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Digestion & Leaky Gut Supplements

Most of us have less than perfect digestion, even though some of us do not have obvious signs and symptoms. Below are some of the most common and useful supplements related to digestion. By reviewing the supplement information, you can get an idea if the supplement is one you should consider trying out based on your current digestion and/or health condition status.

Digestive Enzymes – Enzymes are made from proteins (another reason to eat sufficient protein) and perform hundreds of functions in the body. Several enzymes are specifically for breaking down food in the digestive system. When we are either protein deficient or have a poor functioning digestive system, our body may not be making enough digestive enzymes to properly break down food. Without the proper breakdown of food, we might not absorb all of our needed nutrients for good health and we can suffer from various digestion issues. Digestive enzymes can be found in the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and intestines.

Different enzymes break down different macronutrients. Bromelain, chymotrypsin, papain, pepsin, peptidase, protease, and trypsin all break down protein. Amylase, alpha galactosidase, cellulose, glucoamylase, invertase, and lactase all break down carbohydrates. Lipase and pancreatin break down fats. HCL and bile are not enzymes, but they both also work to break down food. See recommendations below regarding HCL and bile.

Many of us benefit from taking digestive enzymes. If you have less than perfect digestion, consider taking a digestive enzyme complex that contains a full spectrum of enzymes plus HCL and bile. I recommend NOW Super Enzymes or Enzymedica Digest Gold. These are both great products with multiple digestive enzymes, but each product is a little unique, so consider your needs. The NOW product contains HCL and bile which are very important for protein and fat breakdown, but does not contain lactase to breakdown lactose (dairy sugar)and has fewer carbohydrate enzymes. If you are on a Paleo, Primal, or low-carb diet this is a good choice. The Enzymedica product has many more enzymes than the NOW product, but does not contain HCL or bile. If taking this enzyme, you may need to supplement with HCL and/or Ox Bile.

*Who should consider taking digestive enzymes? Anyone who fits any of the following criteria: suffers from regular or occasional gas, bloating, indigestion, is over the age of 30, eats meat (particularly as more than 10% of the diet), has adrenal fatigue, is regularly low in energy, has vitamin and mineral deficiencies, regularly consumes large meals with over 500 calories, eats meals quickly with little chewing

HCL – HCL is hydrochloric acid, which our bodies make, and it helps break down protein and activates other digestive enzymes. Low HCL equals poor protein digestion which can create amino acid deficiencies (regardless of intake) and low HCL can also result in undigested protein particles which (when gut permeability, a.k.a. “leaky gut,” is present) can lead to food intolerances and allergies. Unfortunately, many things can inhibit the production of HCL. It is thought that at least 50% of the population is deficient in HCL production. GERD and acid reflux are two conditions that are thought to be because of too much acid production, but research actually tells us that both are because of too little HCL production.

*Did you know that low HCL can inhibit zinc absorption? Zinc has a number of functions and one is influencing testosterone. Men (and women) with low testosterone often have low HCL.

If you have not been taking any HCL at all (but think you might benefit), you should consider starting with a low dose. I recommend using the NOW Super Enzymes mentioned above which contain a low dose of HCL. If that is not enough or you know you need an HCL supplement, then try the NOW brand Betaine HCL. *DO not take HCL with a meal that does not contain over 15g of protein.

Bile – Bile is made in your liver and stored in your gallbladder (unless you don’t have one) until it’s ready to be used in the intestine to aid digestion of fat. For those with insufficient bile production or storage capabilities, ox bile is a natural supplement that has safely been used for years. It contains lipase enzymes that break down fat. If you suspect or know that you might not be breaking down fat properly, you could benefit from a bile supplement. *Milk thistle supplements can also aid in bile production.

*The liver uses cholesterol to make bile. Be sure to also “supplement” by eating cholesterol rich food like egg yolks.

I recommend starting with the ox bile contained in the NOW Super Enzymes referenced above. You may find that is all that you need. If you need more support, there are ox bile supplements, but at the present time, I do not have one that I recommend.

