Gastro-intestinal healing and improving digestion:

Anyone who has had IBS or any gut irritation from any cause will have a damaged gut lining to some extent. Once the substance that has caused this irritation has been removed the gut will be able to heal itself – and given time this will happen. However sometimes it is useful to help this along and improve gut health more quickly.


Foods that will hinder gut repair:

  • any foods you are intolerant to – cut these out completely

  • gluten grains – wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats. Wheat is the worst culprit

  • oranges

  • pork

  • alcohol – an occasional alcoholic drink is fine, but no more than 3-4 units a week, and not all on the same day

  • sugar

  • coffee and coca-cola drinks – restrict these to no more than one a day or cut them out completely

  • animal milk products – except butter

Cutting these out for a few weeks or months is enough for some people – and as long as they continue to keep away from foods they are intolerant to, this will be sufficient to heal the gut.

However many others find that digestion is still not good and they need more strategies to help their digestion.

Gut healers include bone broth (see separate information sheet and be aware of the caution regarding histamine – see below), L-glutamine (buy it as a powder, and start with a tiny amount and build up slowly), slippery elm, marshmallow root and aloe vera juice.

One or more of these should be taken alongside a good probiotic capsule for 1 -3 months. An alternative is to buy a good probiotic and make sauerkraut (caution – high in histamine) using the probiotic – it will be ready by the time you finished the pack you bought, and will save you quite a bit of money.

Making sauerkraut:

sauerkraut is a great way to get your daily probiotics....

chop a cabbage or two fairly fine (food processor helps here), add some grated carrot if you like, and also some caraway or fennel seeds if you like, and a capsule of a good multistrain probiotic. Add a couple of tablespoons of good salt and work with your hands until the juices flow. Put everything into a stainless steel or ceramic container, place a plate to nearly cover on top with a weight on top of that. The liquid should come over the top of the plate – so if it doesn't add some clean water until it does.

Leave this at room temperature for 4-5 days, checking that the liquid is still over the top of the cabbage.

After 4-5 days put it into clean jars and store for 3-4 weeks in a cool place. The sauerkraut is now ready to eat – a few teaspoons a day will give you a good dose of probiotics for very little cost.

Herbs can help digestion and prevent indigestion, heartburn and bloating by improving the action of digestion in the stomach itself.

Some herbal formulae to help with digestive problems:

Bitters tonic tincture formula: artichoke, angelica, gentian, centaury, bitter orange peel, blessed thistle, fennel, ginger and cinnamon.

Swedish bitters tincture: wormwood, angelica, manna, rhubarb root, senna, theriac, cinnamon, malabar, cardamom, valerian, zedvoary root, blessed thistle, myrrh, camphor, saffron and ginger.

Taking either of the above formulae at a dose of 10 -50 drops in a little water before eating will prepare the stomach for food. They can also be taken after eating if needed.

Slippery elm powder formula: slippery elm, marshmallow root, liquorice, chamomile and cardamom – to soothe and heal an inflamed stomach – mixed with banana, aloe vera juice, juice or water to a paste or liquid .

Nuts and seeds are common allergens and they can be very difficult to digest. They contain phytic acid which is the storage form of phosphorus, and some people are unable to digest it. It binds to minerals like iron and zinc and prevents us from absorbing them. Phytic acid also binds to enzymes we need to digest our food. Since those with digestive issues already have impaired digestion, nuts and seeds can make the problem worse. If you do eat nuts and seeds, it’s important that you soak them overnight in water to remove the phytic acid, they can then either be eaten the next day or dried and stored for a few days. As nuts and seeds are some of the best food sources of nutrition, and someone with a damaged gut will be deficient in nutrients simply through malabsorption, it is well worth while to be able to eat nuts and seeds.


Histamine – some people with badly damaged digestive systems will become sensitive to high histamine foods – these include:

  • fermented drinks, especially wine and beer

  • fermented foods – sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, yogurt, kombucha

  • vinegar containing foods eg mayonnaise, pickles

  • cured meat and fish – bacon, smoked fish, pepperoni

  • beans and pulse

  • long cooked and matured foods such as bone broth and mature cheeses

More information is available here

Once the gut is healed then high histamine foods can come back into the diet.


Both FODMAP and GAPS diets aim to remove fermentable starches from the diet and can be worth experimenting with if you still have digestive problems. These are not easy diets to follow but can be very rewarding if you need them. Generally they are needed for 6 months to a couple of years and then the regimes can be relaxed.


Christine Herbert