Happy Spring 2015!
I hope the Winter season wasn’t to hard on you and you managed to enjoy it for what it is.
In this newsletter I will focus on how to keep our guts healthy and how to restore gut health. You might be asking why I am not focussing on Spring cleanse, hay fever and other “Spring allergies”. If you read on it will all become clear.
Immunity Starts in the Gut
We often hear that gut health is important but perhaps do not take it very seriously. I believe it will help us to pay more attention to this matter if we are more informed about it. A lot of research is being done/has been done on this subject, the results of which can be used to help us understand better the importance of having a healthy gastrointestinal tract (GI, or simply ‘gut’). With around 65% t0 70% of the immune system being located in our GI, it is imperative that we look after our gut health. We have all heard about beneficial and also pathogenic (harmful) bacteria that live in our gut. Some of us will have taken probiotics and seen the names of the beneficial bacteria written on the bottle. Familiar names like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria, will probably spring to your mind. Studies have shown that an overgrowth of the harmful bacteria can be the root cause of many illnesses, including allergies, atopic diseases (such as psoriasis), auto-immune diseases (such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus) and more. Many factors can contribute to this imbalance including pollutants from the environment, pesticides, the food we eat, lifestyle and certain modern medicines including antibiotics etc. Studies have demonstrated that certain beneficial bacteria increase the body’s ability to change from a pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory state, which may help with the prevention of certain diseases including allergies, auto-immune diseases, atopic diseases etc. (Note: the root cause of many diseases, including allergies, are believed to be based on our body’s pro-inflammatory reactions).
How to Achieve and Maintain Gut Health
Fast Symptom relief
Using a natural approach for fast relief of the symptoms will make it easier to follow a longer and more in-depth treatment for chronic gut conditions. Simple things you can do to achieve this are:
Take digestive enzymes – these will help to give your upper digestive system a good start. Studies have shown that our digestive enzymes often are low and a bad start in digesting our food will influence the digestion further down.
Peppermint has been used for millennia. Its tradition comes from the Middle East where it is still used as a hot tea after a meal to aid the digestion. It can be used either as a hot tea or in capsule form. The best peppermint oil capsules to take are the coated ones and are called, “enteric-coated capsules”. The essential oils in peppermint relax the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and alleviate abdominal pain and distention. Studies have shown that it can also act as a natural anti-biotic against a range of pathogenic bacteria.
Aloe vera is another ancient herb that has been used for millennia. Energetically, it is a “cooling” herb. The inner leaf gel of aloe vera has been shown to reduce gastrointestinal inflammation. Studies also have found it to improve general gastrointestinal health, reducing bad bacteria and bowel putrefaction, and furthermore improving bowel motility, digestion and absorption.
Herbal medicine mixtures. Plants have been used as medicines for thousands of years, and are still widely used around the globe today. The complex bioactive compounds in herbs make them a suitable medicine to treat complex health conditions in the human body, including gut problems. Herbs are different from pharmaceutical drugs, which are typically based on a single chemical compound active ingredient. In Herbal Medicine, herbs that benefit the digestive system are classified as digestive herbs, and within that group, they are further classified into sub-groups according to their actions. In aromatic digestive herbs, the main beneficial compounds are essential oils. The action of an essential oil on our digestive system is multifaceted, but it includes muscle relaxation, and action as a natural anti-biotic and antiseptic. Some herbs in this group are: Peppermint (Mentha piperita) , Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), Cinnamon (Cinnamomum), Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Caraway (Carum carvi), and Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Furthermore, in Herbal Medicine, we consider the liver and the pancreas to be part of our digestive system. A herbal formula for the digestive system would therefore not be complete if it did not include herbs that improve bile production and bile flow as well as increasing the production of pancreatic digestive enzymes. This group of herbs are called cholagogues. Herbs such as Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officialis radix), Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Artichoke Leaf (Cynara scolymus), Burdock Root (Arctium lappa radix), Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Mahonia (Berberis aqufolium), Milk Thistle (Carduus marianus), and Ginger ( Zinger official), can achieve such results. Lastly, when there is an underling inflammation of the mucus membranes of the gut, herbs with a soothing and “cooling” action are used. These include: Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Marshmallow root (Althea officials radix), Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Aloe Vera gel.
Sweedish bitters: Many people have heard about this very old and traditional formula. This bitter compound includes around 16 herbs, and their actions are varied. However, the main synergetic action of this compound is aimed to improve bile flow and bile production as well as stimulating the production of pancreatic digestive enzymes.
