Herbal Tonics and the Digestive System
Factors that contribute to an unbalanced digestive system include acute and chronic inflammatory diseases, hyposecretion of digestive enzymes, malfunctioning microflora, malnutrition, parasites, and hormonal imbalances. Specific problems include indigestion, esophagitis, infections, ulcers, colitis, gastritis, pernicious anemia, obstructions, gastroenteritis, giardiasis, constipation, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, diverticular disease, paralytic ileus, hepatitis, liver failure, cirrhosis, cholangitis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis, gallstones, biliary colic, cholecystitis, and even cancer.
Herbal medicine in general contains virtually thousands of herbal remedies for the digestive system. A great many of these can and should only be administered and consumed under the hand of a skilled clinical herbalist. Most of us do not possess the necessary skills nor do we know anyone that does. I have seen situations where people get hooked on herbal laxatives and they continually switch back and forth between herbal laxatives and herbal anti-diarrheals, never seeming to get it right. I have seen diabetes worsen through the unskilled use of herbs. Same with colitis, ulcers and gallstones. It is not a pretty sight. It is a grave error to believe that all herbs are harmless. They can be very powerful indeed. This is a point you will find me making over and over.
Fortunately for those of us unskilled in phytotherapy there are the digestive and gastrointestinal tonics. Few in number, they combine the best properties for encouraging good digestion, proper elimination and the health of the glands and organs associated with the digestive system. Dandelion can serve as our model for this category.
Dandelion enjoys a long-standing reputation as a favorite herb of people around the world. I know we often consider it a weed, but weeds are just flowers we haven’t learned to appreciate. While I wouldn’t expect the reader to become a practiced dandelion connoisseur, you can at least pick the young leaves and add them to your salads in the Spring. But it is really the root that contains the majority of dandelion’s beneficial principles. Here’s something you might try with the root: dry it (250 degrees in the oven for a couple of hours), roast it, grind it and use it as a coffee substitute. Yea, right. Well, it was a thought.
Looking at the constituents of dandelion, one doesn’t see anything particularly magical. It contains carotenoids, choline, inulin, pectin, potash, bitter substances, phytosterols, sugars and triterpenes. This is a common characteristic of tonic herbs.
They usually lack powerful substances, and when they do have one, they usually contain another powerful substance to act in opposition to the first. The real magic of tonic herbs, however, is the incredible synergy that exists among the constituents. How else do you explain the array of properties displayed, for example, by dandelion: diuretic, laxative, cholagogue, and antirheumatic? Or the array of uses to which it has been put: in cholecystitis, gallstones, jaundice, atonic dyspepsia, constipation, muscular rheumatism, diabetes, and oliguria.
Dandelion is an extremely good cholagogue. It raises the secretion of bile by over 50 percent. In European clinics, one often finds dandelion included in herbal blends used to treat liver problems, gall bladder problems and diabetes. The inulin in the root of dandelion is a form of carbohydrate easily assimilated by diabetics and is therefore a potential therapeutic agent for people afflicted with this disease. In a very recent study, Dandelion water extract (DWE) was evaluated for a possible effect on the activity and mRNA expression of hepatic antioxidant enzymes and lipid profile in streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic rats. Rats were divided into nondiabetic (control), diabetic, and diabetic-DWE-supplemented groups. Diabetes was induced by injecting streptozotocin. The extract was supplemented in the diet.
The DWE supplement significantly decreased the serum glucose concentration in the diabetic rats. The hepatic superoxide dismutase and catalase activities significantly increased in the diabetic rats, compared with the control group. When the DWE supplement was given to the diabetic rats, the antioxidant enzyme activity reverted to near-control values. (THE TONIC EFFECT) The DWE supplement also lowered the total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations in the serum and hepatic tissue, while increasing the serum HDL-cholesterol in the diabetic rats. It was concluded that a dandelion supplement can improve the lipid metabolism and is beneficial in preventing diabetic complications from lipid peroxidation and free radicals in diabetic rats.
One’s reaction to the above study can take two forms. One can either be impressed with the scientific validation, at least in rats, of a potential beneficial application for dandelion root. OR, (and here I see Anthony smiling broadly) one can now feel properly good for rat lovers around the world who will finally have access to a treatment humans have been using for centuries.
have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.