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Gut Feeling: Gut Flora and TCM

gut health

It’s kind of creepy to think about the fact that you have tens of trillions of bugs freeloading in your gut, feasting on the food you eat. If only we could claim these microscopic voracious eaters as dependents on our tax forms.

Nonetheless, our overall health is at the mercy of our gut microbiota.

How many and what species of bacteria you have in your gut microbiota determines how lean or plump your physique is

In fact, how many and what species of bacteria you have in your gut microbiota determines how lean or plump your physique is; if you are generally happy or more prone to depression; if you are relatively healthy or develop an autoimmune disease or even cancer; and if you sleep like a baby or toss and turn throughout the night.

As more and more people become aware of the connection between gut health and overall health, sales of probiotic supplements, which in theory boost beneficial bacteria populations, are booming. By 2020, sales of probiotics are forecast to top $3 billion.

Considering traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a 5,000 year discipline, certainly it can’t help with improving your gut bacteria, right? After all, microscopes didn’t exist in ancient China and Chinese medicine practitioners of millenia ago didn’t consider the gut microbiota’s impacts on human health.

Gut Health: Ancient Medicine, Modern Applications

But it turns out that TCM formulas can very much benefit your intestinal bacteria, even though the formulas aren’t marketed as “probiotics.”

According to a chapter entitled, Application of Intestinal Flora in the Study of TCM Formulae, in the book, Systems Biology and its Application in TCM Formulas Research (by Xianpeng Zu, et. al.), after you take certain TCM herbs, your intestinal bacteria become more active and help detoxify harmful substances. In addition, TCM herbal remedies increase other beneficial bacteria function, such as protecting intestinal mucosal barrier function.

Having a healthy mucosal barrier is critical for preventing autoimmune disease and other inflammatory conditions. When the mucosal barrier becomes too porous (junctions in the lining become weak), undigested food particles enter the bloodstream, whereby the immune system recognizes the undigested food particles as a pathogen. Consequently, the immune system attacks itself causing strong autoimmune reactions and potentially, disease.

What Causes A Bad Gut Microbiota? — A Western Perspective

Research shows a link between lacking diverse, flourishing beneficial bacteria colonies within your gut (gut dysbiosis) to numerous diseases including obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, autism and depression, among others.

For instance, our gut bacteria produce signaling chemicals to the brain, that regulate our appetite, satiety, and digestion. But with somebody with gut dysbiosis, the brain doesn’t receive the signal to stop eating. This is one reason why researchers believe there’s a strong link with gut dysbiosis and obesity.

What causes a lack of good bacteria in the gut? There are several factors, including genetics, not being breast-fed, being born through C-section, low vitamin D levels, antibiotics, and poor diet.

Gut Dysbiosis As Explained With TCM Theory

A poor gut microbiota profile isn’t a diagnosis that a traditional Chinese medicine doctor would give you. However, gut dysbiosis can be explained—and improved—by addressing the health of the Spleen and Stomach organ systems.

Stress of any kind can weaken both the Spleen and Stomach. Consequently, this weakness can lead to Stomach Qi stagnation. Stomach Qi stagnation can then produce a burning up of precious fluids in the body. And in the case of obesity, this excessive heat in the gut interferes with the communication between the brain and gut.

So how does TCM address repairing the gut microbiota? By tonifying the Stomach and Spleen organs.

What are the best Chinese Herbs for Gut Health?

According to this study, Schisandra fruit increases intestinal transit rate (thus preventing food waste accumulation) and alleviates gastrointestinal motility dysfunctions.

Astragalus

Astragalus is rich in fiber and polysaccharides that ferment and ultimately convert into short-chain fatty acids. This in turn plays a vital role in the health of fecal microbiota, according to this research.

Consuming goji berries for 14 days improves neurological and psychological performance, and gastrointestinal functions, concludes this study.

These three Chinese herbs are considered immune-building tonics. And research also shows that astragalus, goji and Schisandra all increase specific strains of beneficial bacteria, including the most common one in the gut microbiota: bifidobacterium. Thus, in essence, these herbs are probiotic supplements even though they are not marketed as such.

In addition to these three herbs, there are several others which benefit the Spleen and Stomach organ systems.

Are there any herbal formulas that increase good gut bacteria?

Yes. Our formula SpleenVive, which is for symptoms of being overworked or stressed out, including sleeplessness, forgetfulness, tiredness, and poor appetite, can help improve the microbiota.

SpleenVive™

In TCM theory, the Middle Warmer is the location of your vital digestion organs. Our formula, Midwarmer, strengthens Spleen function and is highly beneficial if you frequently experience abdominal distention and/or pain as well as diarrhea.

There are other ActiveHerb formulas that benefit the gut microbiota. However, the formula for each one addresses specific symptoms. Therefore, please visit our Digestive Health formula page to research which formula best applies to your specific concerns.

Sources/Suggested Reading

Systems Biology and its Application in TCM Formulas Research

Dollar sales of probiotic supplements

Bugs In Your Guts

Gut microbiota info