Got gut issues? All the attention for improving digestive health goes to bone broth. But when it’s 100 degrees outside, who feels like sipping broth? But there’s a supplement that may help soothe the gut that you don’t have to sip: marshmallow. Just don’t roast this marshmallow by the campfire.
Move over collagen powder.
Same goes for you, L-glutamine powder.
There’s a new trendy gut-soothing supplement: marshmallow root.
If you’re like most people, upon hearing “marshmallow root,” you instantly want to know if it’s anything like the marshmallows you eat when you’re camping.
Interestingly, yes, marshmallow root and marshmallow treats have a long entwined history. The root from the plant, Althaea officinalis has been used for thousands of years. And according to the National Confectioners Association—the trade group representing Big Candy—the ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first people to make a gooey treat out of marshmallow root, beginning as early as 2000 B.C.E.
Here’s another fun fact about Althaea: remove an “a” from Althaea and rearrange the letters and what do you get?
And that’s precisely what Althaea means in Latin.
Historically, marshmallow root has been used to treat inflammatory respiratory issues like coughing and sore throat as well as urinary tract problems and digestive upsets.
So how has this purported panacea for inflammation gone onto become an empty-calorie treat? How could something medicinal like marshmallow root actually help the gut?
The short answer is that in the early 1900s, someone figured out a way to make the gooey treats by cutting out the middleman: the root. Instead, marshmallow treats were made with sugar and modified corn starch. (Yup, food manufacturers were already bastardizing corn over a century ago.)
Although marshmallow treats have long lost any iota of medicinal value—unless they are homemade the traditional way—the root is still being used therapeutically. These days, more attention has been focused on marshmallow root for intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut syndrome.
Marshmallow Root: Similar To Miracle Noodles?
If you know your facts about Miracle Noodle, you know about glucomannan. It’s the fiber from the root of the wild yam-like plant that’s used to make shirataki noodles, aka Miracle Noodle.
Glucomannan has been shown to assist in weight loss because when it’s combined with water, a gel-like substance forms in the digestive tract. This causes the gut to slightly expand—in a good way, not in a “Oh my lord, my pants are gonna burst because I just ate too much” way.
Because of this gooey-like substance that forms in the gut, satiety is achieved sooner than later. In other words, you can eat less and feel full earlier.
Marshmallow root contains a very similar substance to glucomannan. This substance is what’s known as mucilage. In the root of the marshmallow plant, the substance is more like a sap. But after it gets metabolized, it forms a protective mucus-like coating (hence the name, mucilage).
To understand how marshmallow root helps with digestive health, first we need to understand intestinal permeability…
The lining of your intestines is thinner than a piece of paper. This lining consists of a single layer of cells called the intestinal endothelium that is held together by tight junctions.
Surrounding this layer is the mucosal barrier (yup, we’re talking about more mucus). This barrier is supposed to prevent undigested food particles and pathogens like viruses and bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
The junctions holding the intestinal endothelial cells are supposed to have a tiny bit of space in between them—just like wooden boards on a fence. If there was no space in between the cells, fully-digested food and specialized immune cells wouldn’t be able to enter the circulation and fuel our cells and fight pathogens, respectively.
But when the junctions are too loose, that’s when hyper inflammatory responses kick in.
So how does marshmallow root help regulate the perfect gatekeeping operation of the intestinal barrier?
That brings us back to more mucus.
Mucus & Marshmallow Root For Gut Health
There are several things that can cause intestinal permeability. Poor diet, stress, medications, over-the-counter pain remedies (NSAIDs), birth-control pills, etc.
But under the hood of your gut so to speak, here’s really what’s going on…
There are 3 major underlying forces that destroy the gut lining:
- Gut dysbiosis - not enough friendly bacteria, too many unfriendly bugs
- Weak, loose junctions
- An erosion of the mucosal barrier
It’s the last one that marshmallow root may be really good at addressing.
By forming that gel/sap/mucus-y substance, marshmallow root soothes inflamed tissues in the gut. And it may even help rebuild some of that mucus lining around the intestinal barrier.
Is Marshmallow Root Backed By Research?
There’s not a ton of research studies to prove this, especially not in clinical trials. But like with most supplements, pharmaceutical companies have no interest in funding otherwise prohibitively expensive trials.
That being said, however, there have been in vitro studies conducted on human cell lines. Impressive results have also been demonstrated in animal studies.
For instance, this research suggests marshmallow root can help with stomach ulcers. A small study on people showed promise for dry cough. Another study showed positive effects for the treatment of eczema. And if you want to geek out on how marshmallow root may provide therapeutic relief for the gut, check out this review study.
Overcoming intestinal permeability and autoimmune conditions requires a holistic approach. Based mostly on anecdotal evidence, marshmallow root powder may be one thing in your medicine cabinet or supplement drawer for which you should make room.
Have you tried marshmallow root for anything — even marshmallow treats? Leave a comment.