The Best Anti Aging Herbs: Herbs for Digestive Health

A step-by-step guide to better midlife health.

| January/February 2000

  • Anti aging herbs commonly used in cooking, such as peppermint and chamomile, can improve digestive health in a number of ways.

The digestive system lends itself to a wide variety of herbal solutions. This system includes the liver, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, duodenum (leading from the stomach to the small intestines), small intestines and large intestines (colon).

Age-related changes do occur in the digestive system. The salivary glands may produce less saliva, thus fewer digestive enzymes. Past age twenty, the stomach slows its production of gastric juices. Degeneration of the stomach’s mucous lining may cause inflammation. Both the liver and pancreas produce fewer enzymes. Intestinal muscles may weaken, and the lining of the intestines may become thinner and less elastic, producing pockets (diverticula) that can swell and become infected. Food takes longer to travel through the small and large intestines and the intestines may absorb fewer nutrients.

Obviously, dietary choices play a very important role in the health of the aging digestive system. Whole grain, high-fiber, fresh foods are preferred over highly processed foods. Reducing or eliminating coffee, alcohol, and nicotine have obvious health benefits, as does lowering fat intake. Herbs can benefit the digestive system in many ways.

  • Bitter herbs, such as blessed thistle or gentian root, can increase digestive juices and aid in digestion.
  • Demulcent herbs rich in mucilage,such as slippery elm bark or marshmallow root, can relieve inflammation and soothe irritated tissue.
  • Carminative herbs can help relieve gas in the digestive system. They include many common culinary herbs, especially the seeds of carrot family members such as dill, fennel, and caraway.
  • Anti-inflammatory herbs such as cham­omile reduce inflammation. Antispasmodics such as chamomile and peppermint can alleviate muscular cramping.
  • Laxative herbs such as cascara sagrada or psyllium seed, if used only occasionally, have noticeable benefits.

The two primary herbal stars for treatment of digestive ills are peppermint and chamomile, both of which make pleasing beverage teas. Both help ease the symptoms of the three most common forms of indigestion—acid, gastric, and nervous.



Peppermint
(Mentha piperita)

Peppermint is great both to stimulate and soothe digestion. In Germany, peppermint and its essential oil are considered ­effective antispasmodics for treating upper digestive distress, antibacterial agents, and promoters of gastric secretions. Peppermint is widely prescribed for these ­purposes in Europe



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