Research consistently points to specific functional components of foods and beverages that may improve overall health. Eating a diet that includes foods from all the major food groups and maintaining an optimally functioning digestive system are keys to a healthy lifestyle. But people may be able to do even more.
Digestive aids can provide the extra boost necessary to achieve a healthy gut. Digestive aids are supplements that can enhance the enzymes and functions of the body and aid in the digestion of food. Some aids may help reduce gas, bloating and flatulence, while others may boost the health of digestive flora or reduce constipation. Here’s a look at some of the digestive helpers that people may consider.
The Mayo Clinic says that probiotics are a type of “good” bacteria that can help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria. Probiotics work in concert with other good bacteria already in the body.
Probiotics are found in many fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir, and can be found in concentrated supplement form. Two of the most common and well-known probiotics bacteria are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. According to Prebiotin, a prebiotic manufacturer, bifidobacteria fight harmful bacteria in the intestines, prevent constipation and give the immune system a boost. Evidence also indicates that bifidobacteria help reduce intestinal concentrations of certain carcinogenic enzymes.
Prebiotics sound similar to probiotics, but they are quite different. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says prebiotics are essentially the food necessary for probiotics to thrive. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that help promote the growth of helpful gut bacteria. Prebiotics are different forms of fiber from foods like bananas, skins of apples, beans, chicory root, and more. The undigested prebiotic is fermented by the time it reaches the large intestine and colon and feeds the probiotics to increase the desireable bacteria in the gut.
Certain foods and beverages are purported to help calm digestive problems like upset stomach, nausea and colic. Chamomile is widely used for multiple ailments, says WebMD. Ginger is used in a similar way and can be used to make teas or consumed after a meal to alleviate stomach ache.
More research is needed, but there is evidence that the supplement L-glutamine may help relieve diarrhea and help people absorb nutrients more effectively. The resource Healthline also adds that L-glutamine may help with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Tissues in the intestine use this amino acid as a fuel source to function well. L-glutamine also appears to have a role in maintaining proper barriers within the intestine.
In addition to the fiber of prebiotics, bulk fibers such as psyllium and whole grains can be key to healthy stools. Fiber absorbs water in the intestines and makes stool bulky and easier to pass.
Individuals are urged to discuss any potential plans to supplement their diets with digestive aids with a doctor before starting a new therapy.