How to Choose the Best Ayurvedic Herbs, Spices, and Foods for Your Digestion

Troubleshoot constipation, gas, bloating, a sensitive stomach, and more with these probiotics and Ayurvedic remedies that help you heal your gut and build a better microbiome.

In This Article

Troubleshoot Your Digestion

In this article, I’ll discuss the best way to troubleshoot your digestive system and help you identify the best herbs to support digestion, with the ultimate goal of restoring balance. Because nearly 75% of the American population experiences digestive discomfort, I write this with a touch of urgency.1

Ayurvedic Herbs to Support Occasional Constipation

You should have a complete bowel movement once a day within an hour of waking up. One or two more during the day are okay depending on your body type.

Stress tends to aggravate vata, or the air element, in your gut, resulting in dryness or occasional constipation. These are my favorite Ayurvedic herbs for this:

Triphala: This 3-fruit formula, including Amalaki, tones and scrubs the intestinal wall.2 While triphala is excellent support for elimination issues, I find that it is sometimes a difficult formula to wean off of. The aim here at LifeSpa is to restore natural function so that herbs are not needed for a lifetime.

Slippery Elm: The sweet-smelling bark of this elm tree is most often used in powdered form to lubricate a dry intestinal lining.3,4

Marshmallow and Licorice Root: These can be used to coat and protect the gut.5

My formula Elim 1 combines licorice, slippery elm, and triphala to support lasting intestinal function.

Ayurvedic Herbs for Mucus in Your Stool

If you see white mucus in or lining the stool, nothing else should be done until this issue is resolved. This is an indication that reactive mucus is being produced in the intestinal tract. This mucus can flatten out the villi and lacteals that line the intestines and affect the ability to properly digest, assimilate, and detoxify.

The herbs that I use to resolve this issue are:

amalaki berries amla vitamin c vitamin e winter vata

Amalaki: This tiny berry chock-full of vitamin C acts as a defense for the intestinal wall, protecting against irritants that can cause reactive mucus production.6

Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula: This combination of slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice root calms and soothes the intestinal lining.3,4,5,7

Being aware of mucus in your stool can allow you to detect whether or not the villi and lymphatic lacteals that line the intestines have become congested.

The lacteals are where the lymphatic system starts. Where the lacteals meet the numerous lymphatic vessels on the outside of the intestines is what I call “the most important half-inch in the body.”

This is where researchers believe 80% of the immune system is housed, and it is “Grand Central Station” for the body’s microbiome.

If this half inch is imbalanced, the lymph vessels (which drain cellular waste) can become congested, potentially leading to innumerable health concerns. I like to use the following herbs to decongest the lymph while supporting intestinal health:

Manjistha: This red root is a liver, lymph vessel, and blood cleanser with potent antioxidant properties.8-12

Lymph Cleanse: With classic lymph-movers like red root and stillingia, this formula is designed to support healthy lymph nodes and intestinal lymph lacteal function.

Turmeric: This well-known cooking spice has been the subject of many studies touting its support for intestinal health, as well as its blood-, lymph-, and microcirculation-supportive properties.13-31

Brahmi: This revered Ayurvedic herb supports healthy intestinal skin and is a powerful agent for lymph and microcirculation.32 In Ayurveda, this herb is used to support healthy brain and cognitive function. And new science is linking brahmi to lymph health. This herb may support the healthy draining of the brain lymphatics at night during sleep. It’s best to take it before bed.

Photo by Asier on Adobe Stock

Herbs and Probiotics for a Healthy Microbiome

The research is in, and 90% of the DNA in the human body is actually microbial (or bacterial) DNA, leaving only 10% as actual human DNA!

Taking probiotics has shown to be greatly beneficial for digestive and intestinal health but do they create a dependency? There are two basic types of probiotics: transient and colonizing.

Transient strains make up 99% of the probiotics on the market, and while these do have well-researched benefits, they do not become permanent residents in the gut.

Colonizing probiotics, such as Bifidobacterium lactis HN019, have been shown to adhere to the gut wall and re-populate the gut with new and diverse strains of good microbes.33-35 Always look for a colonizing probiotic! I can recommend:

Flora Restore: This is a colonizing probiotic for maintenance and support as you finish restoring balance in your upper digestive tract, to the first part of the small intestine.

