For much of the 20th century, western medicine gave little attention to the flora in the human digestive system. Certainly, they understood the basics: this hose connects to that and together they perform this function, and so on. In the last twenty years, we have gained an incredible amount of understanding concerning the importance of our gut microbiome. So important in fact, scientists now refer to the gut as the second brain. The bulk of your immune system is housed in your digestive tract and its organ cohorts. The gut is responsible for the release and filtering of serotonin, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and most other hormones.
I find it fascinating that somehow ancient cultures seemed to understand the importance of digestive health. The early Greek physician Hippocrates famously penned that “all disease begins in the gut”. There were no microscopes to confirm this knowledge, but he was right. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, practitioners have insisted that diversity is key to symbiosis in the gut. According to TCM wisdom, meals should consist of five flavor profiles to promote proper digestion and the use of nutrients. these are Sweet, Sour, Spicy, Bitter, and Salty. By selecting foods that naturally contain these attributes, it is believed the flow of energy (or Qi) will foster the healthy free-flowing digestive system. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and the advent of processed foods, our own ancestors ate plant-heavy diets including bitter greens, which they understood was for aid in digestion. Bitter tasting herbs have a direct relationship with the nervous system and gut. When the tastebuds on our tongue detect bitterness, they send a signal via the vagus nerve to prepare the body for digestion. This signal causes the liver to excrete bile, the stomach to release digestive enzymes, and the pancreas to produce insulin. Bitters not only increase the digestibility of your food but also calm the nervous system.
For a decade better, you’ve wondered and worried when you would ever have the chance to apply the algebra skills that occupy some cobweb laced file in the recesses of your thinker. Today my friend. Today. The digestive tract houses roughly 10^14 various strains of microbes, mostly bacteria, and fungi. Remembering back to Mr. Baumann’s fourth-period lectures, um – that’s a big flipping number. In fact, it’s more than there are cells that make up the body.
Digestion is the process that sifts and sorts through all we take in. For the most part, the inhabitants of your gut are like a well run, copacetic society. These tiny organisms feed on the cells of the intestinal tract and on prebiotics. Prebiotics are compounds, like inulin, which are found in plants. When we consume the preferred munchies of our internal flora, it encourages the beneficial strains of microbes to colonize at a healthy rate. These little guys love snacks like dandelion root, chickory, burdock, and marshmallow root. Some bacteria are excellent at breaking down dietary fiber, while others feed on foreign pathogens and others still synthesize vitamins B and K and aid in the absorption of minerals. There is a sect for metabolizing fats and a gang for monitoring the intestinal mucosa. As long as there is harmony, none of us give it a second thought really. When these populations get out of whack, well it’s kinda like the mayhem that can be witnessed currently when various segments of society clash. Unpleasant symptoms such as gas, indigestion, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue after meals, and undigested food visible in stool can all be due to a lack of variety in gut flora, or an overgrowth of unhealthy colonies. This imbalance is called dysbiosis.
Several things can lead to gut dysbiosis, but the major players are:
– Poor Diet
– Prescription Meds like antibiotics and hormonal birth control
– Lifestyle (cigarettes, alcohol)
– Yeast Overgrowth
Some symptoms of gut dysbiosis include:
– Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
– Autoimmune disease
– Mood disorders
– Skin problems
– Obesity – Diabetes – Cancer
So what is there to be done? How can we help foster an environment where our digestive flora thrive and co-mingle instead of riot and revolt? What is the next step? Don’t feel overwhelmed. There is no more algebra required of you here. As with so many ventures, the real answer is in baby steps.
Make the lifestyle changes that you have control over. A poor diet is not just a judgment on food choice. Major menu overhauls are overwhelming to most people, so start small. The more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut microbes will be. Try a new fruit or veggie this week. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are natural probiotics and a great addition to a less than ideal diet. If you don’t naturally gravitate to a veg-heavy diet, herbal supplements should be a part of your daily routine. As important as what you eat, is how you eat it. If you find yourself eating on the run, listening to stressful sounds, or thinking thoughts that don’t bring you peace, you are doing your digestive process a huge disservice. Studies have shown that mindful eating is highly effective in stress reduction and weight loss. Sit in a comfortable environment. Give thanks. Allow yourself permission to enjoy your meal and resume thinking about work afterward.
Soothing an imbalanced gut can greatly improve the conditions required for optimal health. It can also take time so be patient. Support your liver and gall bladder who work so hard for you. Show some love to the incredible epithelial lining of your intestinal tract which annihilates most illnesses before they can take hold of your body. And as with all things, there’s an herb for that!
Calendula Flowers improve digestion and absorption, reduce inflammation in the gut wall, and detoxify the body from pathogens. Additionally, this herb helps treat and prevent pelvic and bowel infections while gently and effectively clearing and healing the gut wall. Marshmallow Root is a mucilage constituent. It helps coat and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. It also has anti-inflammatory properties which are great for healing ulcers and general inflammation. Wormwood is used to eliminate intestinal worms, especially roundworms and pinworms. It is a great herb to kill bacteria and fungi. Black Walnut is one of nature’s most powerful disease fighters. The Husk is an incredible anti-candida solution. It contains an active ingredient known as juglone, which is a very effective antifungal. It has high proportions of natural tannins that destroy parasites, yeast, and fungus.
For help in restoring your microflora and soothing an irritated gut, find our high-quality herbal remedies which specifically address digestive health here.
May You be Soothed, Roots to Remedies