Bitters – The use of digestive bitters is a very old and traditional way to support the digestive system. Rather than write about the benefits of bitters, I’ll provide the link to the brand I recommend – Urban Moonshine – because they have a great post on their site about the use and benefits of bitters. They even claim it helps with sugar cravings!

Ginger – Ginger has been used for centuries as a digestive aid for indigestion, stomach spasms, stomach aches and to combat nausea. Ginger is high in protein digesting enzymes and can promote the body’s natural production of HCL. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory/antioxidant and can help combat inflammation in the digestive tract and throughout the body. It is also thought to improve circulation and respiratory function and is touted for anti-aging benefits.
You can consume ginger powder, use ginger root, make ginger tea (I recommend Yogi brand), and/or take ginger capsules. I am currently using Jarrow Formulas ginger supplement.

Probiotics – Your digestive tract contains billions of bacteria (some good, some bad) that boost (or harm) your immune system, as well as being involved with the breakdown of food so that it is more readily absorbed. You can eat prebiotic and probiotic rich food daily to help your good bacteria, but many of us need more gut support than that. Probiotic supplements can help boost the good bacteria to create an ideal balance of intestinal flora for optimal digestion. 10 billion colony-forming units daily (or more) may be necessary to combat an overgrowth of bad bacteria, a round of antibiotics, and/or significant periods of digestive upset. For regular maintenance, 2 to 5 billion CFUs is likely to be sufficient.

I like Jarrow Formulas EPS as a general probiotic for most people. *Please note this product has trace amounts of dairy and soy (if you have an allergy or intolerance). You can also choose specific probiotic strains if you know more about the types of bacteria in your own gut or have specific conditions that benefit more from specific probiotic strains. For instance, people with SIBO seem to benefit from taking S. boulardii.

Colostrum – Colostrum is a component of mother’s breast milk that helps to form the gut lining for the baby and provide antibodies. If you were not breast fed, you can have a higher likelihood of intestinal permeability later in life. However, even later in life, you can supplement with colostrum to repair a leaky gut. (And even if you were breast-fed, you can develop leaky gut later.) Colostrum can help to prevent bacterial infections in the gut and reduce the damage when bacterial infections do develop. Colostrum can help boost the immune system in the gut and help promote healthy gut flora and is considered an anti-inflammatory.

*Unrelated to digestion, colostrum has also been shown to promote muscle growth and muscle strength and endurance. Some research also indicates it helps metabolize fat and promotes skin, cartilage, joint, and organ health.

Colostrum supplements are typically from cow or goat milk. I am using Jarrow Formulas colostrum because they claim that their colostrum is from cows free of antibiotics and growth hormones and are (at least partially) pastured. And I can afford their product.

Glutamine – This is an amino acid and is one of the number one supplements to take to heal a leaky gut. *I covered glutamine under fat loss and metabolism supplements for some of its other health properties. Glutamine is anti-inflammatory and necessary for both the growth and repair of the intestinal lining since the cells in the intestine use it for fuel. I would not try to heal a leaky gut without this supplement. By helping to repair the gut, glutamine thus boosts the immune system. Glutamine should be taken as a supplement when healing the gut, but it can also be found in the following foods: spinach, parsley, cabbage, beets, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed dairy. Glutamine can also be found in homemade bone broth which I will cover separately.

The brand that I like is Millenium Sport Technologies because it is pharmaceutical grade and high quality. The link may not go directly to the product, but you can search the site for glutamine.

Bone Broth – This is a supplement that you make yourself. Bone broth is a very traditional way to heal the gut, improve digestion, take in several amino acids and minerals, and boost the immune system. Glycine, one of the amino acids in gelatin rich bone broth, can improve your overall digestion and can boost HCL production. Bone broth is very soothing to the intestines. Bone broth is easy to make and you can look online about how to do this, but I will put together a post on all the benefits of bone broth and how to make it.

Mastic Gum – This traditional Mediterranean supplement is used to combat H. pylori which is a cause of stomach ulcers, thus, mastic gum can be used to treat people with stomach ulcers. *I have not used this supplement, nor have I used it with a client. Please do your own research on it and discuss with your healthcare practitioner if you have an ulcer and/or confirmed case of H. pylori.

For a good mastic gum product, try Jarrow Formulas.