The digestive system was once thought to be a pretty rudimentary and simple body system. But, over the last two decades or so, we have learned so much about the incredibly complex and delicate system that we like to affectionately refer to as our gut. And all this new information is a good thing. It’s helped us understand how GI health affects the rest of the body and its relationship between the immune system, mental health, skin conditions, autoimmune disorders, endocrine disorders, and even cancer.
In order to maintain excellent overall health, it’s important to keep your gastrointestinal health up to par. We all know that the body needs good, nutritious food to function well, and the gut is no exception. While a balanced diet is the first step toward a healthy gut, there are also some vitamins and supplements that can help support GI health.
Supplements can support the process of digestion with the benefits of:
Better absorption of nutrients.
Ensuring you do not end up with diarrhea or become constipated.
Preventing pain or discomfort that can occur during the digestion process.
If you’re only going to take one supplement, let it be vitamin D. Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, but it’s estimated that nearly 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient. This proves especially true for people located further from the equator and includes those who live in the greater Boston area.
While vitamin D is essential to many of the body’s functions, it is especially important to GI health, helping the body absorb calcium, easing the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Disease, and is even linked to preventing many kinds of cancer including colon cancer. It is possible to get vitamin D naturally from foods like oily fish and egg yolks, from fortified foods like cow’s milk and orange juice, and from regular sun exposure. However, most people don’t eat enough of these foods or have enough time in the sun to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin D.
As an adult, look for a supplement with 1,000 IU of vitamin D2 or D3. Most multivitamins don’t provide enough vitamin D, so it may be better to opt for a standalone vitamin D supplement to ensure you are getting an adequate amount.
There are 8 B vitamins, a few of which are especially important to your GI health. Just like vitamin D, the B vitamins can be found in food sources as part of a balanced diet. Foods like dairy,
All contain B vitamins. But also, like vitamin D, most people don’t get enough B vitamins from food alone. It’s a good idea to take a supplement, at least of the following B vitamins, to support your gut health.
Vitamin B2- helps keep the lining of your digestive tract healthy, helps break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, converts nutrients into energy.
Vitamin B3- helps break down fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol. Lack of B3 causes pellagra and severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Vitamin B6- helps process protein.
Biotin- helps the body produce healthy cholesterol, processes carbs, proteins, and fatty acids, and helps eliminate waste.
Folic Acid- linked to lower levels of colon cancer.
Your gut is filled with millions of bacteria. Don’t worry, it’s the good kind of bacteria. But sometimes, due to things like illness, poor diet, or taking antibiotics, the balance of good and bad bacteria can be disrupted. Probiotics are live microorganisms that keep the bacteria in your digestive system in balance. Taking a daily probiotic has several benefits and has been proven to reduce the symptoms of GI health issues like irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and diarrhea.
Fiber found in whole foods should be your first choice. But, if you feel you still aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet, and your digestion still isn’t improving, you may want to consider adding in a fiber supplement. Be careful not to add too much fiber too quickly as it can cause more GI issues such as gas, bloating, and cramping. Gradually increase your intake over a few weeks to give your body time to adjust to the change.
There are many reasons why you might want to take supplements for your GI health, but it's important to seek advice from a gastrointestinal health professional who can analyze your situation and make an informed diagnosis.