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: 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
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.
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.
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
- Ginger: Boosts stomach acid and supports a healthy intestinal microbial environment.
- Cardamom: Boosts overall digestive strength while reducing gas, bloating and mucus production.
- Cumin: Cools the stomach while supporting stomach acid, bile flow, and enzyme production.
- Coriander: Cools the stomach while supporting stomach acid, bile flow, and enzyme production.
- Fennel: The most effective agent for gas, bloating and lymphatic congestion.