I have a whole list of the best herbs for leaky gut that I’m excited to share with you! First I have to remind you all that I am not a doctor or a clinical herbalist. I am not making any diagnosis or offering a treatment plan. The following information is for inspirational purposes only and you should always consult a functional medicine doctor for direction and prescription of medication, herbal or otherwise.
Leaky gut is an interesting issue and learning about gut health, in general, can be surprisingly compelling! The leaps and bounds scientists have made in the research of the gut in the last two decades are seriously changing how we approach our health. It has been discovered that our gut is not just our digestive system, it’s so much more. One of its most important roles is being home to 70% of our immune system. That’s right, only 30% of your immune system lives outside of the gut. That makes gut health a huge contributing factor to our overall health!
There’s still so much to be learned about the human gut, so researchers don’t have it all figured out just yet. Still, the information we have about our gut microbiome, or gut flora, has really begun to clear up confusion surrounding common issues. We’re seeing issues like autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease clearer and getting a better understanding of healthy digestion overall.
I get excited about this progress because the science is fascinating! But you’re here to learn about how to treat leaky gut with herbal medicine. Let’s answer a few other questions before we get into the specific natural herbs that may help with leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut syndrome, in simple terms, means that the gut lining has been damaged and it can’t work effectively as a barrier. This creates intestinal permeability, allowing toxins to leak into your bloodstream. This means undigested food particles are making their way into your bloodstream. Leaky gut is not an official medical diagnosis yet. Most GI doctors will not recognize it as one of the many gastrointestinal diseases or illnesses. That means you’re going to find three different camps of thought on this topic. Those who believe leaky gut is a real issue, those who aren’t sure but are open to it, and those who think it is a totally hypothetical issue. So if you look into this gut issue and feel like you’re experiencing symptoms of leaky gut, don’t be surprised if your doctor shuts you down as soon as you mention it.
Scientific Breakthrough for Gut Health
In 2006 there was a breakthrough in a laboratory study that allowed researchers to finally study the extensive layers of the gut microbiome. At that point, only about 200 species of bacteria that inhabited the human gut were known. Very quickly, with this breakthrough, another 15 thousand were identified. It’s estimated now that there may be as many as 36 thousand species of bacteria in the gut.
Since then there have been over 12 thousand scientific papers on the topic of the gut microbiome in just the last five years, the ability to study the gut flora drastically increased. Those 12 thousand-plus papers represent 80% of the papers written on this subject in the last 40 years. I got that info from the famous “gut doctor,” Will Bulsiewicz’s book Fiber Fueled. It’s amazing stuff and what it means is that we came a long way in our knowledge of the gut, fast.
With all of the science expanding so quickly, it’s challenging for our healthcare system to keep up. Bulsiewicz also points out in his book that it takes an average of 17 years for new findings to go from publication to practice, or even the consciousness, of doctors. Some doctors will find this information on their own, study it extensively, and then apply it to their practice unofficially. Those are the doctors you will find who are also educated in the role that nutrition plays in our health, especially in our gut. Those doctors will also usually be open to other natural remedies such as herbs and, in turn, help resolve your GI issues much more effectively.
What is Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism, is the practice of medicinal and therapeutic use of plants as a healing and illness prevention mechanism.
I’m a big believer in the healing power of plants. We were created to benefit from using plants to both fuel our bodies and treat and prevent ailments. Herbal medicine has been practiced for hundreds, if not thousands of years around the world. Its benefits have historically been most trusted in indigenous cultures. The U.S. in general has never been on board with this method of healing to the extent that other countries have been.
Eastern cultures such as China and India use primarily herbs in healthcare to this day. In western medicine, we tend to use herbs as supplements or as complementary alternative medicine. In other words, pharmaceutical drugs come first and you can throw in some herbal supplements on the side and see if that helps.
Herbal medicine has been most consistently practiced and extensively documented in Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine has made its way in bits and pieces to the U.S. by way of herbal supplements and treatment modalities like acupuncture and dry cupping.
Herbal medicine, used traditionally, is implemented on its own without the presence of prescription medications. Naturopathic doctors, those who use only natural remedies, can be found in some parts of the U.S. Holistic practitioners are easier to find in the U.S. and they use both conventional and natural or herbal medicine. You can also consult an herbalist, who is not considered a doctor but may also be a doctor, for herbal medicine.
Will Herbs Cure Leaky Gut?
