Gastro-Intestinal Disorders

SOURCE: Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection, Chapter 49: Specific Natural Treatments, By William B. Salt II, MD, Gastroenterologist, Parkview Publishing, PO Box 1103, Columbus, OH 43216-1103, Copyright 1997. ISBN: 0-9657038-9-4

This article will provide an introduction to some specific recommendations regarding natural therapies and complementary/alternative medicines from a recognized authority. Several references and resources are provided at the end of the article.

Andrew Weil, M.D., has degrees in biology and medicine from Harvard University and is considered one of the world's leading authorities on natural therapies, mind-body interactions, and medical botany. Currently, he has focused his work on teaching doctors how to combine the best ideas and practices of conventional and alternative medicine. Dr. Weil is the author of six books, including SPONTANEOUS HEALING. Here are some of the recommendations from his recent national bestseller, NATURAL HEALTH, NATURAL MEDICINE.


* Loose herbs sold in bulk are probably worthless.

* Encapsulated, powdered herbs are also likely to be worthless.

* Herbal products may be contaminated or adulterated. Buy reputable brands which advertise the purity of their ingredients. Look for herbal preparations that have been "wildcrafted" (harvested from wild stands) or cultivated organically.

* Tinctures (alcohol-based) and freeze-dried extracts of medicinal plants are the best preparations to buy.

* Discontinue use of any herbal product to which you have an adverse reaction.

* Do not take herbal medicines unless you need them.

* Experiment with herbal remedies conscientiously. People vary in their response to botanicals. Let your own experience be your best guide and use only remedies that give you consistent results.


Peppermint: for IBS, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, dyspepsia

Consider switchin from coffee to peppermint tea preferably without caffein. Oil or essence of peppermint is usually available in drug stores. Follow the directions on the product.
Peppermint is available in capsules which have a protective coating (enteric coated) which resists digestion by the stomach acid so that the peppermint can be released in the colon. The ordinary does is 1 or 2 capsules taken between meals. If you cannot find the product in the health food store, you can obtain it from Phyto-Pharmica (PO Box 1745 Green Bay, Wis. 54305 1-800-553-2370; 414-435-4200 in Wisconsin). The company sells only to health professionals, so it will be necessary to have a doctor place the order for you.

Ginger: for nausea, dyspepsia
A tea of fresh ginger can be made by using one half teaspoon of the grated root to eight ounces of boiling water. Cover and steep for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain and add honey to taste if desired. Candied ginger and honey-based ginger syrups are available, and health food stores sell powdered extracts of ginger in capsules as well as alcohol extracts. Both forms are convenient to use. One to two grams of powdered ginger a day is an average dose.

Chamomile: for heartburn, indigestion, nausea, dyspepsia, and cramping abdominal pain; or as a mild relaxant and sedative

Chamomile is a plant with a pleasant apple-like smell. Chamomile tea is available in health food stores and most supermarkets. Dr. Weil recommends that the tea should have a strong fragrance and that it should be brewed in a covered container to prevent the loss of volatile constituents in steam. The flowers are steeped in hot water for ten minutes before pouring.

Acidophilus: for IBS, diarrhea, or when taking antibiotics to reduce the chance that diarrhea will occur

This is the term for dried or liquid cultures of live bacteria which sour milk and are considered beneficial or "friendly" to the GI tract. Health food stores carry acidophilus in preparations which have much higher concentrations of the bacteria than are found in yogurt and acidophilus milk. The dose is one tablespoon of the liquid culture or one to two capsules after meals unless the label directs otherwise. Dr. Weil cautions that it is important to check the expiration date on acidophilus products to be certain that the bacteria are alive and in good condition.

Gentian: for IBS, sluggish digestion, poor appetite, flatulence

Angostura(r) Aromatic Bitters is a tincture of gentian root and is a popular ingredient of cocktails. It can be found in liquor stores and supermarkets. According to the label-as a stimulant for the appetite-one to four teaspoonfuls before meals is suggested; for flatulence, one to four teaspoonfuls after meals is recommended. It can be diluted with sparkling water to make a relatively nonalcoholic drink.

Carob powder: for IBS, diarrhea

Carob powder can be found in health food stores. Dr. Weill recommends beginning with one tablespoon, mixed with some applesauce and honey to make it palatable. It should be taken on an empty stomach with acidophilus.

Aloe or aloe vera: for inflammatory bowel disease; Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

The clear gel from the aloe plant is used in many skin lotions, creams, and cosmetics because of its moisturizing properties. Aloe vera juice, sold in health food stores, can be taken internally. If the dose is too high, it can have a laxative effect. A reasonable amount to try is one teaspoon after meals. The fresh gel can be mashed up in fruit juice. There is variation in palatability, so it may be necessary to try different brands.

Slippery elm: for inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

Slippery elm is obtained from the inner bark of the red elm tree and is used to restore the normal mucus coating on irritated tissues. Slippery elm lozenges can be found in most grocery stores. Powder of slippery elm can be used to make a nutritious gruel. Dr. Weil recommends mixing one teaspoon of the powder with one teaspoon of sugar and adding two cups of boiling water, mixing well. Cinnamon can be added for flavor. Drink one or two cups twice a day.

