Digestive issues are one of the top three conditions that I see in my Herbal Medicine practice. My client may be seeking help for irritable bowel ( IBS), or acid reflux but often they first mention what appears to be an unrelated problem, e.g. anxiety, joint pain, poor sleep, migraines, low energy or a skin condition, then, when considering their medical, dietary and lifestyle details I frequently discover underlying digestive issues. These are typically bloating, discomfort, acid reflux, wind or bowel irregularity – which are nowadays so common that they could be considered ‘normal’.
Unfortunately, in addition to being uncomfortable, restrictive and potentially embarrassing, those symptoms can reduce your overall wellbeing and lead to other health conditions. This happens when poor digestion reduces the absorption of nutrients but also because the digestive system is designed to work in harmony with other systems to ensure good health.
You may have heard of the gut- brain axis – not an easy concept to picture – but it is essentially a complex two way communication system, linking the digestive tract with the brain, through a network of nerve channels and signalling chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine and also influencing the production of hormones like cortisol. This communication system helps to control our mood, memory, nutrient absorption, cognitive function and hormone balance. So you can see that if the gut brain axis isn’t working well, a cascade of health issues may follow.
Listening to my client’s story will help me to identify the root cause of their condition – perhaps many antibiotics have reduced the numbers of friendly gut bacteria, or perhaps a poor diet has caused nutrient deficiency or maybe prescription medication has inflamed the digestive tract. In some cases if I need to explore further I may suggest that we arrange a blood test or a stool analysis. This can identify e.g. a vitamin deficiency or unresolved infection or chronic inflammation and will enable us to decide on the best treatment – diet, vitamins or probiotics and herbal medicines.
The herbs that I choose will be selected for specific actions –
- Bitters (these are plants with a slightly bitter taste) to improve the secretion of digestive enzymes, to support the liver and improve fat metabolism. I like dandelion root and artichoke – both gentle and effective.
- Mucilages (these contain a gel like substance) to soothe and coat the digestive tract, reducing inflammation. Ribwort plantain leaf and marshmallow root are my favourites.
- Antimicrobials (destroy harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms). Berberis and Mahonia root contain the antimicrobial berberine, and many other compounds
- Anti-inflammatories (reduce inflammation, pain, heat and swelling). Turmeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory, as are ginger, garlic and green tea.
“Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion.”
Lin Yutang The Importance of Living
Of course herbal medicine is effective for many conditions, not just the digestion. It has been used successfully for thousands of years and is the most popular form of medicine worldwide.
If you would like to find out more about herbal medicine and how it could help with your digestive health and many other conditions, contact me to arrange a free 15 minute phone or video call. Call 07947908376or e mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Thorogood (Medical Herbalist) Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists