The 14 Best Herbs For Intestinal Inflammation

The-14-Best-Herbs-For-Intestinal-Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is one of the most common issues I see in patients in my telehealth functional medicine clinic. Out-of-control intestinal inflammation is disruptive to your life, painful, and even sometimes embarrassing — but there’s so much hope!

Herbal remedies are one of the most effective ways to heal inflammation in the gut. Many of the herbs I discuss are used in traditional medicine practices all around the world, some for thousands of years.

Whether you take these herbs in supplement form or cook with them, they are an enjoyable way to elevate your gut health. They’re less expensive than many pharmaceutical drugs and cause few to no side effects, which is why I feel great recommending many of them to my own patients.

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How To Know If You Have An Inflamed Gut

Chronic inflammation is at the root of poor gut health and the precursor to many different gut problems. Even without a diagnosed condition like IBS or Crohn’s disease, you may still notice the effects of gut inflammation.

Some of the first signs of intestinal inflammation include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody stool
  • Fatigue
  • Significant changes to bowel movements
  • Reduced appetite

Unfortunately, many people wait for an official diagnosis to seek treatment for gut inflammation. But by the time you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, for instance, your immune system has already destroyed a significant portion of your gut tissue!

Celiac disease is just one example — there must be massive destruction of small intestine tissue for this diagnosis. Only around 10% of people with celiac have obvious digestive symptoms but struggle with other seemingly unrelated symptoms like skin problems, anxiety, or depression.

All of these “unrelated” problems are also connected to chronic inflammation.

Thankfully, herbal medicine can help make dramatic improvements to the level of inflammation in your gut. After years of clinical research and firsthand experience with my patients, these are the best herbs you can use to calm inflammation in your gut.

1. Oregano

Oregano is beneficial at lowering inflammatory markers like proinflammatory cytokines due to its high level of the antioxidant carvacrol. (1) 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. (2)

Animal research suggests that oregano essential oil may improve the integrity of the intestinal lining, reversing some effects of inflamed, large T junctions common to leaky gut. (3)

How to use it: Fresh or dried oregano 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. Oregano essential oil is often used as a “natural antibiotic,” but should be used with caution and under the guidance of an alternative medicine practitioner, as it can damage your mouth and throat if you apply it directly.

Related: 4 Inflammation-Busting Therapies You Won’t Believe (Hint: Poop Transplants!) 

2. Ginger

Ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects and gut health benefits have been used by practitioners since ancient times, and science shows just how effective it can be even today.

Several clinical studies show that ginger stops the production of certain proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1, TNF-alpha), and IL-8) linked to inflammatory diseases. It also reduces how certain inflammatory protein factors (NF-κB and TNF-alpha) are ‘expressed,’ meaning that it may lessen the risk of diseases they’re often linked to. (4)

Ginger is used to soothe stomach problems due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (5) It helps to speed up stomach emptying, relieve nausea and upset stomach, stimulate the production of stomach acid, and alleviate heartburn and acid reflux. (6)

For people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (UC), ginger may be one of the most effective alternative therapies to reduce intestinal inflammation.

It consistently lowers inflammatory markers when studied in relationship to IBD. At least one human trial found it reduced inflammation similarly to a common medication, sulfasalazine, used to treat IBD. (7)

How to use it: Mince or grate fresh ginger, or buy it as a powdered spice to add to many different recipes, especially Asian-inspired stir-fries or curries. You can also slice up fresh ginger root to make a gut-soothing ginger tea to sip on — add it to homemade bone broth for a little extra gut-healing kick.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric, which gives curry its yellow color, is produced from the underground stems of the plant Curcuma longa, which is related to the ginger plant. Its anti-inflammatory effects come from the active ingredient, curcumin, which is why turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine.

Curcumin may reduce gut inflammation in IBD and even put the condition into remission. (8) It may do this, in part, by improving the integrity of the gut lining, improving the balance of the gut microbiome, and reducing unnecessary immune responses that sustain inflammation. (9)

As these conditions significantly interfere with daily living, it’s remarkable that well-designed turmeric supplements may help give many IBD patients back their quality of life.

