If there’s anything more uncomfortable to discuss than digestive and gut-health issues, it’s the astounding numbers of Americans these issues affect. According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in five Americans suffers from digestive diseases, including GERD- style heartburn (65 million prescriptions per year), constipation (63 million cases), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (15 million cases) and Crohn’s Disease (1.8 million prescriptions).
And these are just the straight-up diseases. Everyone knows someone who has complained of digestion woes and whose life has been radically improved by eating a gluten-free diet. And that’s not even considering those who are diagnosed with celiac disease, for whom consuming gluten can lead to a range of uncomfortable complications.
Heartburn is another digestive-health issue that can be ameliorated by eliminating certain triggers. Gravity is a primary cause—so don’t lie down after a meal! Other common triggers include fried foods, spicy foods, chocolate, carbonated beverages, alcohol and coffee.
But simply doing away with offending foods and actions may not alleviate all symptoms of common gastrointestinal issues. In those cases, supplements can stimulate healing from within.
Heartburn, for example, often occurs in the absence of sufficient stomach acid, rather than being caused by having too much. Betaine, the acid found in the stomach, declines with age. The supplement form, betaine hydochloric acid, may be beneficial for heartburn as we age, assuming no further complications make the supplement contraindicated. For example, those with ulcers, an inflamed digestive tract, or on blood thinners may not be able to take even the mildest digestive enzymes, not to mention betaine hcl.
IBS affects as many as 15 percent of people worldwide. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and gas. One of the better symptom-relieving supplements is peppermint oil. Its primary active ingredient is menthol, which makes up 35 to 50 percent of peppermint oil. A meta-analysis of 121 studies for IBS found peppermint oil was more effective than antispasmodic drugs, antidepressant drugs and fiber. Look for higher levels of menthol in your peppermint supplement.
The power of probiotics
Probiotics are known to support healthy digestion. That’s because the intestines contain trillions of bacterial cells, not all of which are friendly, and inserting a few billion of the good guys promotes a healthier environment. It also benefits immune health, because the intestines house about 70 percent of the body’s innate immune function.
By stabilizing the gut, probiotics can ameliorate IBS symptoms, such as bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea and constipation. In fact, stabilizing the gut with probiotics offers similar benefits for most of us since we often skip gut-healthy foods such as fiber, fermented, and whole/raw foods in favor of fried foods and simple carbs.
If you’re looking to maintain general good gut health, you might opt for a multistrain formulation that also includes a prebiotic such as inulin or fructooligosaccharide (FOS) to feed the probiotics. Probiotics designed to pass through stomach acid and reach the small (acidophilus strains) and large (bifido strains) intestines–where they will do the most good–are also a plus.
Whether you’ve always struggled with a sensitive stomach or you can eat whatever anyone puts in front of you, digestive enzymes provide support that reaps benefits not only for assimilating food but also in the areas of immune health and energy.
In the stomach, digestive enzymes can be a first-line of defense against bacteria that may be in the foods we consume, breaking down those organisms before they do us harm.
Did you know that most foods begin with the enzymes necessary to process said food already there? The problem is, when we process food in order to make it available to the masses, when we store food through flash-freezing and prolonged refrigeration, when said masses then cook that food. . . . Well, it’s easy to understand how the native digestive enzymes in a food will have disappeared by the time we put fork to mouth.
The body is certainly capable of creating digestive enzymes to process food, but as we have already pointed out, our capabilities in this area decline with age. Also, the energy our body expends to create enzymes for digestion is energy we won’t have to use later in the day, like during that pick-up basketball game after work against Larry, the IT guy, and his famous lay-up.
As we deep dive into metabolism, we realize the word doesn’t just mean who can burn the most calories. Digestive function is just one of several mechanisms in the body that can make or break your metabolic performance. At BetsyHealth, we are dedicated to helping you find the products that best help you meet your health goals, including goals that involve digestion. We look forward to answering your product questions at your next visit.
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BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.
Article copyright 2022 by Alive Pusblishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto