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Marshmallow Root Benefits For Leaky Gut & Digestive Health

Marshmallows may be one of the most popular snacks in America. The Internet’s favorite human being Keanu Reeve is eating them, so are the Kardashians…heck there’s even DJs dressed up as marshmallows. But guess what: although marshmallows were originally made using marshmallow root, which explains how they got their name, these days, you won’t find any marshmallow root in them. And that’s a shame, because as we’ll look at in today’s video marshmallow root might be very beneficial for our health. Especially when it comes to leaky gut and our digestive health.

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    And I guess the first thing you’re wondering is...

    What is marshmallow root?

    Well, it actually comes from the marshmallow plant. And if you pull the plant out of the ground, you’ll see the roots look like swedes. And once cleaned and chopped up they kind of look like spongy pieces of wood.

    How does it differ to marshmallows?

    And so you know how they differ from the types of marshmallows we love roasting over an open fire, we need to travel back in time to around 2500 years ago in Ancient Egypt.

    So it turns out the Egyptians first started making marshmallows by combining the root with honey. These first marshmallows were used to treat coughs, sore throats and congestion. And apparently, were so revered that they were reserved for royalty.

    Now, fast forward to the 1800s and the French started playing with the marsh mallow root recipe. And as you’d expect from the gourmet-loving French, they added in sugar, water and egg whites, to transform it into something fluffier and tastier.

    Soon enough marshmallows made their way to America. And although we originally kept making them with marshmallow root, this soon stopped. Enter the modern marshmallow!

    Sad to say, manufacturers replaced the marshmallow root with gelatin, so it was cheaper to make and easier to store. And so now marshmallows are just made with sugar, cornstarch and gelatin, plus some air.

    So with that history lesson out of the way…

    How does marshmallow root work & why may it help gut health?

    Well, this 2010 in vitro study found the secret ingredient in marshmallow root is the presence of bioadhesive and mucilaginous polysaccharides. Now that’s a mouthful!

    But thankfully all you need to know is that marshmallow root is helpful because it creates a slippery gel or sap-like substance - or in other words a Mucus - when ingested.

    Now, I know when you hear the word mucus, you’re thinking of runny noses. And none of that sounds healthy. And you’re probably wondering, how does this help leaky gut? Well, to explain how marshmallow root helps, you first need to understand…

    What is leaky gut?

    The easiest way to explain this, is by looking at a diagram we pulled from a 2020 study in the journal Toxins.

    2020 study in Toxins

    So as you can see we have a healthy intestinal barrier on the left side and a weakened barrier on the right side. And if the horrors of senior year science class are coming back to you right now, don’t worry because I’ll explain it step by step.

    Now if you look closely at the weakened barrier on the right side, you’ll see the mucus layer has been largely destroyed and there are big gaps between the intestinal cells. So in simple terms, it is "leaky". And because of this bad bacteria and toxins are able to make their way through the gaps, and into the bloodstream. This in turn causes inflammation, as well as a range of GI symptoms, from poor digestion to bloating.

    So now you know what leaky gut is, the question becomes…

    How can marshmallow root help?

    Well, if we look at the diagram above again, and this time focus on the left side,  you can see what a healthy intestinal barrier looks like.

    It basically has 3 levels of protection. And the easiest way to think of it is that it's kinda like the wall in Game of Thrones, which protected the people of Westeros from the White Walkers.

    1. First, you’ve got the microbiota, which are friendly bacteria and yeast. And they are basically the first line of protection. We can think of them like Free Folk fighting the White Walkers north of the wall.
    2. Next up, you’ve got the mucus layer. And this is kinda like the brave Nights Watchmen that roam beyond the wall…like Jon Snow.
    3. And finally there is the epithelium…which is the intestinal lining. And this is like the actual wall in Game of Thrones.

    Now, marshmallow root helps with the second layer of protection.

    Meaning it supports the mucus barrier. And no offense to Kit Harrington…but what we’re saying is that by consuming marshmallow root, you are basically sending more mucus-y Jon Snows…down into your digestive tract.

    And if you want to geek out with me for 10 seconds I’ll explain how this technically works.

    How marshmallow root technically works 

    Basically, when you ingest marshmallow root it forms a mucus-like substance. This then travels down your digestive tract. It coats the intestinal barrier. Specifically, it soothes the irritated mucous membranes AND supports the mucus layer of your intestinal barrier.

    And by doing this, it also allows the intestinal lining itself (the wall) to repair more easily. And this function is so important once you realize that the intestinal lining is very thin.

    In fact it is made up of just a single layer of cells. It’s like if the wall in Game of Thrones was made out of paper!

    Now can you see just how important the mucus layer is in protecting against leaky gut?

    But before we get carried away let’s look at what the research says about marshmallow root.

    What does the research say? 

    So in this 2020 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, researchers found that marshmallow root showed immediate effects like a protective film on the inflamed mucosa. So not only does it work, but it works fast.

    And they further explained the benefit, as they said “the soothing layer reduces irritation…leading to a faster regeneration” of the GI tract.

    And of course, the 2010 study we mentioned earlier found that marshmallow root extract can help stimulate the growth of the intestinal barrier and soothe irritated mucous membranes.

    In other words, there is some positive research to backup the claims, and it shows marshmallow root can help both protect the gut barrier, and also encourage it to grow stronger.

    What about the lack of human trials for marshmallow root and leaky gut?

    Well, here’s the thing: there is not a lot of money to be made studying the benefits of plants that can be freely grown and are not patentable. Which means we have to rely on the in vitro and animal studies done so far.

    Our Verdict

    So here at Essential Stacks, we feel encouraged by these research findings, as well as the 2000+ year track record of marshmallow root in natural medicine. They’ve both shown that marshmallow root can help mucus production and most likely also protect the mucus barrier, which is key to a strong intestinal barrier.

    So we are cautiously optimistic it can help with leaky gut.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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    References

    1. Deters A, Zippel J, Hellenbrand N, Pappai D, Possemeyer C, Hensel A. Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jan 8;127(1):62-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.050. Epub 2009 Sep 30. PMID: 19799989.
    2. Gao Y, Meng L, Liu H, Wang J, Zheng N. The Compromised Intestinal Barrier Induced by Mycotoxins. Toxins. 2020; 12(10):619. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins12100619
    3. Bonaterra GA, Bronischewski K, Hunold P, Schwarzbach H, Heinrich EU, Fink C, Aziz-Kalbhenn H, Müller J, Kinscherf R. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Phytohustil® and Root Extract of Althaea officinalis L. on Macrophages in vitro. Front Pharmacol. 2020 Mar 17;11:290. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.00290. PMID: 32256361; PMCID: PMC7090173.
    4. Fink C, Schmidt M, Kraft K. [Marshmallow Root Extract for the Treatment of Irritative Cough: Two Surveys on Users' View on Effectiveness and Tolerability]. Complement Med Res. 2018;25(5):299-305. German. doi: 10.1159/000489560. Epub 2018 Aug 1. PMID: 30064132.