The Top 10 Herbs To Soothe Gut Inflammation

10 herbs to soothe gut inflammation

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, there is one thing I see more often than anything else: chronic inflammation. The underlying trigger of just about every modern day disesase, this insidious health problem can go years undetected until it manifests into a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including gut dysfunction.

But there is good news. Thankfully, there are many natural remedies that have been proven to help soothe chronic inflammation and turn your gut health around for the better. In fact, nature is our best medicine with multiple different herbal remedies able to drastically calm inflammation.

So without further ado, let’s dive in. Read on to learn more about your gut, inflammation, and the best herbs for intestinal inflammation.

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What is inflammation?

In order to know what remedies are going to be best for chronic inflammation, we first need to understand what inflammation is and why it’s bad.

Inflammation is an important bodily process that, when triggered by factors like an unhealthy lifestyle, stress, and toxic exposures, can spin out of control. When inflammation is allowed to run wild, it can damage the body by creating too many pro-inflammatory cells and molecules, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukins (ILs), nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), prostaglandins, and free radicals. Having too many of these pesky pro-inflammatory substances being produced can cause damage to the body, leading to inflammation-related health issues and conditions, such as autoimmune disease.

Inflammation and gut health

Inflammation is the precursor to multiple different gut problems. While you may not have a diagnosable condition like IBS or leaky gut syndrome, inflammation starts off slow and continues to grow and spread. Some of the first signs of intestinal inflammation include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody stool
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite

So while you might not have a diagnosable gut problem, you could be headed in that direction, especially if you are struggling with these symptoms already.

Did you know that to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, your immune system has to have already destroyed a significant amount of tissue in your gut? For example, there has to be massive destruction of small intestine tissue to be diagnosed with celiac disease (CD). And only around 10 percent of people with CD have obvious digestive symptoms. Instead, they end up struggling with other seemingly unrelated symptoms like skin problems, anxiety, or depression. Interestingly enough, all of these “unrelated” problems are also connected to chronic inflammation.

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The best herbs for intestinal inflammation

Now that we understand just how dangerous inflammation is to our health, we are going to want to do everything we can to keep inflammation at bay. You may be wondering “how can I reduce inflammation in my intestines?” After years of clinical research and firsthand experience with my patients at my telehealth functional medicine clinic, these are the best herbs you can use to calm inflammation in your gut.

Whether you take these herbs in supplement form or cook with them, these herbs are an enjoyable way to elevate your gut health. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the many side effects from other inflammation-calming pharmaceutical drugs and they are cheaper and more accessible. In fact, most of these herbs are going to have very few (if any!) side effects.

1. Oregano

Studies have found that oregano is beneficial at lowering inflammatory markers due to its high level of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant, carvacrol. It has also long been used as a natural antimicrobial and anti-fungal in cases of Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), and candida overgrowth. (1)

How to use it: You can get oregano fresh or dried and it goes well as a seasoning in chicken and lamb recipes as well as Italian-inspired dishes like pizza and pasta. You can also get oregano in liquid supplement form that can be added with water to be taken before or after meals.

2. Ginger

Ginger has been used for thousands of years to soothe stomach problems due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, research has shown that ginger can reduce bloating, gas, and indigestion with one study showing that people with chronic indigestion who took ginger capsules after eating were able to empty their stomachs faster. (2) It also helps to alleviate heartburn and acid reflux as well as stimulate the production of stomach acid. 

How to use it: You can mince or grate fresh ginger or buy it as a powdered spice to add to many different recipes, especially Asian-inspired stir-frys or curries. You can also slice up fresh ginger root to make a gut-soothing tea to sip on or add to homemade bone broth to give it a little extra kick - in flavor and gut-healing power. If you’re sitting down to a big meal and want to support healthy digestion, sipping on some ginger tea before, during, or after the meal is a great go-to remedy.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is produced from the underground stems of the plant Curcuma longa, which is related to the ginger plant. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine – it’s what gives curry its beautiful yellow color. The active ingredient in turmeric – the component with the anti-inflammatory superpowers – is curcumin.