Passionflower: for calming with sedation, stress reduction

Passionflower is a mild tranquilizer made from a plant and is much safer than prescription drugs. Tinctures and extracts are available in health food stores. Passionflower calms without causing sedation and is useful in programs of stress reduction. The dose that Dr. Weil recommends is one dropperful of the tincture in a little warm water or two capsules of extract up to four times a day as needed.

Valerian: for sleeping aid, calming agent

Valerian was the main sedative used in Europe and America before the invention of barbiturate drugs in the early part of the century. The root of the plant has a distinctive odor which some people find to be disgreeable. Dr. Weil usually recommends valerian in tincture form with a dose of one dropperful or up to one teaspoon in a little water at bedtime. Smaller doses can be used as a daytime calming agent if necessary. A few people may be very sensitive to valerian and may need to reduce the dosage if it leaves themwith a morning hangover. Valerian is milder than sleeping medications prescribed by doctors and Dr. Weil says that he has never known it to cause addiction. He cautions that it is probably best not to use it every night.

Don quai (for women): for fatigue, irregular or difficult menstruation, PMS, menopausal symptoms, and weakness following childbirth

This is a Chinese herbal remedy made from the root of a large plant in the carrot family. It is often called "female ginseng" because it is a general tonic for women and the female reproductive system in much the same way that ginseng acts as a tonic for men and the male reproductive system. Dong quai is available as encapsulated extracts. Dr. Weil recommends a usual dose of one or two capsules two or three times a day - depending upon the strength of the product - and giving it a one or two month trial.

Ginseng (for men): for sexual deficiency, lowered resistance to stress, skin and muscle tone, and hormonal balance.

Of the many sexual tonics on the market, ginseng has the longest history and greatest reputation. Two species are available: Oriental ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium). Oriental ginseng is more of a stimulant and can raise blood pressure in some people. Dr. Weil recommends that ginseng be used with caution if at all by those with hypertension or that only the American species be used.
Dr. Weil says that there is considerable variation of the quality of ginseng on the market, and the better and older roots sell for higher prices. He recommends taking high quality ginseng whch usually costs more. Ginseng must be taken over a period of months to have an effect. Whole dried roots of ginseng can be purchased and boiled into teas or used as more convenient extracts in the form of liquids and capsules. Dosage recommendations vary depending upon the product.

Echinacea: for natural antibiotic and immune-system enhancer

Echinacea is obtained from the roots of the purple coneflower. It can be purchased in health food stores as a tincture, in capsules, tablets, and extracts. The root produces a curious and distinctive numbing sensation when held in the mouth for a few minutes, and Dr. Weil points out that a product is not good if it does not do this. He recommends testing echinacea by putting a bit on the tongue and checking to see that it causes numbness.
The dose is one dropperful of tincture in water four times a day or two capsules of freeze-dried extract four times a day for adults. Children under ten should be given half these amounts. To build immunity in the absence of infection, halve the adult dose and remain on the remedy for two weeks at a time. Dr. Weil says that echinacea loses its efficacy if it is taken continuously. He advises taking it for two weeks at a time, alternating with two weeks off.

Eleutherococcus (Siberian Ginseng): used when run down, weak, lacking in energy and resistance, or for chronic illness

This is a plant in the ginseng family which is different from the true ginseng (Panax). It must be taken regularly over a period of weeks to months in order to be effective. Siberian ginseng products are available in health food stores and vary in concentration and potency. Dosage depends upon the product.


The Food and Drug Administration does not check herbal remedies for safety and efficacy, and most have not been formally tested for side effects. There have been recent medical reports of severe liver and kidney damage from a limited number of herbal remedies, including chaparral tea. These reports emphasize that "natural" products are not necessarily safe or harmless.

If you are using alternative or complementary treatments, be sure to let your doctor know about it. It is best to work together for your benefit.


NATURAL HEALTH, NATURAL MEDICINE, Andrew Weil, MD (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995).

Deepak Chopra, MD

Dr. Chopra is the Executive Director of the Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine in San Diego, California. He is a well-known author who advocates treating the mind and body as a unified system. His book, PERFECT DIGESTION (New York: Harmony Books, 1995) provides strategies based upon the traditional Indian science of health known as Ayurveda. As an example, he recommends the herb asafoetida for maintaining colonic health once the most severe symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease have been brought under control.

Office of Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bldg. 31, #5B-37, MS 2182, Bethesda, MD 20892. Phone: 301-496-1712; fax: 301-402-4741.

FUNDAMENTALS OF COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE, edited by Marc S. Micozzi, foreword by C. Everett Koop, 303pp, with illus, paper, includes CD-ROM, $39.95, ISBN 0-443-05355-3, (New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone, 1996).

HERBS OF CHOICE by Varro Tyler, Ph.D. (New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press [an imprint of Haworth Press], 1994.)

The American Botanical Council bookstore, a mail-order service, has a 30-page catelog of books and other informational materials on herbal medicine: PO Box 201660, Austin, Texas 78720, or call (800) 373-7105.