Studies have shown that curcumin is best absorbed when taken with black pepper, which contains piperine, a substance that increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000%. (10)

How to use it: 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. It’s shown extremely promising anti-inflammatory capabilities due to its ability to significantly lower inflammatory IL-6 pathways while inhibiting the pro-inflammatory NF-κB pathway. (11)

Cumin extract offers a large variety of benefits to the gut, including reduced indigestion, H. pylori infection treatment, and lower intestinal inflammation. (12) It may improve the symptoms of both IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). (13, 14)

How to use it: This spice goes extremely well with tacos and other Mexican-inspired dishes. It’s a very versatile spice that goes a long way in terms of flavor. It’s also available in liquid extract or supplement form via capsule.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is high in two anti-inflammatory compounds: trans-cinnamaldehyde and p-cymene. (15)

According to animal studies, cinnamon extract increases gut barrier function and activates the anti-inflammatory NF-κB pathway to inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines in the gut. (16) It also supports a better balance of the gut microbiota (the healthy vs. disease-promoting bacteria).

In the case of an inflamed colon (colitis), cinnamon can reduce inflammation and slow or stop fibrosis (the growth of fibrous connective tissue where it doesn’t belong). Researchers found encouraging results this theory in an animal study to see if these effects might offer patients options other than surgery for intestinal fibrosis and inflammation caused by IBD. (17)

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 (Frankincense)

Also known as Indian frankincense, boswellia has been proven to be a powerful anti-inflammatory for inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Its boswellic acid content prevents the formation of inflammatory leukotrienes. (18)

It can help to preserve the mucosal lining of the intestines, protecting it from inflammation-caused damage. (19) It may help improve the amount of commensal (‘good’) bacteria in the gut microbiome, particularly those associated with reducing inflammation and supporting weight loss. (20)

One study found that boswellia extract could be just as effective at treating Crohn’s disease and IBS as the anti-inflammatory drug mesalamine. (21) A human trial of patients taking Boswellia serrata found that 82% of participants with ulcerative colitis (UC) went into remission by the end of the 6-week period. (22)

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

7. Slippery Elm

Slippery elm, also known as Red Elm or Ulmus rubra, is a natural remedy for a variety of ailments used in Native American culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. (23) It’s a powerful antioxidant herb that supports digestive and respiratory health. (24)

It contains a substance called mucilage that coats both the throat and intestinal lining during digestion. This gel-like coating soothes inflammation and increases mucus secretion to help with gut problems, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, and inflammatory bowel disease. (25)

Slippery elm is a prebiotic, high in soluble and insoluble fibers. Medicinal herbs with prebiotic properties, like Ulmus rubra, support intestinal health by producing short-chain fatty acids, protecting the function of the gut lining, improving the immune system response against foreign invaders, and controlling inflammation. (26)

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. My personal favorite way to use slippery elm is in tea, as it’s easy to sip throughout the day.

8. Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow root, or Althaea officinalis, is an herb with antioxidative properties frequently used to treat ulcerative conditions. (27) This root supports the repair of a damaged gut lining by coating the stomach to protect it against increased inflammation. (28)

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

9. DGL Licorice

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice, often just called DGL licorice root, is frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat trouble with the digestive system. (29) It significantly reduces inflammation in the intestinal tract and can increase the effectiveness of corticosteroids prescribed for inflammatory conditions. (30)

Most often, it’s used to address ulcerative conditions like peptic ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease.

How to use it: Sip on licorice tea to soothe and heal your gut lining and ease digestive trouble. Licorice is also available as a supplement, but if you decide to go that route, be sure to get only DGL licorice (non-DGL licorice isn’t safe to take long-term).

