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Tea for your Psychic Bugs: A Slippery Elm Prebiotic Tea Formula
Reprinted with permission from Dr. John Douillard, DC © February 12, 2015
The relationship between the microbes in the gut and one’s mental and emotional state of mind is called the gut-brain axis. New studies suggest that both good and bad intestinal bugs can play a major role in the function of digestion, the central nervous system (CNS), the mind and emotions. (1)
Stress influences the health of the intestinal mucosa where our microbes either live or die. Such stress alters the function of the gut microbiome. (2) In fact, in one study, a group of subjects that had intestinal discomfort and bloating had 5 times less Bifidobacteria (a well-known beneficial bacteria) than another matched group without intestinal discomfort and bloating. (3)
In another study, stress was found to damage the intestinal mucosa and the gut microbiology in such a major way that it caused an increase in gut permeability – allowing toxins and pathogens to enter directly into the bloodstream. (4)
Our Intuitive Intestinal Microbes
In the same way that research has shown that stress can disturb the microbiome and compromise overall health and well-being, new studies are suggesting that a healthy non-stressed microbiome can boost higher cognitive function, gut feelings, intuitive decision-making and motivation. (5)
Researchers found a highly complex communication system between the gut and the brain that is not only responsible for higher brain functions like gut feelings and intuitive decision-making, but also maintaining the proper balance of the gut and digestion. Like all of the functions of the microbiome, it all starts with the health of the intestinal wall. The study reported that if these gut-brain communication pathways are disturbed, a wide range of health issues, including gastrointestinal issues, obesity and eating disorders may result.
Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science!
According to Ayurveda, 85% of the overall health and well-being of an individual is determined by the health of the digestive system. Stress was understood to directly compromise the health and function of digestion, and then take its toll on the rest of the body. The new and emerging science is now confirming this ancient wisdom.
More exciting is the fact that science is now making a solid connection between the health of our digestion (the microbiome) and higher states of mental, emotional, cognitive and, dare I say, spiritual or meta-physical functioning. (5) “Gut feelings” and “intuition” are not words that regularly appear in scientific abstracts from the National Review of Neuroscience. (5)
Ayurveda suggests that a healthy digestive system delivers refined products of digestion that are directly responsible for one’s physical, mental, spiritual and emotional development. In fact, Ayurveda goes as far as saying that this is the purpose of the human body and thus the purpose of Ayurveda. While Ayurveda did not mention the presence of intestinal microbes, it directly maps out both the positive and negative impact that stress, even in its most subtle form, has on digestion and the body’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
It All Starts In the GUT
The first thing that happens when we are feeling stressed is a direct insult to the intestinal tract. If the stress is persistent, the mucus membranes of the gut will begin to dry out. This dryness can slow down the ability to have regular bowel movements, cause occasional constipation, bloating and gas. If the stress angers on, the mucus membranes can react to the stress-induced dryness and constipation and start to produce excess reactive mucus. This excess mucus production can cause the stools to become loose, bog down the intestinal villa and result in mucus in the stools. When the villi become irritated and burdened with excess mucus, the ability to digest, detox and assimilate can become significantly compromised.
The natural environment of the intestinal tract that supports beneficial microbes for optimal health is delicate. (2,4) For the intestinal villi to function well, they cannot be too dry or too wet (riddled with reactive mucus production) – they have to be just right!
A Tea to Restore Gut Health
Interestingly, according to Ayurveda, the health of the intestinal wall was tended to with great care in innumerable ways. Today, there are many scientific studies, which I continuously write about, confirming how these Ayurvedic therapies actually support a healthy microbiome as well as optimal digestive and overall health.
My favorite such therapy that I have been using successfully in my practice for almost thirty years is a concentrated tea made out of chopped (not ground) slippery elm bark, marshmallow root and licorice root.
To antidote both the dryness and the overly damp mucous membranes, I have not found a better solution than a slippery elm, licorice, marshmallow decoction taken regularly for a month to reset healthy intestinal and microbial function. Each of these herbs are naturally slimy or demulcent, which means that it will soften and soothe the dry and irritated mucous membranes all the way from the throat to the stomach to the small and large intestines. It is like coating the entire digestive tract with a protective mucilaginous, microbe boosting band-aid for a month. During this time, new intestinal skin can grow, a healthy intestinal environment can be restored, and healthy microbes can repopulate.
