Despite the involuntary noises our bodies are making, a whopping 74% of Americans regularly experience digestive symptoms and nearly half stay quiet about it. While a change in medication or especially unhealthy binges can bring on these less-than-desirable issues, for many people, these GI challenges become chronic.
While the causes of GI issues can range from dietary intolerances and allergies to more serious stuff, there’s a pressing issue in almost all of these cases: people are not ingesting all the vitamins their food carries. That means that if you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues, you can be following a balanced diet and not benefit from all the vitamins your meals contain.
Some GI rumblings can be cured with dietary adjustments, whether limiting portion intake or the actual foods ingested. But for many people, relief can also come from taking digestive supplements.
The drugstore is rife with pills to reduce heartburn and ease nausea, but many of these medications cause issues of their own—especially with long-term use. These antacids are commonly referred to as “proton-pump inhibitors” because they work to reduce acids in the stomach. The downside of these medications is that they’ve been found to reduce your ability to consume Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Magnesium and other crucial nutrients. A B12 deficiency is especially increased after two years of taking these common medications. And we don’t have to tell you that these essential vitamins and minerals are, well, essential to good health.
But with a healthy, whole-food diet and the aid of supplements, most people find themselves a lot more comfortable and healthy. If you decide to take a supplement for digestive issues, just consult with your physician to ensure that this is the best choice—and rule out any more serious, deeper causes.
Which digestive supplements work best?
Here’s a quick primer on seven commonly used dietary supplements to help you beat GI issues.
Probiotics: Probiotics are one of the most famous stomach relievers, and these healthy bacteria are already present in your morning cup of yogurt. While many foods produce high levels of probiotics, supplements can deliver blends of strains that produce more effective results. Antibiotics are the most aggressive disruptor of your stomach’s bacteria, and recent studies have found that high-dose probiotics minimized the chances of antibiotic-induced GI issues.
Peppermint Oil: While peppermint oil doesn’t come with the same scientific backing as probiotics, small amounts of the oil have been found to ease IBS symptoms.
L-Glutamine: An amino acid that protects the lining of the digestive tract, L-Glutamine is a favorite of nutrition-bent physicians. The naturally occurring amino acid may help relieve diarrhea brought on by infection, surgery or stress. A supplement of L-Glutamine can also help people better ingest nutrients, including in cases of colitis or other conditions that lead to people having too many bacteria in their stomachs. Like other amino acids, it’s also great for building muscle.
Chamomile: Everyone’s favorite bedtime soother has an established track record of also soothing upset stomachs, colic and insomnia. Just make sure you don’t have an herbal allergy to chamomile.
Ginger: This herb is widely available in fermented beverages, powders and tablets, or in the produce aisle as the complete root. Ginger is popular both in Eastern and Western medication for reducing nausea and treating stomach aches.
Psyllium: This fiber-packing ingredient in common laxatives absorbs excess water in the intestines. But if you’re taking psyllium, you also need to be aware of your water intake, since its absorbent qualities could lead to dehydration or a worse case of constipation. Also, make sure to rule out any allergies to melon and various pollens before taking psyllium, as those sensitivities could trigger an allergic reaction.
Marshmallow: One of the most common herbs favored by physicians, marshmallow aids in forming a protective layer in the digestive tract. This is particularly useful to avoid a painful stomach ulcer.
Why choose a digestive supplement over a whole food source of these herbs and acids? Because most supplements will pack a variety of these ingredients. And while many foods are natural sources of probiotics, those probiotics may not be specifically tailored to your needs or as aggressive in dosing as a probiotic supplement, either.
Your digestive health is an important indicator of your overall health. It’s rare that someone would follow a balanced diet and digest minimal amounts of alcohol and still experience such symptoms. Before heading to supplements, throw in a trip to your doctor to plan for what you should be taking.