In the hustle and bustle of modern life, maintaining good gut health is often overlooked. However, the health of your gut plays a pivotal role in your overall well-being. Fortunately, nature has provided us with a treasure trove – but what are the best herbs for gut health?
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Nature’s Gift: The Best Herbs for Gut Health
Herbal medicines have long included various forms of different herbs whether powders, teas, or essential oils. And as a dietitian, I love herbs! Not only do they make food taste delicious, they can be great for your health too!
While research on herbs is not extensive, the evidence that does exist points to plenty of health benefits. Let’s explore some of the top herbs that can promote gut health:
Though officially a spice, cinnamon is not only delightful in taste but also beneficial for digestion. It can help reduce gas, bloating, and indigestion (1).
It has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects and helps immunity. And a recent animal study found that it can affect the diversity of microbes in your gut (2)
Known for its soothing properties, peppermint can help alleviate indigestion and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. A recent study with peppermint oil found It relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, reducing abdominal pain and other discomforts (3).
A powerful anti-inflammatory herb, ginger can ease digestive distress, nausea, bloating, and motion sickness. While additional studies are needed, it is effective in reducing nausea in pregnant women, reducing pain from osteoarthritis, and helping with glycemic control (4).
With its active compound, curcumin, turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support a healthy gut wall.
A recent animal study found that turmeric helped restore the gut lining, regulate the amount and type of gut microbiota and reshape the balance of types of microbiomes in the gut (5).
In many southeast Asian countries, fennel seeds are eaten as an after-meal snack, for breath-freshening and digestive help. A recent study in cells and mice found that fennel seed extract improved gastrointestinal integrity which could prove helpful to anyone with IBD (6).
Long believed to promote healthy digestion, recent research found that coriander enriched beneficial strains of bacteria in the gut, and lowered blood pressure (7).
You’ve probably heard of chamomile’s calming effects, but chamomile may be a soothing remedy for gastrointestinal discomfort as well.
A recent study found a supplement containing chamomile and other herbal remedies reduced stomach acid as effectively as a commercial antacid (8).
This herb has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. It has long been used as a folk remedy for bloating and infections. Research is limited but one mouse study found it may prevent peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers) (9).
You may have also heard of lemon balm, which is a different herb that can reduce anxiety and depression (10). So if anxiety is affecting your gut health, this herb may be helpful to you.
Research in mice has found aloe vera to have anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity functions. A recent study also found it could change the composition of the gut microbiota (11).
It may protect against reflux and gastritis, and has potential effects on blood sugar levels, bone health, and cancer (12).
Dandelion root has a long history in folk medicine as a digestive aid. Other parts of the plant may have beneficial effects as well. Research shows dandelion may alleviate some gastrointestinal disorders due to its anti-inflammatory compounds (13).
So why are these herbs so good for gut health you ask? Read on!
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain connection is a fascinating link between our gastrointestinal system and our mental and physical health.
Research has shown that the health of our gut can influence our mood, stress levels, appetite, immunity, and even cognitive function. Maintaining a balanced gut has positive effects on your entire body.
Did you know your gut can talk to your brain? It’s true!
This intricate relationship, often referred to as the gut-brain connection or gut-brain axis, holds the key to your overall well-being. Here are some essential insights that can empower you to take better care of your gut:
Chat Between Your Gut and Brain
Imagine a constant conversation between your gut and brain, where each side has something vital to say. It’s not a one-way street; it’s a dynamic dialogue aided by nerves, hormones, and the tiny inhabitants of your gut.
Mood and Gut
Your gut can have a major impact on your mood. It produces 95% of your serotonin which is a messenger between nerves in your body that affects mood, appetite, sleep, and digestion (14).
Early research suggests that poor gut health might contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Conversely, a healthy gut can boost your mental well-being (15).
Stress and Digestion
Stress can throw your gut off balance. When stress hormones kick in, your digestive system can get disrupted causing digestive issues like upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea. If stress persists, you can end up with serious issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (16).
Boosting the Immune System
Did you know that a substantial part of your immune system resides in your gut? Keeping your gut in top shape is like fortifying your immune defenses (17). An unhealthy gut can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.
Your gut is like a gatekeeper for nutrients. It decides what gets absorbed from the food you eat. If your gut isn’t in good shape, it may not absorb essential nutrients properly, potentially leading to nutritional deficiencies.
The Microbiome Magic
Your gut is home to a bustling community of microorganisms. A diverse and well-balanced microbiome with plenty of different varieties of the good type of microorganisms is your ticket to better physical and mental health.
