Healthy digestion and intestinal rhythm through plants
Human beings ingest food and drinks every day to obtain the energy and nutrients they need to perform their vital functions. The digestive system and a number of linked glands, such as the liver and pancreas, are responsible for this function, which is essential for life and health. If the complex system of digestion, metabolism, absorption, nutrient transport and ultimately waste elimination does not function properly, then multiple organs and systems can be affected. It’s simple: if your digestive system (stomach, intestines etc.) is working properly, and your digestive process is functioning at the correct rhythm (not too slow, not too fast), then everything else already has a good starting point for functioning properly.
You may be wondering: Why is my digestive system not working properly? What is causing my heartburn, constipation, slow digestion or trapped wind? The answer is usually a combination of different factors, such as inflammation, a change in intestinal rhythm, stress, poor diet, acid hypersecretion by the stomach, a change in microbiota, Helicobacter pylori infection, or even psychological and emotional disorders (1).
The approach to tackling digestive disorders should therefore be multifactorial, and should not rule out any of the potential solutions, including phytotherapy.
Certain medicinal plants with traditions as old as human history itself, and which were used long before the emergence of synthetic drugs, have the unique benefit of helping to improve digestive problems (2) (3), which often lead to feelings of discomfort, bloatedness, pain, trapped wind etc. Not just functional discomfort, but also social discomfort.
Natural solutions for digestive problems
You don’t have to suffer in silence, and you certainly don’t have to resign yourself to these problems. Nature provides solutions for achieving optimum digestion, and here we give you some examples for specific situations. A combination of Nopal extract (Opuntia ficus-indica) and olive leaf extract (Olea europea) together with alginate and bicarbonate is helpful in reducing the frequency and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (4). So if you suffer from heartburn, this combination could offer the relief you need.
If your problem is functional dyspepsia, one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders with unpleasant symptoms such as a feeling of extreme fullness in the upper abdomen, epigastric pain, flatulence, bloating, early satiety, heartburn or nausea (5), medicinal plants such as liquorice may help you. Scientific studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of liquorice in treating functional dyspepsia (6).
Another effective remedy is angelica root (Angelica archangelica), whose traditional use in popular medicine in the form of an infusion has been administered for flatulence, indigestion, general weakness and bronchitis (7). It has been especially popular in Nordic countries, where it has been cultivated since the 10th Century as a medical plant and edible vegetable. It is still very widely used in Scandinavia today, especially in the Sami culture.
Its effects as a gastric mucosa protector with anti-ulcerogenic activity are currently being studied, in combination with other herbal extracts (8), as well as its hepatoprotective effect (9). The latest studies even demonstrate its anti-tumour potential (10).
These are just some examples of the application of phytotherapy, there are many more.
When intestinal transit slows down
It’s true that over the years, physiological mechanisms tend to become slower, but once again plants can offer a great aid for constipation. Constipation is defined as a disorder in which bowel movements are infrequent or difficult, or there is a sense of incomplete evacuation, or a combination of several of these factors (11). On the other hand, major abdominal discomfort or pain associated with constipation can point to irritable bowel syndrome, among other factors (12). Dietary fibre intake and a good level of hydration are basic strategies for easing constipation.
One of the most widely studied fibres for relieving constipation are psyllium seeds or ispaghul (Plantago ovata). The husk, the mucilaginous portion of this seed coat, and the most frequently used part, contains a soluble, viscous and fermentable fibre capable of absorbing water, swelling and forming a gelatinous mass that softens and increases the volume of stools, which helps to stimulate peristaltic movements, easing constipation (13) (14), in addition to other parameters such as cholesterol, blood glucose and body weight (15) (16). There are even studies that indicate that it reduces symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (17).
In addition to the husk of psyllium seeds (if these are organically grown, even better), probiotics (living microorganisms that provide benefits to the body) are another strategy that may be effective in relieving constipation and intestinal inflammation, particularly lactic bacteria (18) (19) (20), although at this point the effect may depend on the bacterial strain used, and the population studied. Added to this is the prebiotic (‘food’ for microbiota bacteria that stimulates their growth) effect of certain natural substances, such as Konjac glucomannan (Amorphophallus konjac K. Koch), which can aid weight loss and relieve constipation and inflammation (21) (22).
Make peace with your digestive system once and for all
If you have digestive problems, if you have given up certain foods because they are associated with causing indigestion (for example, cabbages, legumes, lettuce etc.), if you feel bloated, if your digestion is slow and heavy, and if you go to the bathroom infrequently and bowel movements are also difficult, know that plants that are on your side in the battle against intestinal spasms, heartburn, dyspepsia, flatulence, constipation and abdominal swelling.
Why is combining different herbal extracts a good solution? Because, as in any team, there are two influential factors: the separate action of each of the players, and the teamwork of the unit (synergy). In other words, for the digestive process to function properly, and for you to feel good, the stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys and intestines must work as a team. And to achieve that, there are various natural solutions and herbal extracts available that can help you to relieve digestive comfort and constipation.