Flora Restore MAX: Flora Restore MAX has three times the amount of colonizing probiotic as Flora Restore. This is a high-potential colonizing probiotic that is used to address chronic digestive concerns.

Gut Revival: This combines colonizing probiotics (equivalent of 1 capsule of Flora Restore) along with probiotics that are antagonistic to the undesirable bacteria that take advantage of a weak digestive environment. I recommend using this when you need to address an alteration of the healthy gut microbiology.

The herb neem has also been shown to support a healthy microbiome.

lifespa-image-neem-twigs

Neem: Referred to as “The Village Pharmacy” in Ayurveda, this herb supports healthy blood sugar and the body’s inner and outer skin. It naturally balances the microbiome of the intestines by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria.44-46

Foods and Herbs for Gas, Bloating, and Sensitive and Weak Digestion

When the lymphatic system becomes congested and elimination slows down, toxic substances are re-absorbed back into the liver rather than being eliminated through the stool.

Over time, this congests the liver and thickens bile. Thick bile weakens and compromises the liver’s ability to metabolize fat and make ample bile, which is required to buffer strong digestive acids. When bile is thick or sludge-like, stomach acid accumulates, creating digestive imbalance.

If this continues, the gallbladder will eventually signal the stomach to turn down the production of digestive acid. With weakened digestive acid, the ability to process hard-to-digest foods like wheat and dairy weakens as well.

In my practice, I’ve found that these foods can increase the flow of bile:

Beets: This root vegetable has natural nitrates that open up bile ducts and increase bile flow. Studies suggest that beets can increase the liver’s production of detox enzymes such as glutathione, and decongest an ischemic liver, supporting healthy bowel function, stronger stomach acid production  and reduced gas and bloating!36 A beet a day keeps the doctor away.

Olive oil with lemon juice: Olive oil has been used for centuries to help flush the liver and gallbladder. It was first reported on in this context in the British Medical Journal in 1882. Lemons reduce uric acid levels and increase bile flow.37-39 When taken together, olive oil and lemon juice act as a mini-workout for the liver and gallbladder.

Fenugreek: Numerous studies suggest that fenugreek may be one of the most powerful herbs for liver, gallbladder, and digestive health. Fenugreek works by removing cholesterol out of the bile and increasing the bile acid concentration by almost four times. Better bile flow means better detoxification of toxic fat-soluble pollutants, reduced gas and bloating, and increased production of stomach acid and an efficient scrub of the intestinal tracks villi.41

Artichokes: This vegetable is among those with the highest-fiber content, at 10 grams for a medium-sized artichoke. Without adequate fiber in the diet, 94% of the bile in the intestines is re-absorbed back into the liver where it recirculates fatty toxic substances.42

The pancreas plays a significant role in the digestive process. It produces blood sugar hormones like insulin and glucagon, as well as numerous digestive enzymes, which resolve most cases of gas and bloating.

Many of the same substances that cleanse the bile ducts also cleanse the pancreatic ducts, including:

Gymnema Sylvestre: This Ayurvedic herb promotes the healthy function of the islet cells in the pancreas that manufacture insulin.43

Cinnamon: This spice can be used to support healthy bile flow and digestive enzyme flow through the pancreatic and bile ducts.42

Once bile and pancreatic juices (enzymes) are flowing, only then should you attempt to boost the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid (HCl). Our classic trikatu formula, Warm Digest, turns up the digestive fire with a combination of the following three spices:47-49

Black Pepper: Boosts acid production.

Ginger: Protects the stomach lining while boosting digestive acid.

Long Pepper: Boosts acid production.

These five spices (which make up our Gentle Digest formula) boost digestive strength in a safe and gentle manner. Gentle Digest is specifically formulated for issues related to gas and bloat and food intolerances.50-53

lifespa image, ginger root sliced on wooden table
  1. Ginger: Boosts stomach acid and supports a healthy intestinal microbial environment.
  2. Cardamom: Boosts overall digestive strength while reducing gas, bloating and mucus production.
  3. Cumin: Cools the stomach while supporting stomach acid, bile flow, and enzyme production.
  4. Coriander: Cools the stomach while supporting stomach acid, bile flow, and enzyme production.
  5. Fennel: The most effective agent for gas, bloating and lymphatic congestion.

