Research & Education

Herbs and Botanicals for Optimal Gut Health

Herbs and botanicals have a long history of supporting gastrointestinal (GI) health. GI health is relevant to every individual. It is pivotal in helping digestion, immune function, cognitive health, and overall health. Poor diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, stress, and certain medications can negatively impact GI health. Compromised GI health is associated with various disorders like peptic ulcers, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), and chronic conditions such as allergies, obesity, and chronic liver disease

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) are herbs and botanicals that may promote optimal GI health. They can support by “soothing” and “coating” the intestinal lining, promoting the body’s normal healing and tissue repair process, and supporting a healthy intestinal barrier function. These herbs and botanicals may synergistically work to promote GI health by promoting immune function and maintaining a healthy antioxidative and normal inflammatory status. 

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is a licorice extract from the ayurvedic herb Glycyrrhiza glabra that has been shown to support GI mucosal health, promote healthy microbial environments, and demonstrate anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have revealed that DGL may be clinically beneficial for individuals with functional dyspepsia (n = 50), gastric ulcers (n = 33), or a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection (n = 107) when compared to a placebo.

Slippery elm has been used to promote a healthy gastrointestinal and mucous membrane function, which may support the mucosal barrier in GI conditions. In-vitro studies reveal that slippery elm increases the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate and propionate, which contribute to overall GI health.

Aloe vera possesses potential prebiotic properties that may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colonic microbial environment. One RCT (n = 160) concluded that aloe vera may be clinically beneficial for those with IBS by mitigating symptom severity, although it was not superior to the control group (inulin). 

Marshmallow may have clinical relevance in supporting individuals with ulcers based on rodent models, potentially due to its demonstrated antioxidant properties and ability to promote normal histamine release. In vitro studies highlight that chamomile shows antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may promote a healthy microbial environment. Moreover, a rodent study revealed that chamomile exhibits potential gastroprotective properties against oxidative stress.

Lastly, a systematic review of 26 preclinical studies (in vitro and animal studies) concluded that okra promotes healthy inflammatory responses, by targeting C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-6. Animal studies suggest that okra supplementation may support a healthy gut-brain communication and microbial balance.

More comprehensive human clinical studies are needed on this subject. However, these herbs and botanicals may be considered to promote optimal GI and gastric mucosal health. Supporting GI health is crucial for normal digestion, immune health, cognitive function, and overall health for the general population and for those with certain conditions. 

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN