In this article, I’ll discuss the best way to troubleshoot the digestive system and help you identify the best herbs for your digestive symptoms, with the ultimate goal of restoring balance. With 74% of the American population experiencing digestive distress, (1) I write this with a touch of urgency.
Assess Your Elimination
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 in the gut resulting in dryness or occasional constipation. These are my favorite Ayurvedic remedies for this:
Triphala: A 3-fruit formula used to tone and scrub the intestinal wall. (2)
Slippery Elm: The sweet-smelling bark of this elm tree is most often used in powdered form to lubricate dry intestinal lining. (3,4)
Marshmallow and Licorice Root: This can be used to add sliminess to coat and protect the gut. (5)
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.
My formula, Elim 1, combines all three of these – licorice, slippery elm, and triphala – to support lasting intestinal function and the ability to wean off in just a couple of months.
Resolve the Issue
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 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)
Take Care of the Most Important Half-Inch of the Body
Being aware of when there is 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 “The Grand Central Station” for the body’s microbiome.
If this half-inch is imbalanced, the lymph vessels (which drain cellular waste) can become congested. Congested lymph vessels can lead to innumerable health concerns. I like to use the following 4 herbs + 1 formula 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 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 was used to support healthy brain and cognitive function. The newest 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 this before bed for this purpose.
Treat The 90%
The research is in – 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. 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 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!
Stimulate Bile Flow
When the lymphatic system becomes congested and the elimination slows down, toxins are re-absorbed back into the liver rather than being eliminated through the stool.
Over time, this congests the liver and thickens the bile. Thick bile weakens and compromises the liver’s ability to metabolize fat and make ample bile. Bile is required to buffer strong digestive acids. When the bile is thick (bile sludge), stomach acid accumulates and the result is digestive imbalance.
If this continues, the gallbladder will eventually signal the stomach to turn down the digestive acid. With weakened digestive acid, the ability to digest 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 the bile ducts and increase bile flow. Studies suggest that beets can increase the liver production of detox enzymes, such as glutathione, and decongest an ischemic liver. (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 in the British Medical Journal in 1882 and 1885. Lemons reduce uric acid levels and increase bile flow. (37-39) These two, when taken together, 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. (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 with toxins in tow are re-absorbed back into the liver where it re-circulates fatty toxins back into circulation. (42)
Reboot the Pancreas
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.
Many of the same substances that cleanse the bile ducts also cleanse the pancreatic ducts:
Gymnema Sylvestre: This Ayurvedic herb promotes the healthy function of the islet cells in the pancreas that manufacture insulin. (43)
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)
Cinnamon: This spice can be used to support healthy bile flow and digestive enzyme flow through the pancreatic and bile ducts. (42)
Fire up the Stomach’s Furnace
Once the 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 3 spices (47-49):
Black Pepper: Boosts acid production.
Ginger: Protects the stomach lining while boosting digestive acid.
Long Pepper: Boosts acid production.
Five Spices for Perfect Digestion
These five spices (which make up our Gentle Digest formula) boost digestive strength in a safe and gentle manner (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.
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