References

  1. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/11/22/survey-shows-74-percent-americans-experience-gi-discomfort/
  2. http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/sites/ayurvedacollege.com/files/triphala.pdf
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3271691/
  4. http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/e/elmsli09.html
  5. http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13880209.2010.516754
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16226416
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3271691/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16213120
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10410466
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17821858
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153710/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17176672
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23847105
  14. https://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/44227991/comparative-study-two-naturalantioxidants-curcumin-curcuma-longa-extract
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590663
  16. https://www.ahpa.org/Portals/0/PDFs/Policies/14_0206_AHPA_micro_limits_comparisons.pdf
  17. https://www.banglajol.info/index.php/BJSIR/article/view/8116
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3917507
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9619120/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19882093/
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569212/
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590663/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23013352
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003225/
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25046624
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17022948
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24476477
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929771/
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26375757
  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12495265
  32. http://www.anaturalhealingcenter.com/documents/Thorne/monos/Centella-asiatica-mono_12.1.pdf
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19295640
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4990546/
  35. https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Bifidobacterium
  36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17234508
  37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18946667
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2509801/
  39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2419647/?page=3
  40. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21756271
  41. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21215764
  42. Guyton, Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. 12th Saunders 2011
  43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2170951/
  44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3695574/
  45. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15777222
  46. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23404001
  47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151395/
  48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3458266
  49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657948/
  50. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/food.200390091/abstract
  51. http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/j157v04n02_01
  52. http://206.192.68.20/courses/fall2007/alternative_medicine/resources.attachments/OMahonyMedicinalPlantsHPylori2005.pdf
  53. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23765551

17 thoughts on “How to Choose the Best Ayurvedic Herbs, Spices, and Foods for Your Digestion”

  1. Dear Dr. Douillard,
    I am praying and begging for your help. HISTORY: I have suffered with digestive issues since I was a small child. (constipation) I have been reading and listening to your podcasts but am finding it all confusing. I am feeling desperate for a solution to my problems. I am 59 years old. I had a job as a truck driver for 6 years during which time my system became worse. I was diagnosed with spastic colon in my early twenties. I have been retired for 10 years now and since have been very sedentary. I sit at my desk most of the time. I gained weight during the driving years. When I got off the road, I started a weight loss regimen – basically reducing my intake by a few bites at each meal. It took 5 years to lose the 75 pounds. It was my intention to lose 60 pounds. The weight has stayed off for 5 years now, but I exceeded my desired goal by 15 pounds. I now weigh 122 pounds. I cannot seem to regain the weight. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 15 years ago. Two years ago, I began having idiopathic grand mal seizures at night (only).
    I began having extremely painful evacuations a few years ago. I went to a gastrointestinal specialist and requested a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy a year ago. Seven polyps and two benign tumors were removed. The specialist could offer no cause for my extreme pain while evacuating, except that I have a rigid colon. My pain has primarily been on my left lower abdomen. He could not tell me why it was rigid nor did he offer any solutions. (He did suggest adhesions holding the colon in place) I have few “good” days. What I refer to as good days are more of recuperation from all the pain, which has become extremely debilitating. The days of my movements are spent in bed under pain medications. (The only way I have been able to “recover”.) I cannot make social plans, appointments, etc. due to unpredictability of the “bad days”. I have developed bleeding hemorrhoids, as would be expected after straining as I must do to evacuate my system. (I may spend 1-2 hours in the bathroom.) My body does not evacuate daily…maybe twice a week. I may have one or two good days a week. I have begun to have pain that rotates to my back.
    I have tried to give you all the information I can think of…PLEASE, please can you recommend a solution/opinion? I am desperate!
    Sincerely,
    Mari Hoskinson

    Reply
    • Hi Mari, it sounds like you have been through a lot and that your digestive system could use a reboot. I typically recommend a consult in these cases to get to the root of your ongoing issues. Here is a link to booking a consult with us: https://lifespa.com/about-lifespa/ayurvedic-clinic/ We offer phone and Skype appointments to patients all over the world. I hope we can talk in person soon.