Gut Bacteria Supplementation
Good gut health will not happen without a well-balanced gut microflora. To quickly improve your gut bacterial balance you can take prebiotics and / or probiotics, and make changes to your diet. Harmful bacteria in our digestive tract are often the cause of not only our digestive problems but also the cause of many other ill-health conditions. At long last, scientific and medical interest in probiotics has taken off and supplementation of probiotics is generally accepted in medical practice as an important treatment for some illnesses.
Probiotics can be purchased as single-strain or multi-strain bacterial blends. Follow the recommended dose on the product label or the advice from a practitioner. They are typically taken daily for a minimum of four weeks, but can be continued longer term if necessary. If one probiotic does not improve your symptoms, trial a different product to see if it works better. Probiotics can be used safely alongside medication and are also considered safe for use during pregnancy.
Prebiotics are a special type of dietary fibre that our beneficial bacteria, particularly Bifidobacteria, use to grow and increase in number. Bifidobacteria plays an important role in maintaining digestive health.
A diet high in calories, refined sugars, fat and protein (such as from processed foods, sweets and high-fat animal products) increases levels of harmful bacteria in the gut. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (such as from wholegrain, fruits and vegetables) not only lowers levels of harmful bacteria but also increases the levels of beneficial bacteria.
Some foods have been found to potentially increase beneficial bacteria. These include: apples, bananas, blueberries, cocoa, green tea, whole grains and more. Additionally, it is helpful to establish whether common problem foods, such as gluten and lactose, are a problem for you – the symptoms are not always acute. It is also important to pay attention to food combination. Meat (if you eat it) is best combined with non-starchy vegetables only, as our bodies digest carbohydrates and proteins at different rates. The same applies to a high carbohydrate meal (such as pasta) – it is best also to combine it only with vegetables and not with meat. Most fruits are best eaten as a snack and not with meals. Exceptions are bananas, pineapples and stewed apples.
Food Guidelines to Support Beneficial Gut Bacteria
Some helpful general rules for maintaining a healthy gut microflora include:
Eating lean-protein foods;
Consuming plenty of vegetables; .
Eating fresh and dried fruit as a snack in between meals;
Including ‘good fats’ in your diet (i.e. omegas 3, 6 and 9). (Organic butter is allowed);
Limiting carbohydrate-rich foods;
Reducing alcohol, coffee and tea intake, and drinking mostly water (but not too much with your meals);
Drinking fresh ginger tea in between or after meals, or simply just hot water;
Introducing fermented foods into your diet, such as Sauerkraut, Miso, and Kefir;
Eating organic foods whenever possible.
Calm down your Nervous Gut
Your central nervous system directly influences gastrointestinal function. Your mood, and the way you deal with stress, can contribute to your digestive health or lack of it. It is worth trying mind-body therapies that help to break the cycle of stress, and thereby improve gastrointestinal health as well as overall quality of life. For example:
Mindfulness can help you to get to grips with a ruminating mind that focuses on negative emotions that will create tension in your body;
Practising meditation on a daily basis will help to calm the mind and relax the body;
Listen to calming and relaxing music;
Daily exercise – go for walks in nature, and take time to appreciate beauty;
Have a purpose in life – even small steps towards a goal can make a big difference;
Take time to watch a sunset;
Sit down, do nothing!
Try to just BE. After all we are human BEings, not human DOings.
Steps to Stay Symptom-free for Life
Start putting into practice the knowledge you gained from this newsletter to regain your digestive health. This will in turn improve the vitality of your mind and body, and enable you to live a happier and healthier life.
Keep your bowels clean. In Herbal Medicine, one of the most amazing ancient medicines that helps cleansing the digestive tract is called Triphala. Triphala is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine made from the powder of three fruits. It is considered the best natural bowel tonic. Triphala helps the body to eliminate old and new waste, acts as a blood cleanser and an anti-oxidant due to its high levels of vitamin C, and as a rejuvenating complex. In Sanskrit it is considered a Rasajana, meaning rejuvenating, and has been used in Ayurveda in rejuvenating programs for millennia. I recommend it to everyone who has digestive problems or as a tonic to people who want to keep a healthy digestive system. I have been taking it for years with amazing results.
Remember, simple lifestyle changes can work as a powerful medicine. Find out what works for you.
Note: It is important to note that many people have parasitic infections but do not realise it. It is therefore worth having stool tests done ever so often, especially if a program for gut health such as laid out in this newsletter does not give the desired results.
Our next newsletter should reach you in the Summer. Enjoy the lovely Spring!
Disclaimer: The content of this newsletter is for information only. You must always consult a medical herbalist before taking any herbs or supplements mentioned in this newsletter.
Dipl. CNM, MURHP
The Natural Pharmacie
iria(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)thenaturalpharmacie.co.uk
Tel.: 01225 723 894