Opting for complex phytotherapy formulations (perhaps alongside probiotics and prebiotics) that positively influence the proper functioning of several organs at once is a safe bet for your digestive health.
(1) Functional dyspepsia- a multicausal disease and its therapy, Allescher HD. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16859904
(2) Contributions to the phytotherapies of digestive disorders: Traditional knowledge and cultural drivers of Manoor Valley, Northern Pakistan. Rahman IU, Ijaz F, Afzal A, Iqbal Z, Ali N, Khan SM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27353866
(3) Ethnomedicinal plants used for digestive system disorders by the Karen of northern Thailand, Kornkanok Tangjitman, Chalobol Wongsawad, corresponding author Kaweesin Kamwong, Treetip Sukkho, and Chusie Trisonthi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422539/
(4) Efficacy and Safety of a Natural Remedy for the Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Double-Blinded Randomized-Controlled Study
Umberto Alecci, Francesco Bonina, Andrea Bonina, Luisa Rizza, Santi Inferrera, Carmen Mannucci and Gioacchino Calapai https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5080480/
(5) Validation of the gastrointestinal symptom score for the assessment of symptoms in patients with functional dyspepsia.
Adam B1, Liebregts T, Saadat-Gilani K, Vinson B, Holtmann G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16098003
(6) An Extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) Alleviates Symptoms of Functional Dyspepsia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
Kadur Ramamurthy Raveendra, Jayachandra, Venkatappa Srinivasa, Kadur Raveendra Sushma, Joseph Joshua Allan, Krishnagouda Shankargouda Goudar, Hebbani Nagarajappa Shivaprasad, Kudiganti Venkateshwarlu, Periasamy Geetharani, Gopalakrishna Sushma, and Amit Agarwal https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3123991/
(7) Bhat Z A, Kumar D, Shah M Y. Angelica archangelica Linn. is an angel on earth for the treatment of diseases. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 May 27];1:36-50. Available from: http://www.ijnpnd.com/text.asp?2011/1/1/36/77531
(8) Antiulcerogenic effect of some gastrointestinally acting plant extracts and their combination. Khayyal MT1, el-Ghazaly MA, Kenawy SA, Seif-el-Nasr M, Mahran LG, Kafafi YA, Okpanyi SN. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11505785
(9) Hepatoprotective effect of Angelica archangelica in chronically ethanol-treated mice. Yeh ML, Liu CF, Huang CL, Huang TC.
(10) Medicinal properties of Angelica archangelica root extract: Cytotoxicity in breast cancer cells and its protective effects against in vivo tumor development. Oliveira CR, Spindola DG, Garcia DM, Erustes A, Bechara A, Palmeira-Dos-Santos C, Smaili SS, Pereira GJS, Hinsberger A, Viriato EP, Cristina Marcucci M, Sawaya ACHF, Tomaz SL, Rodrigues EG, Bincoletto C. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30799248
(11) WGO Practice Guideline - Constipation http://www.worldgastroenterology.org/guidelines/global-guidelines/constipation
(12) All Roads Lead to Rome: Update on Rome III Criteria and New Treatment Options. David Q. Shih, MD and Lola Y. Kwan, MD https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085189/
(13) Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders. Eswaran S1, Muir J, Chey WD. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23545709
(14) The Effect of Psyllium Husk on Intestinal Microbiota in Constipated Patients and Healthy Controls. Jalanka J,, Major G, Murray K, Singh G, Nowak A, Kurtz C, Silos-Santiago I, Johnston JM, de Vos WM, Spiller R. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30669509
(15) Effects of psyllium vs. placebo on constipation, weight, glycemia, and lipids: A randomized trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and chronic constipation.
Noureddin S, Mohsen J, Payman A. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30219432
(16) Lipid- and glucose-lowering efficacy of Plantago Psyllium in type II diabetes. Rodríguez-Morán M, Guerrero-Romero F, Lazcano-Burciaga G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9747644
(17) Soluble or insoluble fibre in irritable bowel syndrome in primary care? Randomised placebo controlled trial.
Bijkerk CJ, de Wit NJ, Muris JW, Whorwell PJ, Knottnerus JA, Hoes AW. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19713235/
(18) Nutritional care of the patient with constipation. Fernández-Bañares F. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16782530
(19) Probiotics, fibre and herbal medicinal products for functional and inflammatory bowel disorders
Diego Currò,corresponding author Gianluca Ianiro, Silvia Pecere, Stefano Bibbò, and Giovanni Cammarota https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5429330/
(20) The efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review.
Moayyedi P1, Ford AC, Talley NJ, Cremonini F, Foxx-Orenstein AE, Brandt LJ, Quigley EM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091823
(21) Konjac glucomannan, a promising polysaccharide of Amorphophallus konjac K. Koch in health care. Behera SS, Ray RC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27481345/
(22) Health-promoting effects of konjac glucomannan and its practical applications: A critical review. Devaraj RD, Reddy CK, Xu B. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30586587