      Reply
  2. Hello Dr. Douillard, Since last year I have had bad heartburn and digestive issues. I have tried nexium, but scared me so much I stopped after 2 weeks with worst results before I started. Had all the side effects. S I totally changed my diet. I am 51 and very curious if is all from menopause. I have bern taking digestive enzymes lately for like a week but saw your video about the dangers. Could you please help me to get back on track naturally? Would love your help as you seem very knowledgable about digestion . I also bloat after every meal and feel full after eating a little bit. That is why I started the digestive enzyme. Do you think a colon cleanse would help? Have not done that yet as not sure which one is safe. Please if you could help me with suggestions it would be appreciated thankyou

    Reply
  3. Hello Dr. Douillard,
    I am curious about magnesium.
    I have had digestive issues my whole life, mainly constipation and digestion in general. Nothing makes my tummy happy.
    My life is in general high stress and I have a hard time sticking to a strict regimented diet. I mostly eat well… About 80% organic (I work in the reataurant industry and can’t always get it), I drink smoothies and try to eat balanced although I’ll have treats and wine on weekends.
    Anyway, after two internal fissures and adrenal burn out, I started drinking ionic magnesium before bed which has kept me about 75% regular, meaning I eliminate once a day most of the time. Eliminations range from normal to normal with mucous to extremely loose in any given weeks span. My problem is I can’t go without my magnesium and I’ve been taking it for about 6 yrs.
    I’m not sure what to do for myself as far as being healthy and regulated without all the issues on my own. Salads upset my tummy, meat does, fats do, dairy… Almost everything. I do ok with fruit.
    I drink coffee w soy creamer, have 1-4 glasses of wine a week at most, my treats are highest quality and I am active- I go to the gym and run 1-3 times a week. I am 39.
    Aside from moving to a mountain top, meditating 20 hrs a day, and surviving on water… Is there hope? And is there a way to live without magnesium and still have healthy elimination?
    Another issue is the cost of all the herbs. I take the following already and the bill is higher than my groceries monthly:
    Magnesium
    Vegan green multi
    Fish oil
    Tumeric
    Zyflammend
    Lysine ( I get rosacea breakouts and cold sores during super high stress times)
    Vit E – organic sunflower
    Aminos
    Zinc (extra)
    An organic B complex
    Vit D (5000 IU-live in Idaho)
    And a raw 30Billion probiotic

    It’s kind of rediculous.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Cassandra P.

    Reply
  4. Hello Dr John,

    Im 34 yrs old, 5’2 & weigh 47kg. I experienced bloating, gnawing & a lot of air in my stomach. When i press my upper stomach below the center of my breast ribs i feel pain including my back on my lung portion. Its been 2 weeks that I’m taking takepron 2x/day before meal & disflatyl 2x/day after meal & 1 cap of 20 billion probiotics once before last meal. 2 days ago ive undergone gastroscopy and was diagnosed with erosive gastritis and barrett’s esophagus. Could you please help suggest the best remedy t fix my problem? I would really appreciate your valuable suggestion.

    Regards, Mae Ann

    Reply
  5. Hi Dr. John,

    I value your blogs on this site. I have developed constipation and pelvic spasms, and resorted to harsher laxatives (senna, cascara, rhubarb, aloe), and now I am trying to wean off them and retrain my bowels… My diet is very limited chicken/fish, with vegetables, yams, beets, few fruits, and nuts and seeds. My sigmoid is very redundant and I do not always respond well to too much fiber. Will this help my situation? Will I have to worry about any blockage with Elim 1?

    Reply
  6. Hi Dr. Douillard,

    What are safe ways to rekindle agni with aggravated Pitta and Kapha? I have considered fennel seeds between meals and nauli Kriya so far.
    Not sure if any herbs or formulas are ok. Any suggestions?

    Warm regards,
    Eva L

    Reply
    • In the case of pitta-kapha of any type (kapha over pitta, or pitta over kapha, or equal contribution), the solution to stoking the digestive fire of the body is to first drain the two excess doshas. In terms of agni, think of this combination with a fireplace in mind. Too much pitta has left an abundance of ash, which dirties the fireplace and keeps fires from lighting or burning steadily. The kapha would be over-large logs and overall dampness or earthiness; it’s too much for the fire to work on. What would it be like to try lighting a fire using very large logs placed into muddy wet ash?

