How can herbs help me
with digestive problems?
Dr Dilis Clare MBBCh, DRCOG, BSc (Herbal Medicine), Hon Clinical Fellow NUIG Medical School.
What is IBS?
This is a common disorder causing a wide range of uncomfortable digestive symptoms. According to Prof Eamonn Quigley (Professor of Medicine University College Cork, president of the World Gastroenterology Assoc.) more than 10% of people could be suffering from this disorder.
The common symptoms are bloating, wind, crampy tummy pain and either constipation or diarrhoea. Some people alternate between constipation and diarrhoea. It can come and go often depending on dietary factors or stress levels. It is diagnosed by excluding other more serious digestive conditions.
If you have regular or ongoing digestive disturbance it is important to have a medical check up.
What is Diverticulitis?
This is a common problem of the large bowel which is very common in the over 50 age group. Like most conditions it can present with mild problems from time to time or regular disturbance of the digestion.
There are ‘diverticula’s’ or pouches, little pockets in the bowel wall that can hold onto stale material. This material lodges in the pockets and can become hardened and act to irritate the healthy bowel wall, they can also become infected and inflamed. When this happens people describe it as a ‘flare up’.
Symptoms include pain and discomfort usually in the lower belly particularly on the left hand side. People experience loose stools, crampy pain, change in normal bowel habit and sometimes even bleeding.
If there is infection there may be fever and chills, pain and again change in normal bowel habit. There is often a feeling of being generally unwell with generalised aches and pains.
The problem is associated with not enough fibre in the diet over the years. There is too much tension in the wall of the large bowel leading to pouches being made in the wall of the gut. Rather like an overblown bicycle inner tube pushing through the weakest point in the tyre forming a pouch through the tyre wall.
Do you have bloating, wind, belching, tiredness and a fuzzy brain with a feeling of wilting especially after food?
Herbs are particularly helpful for digestive discomfort because when you swallow them they are delivered directly to the site of action. Also as the key to good digestion improved digestion makes a big impact as a feelgood factor.
Herbs have a range of restorative effects including:
- Relieving spasm by restoring normal gut motility
- Promoting a helpful balance gut bacteria
- Moisturising an irritated gut wall
- Relieving discomfort with anti-inflammatory effects.
- Improving bile flow.
How do the herbs work?
I have listed the HERBAL ACTIONS according to four effects.
Chamomile is the most familiar of the helpful herbs for stress, and it is hardly surprising that it is relaxing for the digestion. The actions on the digestion are well documented and well researched. It is a wound healing herb with antimicrobial actions. So these combined actions help in a variety of ways to heal an irritated or inflamed bowel wall. Chamomile also has a gentle stimulation action on Bile flow.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
This herb is traditionally used for ‘wind’ as it relaxes the stomach and eases crampy pains. It also has anti-inflammatory effects.
Peppermint (Mentha pip.).
In addition to its’ antispasmodic effect (which is due to its volatile oil content), it relaxes the stomach allowing the release of trapped wind upwards ‘burping’. Peppermint also has a gentle effect on increasing bile flow which aids the normal breaking down of foods.
Mallow leaf or root (Althea rad/fol).
Mallow is the original plant source for marshmallow (before it was hijacked by sugar). It is amazingly soft and soothing; exactly what is need by an overworking gut. The irritation is lulled into a sense of security, allowing the wall to relax in response to the antispasmodics.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula spirea) contains natural aspirin. The word aspirin comes from this plant. However the anti-inflammatory aspirin from Meadowsweet is not irritating to the stomach. In fact the overall effect is relaxing to the stomach in particular.
How do Herbs work for me?
When herbs are swallowed they come directly in contact with the walls of the gut, allowing the gentle healing and soothing effects to work immediately. Soothing the nervous system of the gut also calms the brain.
Ingredients: Chamomile Flowers (25%), Fennel Seeds (25%), Marshmallow Roots (25%), Peppermint Leaves (25%).
DIRECTIONS FOR USE
Use 1 teabag per day. With ongoing symptoms use regularly for 6 weeks, then take a break for one week. Continue use as necessary. If you need more than 3 courses of tea I recommend you see a well qualified herbalist locally.
DIRECTIONS FOR USE
Use 5ml (1 tsp) 3 times a day as needed. With ongoing symptoms use regularly for 6 weeks, then take a break for one week. Continue use as necessary.
When do I use the tea and when do I use the Tonic?
You can use either the tea or the tonic. The tonic is more convenient if you have no regular schedule or if you will not contemplate loose herb teas.
This is a personal decision depending on factors including cost, convenience and personal taste. You can also combine the two, using the tea regularly but taking the tonic for convenience if away from home or out of routine.
If the discomfort is flaring up you can use both the Digestion Tea and the Digestion Tonic together for a couple of weeks, however if the discomfort persists seek medical advice.
Why have you chosen these particular herbs?
These are a few of the many herbs used for digestive problems, but they address some of the commonest problems. If you have mild to moderate disturbance they may be all you need. If you have prolonged or serious discomfort or you have tried these simple remedies for at least six weeks it is best to seek expert advice.
How do I know that herbal preparations are good quality?
My apothecary supply the best quality herbal preparations made to approved and licensed Manufacturing Standards of Excellence (GMP). They are specially blended by me in accordance with the highest academic qualifications and extensive clinical experience.
If you do not have access to a well qualified herbalist consults on-line consultations can be arranged with the herbal team at Dr Clare’s Apothecary Clinic consultation page.