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Bitters for Gut Health

Bitters are a specific class of herbs for the digestive system and part of the gut health program I offer clients, but they do so much more than just improve digestion. Bitters also support #detoxification, heal the skin, and improve your mood. While our ancestors regularly ate bitters prior to their meals, which helped to prepare the gut for digesting their meals, we really don't include these in our meals much today. Our preferences are more often for sweet foods, even salty foods, but rarely bitter unless you consume a more common bitter - coffee. If so, you may also appreciate its effect on your gut. It certainly gets things moving.



Our #ancestors obtained bitters in their diet from foraging for wild greens, but because toxins are also quite bitter, evolutionary biologist argue these plants grab our attention, alerting us of their poisonous potential. Bitters really might be the most #paleo food however, as they trigger important biological responses and remind us of our innate heritages, our cell memory per se. As our ancestors moved more towards planting their own foods, rather than foraging for them, and appreciating their increased preferences for sweeter foods, grains were chosen by early gardeners and therefore, #carbohydrates became more readily available.


Bitter Greens & Medicinal Principles


The health benefits of bitters really are numerous so bringing those back into our diet can have great impact on our nervous system and gut health. Immediately when bitters hit our mouths, our nervous system is triggered communicating directly with our gut. Our gut responds by dumping stomach acid into our digestive system, continuing the breakdown of proteins that was already started with the saliva in our mouths. This triggers the immune system to break down bacteria, viruses, and other #pathogens you may be ingesting in your diet, preventing small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and these acids also increase gut motility. When these larger proteins are better broken down and better moved through our gastrointestinal tract, less actually enters our bodies via the circulatory system, reducing stimulation to our immune system. This helps to minimize food sensitivities, skin reactions, fatigue, even #anxiety and depression (brainflammation).


The pancreas adds to this work, offering #enzymes to assist in the break down of proteins, starches, and fat, as does the liver in its detoxification process. When the gut is functioning optimally, all the cholesterol, fats, bacterias, viruses, hormones, and proteins that aren't so fabulous for us, even the by-products of the foods we are eaten, can be moved out of our bodies more efficiently. Our blood sugar is improved by this process, as is the integrity of our gut wall.


It isn't just our gut however, that benefits from our ingestion of bitters. Our gut/brain connection means that a healthier gut makes for a healthier mood. A more efficient detoxification process means less overall toxin load, which again, improves our mood. Nutrients are better absorbed, and guess what?! That too improves our mood!


Receptors for these bitters are in your mouth so eating these really is the best way to ingest them so they can stimulate all the various aspects of your system, and I'll admit, they can be an acquired taste (don't give up), but if you really struggle, these receptors are also available lower in the gastrointestinal gut; meaning, even if you take a pill or capsule form, you will still gain great benefit. When I owned a retail boutique of women's health products, I had a bitter liquid formula from Floradix that offered another option, or even a tincture can substitute adding dandelions to your salad. As I mentioned though, you really do optimize your experience, even your evolutionary biologic experience by ingesting them. As we learn more about our gut/brain connection, it may prove that these experiences are absolutely vital for optimizing our health.



Earth Medicine


Aviva Romm, world renown herbalist, preaches that botanical medicine is an extension of the diet. Consider that when most think of herbs, food isn't really that first mental image. Rather, most think of herbs in forms like tinctures or capsules and consuming them similar to a prescription for medicinal need. Even though #bitters may be ingested in capsule form and prescribed for health problems, bitters can also be eaten in our diet as earth medicine. Sage, thyme, onion, and garlic are great examples of botanical medicine offered within our diets. Dandelion greens, arugula, collards, or kale in our salads extend us incredible benefit and should be utilized routinely to support optimal wellness for life-long vitality.


Ginseng, burdock root, dandelion leaf, motherwort, chamomile, and artichoke leaf are common bitters used in tinctures or capsules for more specific medicinal needs. The doses of each do vary depending on the specific herb or need, but generally, these recommendations can be found on the bottle of either the tincture or capsules. You may also find essential oils in various bitter blends to enhance their physiologic intent or warming spices may be added, which can help minimize gas and bloating, such as cinnamon, cardamon, and fennel.


Tips for Success


As I mentioned, bitters really are an acquired taste, but like all transitions, when you begin to feel better, the bitters will become more palatable. Adding citrus to your bitters can help minimize their bitterness while also enhancing the digestive process. Apple cider vinegar and lacto-fermented foods can offer the same. Squeezing lemon or lime juice on your kale salad can really be delightful with cherry tomatoes, but utilize pintrest to find a plethora of ideas. You will certainly find a few you really do enjoy.


If you suffer from auto-immune #thyroid disease, be sure to cook bitters and limit ingesting them raw; however, dandelion greens and arugula could be eaten raw. You may prefer juicing your bitters, and if you do, be sure to peel the white pulpy portion from the inside of your citrus peels and add that to your mixture for added benefit. While you can create a cocktail of bitters, with alcohol, for ingesting about fifteen minutes prior to your meal, you could even add a squirt or two to your sparkling water, stir, and drink prior to eating your meal. Eating these after your meal is also fine, but either way, two cups of either raw or cooked bitters should ideally be ingested twice each day. Keep in mind, eating bitters while pregnant is perfectly fine, but ingesting the more medicinal doses while pregnant is not recommended. If you suffer from a peptic ulcer, gallbladder disease, gastritis, or kidney stones then again, best to avoid these medicinally. These may be helpful if you have reflux.

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