Dear Pharmacist: I’ve dealt with stomach problems all my life. Sometimes it’s hard to eat, but I am under physician care. What natural remedy can soothe my tummy when it’s hard to eat? — W.C., Denver, Colorado
Answer: Probiotics are fundamental to digestive health. And a diet free of common food allergens is in order. Something like slippery elm could help. Known as “Ulmus fulva” to herbalists, the mucilage from the inner bark of the tree provides extensive nutrition and easy-to-digest complex carbs. Slippery elm forms a slick gel coating and soothing everything it comes in contact with, including your mouth, throat, stomach and intestines.
It could help you with acid reflux, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, chronic pancreatitis, constipation/diarrhea and ulcers. It may support tissue regeneration for people with leaky gut syndrome (a.k.a. excessive intestinal permeability). A bad cough or bronchitis may also respond to the soothing properties of slippery elm.
Slippery elm is sold as tablets/capsules, liquid herbal extracts and lozenges. The lozenges are nice for sore throats. Health food stores carry powder, which is basically the ground-up inner bark of the tree. There are coarse and fine powders; coarse is needed to make topical poultices, which help cuts, bruises and achy joints, such as from gout. The fine powder can be eaten as a gruel.
Slippery elm contains calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin C and plenty of B vitamins. Children, adults and the elderly can eat when recuperating from an illness, having trouble digesting or holding down food or wasting. Think of it as Mother Nature’s Ensure.
The recipe for slippery elm gruel consists of about one tablespoonful of fine powder and enough hot water to make a thin, smooth paste. The amount of water used is up to your personal taste. I use one half-cup myself and blend it together. I’ll confess right now, it’s slimy any way you make it, but that’s the point! Sweeten it with organic honey, agave, maple syrup or stevia and flavor it with with cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon rind or vanilla. Go for the consistency of cream of wheat.
Once made, the dosage varies tremendously; some say eat the whole thing in one sitting, while other experts suggest a tablespoon every hour until you can eat solid food again. Perhaps consider your weight, age and severity of malnutrition as well as response.
Ask your doctor if this wonderful remedy in any form is approved, because there are individual considerations such as your current health status and drug regimen. Some people are allergic to “elm” pollen, making this a no-no.
Other naturally-occurring components in slippery elm include beta-sitosterol, campestrol and a little tannin (which aggravates kidney stones).
I couldn’t find documented interactions except a theoretical one that says it may render meds and supplements less active, so separate administration of slippery elm from important drugs by two hours.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.