A healthy diet and other factors can be your allies in strengthening the “good guys” and maintaining this microbial harmony (more on that later!).
Eat Well for Gut and Brain
Your diet plays a significant role in nurturing the gut-brain connection. Foods rich in fiber, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and fermented delights can promote a healthy gut and uplift your mood. Conversely, processed foods and sugars can wreak havoc on your gut.
The Gut’s Role in Disease
Fascinatingly, emerging research is linking gut disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Scientists are unraveling how changes in the gut may contribute to these conditions (18).
Hope Through Treatment
Understanding the gut-brain connection has opened doors to exciting treatment possibilities. Think dietary tweaks, probiotics, and other interventions to enhance mental health and tackle gut and neurological issues.
Your Unique Journey
Remember, your gut-brain connection is as unique as you are. Your genes, lifestyle choices, dietary preferences, and surroundings all play a role. What works wonders for one person might not have the same effect on you.
By nurturing a healthy gut microbiome through mindful nutrition, stress management, and lifestyle choices, you can significantly impact your mental health, immune system, and overall quality of life.
And one easy change to nourish your gut flora is adding more herbs to your diet.
We’ve covered which herbs will aid your gut, but maybe you’re wondering how do I use them?
Incorporating Herbs into Your Diet
Now that you know the benefits of many herbs, let’s discuss how to incorporate them into your daily routine:
Herbal Teas. Herbal teas with calming properties, such as chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm, can help reduce stress and anxiety, indirectly benefiting gut health, as chronic stress can negatively affect digestion.
Feeling nauseous? Try a cup of ginger tea.
In addition, because herbal teas are mostly water, they can contribute to hydration, which is another aspect of good gut health as mentioned above.
Spice Up Your Meals. Herbs not only enhance flavor but also promote gut health.
Add chopped fresh herbs to rice, quinoa, or couscous during cooking for a fresh burst of flavor and easy health boost. They are also easy to throw into soups and salads.
Make your own herb-infused oils or vinegars by placing fresh herbs like ginger, turmeric, or fennel in a clean glass container. Cover them with olive oil or vinegar and allow them to infuse for a week or two.
Use these flavorful infusions in salad dressings, marinades, and as a drizzle for roasted vegetables or grilled meats.
Smoothies. Blend herbs like aloe vera gel into your morning smoothies for a refreshing and gut-friendly start to the day.
Cilantro can impart a fresh, citrusy taste to your smoothies. It goes nicely with tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, and coconut.
Lemon balm has a gentle lemony flavor that pairs wonderfully with citrus fruits and can add a soothing quality to your smoothie.
Depending on your tastes, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon can also be great additions to your smoothie.
Supplements. If you’re not a fan of the taste of certain herbs, consider herbal supplements in capsule or powder form.
While most herbs are safe, some may cause allergic reactions or other issues, so always consult with your healthcare provider before adding herbs or other supplements to your routine.
So you’re getting in your herbs, but what else can you do to improve your gut health?
The Gut-Boosting Lifestyle
In addition to incorporating herbs, adopting a gut-friendly lifestyle can maximize their benefits.
Fiber-Rich Diet. Include plenty of fiber in your diet through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Fiber nourishes your gut bacteria. It also reduces constipation and lowers your risk for gastrointestinal disorders. Healthy food feeds a healthy gut!
Probiotics. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive tract. These microorganisms are similar to the helpful bacteria naturally found in your gut.
You can consume probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut to support a healthy gut microbiome.
Prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that act as food for the good bacteria in your gut. These are found in foods like bananas, onions, and whole grains. When you eat these foods, they reach your gut, where they help the good bacteria grow and do their job.
Stay Hydrated. Drinking enough water is essential for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. To support your gut health, drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Around 8-10 cups is good for most adults, but individual needs may differ, so pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your water intake accordingly
Stress Management. Stress can have a significant impact on gut health through the gut-brain connection. When you experience stress, your body enters a “fight or flight” mode which can affect the digestive system.
You may notice changes in digestion like upset stomach or constipation. Stress also causes changes in your gut flora putting the good guys out of balance. Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation and yoga.
Best Herbs for Gut Health
Incorporating these herbs into your daily life and adopting a gut-friendly lifestyle can go a long way in maintaining digestive health. Remember that consistency is key, and it may take time to see significant improvements.
By prioritizing your gut health, you’re not only taking care of your digestive system but also promoting overall health and well-being, including better mental health. Embrace the power of nature’s herbs – your gut will thank you!
Want to learn more about gut health and how to feed your body well? Check out these articles:
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.