Not long ago, I was doing surgery in my operating room at the clinic. I was working on Gus, a young Labrador retriever that had swallowed some rocks…several rocks. It wasn’t the first time. We’d been on this merry-go-round a couple of times before. For some reason, Gus really liked eating rocks. He must have had a particularly tasty yard. I actually see lots of cases with digestive issues in the vet practice, everything from vomiting to diarrhea to pancreatitis. Oftentimes these issues are caused by eating dumb things. Sometimes it’s really dumb things like Gus and his rocks. Other times its overindulgence in human food…something dogs weren’t really designed to eat.
Ironically, I see a lot of digestive issues in the naturopath practice as well. It seems humans weren’t really designed to eat most of the currently-available “human foods” either. Have a look at your food labels. It’s like some mad scientist tried to make a synthetic approximation of macaroni and cheese using a pile of mysterious chemicals, colorings, and other bizarre additives just to prove it could be done. My opinion? If you can’t grow it in your garden or raise it in your pasture, it probably isn’t food and maybe you shouldn’t eat it.
I see lots of other types of gastrointestinal cases as well. There are ulcers and infections, spasms and irritations, over-active guts, and under-active guts. There are leaky guts, irritable guts, inflamed guts, and allergic guts, and, well, all kinds of grumpy guts. In fact, the only gut condition I’ve never addressed in a human is someone that has swallowed a lot of big rocks. Yup. Humans, even teenage male humans, are smarter than Labradors.
Fortunately, I have a number of wonderful weeds that are particularly good at helping with gut issues. It seems that God, in His wisdom, put some gut-helping properties in about every herb out there. He must have seen the future and known that food scientists would be coming along eventually and humans would need some extra help.
So, let’s have a look at some of the things your guts can grump about and what herbs we can use to cheer them up.
Lots of folks suffer a bellyache after eating. Sometimes this can be from insufficient pepsin and acids in the stomach. Sometimes it’s from insufficient bile being produced by the liver or released by the bile duct. There is a class of herbs called Digestive Bitters that can often be helpful. They need to be taken about a half-hour before mealtime. How do they work? Well, mostly they work because they taste awful. Now, before you ask, no…you can’t take them in a capsule. You see, tasting awful is the entire point. When these lovely, bitter plants are placed lovingly into the mouth, the mouth reacts. It immediately starts producing more saliva, bicarbonate, and amylase. And why does the mouth do this? To apologize to the stomach for sending down such awful-tasting stuff! As a result, digestion is improved and indigestion is reduced. Our Digestive Bitters formula contains several of these delicious rascals. Our Digestive Support formula often helps as well. And it tastes better. :0)
Acid reflux, or heartburn as it’s often called, is actually caused by not having enough acid in the stomach. Wait…what? Yes, it’s true. You see the stomach’s primary roles are food storage and food decontamination. It does a little pre-digestion of proteins as well but mostly it’s giving you a place to store some chow so you can eat a few meals a day and have time for other activities instead of needing to eat constantly. It also soaks that food in hydrochloric acid to kill bacteria and viruses so you don’t end up with a nice case of Salmonella or dysentery.
At the bottom of the stomach, the pylorus, are some little sensors that detect that acid levels have become concentrated enough to kill the bugs. When the sensors see that acid levels are high enough, the stomach contents are released into the intestines. When stomach acid levels aren’t high enough, the pylorus remains closed and the stomach contents just sit there and ferment and bubble and shoot back into the esophagus and burn it. So, what do modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry recommend for this condition? Acid reducers. Ummm…yeah…that’s the opposite of what we need. Sure, that helps the stomach be less acidic but at what cost? More bugs in the bowels? Even longer gastric emptying times? I have a better idea. Drink a little apple cider vinegar instead. Your stomach wants a little more acid not less. I’ve also seen tremendous results with our Digestive Support Formula. I can’t tell you how many folks have been relieved of acid reflux by using that formula. The powdered form is best for that particular issue, rather than the tincture or capsules.
