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Digestive Health

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Probiotics: Friendly Bacteria Probiotics contain living organisms -- mainly bacteria and one type of yeast. These resemble good bacteria in the gut that help with digestion. The supplements are used to treat certain GI problems and for general digestive health. Some types of probiotics may provide relief from diarrhea and may also relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Consider adding them to malted milk or yogurt. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria similar to the healthy bacteria that naturally exist in your gut. The supplements are used for a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. Probiotics may help in several ways: They produce substances that wipe out or limit the growth of harmful bacteria, and they may boost your body’s immune response to fight infections. The most common probiotics used in the U.S. are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. 2. Vitamins - There are certain vitamins that are more important for digestion than others. You can usually get all the vitamins you need by following a balanced diet, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Read on to learn which vitamins are the most important for healthy digestion and how to incorporate them into your eating habits.

a. Vitamin A Vitamin A is involved primarily in boosting vision, bone, and reproductive health, as well as helping the immune system, according to the NIH. Colorful fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, and other dark greens, as well as liver and milk are rich sources of vitamin A. Although vitamin A is not directly involved in digestion, some gastrointestinal diseases can leave you vulnerable to a vitamin A deficiency. For instance, vitamin A deficiency is more common among people with Crohn’s disease, according to a 2015 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. The researchers noted that a lack of vitamin A can worsen the imbalance between the formation and destruction of free radicals in the intestinal mucus lining of people with Crohns.

b. B Vitamins These vitamins are found in proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products, as well as leafy greens and beans, and help your body form red blood cells and get energy from the food you eat, the NIH explains. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning you can't store them away in your fat cells to use later; they need to be a regular part of your diet. Essential B vitamins for the digestive system include: 1. B 1 . Also known as thiamine, B1 helps your body change the carbohydrates in your diet into energy for your cells and regulate appetite. 2. B 3 . Also known as niacin, this vitamin is important for many digestive tract functions, including the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol. A niacin deficiency can result in a disease known as pellagra, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. 3. B 6 . Also known as pyridoxine, B6 is very important in helping your digestive system process the protein you eat. 4. Biotin. This B vitamin helps your digestive system produce cholesterol and process proteins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids. 5. B 12 . Also known as cobalamin, B12 plays a role in the nervous system, the production of blood cells, and the body's use of folic acid and carbohydrates, according to the ACS. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia, the NIH cautions.

c. Vitamin C - Because it’s an antioxidant, many people associate vitamin C with the immune system and preventing colds, but this essential vitamin also aids in digestion by supporting healthy teeth and gums and helping the body absorb iron, according to the NIH.

d. Vitamin D Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and plays a key role in how your nerves, muscles, and immune system function, according to the NIH. What’s more, healthy levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk for colon cancer, according to a 2015 study published in Gut. There are three ways you can get vitamin D - Sun exposure Vitamin D-rich foods, such as egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk and cereal You may need a vitamin D supplement if you have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn disease, which is often associated with low vitamin D levels, according to a 2014 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Other people who are at a greater risk for a vitamin D deficiency include: a. Older adults b. Breast-fed infants c. People with dark skin d. People with a liver disease or cystic fibrosis e. Obese people or those who have undergone gastric bypass surgery f. If you arent getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and food, talk to your doctor about a supplement. Keep in mind that you may already be taking a supplement that contains vitamin D. For example, many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. 3. Herbs a. Licorice - Cooling Heartburn - Licorice has long been used to treat symptoms of indigestion like heartburn and acid reflux. These uses arent backed by scientific evidence, though. In its unpurified form, licorice can also have side effects, including contributing to high blood pressure in some people. DGL is a specific extract of licorice with a certain chemical removed, and it doesn't seem to have as many side effects. Still, pregnant women should not take DGL -- or any other supplement -- without consulting their doctor.

b. Peppermint Oil: To Ease IBS - While the jury's still out, several studies suggest that peppermint oil may lessen pain and bloating that comes with IBS. Enteric-coated capsules of it don't dissolve in the stomach. They pass through to the small and large intestines, where the oil is released. In small doses, peppermint oil appears to be safe. c. Chamomile: More Than a Soothing Tea - Chamomile is widely used for multiple ailments. Naturalists have tried chamomile in an effort to treat digestive problems such as upset stomach, colic, and nausea, as well as anxiety and insomnia. People with some plant allergies like ragweed, though, could possibly have an allergic reaction to chamomile. Always discuss your use of any supplement with your doctor. D. Ginger: Comfort for the Stomach - Asian medicine uses ginger to treat stomachaches. In the West, ginger is used to relieve nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Ginger is available as a powder, in capsules or tablets, or as freshly cut root. It's generally considered safe when taken in small doses -- 1 to 2 grams per day. E. Artichoke: Relief of Stomach Upset - Artichoke leaf extract may relieve symptoms of indigestion. When used daily, the extract seems to lessen nausea, vomiting, gas, and abdominal pain. It also might help treat IBS and reduce cramps and abdominal pain. The extract has no known interactions with drugs. But it can cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed and related pollens. 4. Amino Acids a. L-Glutamine: The Intestinal Helper - Glutamine is found naturally in your body; it supports the intestines and other organs. Some experts believe that the supplement L-glutamine may help relieve diarrhea induced by surgery, infections, or stress. It may help some people better absorb nutrients. That includes people with too much unfriendly bacteria in their digestive tracts, people who are taking cancer drugs, and people who've had part of their intestines removed. But more research is needed. 5. Fiber supplements a. Psyllium: Fiber for Constipation - Psyllium is used as an ingredient in bulk laxatives. Because of its high fiber content, it's able to absorb water in the intestines. That makes the stool bulky and easier to pass. It's important when treating constipation to drink plenty of fluids. This helps you avoid dehydration or a worse case of constipation. People allergic to English plantain pollen, grass pollen, or melon could have a serious allergic reaction when taking psyllium. Fiber in your diet helps keep stool soft so it can travel easily through your intestines. When you don’t get enough fiber, stool can become hard and difficult to pass, resulting in constipation. The American Dietetic Association recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, but most Americans get only 5 to 14 grams. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and grains is a great way to increase your intake. Fiber supplements can also help. When you take them with water, the supplements retain the water in your intestine and soften stool.

6. Digestive aids - If certain foods such as beans or vegetables give you gas, taking Beano or a similar product can help. It contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which digests the sugar found in beans and many veggies that makes you feel gassy after eating them. a. Lactase - Sold as either tablets or drops, lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar in milk and milk products. If you have lactose intolerance, you have a deficiency of this enzyme, so taking lactase supplements can help when you consume lactose-containing foods. Ask your doctor whether lactase is right for you. b. Antacids - Although antacids don’t cure heartburn, they can help reduce its symptoms. Most antacids contain magnesium, calcium, or aluminum, along with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions to neutralize the acidic storm brewing in your stomach. Talk with your doctor if you’ve been taking antacids for more than two weeks. It could be a sign that a more serious condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is causing your problems. More effective medical therapies are available to treat GERD.

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