Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a member of the elm tree family that is native to North America. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and is thought to have health benefits—for example, it may soothe asore throat, treat wounds, and ease digestive disorder symptoms. However, scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking.
For health benefits, only the inner bark of slippery elm is used. There are substances in the inner bark that increase mucus production in the human body.
Slippery elm containsmucilage, a type of fiber that forms a gel-like substance when it's put in water. This mucilage is thought to be responsible for many of the proposed health benefits of slippery elm.
Research on the positive effects of slippery elm is limited. Most of the studies that have been done are old and small.
This article will review the uses of slippery elm, possible side effects, dosage, precautions, and other information about how to use slippery elm.
Dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are in the United States. This means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, Consumer Labs, or NSF.
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.
- Active ingredient(s): Slippery elm's inner bark and mucilage
- Alternate name(s): Indian elm, moose elm, olmo Americano, orme, orme gras, orme rouge, orme roux, red elm, sweet elm, Ulmus fulva, Ulmus rubra
- Legal status:Legal and sold over the counter
- Suggested dose: No universal dose recommendations for slippery elm
- Safety considerations: Nausea and skin irritation
Uses of Slippery Elm
Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.
Slippery elm might be useful in treating certain health conditions, but more research is needed.
In traditional medicine, slippery elm is believed to be able to treat various health conditions when taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
Possible uses for slipper elm include:
- Various skin conditions
- Sore throat
- Stomach ulcers
- Other stomach and intestinal problems
Here are a few examples of what research has found about using slippery elm for specific health conditions.
Since it is a naturaldemulcent, slippery elm is thought to be able to soothe a sore throat by coating the lining of the throat and esophagus, adding a layer of protection from irritation.
People often claim that slipper elm helps asore throat (anecdotal evidence), but more research is needed to prove that it does.
In a small pilot study, people who consumed a slippery elm beverage reported a soothing effect of the herbal remedy.Compared to a control group that was given Lipton tea, the people who had a hot drink made with slippery elm powder perceived the beverage as being more soothing. The beverage with slippery elm was found to be most soothing within one minute of drinking it.
However, more research is needed to prove that slippery elm can truly treat asore throat.
How a Sore Throat Is Treated
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Advocates of slippery elm claim that it can ease many of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes bothulcerative colitisandCrohn's disease.
It’s been said that slippery elm forms a temporary protective barrier in the intestines, but research evidence that supports that claim is mixed.
A lab (in vitro) study from 2002 found that slippery elm had beneficial antioxidant effects on colon tissue samples from people withulcerative colitis. However, the researchers could not conclude whether the same effect would occur in humans.
Other studies have shown that slippery elm might be beneficial for IBD and other digestive disorders.However, these studies mostly used slippery elm in combination with other herbs, making it impossible to prove that slippery elm alone would have the same effect.
The mucilage in slippery elm has been used for dry skin or to treat wounds when applied topically.
When put on the skin, the mucilage in slippery elm is thought to swell and form a gooey substance, which is believed to soothedryorinflamed skin. This reaction may prove helpful in the treatment of minor wounds on the skin.
However, there has not been enough human research on slippery elm's use in skin conditions or wound care. Always ask your provider before using slippery elm or any other remedy to treat a skin condition.
What Are the Side Effects of Slippery Elm?
Slippery elm is thought to be a safe supplement to take, but there are still side effects and risks to consider.
Common Side Effects
Few side effects have been reported for slippery elm but they might be possible.You should be cautious when taking slippery elm for the first time since you will not know for sure whether you will have side effects.
An allergic reaction could occur if slippery elm is used topically. It is possible that applying slippery elm to your skin could cause skin irritation.
Pregnant people should not use slippery elm, as some reports have suggested it could have harmful effects on a pregnancy.
Severe Side Effects
Severe side effects of slippery elm have not been reported but could be possible. However, it should be noted that an allergic reaction can occur if slippery elm is used topically. It is possible that applying slippery elm to your skin could cause skin irritation. To avoid an allergic reaction or other possible severe side effects, talk with your healthcare provider about how to safely use slippery elm.
It's always best to take precautions when using supplements, and that includes slippery elm.
People who arepregnantorbreastfeedingshould avoid using slippery elm. Some research has suggested it could cause amiscarriage. There is not enough research to know if slippery elm is safe for children. Therefore, it is recommended that children avoid using slippery elm.
You should also take precautions if applying slippery elm directly to your skin. Allergic reactions and skin irritation are possible when using topical slippery elm.
Since research is so limited, there is not enough reliable information about the safety of slippery elm. You should only use slippery elm exactly as directed by the product label or the instructions given to you by your provider.
Dosage: How Much Slippery Elm Should I Take?
Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.
There are no standard guidelines for the dosage and use of slippery elm. Slippery elm dosage varies in the studies that have been done on the supplement.