Diarrhea is caused by hyperactivity of the guts. The guts contract regularly to move food along through the system. This is called peristalsis. During the journey, which usually takes about 24 hours from end to end, food is digested, nutrients are absorbed and water is reabsorbed. If you speed up that process, the colon doesn’t have time to re-absorb the water, and voila…Diarrhea. Often times this is a response by the body to something it wants to get rid of. So, sometimes it’s a good thing. But if it goes on for more than a day or so, dehydration can become an issue. There are several herbs that are useful for calming the grumpy guts in these situations. Nervines like chamomile or skullcap can make the busy rascals more sleepy to calm them down. Soothing demulcent herbs like marshmallow or mallow can decrease irritation. Astringent herbs like cranesbill or cinquefoil can help to dry things up. My favorite category of herbs for this is antispasmodics. Herbs like Angelica seed or cramp bark relax the hyperactive contraction of the gut muscles and slow things down. There is a nice combination of these herbs in the Colon-Dire Era Formula. This is a good formula for bouts of diarrhea. Take as needed.
On the other end of the spectrum (but the same end of the innards) is constipation. This is the result of a marked decrease in gut movement resulting in a corresponding decrease in bowel movements. As things slow down, the colon has even more time to reabsorb water which exacerbates the problem by making the stools harder and drier. So, what do we do? Well, the first thing to do is to identify any causative factors and eliminate them if possible. These factors are often dietary or pharmaceutical. So, you may not be able to get off the medicines, but you could probably eat more fiber and less junk food and drink lots more water.
There are also some herbal things we can do. The first category of useful constipation herbs is the aperients. Aperient is the funky herbalist word for a mild, bulking laxative. Among these are psyllium, pumpkin, squash, flax seed, marshmallow, and mallow. The marshmallow and mallow also contain a high level of mucilage, a slippery soothing substance that also helps lube soothe the lining of the intestines. Another group of herbs that can be helpful with constipation are cholagogues. Cholegogues like barberry, Oregon grape or yellow dock increase bile production and flow from the liver which helps to move stools along.
If the aperients and cholagogues don’t do the trick, it’s time to move on to the cathartics. Cathartics are also called purgatives because they purge the bowels very effectively. So, yeah…don’t take a dose of a cathartic the morning you’re leaving for a road trip. There are a number of these including Aloe vera leaf (the green part is more purgative than the gel inside), turkey rhubarb, and, my favorite, Cascara sagrada. Cascara sagrada is what I call “the believers’ herb”. It is a wonderful way to change the mind of someone that doesn’t think herbs really do anything. Give that person a small dose of Cascara sagrada and in 15 minutes he’ll be a believer. In fact, he’ll be a believer all day long. :0) We have a very effective blend of constipation herbs in our Colon-Constant Patience Formula.
There are a number of other digestive maladies for which herbs are wonderful. In fact, there are so many wonderful digestive issues and remedies that I had to split the digestive system material in the school into three separate lessons. So, if you’d like to become a really good herbalist and help people with everything from baby colic to IBS and everything in between, have a look at The HomeGrown Herbalist School of Botanical Medicine.
We also have a number of other really great formulas for digestive issues of all kinds. Some of the formulas are only available as powders because they are so much more effective in that form. Many are also available as tinctures.
You can see Our Digestive formulas here:
So, do something nice for your innards and have some formulas on hand for those days that you need them.
– Doc Jones
New Upcoming Events!
Tune Out Pain. Tune into Life!
Join Doc Jones and Sharik Peck at a free live webinar on YouTube discussing healing with vibrations!
Rescheduled Masters’ Seminar:
This event has been rescheduled for Friday, April 9th at 5 pm MST
Join Dr. Jones for an in-depth Class on Autoimmune Issues, Inflammation and Leaky Gut. We will discuss the physiological mechanisms, causes and interventions for autoimmune disease and inflammation.
HomeGrown Herbalist now has a full Herbal Tea Line! Check It Out!