By: Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.
Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion – Lin Yutang(1)
The gut is our most intimate interface with the world.
So if digestion goes awry, few dysfunctions are harder to bear.
Which means the modern prevalence of digestive distress is true cause for alarm. An estimated 60 to 70 million Americans, roughly one in five, are affected by all gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, resulting in over 48 million ambulatory care visits annually.(2)
The etiology of GI dysfunction can be complex, but inappropriate levels of inflammatory cytokines have been associated with a variety of gastrointestinal conditions.(3)
A Simpler Answer
Digestive hygiene is a broad, somewhat controversial subject; for example, adherents of paleo and vegan diets may have very different ideas about how to restore and support digestive health.
So let me offer something simpler. These natural compounds – compatible with virtually any dietary regime – have long been favored by traditional healers, and contemporary scientific investigation is now confirming their benefit for digestive health:
- Arabinogalactan: These polysaccharides are ubiquitous in the plant kingdom, being abundant in carrots, radishes, pears, corn, tomatoes and coconuts amongst others. Arabinogalactan is often extracted from the larch tree (Larix occidentalis) for use in dietary supplements as they appear to modulate immune function.(4)
- Aloe Vera Gel: This gel extract from the popular desert succulent was shown to significantly decrease both Simple Clinical Colitis Activity and histological scores in a clinical trial for ulcerative colitis and “appeared to be safe.”(5) It was also shown to ease heartburn and related symptoms such as flatulence, belching and nausea in a pilot study of 79 people with gastroesophageal reflux diagnosed by endoscopy.(6)
- Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) Root: This traditional digestive remedy was associated with protection against pyloric-induced peptic ulcer in animal models.(7) It is still widely used in Europe where it is recognized as a traditional herbal medicinal product by the European Union for use as a “demulcent preparation for the symptomatic relief of mild gastrointestinal discomfort.”(8)
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Root Extract: Turmeric has long been used for improving the health of the GI tract. Curcumin, one of turmeric’s most bioactive constituents, has been shown to be an especially powerful anti-inflammatory, outstripping both aspirin and ibuprofen in the ability to suppress transcription factor NF-kappaB.(7)
For my patients who experience a wide range of GI discomforts, I often recommend a blend of these herbs. I believe it’s a rare GI disorder that does not have inappropriate inflammation as one of its component, and using different substances simultaneously can address that inflammation via multiple pathways.
- Lin Y. The importance of living. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace; 2017.
- Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health- statistics/digestive-diseases. Published November 1, 2014. Accessed March 8, 2018.
- Ali T. Sleep, immunity and inflammation in gastrointestinal disorders. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013;19(48):9231. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i48.9231.
- Dion C, Chappuis E, Ripoll C. Does larch arabinogalactan enhance immune function? A review of mechanistic and clinical trials. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2016;13(1). doi:10.1186/s12986-016- 0086-x.
- Langmead L, Feakins RM, Goldthorpe S, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo- controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2004;19(7):739-747. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.01902.x.
- Panahi Y, Khedmat H, Valizadegan G, et al. Efficacy and safety of Aloe vera syrup for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease: a pilot randomized positive-controlled trial. J Tradition Chin Med 2015 Dec;35(6):632-6.
- Ba ZSS. Comparison between the Protective Effects of Famotidine, Ginger and Marshmallow on Pyloric Ligation-Induced Peptic Ulcer in Rats. Journal of Bioequivalence & Bioavailability. 2015;07(04). doi:10.4172/jbb.1000234.
- European Union herbal monograph on Althaea officinalisL., radix 24 November 2015 http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Herbal_-_Herbal_monograph/2015/12/WC500198783.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2018.
- Takada Y, Bhardwaj A, Potdar P, Aggarwal BB. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-κB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1 and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene. 2004;23(57):9247-9258. doi:10.1038/sj.onc.1208169.