It comes into contact with a vast range of substances on a daily basis, including absorbable nutrients, resident bacteria, pathogens and toxins; its job – to block the entry of unwanted particles whilst allowing nutrients to be absorbed.
It does all this with just a single layer of specialised epithelial cells linked together with tight junction proteins (and with the assistance of some immune cells and mucus). It’s good to appreciate the little things.
But what happens when it goes wrong? Perhaps a course of antibiotics, a prolonged period of stress or regular poor food choices; when the efficiency of the barrier is compromised intestinal permeability can increase thus creating a leaky gut. Unwanted substances enter the bloodstream triggering local and systemic immune responses. Bloating, griping, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation on a regular basis are signs that the gut lining may be compromised. Inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis as well as more generalised auto immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and even type 1 diabetes are thought to be related to leaky gut1.
Ancient wisdom tells us that the gut is the foundation of health and disease. So pay attention to your gut: if it’s out of sorts, sort it out!
Phase 1: Establish the Aggravating Factor
Healing can only take place when the cause of the problem is removed. Imagine trying to heal a cut whilst rubbing it with sandpaper several times a day – it can’t be done!
Common causes of intestinal irritation include chronic stress and sensitivities to particular foods (dairy and wheat are often a problem). Sometimes, however, it can be something as subtle as poor eating habits. If necessary, consult a practitioner to help you identify what’s going on – it can be hard to see your own triggers.
Phase 2: Give Yourself a Chance
Set aside a month for the initial healing period, make this a gift to yourself. During this time cancel non-essential engagements and ensure you make plenty of time for yourself – book in for a massage, get to bed on time, exercise, reflect. Practices such as yoga, somatics and meditation can help generate a deep memory of what it is to be relaxed. What needs to change so that your stressors can be put into perspective? Use this time to establish robust eating practices that will allow your gut to heal.
Soothing and calming for the digestive system and nervous system, chamomile acts on two areas that are closely intertwined.
An established pattern of anxiety or high alert diverts blood away from the digestive system to prepare to spring into action, think quickly, move quickly and respond to defend oneself. Sometimes because we are so familiar with our old patterns we do not realise that we are functioning on a level of overdrive.
Chamomile is mildly sedative, reducing anxiety and nervousness whilst enhancing mood. It relaxes smooth muscle, relieving tension and spasm in the digestive tract whilst its anti-inflammatory action reduces inflammation of the gut lining allowing healing to progress2.
Plantago lanceolata (Plantain)
The tough resilient leaves of this hardy native plant contain a healing mucilage. This acts on the gut lining encouraging cell regeneration where damage has occurred. Plantain seems to lend its coherent structure to the rebuilding of the gut wall so that it too can become resilient and cohesive.
Calendula officinalis (Marigold)
Calendula is known as a first aid plant in the herbal world – its bright orange petals are sticky with a potent resin that has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Within the gut these properties play a valuable role in keeping in check any pathogenic bacteria that can contribute to inflammation of the gut lining.
Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel)
Fennel seed is a warming carminative; its aromatic compounds take effect directly on the smooth muscle of the gut, relieving spasm and discomfort. The mild pungency of this herb increases the flow of digestive juices which improve digestive function and reduce wind and bloating.
Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet)
A key herb for healing the stomach, meadowsweet’s actions also take effect throughout the digestive system. The astringency of the leaves help tone the lining of the gut, restoring the natural barrier function, whilst also reducing inflammation and spasm.
Gut Repair Tea
Mix equal quantities of chamomile, plantain, marigold, fennel and meadowsweet with liquorice root (Glycyrhiza glabra) to make a tea blend. Use four tablespoons of this mix to four mugs of boiling water and allow to infuse in a teapot for 20 minutes. Drink regularly throughout the day. An inch of fresh ginger root can be grated and added to the mix for additional warming digestive relief.
Note: if you have high blood pressure you can substitute marshmallow root for the liquorice.
- Qinghui Mu et al. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017; 8: 598.
- Janmejai K Srivastava et al, Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895–901
The Herbal Clinic, 32 King Edward Road, Swansea SA1 4LL. Tel: 01792 474356 www.herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk