How Can a Herbalist Help My Gut?
Do you have a healthy gut?
You do everything right. Eat plenty of fibre. Drink water. Even eat fermented foods!
But something’s not right with you. Embarrassing symptoms of diarrhoea, constipation, or stomach cramps.
Or perhaps your stomach feels fine, but you’re tired, low-energy, and frazzled?
One of the keystones of your health is a happy gut. But it’s not just your gut that needs to feel good – your gut microbiome needs to be content as well.
Why Is the Gut Microbiome Important?
Microbiome is one of those buzzwords that seems to have reached critical mass – you may have seen it on bottles of supplements and even on skincare. You may not be aware that a microbiome is a microorganism colony living on a host. It’s a mini ecosystem made up of trillions of microbes – various strains of bacteria, viruses, and fungus – and you’re a host to several of them! Your largest microbiomes are in your mouth, on your skin, and in your gut. But why is so much importance placed on them?
First, it’s important to recognise that these microbes are your friends and that you have an important and close relationship – they perform certain tasks that are crucial to good health. In return, the colonies receive a comfortable place to live, with a continued supply of food. It’s a win-win.
Secondly, your gut microbiome is a keystone to your health, as it aids your digestion by:
Protecting the mucus barrier and delicate lining of your gut.
Eating otherwise indigestible fibre and converting it into essential amino acids for you to use.
Forming an important part of your gut-brain connection, allowing two-way communication between your brain and gut through the vagus nerve.
When there’s an imbalance in your gut microbiome (dysbiosis), the beneficial bacteria can’t keep the harmful microbes in check. This can lead to nutrient and amino acid deficiencies, and even damage to the gut wall. If your microbiome is compromised, it can lead to systemic poor health.
What Can a Gut Microbiome Test Show Me?
A gut bacteria test can let you know if you have a healthy gut microbiome – or whether opportunistic bacteria are playing havoc with your health.
Gut microbiome dysbiosis is related to disorders such as:
• Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
• Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
All of these can be triggers for autoimmune disease, as they increase your inflammatory levels both within the gut and systemically.
I use various DNA stool analysis tests through labs such as Genova or Invivo because they are so comprehensive, accurate, and state of the art. The test doesn’t just identify the makeup of your gut microbiome, it also checks for important health markers regarding the overall health of your gut. Although I do treat with traditional herbs, I’m a great believer in using modern testing to pinpoint and customise your treatment!
The test results that I focus in on in particular are:
Opportunistic bacteria: Generally an indicator for microbiome imbalance, high numbers of these bacteria strains can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people. They are also linked to autoimmune diseases such as –
◦ Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
Candida: Yeast overgrowth can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms and increased inflammation.
Parasites and worms: These organisms feast on your microbiome, causing an imbalance, and can also cause weight loss, diarrhoea, nausea, and loss of appetite.
Steatocrit and elastase: A form of fat and a digestive enzyme respectively, these can be measured to evaluate your gallbladder and pancreatic function.
Beta-glucuronidase: Often secreted by ‘bad’ bacteria, it also shows if there are issues with your detoxification pathways.
Secretory Immunoglobulin A (IgA): A powerful antibody that protects the gut and maintains a healthy microbiome. If it’s impaired or working too hard it can cause health issues.
Anti-gliadin IgA: Your gut creates this specific antibody when you have an immune response to gluten, and high levels can indicate gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance and Coeliac disease can disrupt gut health.
Calprotectin and zonulin: An inflammatory marker and a protein that increases intestinal permeability. These biomarkers help us evaluate local inflammation and leaky gut.
Together, we can learn about all this – and more – and just from one single sample. But what are your next steps?
How Can a Herbalist Help My Gut?
Once we analyse your results, we can work on compiling a treatment plan. As a herbalist, my aim is to remove the pathogens – bacteria, yeast, and parasites – before moving on to healing the gut – reducing inflammation and healing the gut wall. A specialised, personalised treatment is best as we can target specific bacteria with specific herbs, without attacking the entire microbiome with antibiotics.
Herbs have been used to ease digestive symptoms for thousands of years, without an understanding of the underlying causes. But it would be irresponsible for me to provide a list of every single herb I use in the case of gut dysbiosis. Self-medicating with herbs can have mixed results – and can even result in worsening of digestive symptoms in some cases. You are unique, and you need an expert to guide you in your herbal journey.
That said, here are a few types of microbes, and the herbs I use to keep them in check:
Juniperus, Artemisia annua, Berberis vulgaris, and Glycyrrhiza glabra can be used to treat Klebsiella spp. bacteria, which can cause digestive issues.
Ceanothus americanus – helpful in the treatment of Prevotella spp. which has links to rheumatoid arthritis.
Echinacea, Ceanothus americanus, and Berberis vulgaris lessen the effects of Streptococcus spp., found all around the body.
Zingiber officinale, Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Bidens pilosa, Juniperus, Artemisia absinthium, and Glycyrrhiza glabra can lower levels of Enterococcus spp. which can become elevated as a result of compromised digestive function.
Berberine from Berberis vulgaris, Zingiber officinale, Glycyrrhiza glabra, and Echinacea can help treat diarrhea-inducing Clostridium spp. bacteria
Parasites can be fought with Artemisia absinthium.
Cryptolepis, Artemisia annua, Juniperus, Usnea, and Zingiber officinale can counteract Proteus bacteria, often transmitted from animals, and leads to loose stools.
For healing and repairing, I like to use flowering plants such as Calendula, Dioscorea, and Asteraceae (particularly chamomile). Ulmus fulva, Althaea, and Foeniculum vulgare can also aid gut repair.
If you’re looking for relief from unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms, or for a deep dive into what contributes to your autoimmune disease, a herbalist can be a wonderful guide. Applying the old, traditional remedies, but backed by cutting edge science to pinpoint your exact needs, there’s never been a more exciting time to get tested and treated.
Are You Looking for Microbiome DNA Testing in Edinburgh?
If you’re looking for a herbalist in the Edinburgh area, who specialises in treating gastrointestinal symptoms and offers comprehensive gut testing, visit Jean Dow Herbalist Ltd for your individualised care. Jean Dow is an NIMH accredited herbalist and her compassionate nature has helped many clients feel better in themselves. To book an appointment call 07973 368 189 or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org