Gut Healthy Supplements
Updated: Nov 10, 2018
Welcome to Part 2 of our series about gut health! Now that we’ve set the stage and clarified exactly what the gut is and WHY it is so important, we wanted to go over a few key supplements that you should consider incorporating into your diet to support the digestive system and help heal a “leaky gut.”
You might ask “what exactly is a leaky gut?” It is actually quite common- and you may not even know you have it! Leaky gut is the less fancy name for “increased intestinal permeability” and refers to when the tight junctions (the spaces between the single layer of cells lining the intestinal wall) have been damaged. This disruption in the integrity of the intestinal walls allows everything from undigested food particles to bacteria to “leak” through the wall and into the blood stream. What is the problem with this? One word- inflammation.
Your immune system sees these undigested food particles as “foreign invaders” and mounts a response against them. This response, while helpful in the case of infection with bacteria or viruses, causes inflammation throughout the body and can lead to everything from joint pain to skin issues and thyroid disorders. Perhaps a little more obvious, it can also lead to a plethora of digestive issues including nutrient malabsorption, gas/bloating, and irregular bowel habits. What can cause leaky gut in the first place? So. Many. Things! Gluten and an overgrowth of unhealthy gut bacteria (aka SIBO, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) and yeast are perhaps the most common culprits. Its also suspected that excess sugar, alcohol, and dairy play a role. I could go on and on about how exactly all of this happens, but I will spare you for now!
Even if you don’t have leaky gut or other digestive issues, you could stand to support your GI system a little better. As Jaci alluded to in last week’s post, the gut is central to EVERYTHING in the body. Your mental AND physical health depend on a well-functioning digestive system. While your diet is by far the most important factor in the gut health equation, I am going to leave that one to Jaci in next week’s post- so stay tuned! For now, we are going to direct our focus to what supplements you can take to support your gut.
Your gut contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria are responsible for numerous functions including protection from infection, absorption of nutrients, production of B vitamins and vitamin K2, and maintenance of healthy GI motility (in other words, keeping you “regular”) (1 , 2) . In a healthy gut the number of beneficial bugs FAR outweighs the number of nasty ones. However, anything and everything from antibiotics to stress and processed foods can throw off this delicate balance- a condition known as dysbiosis. A probiotic can be helpful in bringing this ratio back into balance. But not just any probiotic will do! Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a probiotic-
High CFUs– CFUs can be thought of as the “dose” of the probiotic supplement and stands for Colony Forming Units. You should look for a probiotic with 10-100 billion CFUs, depending on if you want one for digestive health or have a specific digestive problem (ie. IBS or antibiotic associated diarrhea). This is just a general rule as optimal doses of probiotics have yet to be fully clarified by the research.
Strain Diversity– Look for a probiotic supplement with multiple strains of bacteria in it. Similar to CFUs, the research has yet to fully clarify exactly which strains are the most helpful for specific conditions, but B. longum, B. bifidum, B. infantis, L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, and L. fermentum are ones to look for.
Stability– The last thing you want to do is invest money into a probiotic supplement that doesn’t give you what you pay for! Check the label for a statement that says the company guarantees the potency until the time of expiration. You also want to pay close attention to whether the product needs refrigeration. If not, keep it in a cool, dry place.
Digestive enzymes are especially important if you have any digestive issues (3) . Enzymes help to properly break down the proteins and carbohydrates that you ingest, thereby increasing nutrient absorption and taking some of the stress off of the GI tract. If you aren’t breaking down your food properly, undigested particles can provide food for the “bad” bacteria in your intestine and lead to dysbiosis.
In addition to those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), patients with acid reflux may benefit from taking digestive enzymes. When shopping for digestive enzymes, be sure and look for a broad spectrum one that contains a variety of enzymes including amylases (break down complex carbohydrates), proteases (break down proteins), lipases (break down fats), lactases (break down lactose in dairy), and invertases (break down simple carbohydrates). Take your enzyme BEFORE you eat your meal rather than with it.
DGL, aka deglycrrhizinated licorice root, can help maintain the integrity of the mucosal lining of the GI tract. Licorice root that has not had the glycrrhizinated component removed can cause issues with hyptertension, therefore DGL is a safer option to use long term. I would still recommend that you be cautious and monitor your blood pressure while taking it if you have a history of hypertension. The typical dose of DGL is 300-500mg twice daily before meals.
L-glutamine is an essential amino acid that is particularly beneficial in those with leaky gut. Remember those tight junctions I mentioned earlier? Well L-glutamine can actually help restores their integrity, thus “repairing” leaky gut (4) . In addition to its digestive benefits, L-glutamine supports muscle tissue repair and can help you recover post-workout. The typical dose for L-glutamine is 2-5gm of L-glutamine powder 2-3 times daily.
Last but certainly not least, collagen is something that you should consider incorporating into your gut health routine. Jaci will be alluding to this support protein in next week’s blog post as it is the main beneficial component of bone broth- a food that recently has taken the nutrition world by storm. While collagen’s potential effect on joint, skin, and nail health is what has fueled its rise in popularity, it also contains amino acids (namely proline and glycine) that help to support and repair the intestinal lining. In other words, it is a great supplement to take if you are suffering from leaky gut type symptoms. While you can get collagen from ingesting bone broth, it may be helpful to take a pure collagen protein. We love this one from Vital Proteins and use it in everything from our coffee to our smoothies. I promise, you can’t even taste it!
I get it, the amount of gut health supplements on the market can be overwhelming at best! I hope this post has helped to narrow it down for you. The reality is that gut health is a massive topic and the research is continuously growing, so condensing it into a single blog post is not an easy task. I also want to re-emphasize how important nutrition is in the equation. You can take all of the gut healthy supplements in the world, but if you are not consuming quality foods they will be of no use. On that note, be sure and check back for our final blog post in our series- Gut Healthy Foods!
Until next time, continue to Follow Your Gut!