Gut Bacteria

‘Good bacteria’ crucially prevents potential pathogens from multiplying and invading our body and for this roughly between 1000 and 40000 bacteria work on digestion and gut issues. The type and ‘diversity’ of our gut microbiota will be crucial to our overall immune health, so if the gut is in a poor state and lacking good bacteria, then a host of other issues will manifest.

Gut Disorders on the Rise

As i said previously, non-specific intestinal bloating and pain are enormously on the rise. It’s often hard to know exactly what is at the bottom of it all; it could be anything from candida to leaky gut onwards. Quite often it is simply SIBO or ‘Small Intestinal Bacterial (or yeast) Overgrowth’ which is basically excesses of bad bacteria as opposed to balanced ‘good’ bacteria being present. (Many many reasons can cause this painful and frustrating issue from diet to medication and onwards.) Using a wide range of herbs to help reduce the bacterial overload will help to deal with the toxic agents (gas and metabolic waste), produced by the bacteria/yeast.

Herbs to Help

Here at Herbs Hands Healing we’ve been focusing on gut issues for decades and seen the rise in gut issues and complications and we have a few suggestions. Our ‘IntestStable’ capsules contain a number of potent antimicrobials and other plants that help nerve and circulatory gut function vital to flushing out ‘bad’ gut bacteria. Our ‘Lemon and Artichoke’ formula will help digestion, alkalize and re-train the pancreas, all of which helps keep a healthy gut status quo. Starving the bacteria in the small intestine and healing the damaged lining of the gut will also be vital and using our ‘Slippery Elm Plus’ to heal the damaged lining over time will be essential. Anaemia and lack of B12 can also be an issue and this is where ‘Superfood Plus’ can help as it is rich in both. [Avoid the foods you know you must of course, e.g. sugar and sugar carbohydrates].

Preventing allergies and intolerances

As I’ve said, having the correct friendly bacteria in the gut, as well as a healthy gut lining, is necessary for proper immune tolerance, ensuring the immune system does not react to foreign substances that are harmless. It also ensures that larger particles of food and other substances that should not be absorbed into the blood stay in the digestive tract. Gut permeability, or ‘leaky gut’ that occurs when gaps develop between the cells of an unhealthy gut lining, allows these substances to enter the blood and is often linked to allergies, intolerance reactions and even autoimmune reactions or conditions.

Good mood, Gut and Brain

The lining of the digestive tract – from the oesophagus to the colon – is packed with millions of neurons (nerve cells) and this is known as the ‘enteric nervous system.’ (The gut actually develops from the same tissue as the brain, which then divides during foetal development). The enteric nervous system is connected directly to the brain by the vagus nerve and messages are constantly going back and forth between the gut and brain. This is why feeling stressed, anxious or sad can quickly cause us to lose our appetite or create digestive problems. But it can also work the other way: the gut can affect our brain and mood. The enteric nervous system actually produces as many neurotransmitters as the brain – substances that communicate nerve messages but also affect our mood and motivation. It is even said to produce as much as two-thirds of the body’s serotonin – the ‘happy neurotransmitter’. So having a happy gut that produces enough serotonin can help to create a happy mood!