After cooking these herbs down into a concentrated tea or decoction, the soluble fiber from these roots and barks are released. The soluble fiber is naturally slimy, and therefore offers soothing support to the dried-out intestinal mucosa.
The soluble fiber also feeds the intestinal microbes and acts as a natural prebiotic for the microbiome. This is a critical part of the tea’s restoration effect – to create an environment that will allow the healthy microbes to proliferate while restoring the function and environment for the intestinal villi and gut mucosa to digest, detox and assimilate nutrients optimally.
The Cast: Licorice Root, Slippery Elm Bark and Marshmallow Root
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is a classic Ayurvedic herb used worldwide as a natural lubricant or demulcent for the intestinal and respiratory airways. Licorice naturally lubricates and soothes mucus membranes and, as an adaptogen, it protects them from stress and environmental irritants and pollens. (6) Licorice quells the production of excess reactive mucus. (6) It supports the function of other herbs when taking in combination. (6)
Licorice is calming for vata, cooling for pitta, and can liquefy the mucus of kapha.
Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery Elm has long been used for digestive and intestinal concerns because of its demulcent, lubricating and gut-protective properties. (8) Along with its mucilaginous, protective properties for the intestinal wall, it has been shown to support healthy antioxidant activity in the intestinal tract. (7)
Like licorice, it has a sweet taste and cooling action. It balances vata and pitta in the same way licorice does, but it will increase kapha as a result of its more mucilaginous properties. A thick layer of protective mucilaginous herb that covers the entire intestinal tract is the key to its success.
Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis)
Marshmallow Root is perhaps the most demulcent of the three herbs in this formula. It has been studied to protect the stomach lining from excess acid and protect the intestinal tract from intestinal irritants, such as the toxic form of carrageenan. (9) Medicinally, it has been approved by the German Commission E in supporting inflammation of the gastric mucosa, and for irritation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa. (9)
Like both licorice and slippery elm, marshmallow is a soluble fiber, which means it will be broken down by the stomach, but not absorbed. This allows it to offer the gut, where most of the microbes reside, a handsome feast of the fibers and nutrients these three herbs contain.
Marshmallow is cooling for pitta, soothing and calming for vata and, as it is mucus producing, it will increase kapha –a good thing in this instance, as we are trying to coat and protect the intestines from top to bottom over the course of a month of therapy.
Make a Decoction or Prebiotic Tea At Home
The key to the success of this intestinal and microbial reset is to take these three herbs as a decoction for a month or two. Use the tea as a maintenance beverage. Secondly, you must source these herbs in a chopped, not ground, form. If you use ground herbs, you will make mud and it won’t work. One of the reasons I created our Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula was because I could never find the herbs locally in a chopped form.
Soak 1 tablespoon of each of the chopped herbs or 3 tablespoons of our Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula in 2 quarts of water overnight. Boil the mixture down from 1 quart to 1/2 quart in the morning. Strain the mixture through a metal strainer. Use a large spoon to push it through. Save the liquid and discard the herbs. Take 1 tablespoon of the liquid every two hours on an empty stomach for one month, sometimes two months if needed.
For Best Results:
- For occasional constipation, use it with the Elim I herbal formula. Wean off the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula first and then wean off the Elim I.
- For loose stools, take the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula along with Elim II. Wean off the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula first and then wean off the Elim II.
- For mucus in the stool, take the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula with Amalaki to help re-establish a healthy intestinal lining.
- For occasional heartburn, take the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula with Cool Digest before meal.
- To best restore a healthy microbiome, take the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula with our Gut Revival, which has probiotics that other kill off bad microbes and repopulate the gut with good microbes.
- Once finished with the Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula, follow up with our colonizing probiotic, Flora Restore, which has been shown to establish new permanent microbial residents and microbial diversity in the gut.