Do you suffer from occasional constipation, loose stools, mucus in the stool, or heartburn? Or are you interested in rebooting your precious gut microbiome?
Read on for a combination of Ayurveda, Western science, and my favorite tea to address all these issues and more.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain axis is the relationship between microbes in the gut and one’s mental and emotional state. New studies suggest that both good and bad intestinal bugs play a major role in the function of digestion, the central nervous system (CNS), the mind, and the emotions.1
Stress influences intestinal mucosa, where our microbes either live or die, altering the function of our gut microbiome.2 In fact, in one study, a group of subjects with intestinal discomfort and bloating had 5x less bifidobacteria (a well-known beneficial bacteria) than a group without intestinal discomfort and bloating.3
In another study, stress was found to damage intestinal mucosa and gut microbiology to such an extent that it caused an increase in gut permeability, allowing toxins and pathogens to enter the bloodstream.4
Our Intuitive Intestinal Microbes
In the same way research has shown stress can disturb the microbiome and compromise overall health and wellbeing, new studies suggest that a healthy non-stressed microbiome can boost cognitive function, gut feelings, intuitive decision-making, and motivation.5
Researchers found a highly complex communication system between the gut and the brain that is not only responsible for higher brain functions like gut feelings and intuitive decision-making, but also for maintaining proper digestion. Like all functions of the microbiome, it all starts with the health of the intestinal wall.
The study reports that if these gut-brain communication pathways are disturbed, a wide range of health issues, including gastrointestinal issues, obesity, and eating disorders may result.
Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science!
According to Ayurveda, 85% of overall health and wellbeing is determined by the digestive system. Stress is understood to directly compromise digestion, and then take its toll on the rest of the body. New science is confirming this ancient wisdom.
More exciting is the fact that science is now making a solid connection between the health of our digestion (the microbiome) and higher states of mental, emotional, cognitive, and (dare I say!) spiritual or metaphysical functioning.5 “Gut feelings” and “intuition” are not words that regularly appear in scientific abstracts from the National Review of Neuroscience. 5
Ayurveda suggests that a healthy digestive system delivers refined products of digestion that are directly responsible for one’s physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional development. In fact, Ayurveda goes as far as saying that this is the purpose of the human body and thus the purpose of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda directly maps out both the positive and negative impact that stress, even in its most subtle form, has on digestion and our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
The first thing that happens when we’re stressed is a direct insult to the intestinal tract. If stress is persistent, mucus membranes of the gut will begin to dry out. This dryness can impair the ability to have regular bowel movements, causing occasional constipation, bloating, and gas.
If stress angers on, mucus membranes can react to stress-induced dryness and constipation by producing excess reactive mucus. This excess mucus can cause the stools to become loose, bog down the intestinal villa, and result in mucus in the stools. When the villi become irritated and burdened with excess mucus, the ability to digest, detox, and assimilate can become significantly compromised.
The natural environment of the intestinal tract that supports beneficial microbes is delicate.2, 4 For the intestinal villi to function well, they cannot be too dry or too wet (riddled with reactive mucus production)—they have to be just right!
Ayurveda described the microbiome thousands of years ago, calling gut bacteria “krimi”. To deal with such harmful gut bacteria, they employed strategies that are only today being investigated by Western medicine. Instead of killing the bacteria as we do today with drugs and harsh herbs, they suggested to 1. remove them physically, 2. remove the cause of the infestation, or 3. alter the nature of the bacteria and the environment of the gut where the infestation was—amazing!10
They went on to suggest that the prakriti (nature or basal makeup) of the human host, as well as the parasite, can both be suitably modified with dietary and lifestyle habits, herbal and mineral support, and immune-enhancing Ayurvedic procedures.
Tea for Gut Health
Ayurveda tends to the intestinal wall with great care in innumerable ways. Today, there are many scientific studies confirming how these Ayurvedic therapies support a healthy microbiome as well as optimal digestive and overall health.
My favorite such therapy (that I have used successfully in my practice for almost thirty years) is a concentrated tea made out of chopped (not ground) slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root.
To antidote both dry and overly damp mucous membranes, I have not found a better solution than a slippery elm, licorice, marshmallow decoction taken regularly for a month to reset intestinal and microbial function.
Each of these herbs are naturally slimy, which means it will soften and coat dry and imbalanced mucous membranes all the way from throat to stomach to small and large intestines. It is like coating the entire digestive tract with a mucilaginous, microbe-boosting layer for a month. During this time, new intestinal skin can grow, a healthy intestinal environment can be restored, and healthy microbes can repopulate.
After cooking these herbs down into a concentrated tea or decoction, the soluble fiber from these roots and barks are released, which is naturally slimy, offering support to dried-out intestinal mucosa.
Soluble fiber in the tea feeds intestinal microbes and acts as a natural prebiotic for the microbiome. This is a critical part of the tea’s restoration effect: to create an environment for healthy microbes to proliferate while restoring an environment for the intestinal villi and gut mucosa to digest, detox, and assimilate nutrients optimally.
The Cast: Licorice Root, Slippery Elm Bark + Marshmallow Root
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is a classic Ayurvedic herb used worldwide as a lubricant for intestinal and respiratory airways. Licorice lubricates and coats mucus membranes and, as an adaptogen, protects them from stress and environmental irritants and pollens. Licorice quells mucus imbalance and supports functions of other herbs when taken in combination.6
Licorice is calming for vata, cooling for pitta, and moving for the mucus of kapha.
Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery elm has long been used for digestive and intestinal concerns because of its lubricating and gut-defending properties.8 Along with mucilaginous, protective properties for the intestinal wall, it has been shown to support healthy antioxidant activity in the intestinal tract. 7
Like licorice, it has a sweet taste and cooling action. It balances vata and pitta, but will increase kapha as a result of its more mucilaginous properties. It provides a thick layer of protective herb for the entire intestinal tract.
Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis)
Marshmallow root is perhaps the most slippery of the three herbs in this formula. It has been studied to support the health of the stomach lining from acid and protect the intestinal tract from irritants, such as the toxic form of carrageenan. It has been approved by the German Commission E in supporting the integrity of the gastric, oral, and pharyngeal mucosa.9
Like both licorice and slippery elm, marshmallow is a soluble fiber, which means it will be broken down by the stomach, but not absorbed. This allows it to offer the gut, where most microbes reside, a handsome feast of fibers and nutrients.
Marshmallow is cooling for pitta, soothing and calming for vata, and, as it is mucus-producing, will increase kapha—a good thing in this instance, as we are trying to coat and protect the intestines from top to bottom over a month of therapy.
Make a Decoction or Tea at Home
Key to the success of this intestinal and microbial reset is to take these three herbs as a decoction for a month or two. Then use the tea as a maintenance beverage. Secondly, you must source these herbs in a chopped, not ground, form. If you use ground herbs, you will make mud and it won’t work. One of the reasons I created our Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula was because I could never find the herbs locally in a chopped form.
For Best Results from Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula
- For occasional constipation, use with Elim 1 herbal formula. Wean off Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula and then wean off Elim 1.
- For loose stools, use with Elim 2. Wean off Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula and then wean off Elim 2.
- For mucus in the stool, take with Amalaki to help reestablish a healthy intestinal lining.
- For occasional heartburn, take with Cool Digest before meals.
- To best restore a healthy microbiome, take with Gut Revival, which has probiotics that kill off bad microbes and repopulate the gut with good microbes. Once finished with Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula, follow up with colonizing probiotic Flora Restore, which has been shown to establish new permanent microbial residents and microbial diversity in the gut.