This article was submitted by Jacky Xu. Jacky is the Chief Operating Officer at Maid Sailors Maid Service Chicago.

You are what you eat, (or so they say!) and your digestive system is the direct link between your food and your body.

A healthy digestive tract is key for your overall health; how well it works directly influences the nutrition that your body’s other systems receive. Poor digestion isn’t just uncomfortable (though its symptoms themselves are often bad enough to impact your quality of life). A dysfunctional digestive tract can also lead to systemic inflammation and can contribute to many other conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and immune system problems. 

Certain types of foods and nutrients help keep your gut running smoothly and help to support a healthy microbiome within it.

If you want an alternative way to support your digestive health, here are four types of dietary supplements you can try.

Probiotics (with Prebiotics)

Probiotic supplements contain healthy species of bacteria and yeast that are important for your intestinal health. For an added health bonus, include prebiotics in your supplement regimen, which will keep your probiotics well fed.

The Gut Microbiome

Your intestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes, known as your gut microbiome (or sometimes microflora or microbiota). Mostof these tiny, single-cellular organisms are beneficial to your health. They can digest compounds that your body cannot on its own, producing easily absorbed nutrients in return. They also help block harmful species of microbes from infection.[1]When your community of beneficial microbes gets out of whack, your digestion can suffer as a result. This can happen if your diet is poor, if you’vebeen ill recently, or if you take antibiotics. Several studies indicate that low populations microbes, as well as a low diversity of species present, can negatively impact digestion as well as other aspects of your health.

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics are “good” bacteria and yeast that you ingest orally. Often, they come in the form of capsules or powders containing high numbers of dormant, living organisms. You can also find probiotics in certain types of fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, or kombucha. When you consume these, the microbes that survive digestion in your stomach and
reach your intestines can help re-establish or maintain healthy populations in your gut microbiome.[1]

Prebiotics

Most of you probably have a bit of familiarity with probiotic, but what exactly are pre-biotics? Essentially, prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber. These molecules are long chains of carbohydrates, which are indigestible for humans but are a great fuel source for gut microbes. Common types of prebiotics used in supplements include fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and inulins.

Prebiotics also include other types of insoluble fibers, such as pectin and resistant starch.[1] Some probiotic supplements also contain prebiotics (and are sometimes called synbiotics). You can also easily find prebiotic supplements on their own.

Bonus: getting more fiber in your diet can make you feel full longer and can help control body weight![2] 

Foods like onion, spinach, oats, and artichokes are high in naturally occurring prebiotics.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes break down the food you eat. Several organs in your body produce digestive enzymes, including your salivary glands, liver (then stored in your gall bladder), pancreas, stomach, and intestines.

The different types of digestive enzymes break down different types of food molecules. For example, amylases from your saliva and pancreas break down starches and other carbohydrates into simple sugars. Proteases in your stomach and intestines break down proteins, and lipases along the digestive tract break down fats and other lipids.[3] Each of these enzymes produces smaller, less complex biomolecules that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Deficiencies in specific digestive enzymes can make it difficult for you to digest certain types of food.

Think lactose intolerance: low amounts of the enzyme lactase in the intestines hinders lactose digestion, resulting in gas, stomach cramps, and other symptoms of indigestion. Lower production of digestive enzymes overall, as can happen as we age, can reduce the amount of nutrients the body can absorb from food in addition to causing gastrointestinal discomfort.[3]

Supplemental enzymes can be a good way to overcome these problems. Even people without an enzyme disorder can benefit from digestive enzyme supplements. For some, they can help digest large or heavy portions of food more easily and comfortably. Others take digestive enzymes to help manage gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn.[3]

As with all other bioactive dietary products, you should consult with your doctor before you try digestive enzyme supplements. Eating fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut can also help to naturally increase these enzymes in the system.

Pancreatic Enzymes

Many of the major digestive enzymes in your stomach and intestines come from your pancreas. These include several varieties of proteases, lipases, and amylases.
In addition to age, certain health conditions can also affect pancreatic enzyme production, such as cystic fibrosis and pancreatitis. A lack of pancreatic enzymes can result in food intolerances and unpleasant symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.[3]
 
Pancreatic enzyme supplements are sometimes called pancreatin and contain a mix of multiple types of digestive enzymes. These can be a good way to help your body absorb more nutrients or to reduce digestive troubles.[3]
 
Before taking supplements, try to increase pancreatin levels naturally through diet first by eating foods high in pancreatin like pineapple, papaya, mango and bananas.

Glutamine

L-glutamine, often simply called glutamine, is one of the twenty amino acids that proteins are made from. This particular one plays many integral roles in intestinal health. It is an essential component of the tight junctions which hold your intestinal lining together and is a fuel source for intestinal cells.

Since the cells in your stomach and intestines replenish themselves at a high rate, they need a substantial supply of glutamine to support their rapid growth. It is also important for a proper immune system function.[4]

Glutamine supplements can be helpful for people with digestive disorders, as well as anyone looking to promote their digestive health. Taking glutamine can also help support inflammatory balance. It may also help support overall gut health.

Bone broth is a great way to naturally add glutamine into our diet to help with healthy digestion. 

Berberine

Berberine is a phytochemical—an organic molecule made by plants. Many species of plants produce berberine, but it is especially plentiful in barberry (berberis), Oregon grape, and poppies. It is also a choleretic, meaning that it increases bile secretion from the liver.

This bile contains salts and enzymes for digesting food in the stomach and is especially important for breaking down fats. Berberine supplements may also support a healthy intestinal inflammatory balance, as well as help maintain the integrity of a healthy stomach lining.[5]

You can find berberine in European Barberry, and even turmeric. We love this saffron rice dish from The Kitchn that calls for barberry. 

Final Thoughts

There are many different supplements and products that can benefit digestion, but these four are among the best. Of course, no supplements will ever beat a healthy and wholesome diet full of nutrients and fiber to keep things moving. 

Have you tried any supplements for digestive health, with or without success?

Share your experience below!

 

Resources
1. Markowiak, P. and K. Slizewska, Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 2017. 9(9).
2. Bozzetto, L., et al., Dietary Fibre as a Unifying Remedy for the Whole Spectrum of Obesity-Associated Cardiovascular Risk. Nutrients, 2018. 10(7).
3. Ianiro, G., et al., Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Current drug metabolism, 2016. 17(2): p. 187-193.
4. Kim, M.H. and H. Kim, The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases. Int J Mol Sci, 2017. 18(5).
5. Patil, T., et al., Antimicrobial Profile of Antidiabetic Drug: Berberine. Int. J of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemical Res, 2015. 7: p. 45-50.

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