Many people report digestive upset when taking herbs. This article will dive into why that is, and how to work around it.
Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances can take make forms such as:
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Abdominal pressure and pain
Sometimes it just feels like your stomach is in partial revolt over what you took.
Table of Contents
This Article is Herb Non-Specific
There are many herbs out there. Some have side effects that are specifically related to such GI distress. Some are aimed specifically at helping some of these issues as well. This article can’t get into all the possibilities but aims to cover more info about taking herbs in general.
A tip is when looking at herbs you’ll want to look at all their effects and side effects.
In addition, you’ll want to have a basic understanding of your body’s constitution and tendencies towards these things. The Ayurvedic doshas are a fairly easily starting point. As one example, someone with a Vata constitution is going to tend towards constipation, while someone with a Kapha constitution is more likely to have loose stools.
If you have some understanding of the herbal effects along with knowing your body’s own tendencies towards any of these things you’re off to a good start.
Herbal Types and GI Upset
If you need the basics of different types of herbal extracts, see this article.
For now, I want to talk mostly about powders, both raw and processed, and tinctures.
Tinctures are Easiest for Digestion
Tinctures absorb through the blood stream. Sure, you swallow the tincture after it’s been held in your mouth, but it is a negligible amount of liquid.
(If you have issues with even small amounts of alcohol, that’s a different matter. Tinctures can still be taken by evaporating the alcohol by squirting the tincture into tea or other hot drinks. It doesn’t quite get the sublingual absorption but it still works to a lesser degree.)
Therefore, tinctures do not really have much impact on the digestion. They’re quite unlikely to cause gastrointestinal distress, though I won’t say it’s impossible. Again, it does depend a little bit on the particular herb in question.
A friend of mine, who has always had trouble taking herbs for this reason, has recently been converted to taking tinctures. She takes a bunch each day and has no issues that attempts at any other herbal use previously brought.
Raw Powders are Worst for Digestion
Let’s turn to powders. Here is where we see GI upset much more commonly. And this is even more true in raw or minimally processed powders.
Take for instance Ashwagandha. Many people recommend this and take it root that is simply ground up. Tell me how often do you consume woody roots? With all the cellulose and much more, its no wonder that many times this can cause digestive issues.
In this case, as our digestion doesn’t really produce chitinase, an enzyme capable of breaking down chitin, the cellular structure component found in both mushrooms and insects. Not only could they cause upset, but you body wouldn’t likely get much benefit from them either.
Extract Powders are Middle Ground for Digestion
Instead, mushrooms and many other products are often extracted. A tincture is one form of extract. But these can also be extracted into a powder. Such extracts are going to largely remove things like cellulose, chitin and much more. In other words, they’re going to remove many of the components that can cause digestive issues.
However, the powder still needs to go through digestion. Therefore, there still can be issues.
Going back to Ashwagandha from most likely digestive upset to least would be:
Most Likely -> Average -> Least Likely
Ashwagandha root powder -> Ashwagandha extract powder -> Ashwagandha tincture
What About Capsules?
As capsules are simply powders inside of a capsule what is above holds true. You’ll want to understand the above. Is it a raw powder in your capsule or a processed and extracted powder?
Furthermore, though this can be true of powders itself its more likely to occur in capsules. Different products could have various excipients, fillers, additives that certainly can cause GI issues as well. Plus, you have to digest the capsule itself, which in some cases some people may have some issues with, especially if taking lots of them.
So let’s extend our chart further:
Ashwagandha root powder in capsules -> Ashwagandha root powder in capsules -> Ashwagandha extract in capsules -> Ashwagandha extract powder -> Ashwagandha tincture
More mass quite simply means more to digest. Here size does matter.
Tips to Add in Digestion
Adding powders to hot water, that is drinking them something akin to a tea, seems to help a bit.
As mentioned above there are a wide variety of herbs that can aid in digestion. From bitters to carminatives, there are tons out there including fennel, chamomile, ginger, orange peel, senna, marshmallow, calendula and many more.
Because of our ultraprocessed, poisoned and lacking in health food supply, many (most?) people have some degree of leaky gut or what could be called digestive damage. Any and all of the issues mentioned above are more likely if this is the case. Fixing gut issues is a huge issue. Here’s a place to get started.
Please feel free to share any tips, tricks, anecdotes of what works for you in the comments below.