is carried away from all the cells.
When this system is out of balance or dis-eased, it causes a myriad of symptoms and knock-on effects in other areas of the body from our immune system to the chemicals that control our moods. Not to mention the one hundred trillion bacteria that live there!
Almost all societies have traditionally used herbs for their amazing nutritional benefits as well as their medicinal powers. So what herbs can help us with our digestive system which has such a massive effect on the entire body?
Bitter herbs can help to promote digestive secretions and speed up digestion. An everyday bitter is Gentian that reduces bloating, gas, symptoms of food allergies and indigestion. Other bitter herbs include Barberry Bark, Dandelion Root and Artichoke.
These herbs may help prevent as well as reduce flatulence and bloating. They can be beneficial in addressing colic, decreasing muscle spasms and intestinal cramping. Some increase bile flow, therefore aiding in the digestion of fats. A few are: Fennel, Chamomile, Dill, Peppermint, Angelica and Ginger.
Pre Biotic Herbs (Fibre Herbs)
These herbs need to be powdered in order to benefit from their soluble fibre. Fibre keeps the cells in the digestive tract healthy and keeps the digestive tract flowing with soft formed and regular bowel movements. Added to this, the pre biotics fertilize the pro biotics, the substances that feed our healthy bacteria. They include: Dandelion Root, Burdock Root, Chicory Root, Elecampane and Plaintain.
This group of herbs creates a healing slime that coats and soothes the gut wall providing lubrication that enables an easier and softer bowel motion. Such herbs include: Marshmallow, Slippery Elm Bark, and Mullein Leaf.
Anti Inflammatory Herbs
Reducing inflammation is vital to gut health and helps reduce the symptoms seen in IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis and many other gut-related conditions. Useful herbs include Chamomile, Liquorice Root, Frankincense and Turmeric.
Anthroquinine Herbs – Stimulating Laxatives
Chronic constipation is debilitating for thousands of people in the UK, but herbal laxatives should be used with caution. Gentle bulk-forming laxatives include Linseed and Psyllium Husk. They absorb water and provide fibre to the digestive tract. Mild laxatives include Dandelion and Chickweed.
Purgative or cathartic laxatives cause the bowel to evacuate everything in them and the stool is runny. They are very powerful and should only be used with professional advice: Senna, Cascara and Rhubarb.
Some herbs should not be used when pregnant, breast-feeding or on certain medications. See you herbalist for advice. He or she can formulate a mix of herbs consisting of powders, tinctures and teas tailored especially for your particular digestive health and concerns.
A herbalist who has also been trained as a naturopath will additionally help you to identify triggers and causes specific to you, so you can get to the root of your digestive issues. They can then tailor-make a naturopathic plan for you that not only includes herbal medicine, but dietary and lifestyle advice so that you get maximum support for your health goals.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist Angela MacRitchie will be speaking about Herbs for Digestive Health at CNM Manchester’s Open Day on 30th September 2017. CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine) is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, with colleges across the UK and Ireland. To find out more about CNM courses, visit www.naturopathy-uk.com