In one small study, just 2 teaspoons of slippery elm powder were used to make a warm beverage to soothethroat pain. Other studies and anecdotal evidence have used much larger doses.
As a general rule, do not take more slippery elm than is recommended on the product label. Taking too much slippery elm could increase your risk of side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider about the proper dosage for you.
What Is Pau D'Arco?
What Happens If I Take Too Much Slippery Elm?
Slippery elm is not thought to be toxic. In the research that has been done, slippery elm has been shown to cause little to no side effects. However, it is still possible to take too much slippery elm, and doing so could make side effects more likely.
Always follow the directions on the supplement label or those given to you by your provider. If you’re not sure how much is safe to take, ask your provider to recommend a dosage.
Slippery elm may interfere with the absorption and effects of certain medications you might be taking. It is recommended that you avoid taking slippery elm at the same time as any oral medications.
The mucilage in slippery elm could decrease the absorption and effectiveness of somemedicationsif taken at the wrong time.
If you take slippery elm too close to other medications, your body may not be able to properly use the medication as intended. To prevent this interaction, take slippery elm at least one hour after taking your medications.
There are no known interactions between slippery elm and other supplements or foods.
It is vital that you carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please take precautions and review any supplement labels with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.
How to Store Slippery Elm
Storing your supplements properly is important. Slippery elm supplements should be stored in a cool, dry place. Be sure to keep your supplements out of direct sunlight. They should also be kept in an area that is temperature regulated and never gets too hot or too cold. Typically, slippery elm extract can be stored outside the refrigerator but check the product label to be sure.
All medicines and supplements should be stored safely where children and pets cannot get to them.Discard any old slippery elm supplements that have expired.
Many supplements on the market may work similarly to slippery elm. Similar supplements to slippery elm include:
- Honey. Raw honey is a well-known treatment for thecommon coldand sore throat. Like slippery elm,honeyis thought to soothe asore throat. It may have antimicrobial properties.
- Curcumin. Curcumin is a substance inturmericspice, curcumin that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit people withIBD. In a small study, patients with mild-to-moderateulcerative colitis(UC) took high-dose curcumin along withmesalamine, a prescription drug for UC, for one month. The patients who took curcumin had more significant improvements in their UC disease activity, as well as remission induction, compared to theplacebogroup.
- Collagen. Collagen is a natural protein found and made in your body. It might heal dry skin when taken in supplement form. Both oral and topicalcollagenhas been found to improve skin hydration, as well as skin moisture andelasticity.
In most cases, you should only take one supplement for a specific condition at a time. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best supplements for you.
Sources of Slippery Elm & What to Look For
There are many things to consider when choosing a slippery elm supplement. Slippery elm is not commonly found in foods and is typically used in supplement form.
Food Sources of Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is a tree so it’s not naturally found in foods. It might be possible to chew the bark from the slippery elm tree. The bark is said to feel slippery when chewed, probably because of the mucilage. Most people choose to use it in supplement form instead.
Slippery Elm Supplements
Slippery elm supplements are typically made from the inner bark of the tree. Slippery elm can be purchased in several forms, including tinctures, lozenges, powders, tea bags, loose-leaf teas, and capsules. You can find them in health food stores, some pharmacies, and online.
Keep in mind that dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. They do not need to undergo rigorous testing or research. For the best quality supplements, look for those that have been tested by a third-party agency, like USP or Consumer Lab.
Manufacturers of herbal supplements rarely submit products for third-party testing. This means you may have to use your best judgment when purchasing them. Try not to be swayed by health claims that may or may not be true.
The inner bark of the slippery elm tree may offer some health benefits. However, these claims are not supported by strong scientific evidence. More studies in humans are needed to prove that slippery elm can help with any health condition.
Few side effects have been reported in people using slippery elm, and it is generally thought to be safe. However, some people should take precautions when using slippery elm. Pregnant people should avoid taking it because there are safety concerns.
If you're interested in taking slippery elm, talk with your healthcare provider first to make sure it is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does slippery elm help constipation?
Although slippery elm is used in traditional medicine for constipation, there is no solid evidence to support these benefits.
However, it is possible due to the mucilage found in slippery elm. Mucilage is a soft fiber that may work similarly to other types of fiber recommended for constipation relief.
More research is needed to conclude that slippery elm can relieve constipation.
Learn More:How Constipation Is Treated
Is slippery elm safe during pregnancy?
There is not enough information to know for certain that slippery elm is safe for pregnant people to take.
In fact, there are some claims that slippery elm may cause a miscarriage. Because of this, it is recommended that people who are pregnant avoid using slippery elm.
Learn More:How Soon Can You Take a Pregnancy Test?
Is slippery elm a diuretic?
In traditional medicine, slippery elm is sometimes used as a mild diuretic (water pill) to help you urinate. However, there is no scientific evidence to back this up.
If you need a diuretic, talk with your healthcare provider about a better option than slippery elm.
Learn More:What Are Diuretics?