What you eat doesn’t just influence the look of your waistline; it also affects how your stomach feels.
“Digestive issues run the gamut from bloat, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea. In fact, tens of millions of Americans suffer from these ailments,” points out San Francisco- and Portland-based nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH, owner of Essential Nutrition for You.
Perhaps the worst part of gut distress? All too often you have only yourself to blame. “Eating too fast and not chewing thoroughly is a huge culprit in indigestion,” says Holly Lucille, ND, RN, a Los Angeles–based naturopathic doctor.
Digestion actually starts in your mouth. The chewing process and exposure to an enzyme in the mouth called amylase begins to break down food. Rushing this part, she says, sets many people up for digestive discomfort. In addition, she adds, chronic overeating taxes the digestive system and can overwhelm digestive juices. Fortunately, there are many natural solutions that can restore smooth running digestion. Our digestive experts share their three favorite gut-friendly herbs.
The tasty herb ginger can be very comforting to all sorts of unsettled tummies. Ginger is particularly adept at calming queasiness, whether it’s from motion sickness, pregnancy, or even the nausea that is common after surgery. Ginger can be taken as ginger tea, candied ginger chunks, or even dried in gingersnaps.
“I especially like a cup of lemon-flavored ginger tea with some honey for additional immune system benefits,” shares Batayneh. Herbal supplements of ginger are also an option; aim for 500 milligrams (mg) in capsule (or the equivalent amount in food) every few hours, as needed.
Ginger has a strong safety record, however people with gallstones should avoid this herb.
Aloe gel is a one-stop shop for digestive healing. “This versatile herb encourages the healing and treatment of heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disorder,” lauds Batayneh. Aloe gel cleans the digestive tract by removing toxins and impurities, soothes the gut by relaxing the muscle lining of the intestines, prevents over acidity in the stomach, and reduces general inflammation, she explains.
Try drinking two ounces of aloe in juice form daily with a meal. (Note: Aloe in the latex form is a potent treatment for constipation. It should only be used for a few days at a time and avoided completely while pregnant or breastfeeding.)
Licorice (the herb, not the candy) protects the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract against the damaging effects of stomach acid. This effect is particularly helpful for those with heartburn. Licorice root extract in the form of deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is preferable since the glycyrrhizin component of licorice can cause high blood pressure.
“I love DGL because it actually increases the mucin, that protective lining in our gut, so it is great for decreasing stomach acid and healing ulcers,” Dr. Lucille says.
Moreover, it’s chewable and tastes great, so people find it easy and pleasant to use, she adds. Try 1 to 2 chewable DGL tablets (250-500 mg per tablet) 15 minutes before meals and another one an hour before bedtime.
Rx for Little Ones
Children seem to get more than their fair share of upset tummies. Since many kids have trouble swallowing pills, herbal teas are a great alternative.
Chamomile tea is a popular cure-all that relieves all manner of GI turmoil, including sour stomach, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramps. “This tea is even helpful for colic and irritability,” Batayneh adds. To make it more appealing you can sweeten it with honey (although not for babies less than 1 year old, since honey potentially contains a bacteria that can seriously sicken infants).
Fennel is another top pick for relieving heartburn and gas; it has a sweet, licorice like taste that many children enjoy.
Ginger, another tasty tea, settles the stomach and is great for nausea and diarrhea.