Slippery Elm Benefits For Acid Reflux, Constipation, Digestion & Leaky Gut
In this article we’re going to look at the benefits of slippery elm for reflux, constipation, digestion & leaky gut. Not only will we dive into what is slippery elm good for, but also the differences between slippery elm bark, tea and powder. This is the ultimate slippery elm review!
Table of Contents
Out of the hundreds of medicinal plants used in North America, only a handful have a reputation as must-haves for digestive health and slippery elm is one of them. In fact, if you consult “Dr. Google” for best herbal ingredients for leaky gut, many articles feature slippery elm.
But should slippery elm really be treated like gut health supplement royalty? Or does the research show it’s as over hyped as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?
Well, in this article, I’m going to explain how slippery elm supposedly works for supporting gut health. I’ll also explain how this herb got its strange-sounding name and whether the research supports it for acid reflux, leaky gut and digestion.
Now then let’s find out if you should make room in your supplement pantry for slippery elm! But before we answer that question, maybe you’re wondering...
Why Is It Called Slippery Elm?
Well, unlike straight-forward sounding herbal ingredients like rosemary or ginger, slippery elm sounds almost as strange as Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory speaking Klingon.
So it turns out the name comes from the inner bark of the slippery elm tree and what’s surprising about this inner bark is that when it's used in herbal teas and even in digestive health supplements, it kinda looks like sawdust. But inside this bark is a fiber that produces a slick, gooey and yes - slippery substance.
Now what’s interesting is that for centuries, Native Americans would chew on this slick bark when finding water was difficult. But thankfully, you don’t have to get in touch with your inner Woody Woodpecker and take down a slippery elm tree. And you also don’t have to chew on the inner bark like an amateur Bear Grylls in order to benefit from it.
Instead, you can drink herbal tea or take a digestive health supplement that contains slippery elm extract.
How Does Slippery Elm Work?
Well, it turns out the magic happens because of the slippery gooey substance it creates. And the technical name for this is Mucilage.
Now, although almost every single plant on Earth contains mucilage, the cool thing about slippery elm is that it contains so much MORE mucilage than the average plant. You see, just like not every aspiring basketball player possesses the innate talent of Michael Jordan, not every plant inherently contains a high amount of mucilage.
In other words, slippery elm is one of the leading producers of mucilage fiber in the plant kingdom. But how exactly does THAT support your gut health?
Benefits Of Slippery Elm
1. May Fortify The Intestinal Mucosal Barrier
So first of all, the mucilage in slippery elm can help strengthen the mucosal barrier that surrounds your small intestinal lining. This mucus barrier acts like a protective moat around a castle. This is so vital for gut health because the lining of the small intestine acts as a first line of defense against harmful bacteria and other pathogens.
And if your mucosal barrier lacks mucus, the protective barrier around your small intestinal lining may act more like a dried-up pond, than a moat. And what happens when you don’t have a sufficient layer of mucus to protect your gut lining?
Well, hello leaky gut…and of course…the opportunity for pathogenic invaders to storm the castle.
But thanks to the high mucilage content of slippery elm your mucus lining of the small intestine can be better protected.
2. May Soothe Irritated Mucous Membranes
Now, the next way slippery elm might support your gut health is because it may soothe irritated mucous membranes. And in case you don’t know, these are a layer of cells that surrounds your intestinal wall. And importantly, mucus membranes are what secrete the mucus that strengthens the lining of the gut. Plus they also help absorb nutrients. In other words, they’re really important for your gut health!
But because of food intolerances & allergies, stress, medications like antibiotics and a long laundry list of other factors; the intestinal mucous membranes can get irritated. And this is one reason why leaky gut, along with bloating, gas and abdominal pain can occur.
And the reason slippery elm may be able to soothe the membranes is because it is a Demulcent. And I’ll explain what that means; so basically a demulcent is a substance that soothes irritated tissues such as mucous membranes.
3. May Help With Acid Reflux
But not only does slippery elm soothe irritation in the gut, it also may do the same thing in the mouth, throat and stomach. That’s why some people take slippery elm to NEUTRALIZE symptoms of indigestion such as acid reflux.
In fact, according to Mt. Sinai:
"Slippery elm causes stimulation of nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased mucus secretion. The increased mucus production may protect the gastrointestinal tract against ulcers and excess acidity."
So there you go!
4. May Help Inflammation
And now looking at the next potential benefit - it turns out the mucilage in slippery elm may also help relieve inflammation in the stomach and intestines.
In fact, a 2012 research article in the Journal of Investigational Biochemistry says;
"There is evidence which supports the anti-inflammatory effects of slippery elm bark in the lower digestive tract."
5. May Help With IBS-D & IBS-C
Now even more interesting slippery elm may help with IBS-D and IBS-C.
In a 2010 preliminary study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 31 patients with irritable bowel syndrome were given a formula that contained slippery elm and 3 other ingredients.
21 of those patients had diarrhea-predominant IBS in other words IBS-D and 10 patients were classified with constipation-predominant IBS in other words IBS-C.
So to summarize the study:
- The group who drank the formula to help with diarrhea experienced reductions in: straining, abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence. However, the formula didn’t help improve their bowel habits.
- As for the group with constipation, they experienced similar benefits as the diarrhea-predominant IBS group, meaning less straining, abdominal pain and bloating. But as a bonus they also experienced an improvement in their bowel habits, with a 20% increase in bowel movement frequency.
Of course we can’t be 100% sure if these improvements were entirely because of slippery elm since there were 3 other ingredients in the formula. So while there were promising results from this study, we’d love to see IBS studies that focus exclusively on slippery elm in the future.
What Do Health Experts Think?
Unsurprisingly, given all the potential benefits we’ve explored, it’s no wonder that leading functional health experts like Dr. Will Cole are enthusiastic about slippery elm not to mention New York Times best-selling author Amy Myers MD, who considers slippery elm one of the best ingredients for fixing leaky gut symptoms.
Our Verdict on Slippery Elm
Well, as a team of gut health research geeks at Essential Stacks, based on all the studies we’ve looked at, we’re excited by the potential benefits of slippery elm for gut health. And it may very well deserve a place in your supplements cabinet.
But if you want to see how it ULTIMATELY stacks up against other key ingredients for leaky gut and digestive support…check out our Leaky Gut Supplements Compared tool.
Now we want to hear from you…
Has slippery elm helped your leaky gut?
Let everyone know by leaving a comment below.
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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