It is believed, and I agree based on personal experience, that herbs are a powerful treatment method that can be just as effective as pharmaceutical drugs. With that said, synthetic drugs tend to be more targeted at a specific issue or have a very specific purpose. Whereas herbal or natural medicine can have a very broad range of effects on different processes in the body at once. Herbal medicine will not pinpoint an issue and fix it. That may be considered a good or bad thing since a more targeted approach will often be a quicker fix.
For overall health purposes, though, synthetic drugs create more side effects and are generally only a bandaid, especially in the case of chronic illnesses, like gut issues. Natural medicine like herbs works toward improving the environment, so to speak, inside of your body. This is a more practical long term approach.
Synthetic and natural treatments can sometimes be used in conjunction, but you should always consult your doctor to make sure you won’t have any drug interactions or unsafe side effects.
Natural does not always mean safe at any dose or for any use. In some cases, natural isn’t safe at all, especially if you are foraging and are not well-versed in plant recognition or you are unfamiliar with an herb and its potential side effects. Even herbal supplements sold by companies considered to be reputable are not held to high standards in the manufacturing of their products (more on that below). Be sure to always consult an expert in herbalism as well as a doctor before taking any herbal medicine.
Herbal Medicine Application Methods
The best way to get the most out of herbal medicine is to get it from as close to the source as possible. The less processing it goes through the more effective it will be and the less you have to worry about quality. There are several different applications for herbal medicine including, but not limited to:
This method is very similar to the typical hot herbal teas method of steeping herbs. The difference is a longer steep time, 15 to 20 minutes, vs a couple of minutes.
This method is best described as simmered herbal tea. It is used for roots or seeds that aren’t easily extracted and can’t be steeped.
This is a concentrated herbal extract made by soaking the herb in vinegar or alcohol.
This is similar to a tincture but the herbal concentration is extracted using glycerin instead of alcohol.
This process extracts herbal material by moving alcohol or alcohol and water combined through a powdered herb very slowly. Think of a coffee percolator, the water slowly flows through the coffee grinds. Percolation of herbs is a much slower process, usually overnight.
Elixirs are made by steeping herbs in honey or maple syrup. These are sometimes combined with brandy or another alcohol and sometimes fermented.
Other than tea infusions, capsules are the most commonly used herbal medicines/supplements. These can contain either powdered herbs or herb essential oils.
Salves are made by combining oil infused with herbs with a wax such as beeswax to create a solid-state mixture that can be rubbed on for application.
This application method is made by soaking dried herbs in a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, for two to six weeks and then the herbs are strained and the remaining oil is applied topically.
Essential oils are very concentrated plant extracts. These have a strong smell and flavor and can be diffused or inhaled.
Hydrosols are aromatic waters, also known as “flower waters,” that are produced by distilling herbs, flowers, and other plants. They are similar to essential oils but much less concentrated and potent, with soft and subtle aromas.
Herbal Medicine Regulation:
The issue with the most widely found herbal treatments in the U.S., herbal supplements, is the lack of quality. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider supplements medicine. The FDA considers herbal supplements food. They are not considered drugs so they are not held to the same standards as medication (standards which should be higher themselves). The only labeling requirement for herbal medications is that they are not allowed to claim to treat any specific medical conditions. Testing, manufacturing, and labeling of supplements are not regulated the same as medications in America.
What this means is that the herbal supplement market is basically a free-for-all when it comes to ingredients and quality. There are also no requirements for supplement companies to ensure batch consistency. This is called standardization, which is a requirement for medicines to ensure that each pill has the same and appropriate level of all ingredients. This seriously calls into question the efficacy and safety of herbal supplements sold in American, as well as other derivatives from herbs such as essential oils.
Different Types of Herbs for Leaky Gut
All of these herbs should be applied on a case-by-case basis. That means there is no one-size-fits-all application for any of these herbs. There are also different applications that work best and are safest for each herb on a case-by-case basis. That’s why you should consult a clinical herbalist and/or a doctor well versed in herbal medicine, such as a functional medicine practitioner for direction and determination of the best herbs to heal your gut. That is why I won’t provide any instruction on dosage or application here since I am not an herbalist or a doctor.
There are six different types of herbs that may help soothe symptoms or help heal leaky gut. Within these types, I will break up lists of herbs that fall under each category, but you’ll find that some overlap and are included on several lists. That’s because, as we talked about earlier, herbs have a wider variety of benefits than targeted pharmaceuticals. So you’ll see many of the same herbs listed for different uses all over the human body.
Bitter herbs support digestion because the bitter flavor stimulates the secretion of digestive juices. Usually referred to as digestive bitters, these herbs are often taken in tincture form. Bitters also stimulate liver function which can increase bile production to break down fatty foods in the gut. Digestive bitters also help control the overgrowth of bacteria in the gut which supports a healthier gut microbiome. If you have digestive issues or poor digestive health that inhibits digestive function, bitter herbs may offer some relief.
There are many digestive bitters, but the most commonly used are:
- Artichoke leaf
- Bitter Melon
- Bitter Orange
- Burdock root
- Chamomile flowers
- Dandelion root
- Gentian root
- Grapefruit peel
- Lemon peel
- Licorice root
- Milk thistle seed
- Orange peel
- Yellow dock root
Vulnerary astringents are mostly known for topical use, but they can be used with great success for healing the gut. “The word “vulnerary” means useful in healing wounds and “astringent” means causing the tightening of cells or body tissues. Because of their contraction, or tightening properties, vulnerary astringents are known for healing or tightening the cells, or tight junctions, in the intestinal wall that have loosened and allowed intestinal permeability.
Some well known and commonly used vulnerary astringents for leaking gut are:
- Calendula flowers
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Gotu kola
- Plantain leaf
- Rose petals
- Schisandra berries
- Shatavari root
- Violet leaves
Mucilaginous herbs are soothing herbs. When you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms associated with leaky gut, a fast-acting herb for soothing raw or wounded tissue really hits the spot. Mucilaginous herbs are slimy and can work wonders for chronic inflammation in the cut. The slimy consistency works by coating the mucus membranes of the gut.
The following are mucilaginous herbs:
- Aloe vera leaf juice
- Amla / Amalaki / Indian gooseberry
- Indian Gooseberry
- Licorice root
- Plantain leaf
- Marshmallow root
- Slippery elm bark
Antimicrobial herbs interfere with the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, allowing beneficial bacteria to flourish. This is helpful in treating dysbiosis, which is a bacterial imbalance in the gut that can be caused by things like excessive antibiotic use and excessive stomach acid, among other things. Taking antimicrobial herbs during treatment is especially helpful when you’re also taking probiotics since the antimicrobials will help keep the bad bacteria at bay as the good bacteria is repopulating the gut.
The following are antimicrobial Herbs:
- Agarita/Algerita root
- Bayberry bark
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Ginger root
- Lemon Balm
- Oregon grape root
- Oregano leaf
- Pau D’Arco / “pink trumpet tree” bark
- Thyme leaf
Dispersive herbs are pungent and work to break up unwanted symptoms like excessive gas and bloating. Aromatic herbs help expel gas with their powerful essential oils. These compounds help increase gastric emptying, which naturally helps release the unwanted symptoms of slow digestion.
The following are dispersive and pungent aromatic herbs:
- Bay leaf
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Fennel seeds
- Ginger root
- Lemon balm
- Oregano leaf
- Peppermint leaf
- Thyme leaf
Quick Reference List of the Best Herbs for Leaky Gut Syndrome
Click on the photo below to download your quick reference list of the best herbs for leaky gut syndrome. Take this list with you to your clinical herbalist or functional medicine doctor to find out which herbs are right for you and how to administer the herbs appropriately. This list is not exhaustive and your doctor may have more or different recommendations, but it’s a good starting place. Your doctor will choose the appropriate herbs and combinations of them that will give you the best income for your personal recovery.
Precautions to Take When Choosing Herbs
Remember, I am not a doctor or a clinical herbalist and I am not making any diagnosis with this information, nor am I recommending a course of treatment. Please take the following precautions when choosing and using herbs as medicine.
- Work with a professional: Find a licensed clinical herbalist or functional medicine practitioner who can advise you and guide you through treatment with herbal medicine.
- Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can on your own and discuss your questions and concerns with your medical professional.
- Follow your medical professional’s dosage recommendations: Do not exceed your prescribed dosage unless your doctor increases it.
- Watch for side effects and allergic reactions: Your doctor or clinical herbalist will tell you what to watch out for depending on the herbs you are taking.
- Choose a reputable herbal supplement manufacturer: Ask your clinical herbalist or doctor if they can recommend a reputable manufacturer. Remember, not all supplements are created equally, so do your research to ensure you are getting quality products for both efficacy and safety purposes.
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