Basic and Easy Steps to Support Good Digestion

  • Do regularly eat as many herbs and spices on a daily basis as you can. I call this ‘plate diversity’ as we need as many plant species as possible as often as possible to keep our guts on their toes!
  • Don’t overeat. Overeating puts more strain on the whole of the digestive system and hinders good digestion.
  • Take time to eat, and chew your food thoroughly. The function of the teeth is to mechanically break down food into the smallest particles so it can be more easily acted upon by the digestive juices and enzymes. Make sure you make the most of them! Some professionals advise that every mouthful of food should be chewed at least 30 to 40 times before swallowing. Gulping food down without chewing properly is hindering the digestive process before it has even started. Eating more slowly also allows the signals from the stomach to tell us we are full, preventing overeating.
  • Avoid eating ‘on the run’, when stressed or while doing something else. Stress in any form – whether from work or simply watching something emotional or upsetting on television – causes your body’s stress response to kick in. Nerve signals are diverted away from the digestive tract and towards the parts of the body that are needed for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction: for example, the heart, to make it beat faster, and the muscle of the arms and legs. Even if you are not particularly stressed, eating on the run or trying to do something else at the same time as eating takes your attention away from the food, makes you less likely to chew it properly, and makes you more likely to overeat.
  • Make sure you get enough fiber. Fiber ensures food moves normally through the digestive tract it, bulks out the stool for good bowel movements, and actually feeds the good bacteria in the gut, which then produce substances that nourish the gut cells. The main source of fiber in your diet should be vegetables, and plenty of them, as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as fiber. Fruits, beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas) and whole grains can also be good sources. However, in some cases, particularly with IBS, inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive conditions, too much high-fiber food can aggravate symptoms, (especially whole wheat or wheat bran, other gluten-containing grains (rye, spelt, oats) . So liquidize the fiber foods and reduce the irritation.
  • Drink enough water, but between meals. Fluid is necessary to move food through the digestive system, to produce our digestive juices, and to lubricate the stool to encourage normal bowel movements. Most people should drink between 6 and 8 glasses of water a day, or 1.5 to 2 liters.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that interfere with digestion or irritate the digestive tract. These include coffee, tea, alcohol, fizzy drinks, highly spiced foods and fried foods. Alcohol irritates the stomach and may reduce absorption of nutrients, so for optimal digestion it should be cut down to the minimum, or drunk as an occasional treat. If you have a coffee habit, try to cut down to no more than one cup a day, and drink this away from meals; tea is not as irritating, but can still interfere with absorption of nutrients so should ideally be limited to no more than two cups a day, again away from meals. Fizzy drinks should be avoided altogether. Spiced foods can be irritating to the gut, and fried foods are difficult to digest as well as containing unhealthy fats.
  • Avoid sugar, sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. Sugars can encourage growth of yeasts and ‘bad’ bacteria, which interfere with our digestion and the work of the ‘good’ bacteria. Refined carbohydrates – meaning foods made with white flour, such as white bread, pastry, etc. – quickly break down into sugars themselves, having a similar negative effect to eating sugary food. They also contain minimal nutrients and little or no fibre to encourage healthy digestive function.
  • Don’t eat late at night. Ideally, the last meal of the day should be no less than 3 hours before you go to bed. We digest better when we are awake, and upright rather than lying down. Furthermore, the initial stages of digestion require a lot of work on the part of the digestive system, which should ideally be resting at night. If you have to eat later in the evening, have only a light meal such as soup which can be easily and quickly digested.

Exercise is Vital to the Gut

Get some exercise! Physical activity helps to stimulate blood flow to all parts of the body, including the gut. It also stimulates the muscles of the digestive tract, helping to move food along it, and supports healthy bowel movements. Don’t do intense exercise after meals, however – leave at least 2 hours after a meal. A 6 month study involving varied and regular exercise showed that it can change our ‘innate expression of DNA’. In other words it can make the best outcome of our given genetics.

Our Healthy Gut Flora

The Russian biologist, Elie Mechnokov discovered a direct link between our health and our gut bacteria over 100 years ago. Since 2008 we have properly started to explore this subject in the face of health disorders clearly arriving from gut imbalances.

Prebiotics and Probiotics for Good Gut Health

We need both but what are they? These are a before and after concept. A pre-biotic is ‘food’ to a pro-biotic so that it can form and grow properly. Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds found in plant fibres that cannot be absorbed or broken down. Probiotics ‘introduce’ good bacteria into the gut or digestive system, whereas prebiotics help instigate and protect their higher numbers and survival. Probiotics are the end game and they:-
a. Keep pathogens (harmful bacteria) in balance.
b. Aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
c. Contribute to a healthy immune function.

Here is a summary


  • Live micro-organisms
  • Bacteria or yeast cultures
  • Found in the stomach and small intestine
  • Fight the bad organisms


  • Non-living, non-digestible
  • Fibre from plant sources
  • Found in the stomach, small and large intestine
  • Feed the good micro-organisms

Three Herb Categories that Help Gut Health

Herbs are an essential partner to pro-biotics like lactoballicus as they supply and enable a better working environment for bacteria and fungi to be kept in balance with the good ones flourishing.

1. The first category keeps the bad bacteria in check and allows the good guys to proliferate. These herbs are a must:-

2. The Next Category of herbs are ‘Bitters’, they stimulate digestive juices creating a better mileau for bad guys to be killed off and good ones to thrive, they are:-

  • Artichoke leaves
  • Chicory root (these are also pre-biotic)
  • Basil leaves
  • Peppermint leaves

3. The Final Category of herbs are bile promoters

These herbs promote the flow of bile into the small intestine. Bile is considered part of the digestive system. It mixes with food and dissolves fats making them more easily absorbed.

(Categories 2 and 3 are overlapping in that overall they promote liver health).

Taking Probiotics and Making Bacterial Cultures

Buying good quality probiotics will be important of course, just as investing in making sauerkraut and other fermented foods. You can try making yoghurt from any plant milk, try ‘Bravo probiotic yoghurt’ it has 42 different beneficial organisms. (You can re-use it to make your own batch next time).


With Best Wishes

Herbalist Jill Davies

Co-Director & Herbal Practitioner at Herbs Hands Healing

Advice Line: (+44) 01379 608201 Mon – Fri 9.00-1.00pm except Thursday 11.30-1.00pm