      Speaking metaphorically, to clean the fireplace and allow for a steady, controlled fire, avoid applying fire starter or too much tender (quick-burning sugars and starches, salt, spices, vinegar, alcohol, ferments). Instead, clean the muddy ash and gunk first. Use bitter and especially astringent foods and medicines. Triphala is exceptional for cleansing excess pitta and kapha. Medicinal clay combined in the day with cooling vegetables (like cucumber) is very effective. Airy, cold sea vegetables may be beneficial (kelp and the like, in small amounts). Pomegranate, grapefruit (+ some pulp), parsley (fresh or dried), green and white tea, juniper berry, pine and juniper needle tea, and a plethora of other astringent and bitter substances can aid the “cleaning” process for kapha and pitta combination. “Hulled” barley can be especially useful for some, even as traditional barley tea. Chia seed (specifically, not flax or other omega sources) helps some people with kapha-pitta imbalance, when it’s hydrated with plain water. Herbs like dandelion and milk thistle can help a lot, if the two doshas have accumulated in the liver, lymphatics, or blood.

      Those are just some suggestions. 🙂 I’ve helped plenty of people with simple pitta-kapha imbalances, and the above seem to be easy ideas to follow for most people, even on a budget. Avoid super-dense foods like peanuts, beans, fish, and to an extent even red meat, dairy, and eggs. Veer towards “dry” vegetarian foods, like lentils, mung, wild rice, red or black varieties of long grain rice, buckwheat (still hot quality, but lighter), etc. If animal foods are consumed, stick to light and fresh stuff, and smaller portions for the time being. Ex: instead of canned sardines, try fresh shrimp. Instead of chicken thigh, try the drier breast.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Alfalfa powder, dried parsley, oat straw decoction, mugicha (see recipes online, served plain), non-purgative lithotriptic herbs (“stone breaking” medicines that don’t cause a harsh purgative action – there are many in ayurveda and chinese medicine), mung bean (plain), horsetail decoction. Stewed apples eaten with 1/4th teaspoon triphala (for several days, then gradually increase to 1/2 tsp, 3/4tsp, 1tsp) can help. While the reasons for forming gall stones are all similar, the composition of the stones does matter, and some treatments will be more effective than others. With very large gallstones, avoid strong purgatives. When in doubt of whether or not they’re too large for purgatives, a simple drying/softening therapy should do the trick. Lower fat and sugar content in the diet for quickest results; rely on pseudo-grains (cutting out rice, wheat, etc, which are too wet and heating in nature for this condition), except for hulled barley (not pearled). Spices may be had in moderate quantities, but not exceptionally hot ones like cayenne, chili peppers, mustard, fenugreek, cinnamon, etc. Increasing intake of raw and cooked (a mix) vegetables will help, so long as they aren’t oiled, salted, or sweetened too much. Especially helpful are citrus peels, such as from lime, grapefruit, lemon. Lower salt intake would be strongly advised for most people. If this type of diet is followed, you may notice occasional dryness of the body, bowels, etc, and may need to do 3 days on, 2 days off (2 days of no medicines, similar diet, but plenty of fats).

      Just my opinion! Hope this gives you some ideas if nothing else! 🙂

      Reply
  7. I think I’ve had fibromyalgia for many years but was diagnosed approximately 5 years ago. I was working at Walmart and was just exhausted. Not the tiredness that sleep helps. I mean totally exhausted, with muscle pain. My primary doctor diagnosed fibromyalgia. He prescribed Cymbalta around 4 years ago. Cymbalta was approved for Fibromyalgia treatment. Although it did relieve some of the pain, I still suffered from fatigue. November 2017 my doctor started me on Green House Herbal Clinic fibromyalgia Herbal mixture, 7 weeks into treatment I improved dramatically. At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control. No case of fatigue, muscle pain,mood swings, or nervousness. Visit Green House Herbal Clinic official website www. greenhouseherbalclinic .com. I am strong again and able to go about daily activities.‌ This Herbal Formula is Incredible!! My life is back.

    Reply

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