By Kathryn Wisniewski
From heartburn and bloating to sensitivity to certain foods or irregular bowel movements, digestive problems can manifest in myriad ways. Health supplements, such as digestive bitters, probiotics or enzyme supplements, can offer relief.
How do you know when it’s time to seek out an aid to your digestive health?
“Most people will ignore their digestive problems until they’re really serious,” says Katy Wallace, Doctor of Naturopathy and certified natural health professional. “Digestive health is one of those pretty easy things to address if you do it early and do it right.”
Not having regular bowel movements or becoming bloated from foods are clear signs your digestive system needs support. “Most digestive aids are safe for everyone, including kids,” Wallace says, though she warns that anyone taking pharmaceuticals or who have health diagnoses like ulcers should check with a pharmacist prior to adding a digestive aid to their regimen. Stomach acid production slows after the age of 30, and those over 40 are more likely to have digestive issues as a result, according to Wallace.
Digestive bitters, like the ones made by Urban Moonshine Herbal Apothecary and stocked at Community Pharmacy, support digestion by stimulating natural stomach acids. They are a blend of herbs in an alcohol solution. The herbs, like chamomile and ginger, are intended to warm or cool the stomach to soothe distress.
Enzyme supplements, like Lactaid, break down foods so they can be absorbed by the body. “As we age, we have fewer digestive enzymes naturally,” says Community Pharmacy’s Lulu Roberts, a professional homeopathic practitioner. Different enzymes target different types of food: proteins, carbohydrates or fats. Enzyme supplements can help overcome general bloating or gas or can counteract a nutritional deficiency, according to Wallace.
Both enzyme supplements and bitters are best ingested prior to a meal, according to Roberts, though they can be used after successfully as well.
Another option for boosting digestive health is probiotics, microorganisms that carry health benefits when introduced to the body. The probiotics you’ll find at Community Pharmacy will either be shelf-stable or refrigerated. Shelf-stable probiotics are just as effective as the refrigerated varieties, according to Roberts. The only difference is that shelf-stable probiotics have a coating that protects them until they reach the stomach and are ideal for on-the-go.
Because there are so many strains of probiotics, their uses can get fairly specific. According to Wallace, probiotics often help with constipation, diarrhea and bloating, as well as with reducing bad reactions to foods. In addition to alleviating such symptoms, probiotics improve overall immune and gut barrier health.
No matter the course you may choose for giving your digestive health a lift, Wallace recommends starting with half of the suggested dosage of the supplement and increasing from there.
All such supplements—probiotics, enzyme supplements and bitters—assist the gastrointestinal tract in detoxifying.
“In this day and age when we are exposed to more chemicals and environmental toxins than ever before, it’s important to promote healthy digestion in order to help break down and excrete toxins that we encounter,” Wallace says.