10. Digestive Bitters

Digestive bitters are herbs with a bitter taste, some of which include burdock root, bitter melon, and dandelion. They’re typically 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. (31)

Bitters trigger the release of digestive hormones in the gut and may play a role in improving blood sugar management, weight management, and preventing type 2 diabetes (all of which are directly related to chronic inflammation). (32)

One bitter herbal mixture in particular, Andrographis paniculata, was shown to reduce ulcerative colitis symptoms in a similar number of patients compared to participants treated with medication. (33)

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

@drwillcole Inflammation is the underlying commonality between just about every health problem: from autoimmune conditions to anxiety, depression to diabetes, heart disease to hormone imbalances. Inflammation exists on a spectrum: from low grade symptoms like mild fatigue, bloating, hangryness and weight gain on one end to diagnosable health problems on the other end.    Inflammatory foods, environmental toxins, nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress, poor sleep, unresolved past trauma, social-isolation and social media addiction can all drive inflammation. It's bio-individual. Let's find the pieces to your health puzzle address them and overcome them. Wellness is a sacred art. You are the masterpiece.     Link in bio to find out where your inflammation levels may be: https://www.autoimmunehealthreset.com/                       #ArtofBeingWell #GutFeelings #wellness #selfcare #selfhealing #selfhealers ♬ original sound - Dr. Will Cole

11. Peppermint

Various forms of peppermint are often used to reduce nausea and improve the health of the digestive tract. (34) A 2019 meta-analysis of studies found that it may significantly help manage IBS. (35)

Mint oils, including peppermint, have remarkable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. (36) These make for a happy gut, but also extend far beyond gut health alone.

How to use it: Peppermint, like many of these herbs, makes fantastic tea or an addition to a large number of cooking styles. To use peppermint essential oil for nausea, many people find that applying it to the neck and abdomen helps to address GI symptoms. Be sure to dilute it in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or jojoba oil, first.

12. Chamomile

Chamomile tea isn’t only good for a relaxed evening at home — it’s an herb capable of healing the gut.

Chamomile is a natural remedy for acid reflux, inflammatory bowel conditions, H. pylori infection, and stomach ulcers. It may also reduce muscle spasms associated with gastrointestinal symptoms of inflammation (such as those experienced in conjunction with diarrhea). (37)

How to use it: You can get chamomile from tea (steep a few teabags or a tablespoon of dried chamomile) or in supplement form to calm an inflamed gut.

13. Fennel

Fennel seed extract reinforces the mucosal barrier of the intestines, combating inflammation known to create wider-than-normal T junctions (most frequently seen in leaky gut). (38)

In one placebo-controlled trial, fennel and curcumin reduced IBS symptoms in over half of the patients in the study, regulating bowel movements and reducing stomach pain. At the end of the 30-day clinical trial, 26% of the curcumin/fennel group was symptom-free (compared with 7% of participants receiving placebo). (39)

How to use it: Fennel is an herb suited for many forms of cooking, with a licorice-like flavor. It’s safe to eat raw or cooked and pairs well with salads or in a sauté.

Read Next: Avoid These Common Foods That Cause Leaky Gut 

14. Berberine

Popular in ancient medicinal traditions like Ayurveda and TCM, berberine is an herb with significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In the gut, it stops inflammatory responses like those experienced in IBD. (40)

Berberine also helps to balance the gut microbiome, boosting the immune system and protecting it from oxidative stress and inflammatory damage. (41)

FAQs

Acute inflammation is the body’s natural response to trauma, injury, or infection. It triggers inflammatory cells and blood flow to an affected area to kickstart the healing process.

When triggered by factors like an unhealthy lifestyle, stress, and toxin exposure, inflammation can become chronic. Chronic inflammation produces an inflammatory response even when there’s no real trigger to respond to, sending cells and molecules such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukins (ILs), nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), prostaglandins, and free radicals throughout the body.

Chronic inflammation is at the root of most major chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases, inflammatory gut conditions, and more.

When it comes to healing the gut, a healthy diet and physical activity are two of my go-to recommendations. You can repair intestinal inflammation by reducing how much sugar and processed foods you eat and prioritizing nutrient-dense, minimally-processed foods (particularly fruits and veggies!). (42)

Addressing chronic stress and sleeping better are also proven to improve inflammation and the balance of bacteria in your gut microbiome. (43, 44)

The herbs with the strongest evidence for healing intestinal inflammation are turmeric, ginger, and DGL licorice.

Just remember: No two bodies are the same, so different people experience different levels of healing from any given natural remedy. The fact that something worked perfectly for someone else isn’t a guarantee it will work for you.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

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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.

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