The Health Benefits of Slippery Elm

What Should I Know About It?

slippery elm bark
Slippery elm bark. Steve Gorton/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

A time-honored Native American remedy, slippery elm (Ulmus fulva or Ulmus rubra) is sourced from the inner bark of a tree that grows primarily in the eastern region of North America.

Slippery elm contains a type of soluble fiber known as mucilage. Mucilage traps and absorbs water, forming a gel-like substance.

Uses for Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is typically used as a remedy for the following health concerns:

  • Acid reflux
  • Coughs
  • Diarrhea
  • Diverticulitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Psoriasis
  • Sore throat

Additionally, slippery elm is said to reduce certain types of inflammation.

Proponents claim that slippery elm in gel form can be used for digestive issues, mouth ulcers, or constipation in dogs and cats.

Benefits of Slippery Elm

Although slippery elm has an extensive history of use in folk-medicine, there's a lack of research on the herb's possible health effects. Some preliminary research, however, suggests that a commercially available supplement containing slippery elm and other herbs may not improve body composition or digestive symptoms. For the study, published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements in 2018, healthy adult women consumed the supplement (or a placebo) daily for four weeks. At the study's end, blood tests did not find safety issues, however, the researchers also found no beneficial effects on body composition, waist circumference, or gastrointestinal symptoms.

Acid Reflux and Heartburn

In people who have acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux), stomach acid tends to flow back into the esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflux may include heartburn or a sour taste in the mouth. Proponents claim that when slippery elm is taken in tea or lozenge form, the mucilage content may coat the lining of the esophagus, lessening heartburn pain and discomfort.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Proponents claim that the mucilage in slippery elm may be helpful in managing inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis) by forming a temporary protective barrier. The herb is thought to help ease inflammation. In addition, mucilage is partially broken down in the colon into substances such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), providing an energy source for cells in the colon.

Sore Throat

Up until 1960, slippery elm was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia (a compendium of drug standards) and considered a treatment for sore throat pain. Proponents suggest that the mucilage found in slippery elm may help to soothe a sore throat. Slippery elm can be found as an ingredient in commercially available throat lozenges.

Forms of Slippery Elm

You can find slippery elm in teabag form. The powdered bark powder along with slippery elm lozenges, supplements, capsules, tablets, and tinctures can be found in many health-food stores.

With increased demand for slippery elm products, along with diseases affecting trees, there's concern about the sustainability of slippery elm.

Side Effects

Due to the scarcity of research on its health effects, little is known about the side effects and safety of taking slippery elm. Side effects that have been noted include nausea, hard stools, allergic reactions, and skin irritation.

Slippery elm may interfere with the absorption of some medications and decrease their effectiveness. While some sources suggest taking slippery elm bark at least one to two hours after taking another medication by mouth to minimize this effect, it is best to consult your doctor before adding slippery elm to your regimen.

It should also be noted that despite common health claims, slippery elm is not advised for the treatment for serious chronic conditions like cancer and bronchitis.

Pregnant and nursing women shouldn't take slippery elm.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the lack of supporting research, slippery elm cannot currently be recommended as a treatment for any condition. If you're still considering using slippery elm, be sure to speak with your doctor first to discuss whether it may be appropriate and safe for you.

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