How to use it: Studies have shown that curcumin is best alongside black pepper since it contains piperine, a substance that increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000 percent. (3) Turmeric shines in curries and stews as well as in popular golden milk recipes that feature warm coconut milk, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, and honey. 

While eating whole food sources of this superfood herb is best, curcumin supplements are a widely available addition if you are fighting chronic inflammation. My supplement The Curcumin is formulated with pure turmeric extract including BCM-95® which has been extensively studied for its proven efficacy and enhanced bioavailability without additives.

By harnessing the power of curcuminoids and sesquiterpenoids (essential oils) naturally present in turmeric, BCM-95 further enhances the absorption of curcuminoids when compared to conventional curcumin supplements that have poor absorption in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

4. Cumin

Cumin is a spice produced from a seed in the parsley family that has shown extremely promising anti-inflammatory capabilities due to its ability to significantly lower inflammatory IL-6 pathways while also inhibiting the pro-inflammatory NF-kB pathway. (4)

How to use it: This spice goes extremely well with tacos and other Mexican-inspired dishes. It’s a very versatile spice with a little going a long way in terms of flavor.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is high in two anti-inflammatory compounds - trans-cinnamaldehyde and p-cymene compounds. (5) One study in particular published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that cinnamon extract was able to increase gut barrier function as well as activate the anti-inflammatory NF-kB pathway to inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines in the gut. (6)

How to use it: Cinnamon is a versatile spice that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Bake with it and sprinkle on top of dishes like apple crumble or oatmeal or add to roasted sweet potatoes, stews, and sauces for a hearty flavor that’s full of depth.

6. Boswellia

Also known as Indian frankincense, boswellia has been proven to be a powerful anti-inflammatory for inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) due to its boswellic acid content that prevents the formation of inflammatory leukotrienes. (7)

One study found that boswellia extract could be just as effective at treating Crohn’s disease and IBS as the anti-inflammatory drug mesalamine. (8)

How to use it: While boswellia is not really used in cooking, boswellia supplements and extracts may be worth considering adding to your wellness regine.

7. Slippery Elm

Scientifically known as Ulmus rubra but more commonly referred to as Red Elm, Native Americans began using the bark of the Red Elm tree as a remedy in the 19th century - likely to help with digestion. What makes slippery elm a standout in this arena is a substance it contains known as mucilage. When mixed with water, the mucilage forms a thick gel that coats the throat and the intestinal lining to soothe inflammation and gut problems like leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also ease symptoms of digestive problems like IBS and stimulate nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract to increase mucus secretion.

Plus, since it’s high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, slippery elm is considered a prebiotic and producer of beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). (9) In other words, it can help support a healthy microbiome by giving your beneficial microbes their favorite food. Slippery elm is also great for acid reflux and GERD as it coats the esophagus to ease the symptoms of this reaction by protecting the esophagus from the eroding effects of stomach acid. When used for this purpose, slippery elm is best taken right after meals.

How to use it: You can find slippery elm in most natural food stores in many different forms, including tea, lozenges, powder, tablets, and supplements. It’s important to choose organic versions whenever possible, to avoid toxins and the contributing effect they can have on various health problems, especially autoimmune conditions. You should also avoid purchasing any supplement, tea, or other product with unnecessary additives. My personal favorite way to use slippery elm is in tea, as it’s easy to sip throughout the day.

8. Marshmallow root

This root supports the repair of a damaged gut lining by coating the stomach to protect it against increased inflammation. Research surrounding this root has connected its ability to fight inflammation to its antioxidative properties - so much so that its effects have been comparable to the anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac. (10)

How to use it: Marshmallow root makes a great tea if you don’t want to add another supplement into your routine.

9. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice

Often used to treat gastric ulcers, deglycyrrhizinated licorice works to lower inflammation by lowering TNF and other free radicals that increase inflammation in the gut. (11)

How to use it: Sip on licorice tea to soothe and heal your gut lining and ease digestive trouble.

10. Digestive bitters

Digestive bitters are herbs that have a bitter taste including burdock root, bitter melon, and dandelion. Digestive bitters are taken with meals and work to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes that help break down food and make the digestion process easier on your gut.

How to use it: You can find digestive bitters in herbal tincture form but I personally love adding bitter greens into my meals. You can cook them down into soups and stir-frys or use them fresh on top of salads.

Next Steps

If you feel like you are struggling with chronic inflammation, working with a functional medicine practitioner is your best first step toward healing. Not only will they be able to run labs to determine the presence and severity of inflammation in your body, they will be able to come up with a plan of action to address your symptoms and lower inflammation.

Since everyone is different, you may be experiencing inflammation in other areas besides your gut. In our telehealth functional medicine clinic we take a whole body approach to healing and understand that bio individuality is a real thing. What works for one person doesn’t always work for the next and we do everything we can do to suggest the herbs, supplements, and other remedies that are going to work for you and you alone.

But if you are not ready to move forward with functional medicine care, check out our shop that has multiple herbal supplements like The Curcumin to help you soothe inflammation now!

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

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References:

  1. Veenstra, Jacob P, and Jeremy J Johnson. “Oregano (Origanum vulgare) extract for food preservation and improvement in gastrointestinal health.” International journal of nutrition vol. 3,4 (2019): 43-52. doi:10.14302/issn.2379-7835.ijn-19-2703
  2. Hu, Ming-Luen et al. “Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 17,1 (2011): 105-10. doi:10.3748/wjg.v17.i1.105
  3. Shoba, G et al. “Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers.” Planta medica vol. 64,4 (1998): 353-6. doi:10.1055/s-2006-957450
  4. Wei, Juan et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Cumin Essential Oil by Blocking JNK, ERK, and NF-κB Signaling Pathways in LPS-Stimulated RAW 264.7 Cells.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 474509. doi:10.1155/2015/474509
  5. Schink, Anne et al. “Anti-inflammatory effects of cinnamon extract and identification of active compounds influencing the TLR2 and TLR4 signaling pathways.” Food & function vol. 9,11 (2018): 5950-5964. doi:10.1039/c8fo01286e
  6. Qi, Lili et al. “Cinnamaldehyde Promotes the Intestinal Barrier Functions and Reshapes Gut Microbiome in Early Weaned Rats.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 8 748503. 12 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3389/fnut.2021.748503\
  7. S. Singh, A. Khajuria, S.C. Taneja, R.K. Johri, J. Singh, G.N. Qazi,
    Boswellic acids: A leukotriene inhibitor also effective through topical application in inflammatory disorders, Phytomedicine, Volume 15, Issues 6–7, 2008, Pages 400-407, ISSN 0944-7113, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2007.11.019.
  8. Gerhardt, H et al. “Therapie des aktiven Morbus Crohn mit dem Boswellia-serrata-Extrakt H 15” [Therapy of active Crohn disease with Boswellia serrata extract H 15]. Zeitschrift fur Gastroenterologie vol. 39,1 (2001): 11-7. doi:10.1055/s-2001-10708
  9. "The Numerous Healing Properties of Slippery Elm" MediHerb No. 42 August 2004 http://www.promedics.ca/site/downloads/Slippery%20Elm.pdf
  10. Bonaterra, Gabriel A et al. “Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Phytohustil® and Root Extract of Althaea officinalis L. on Macrophages in vitro.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 11 290. 17 Mar. 2020, doi:10.3389/fphar.2020.00290
  11. Yang, Rui et al. “The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb.” Pharmaceutical biology vol. 55,1 (2017): 5-18. doi:10.1080/13880209.2016.1225775

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.