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Can Supplements Help With Bloating and Other Digestive Issues?

November 28, 2022

Do you struggle with bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea or other digestive health issues? Chances are, you’ve thought about turning to the growing digestive supplement industry. Digestive health supplements, marketed aggressively as a “natural” way to alleviate your stomach woes, are projected to grow more than $1 billion in 2022. But do they actually work? Jamie Allers, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDN, a registered dietitian with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Center, weighs in on some of the most popular supplements and what you need to know. > Connect with a digestive health specialist

First, look at your diet

If someone is experiencing digestive issues such as bloating, gas or difficulty with bowel movements, finding the root cause should be the first step, not loading the shopping cart at the health food store. “Our first question is always, what are you eating?” Allers said. “If you are experiencing GI issues, what’s causing it? Because if you don’t know the cause you might not be using the right supplements.”

Could there be an underlying cause?

Allers said persistent bloating shouldn’t be considered normal, and you should consult your doctor before reaching for supplements. It could be caused by a dietary issue such as a food allergy or intolerance, a lack of fiber, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, to name a few. > Want more health news? Text MoreLife to 31996 to sign up for text alerts

Before reaching for the supplements, check the ingredients

It’s important to remember that supplements are largely unregulated, and their claims are often not scientifically supported, said Allers. And when it comes to common supplements, there are important details to know. “Sometimes supplements have other ingredients in them that can cause different problems,” she said. Those ingredients can affect prescription medications you may be taking, or exacerbate the bloating and gas you are already experiencing.

If digestive supplements are right for you, consider these options

1. Probiotics Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut. Allers said probiotics is the most common supplement people use, but she said it’s important to take the right one. The most popular probiotics are made with bifidobacterium, bacteria that normally lives in your intestines and stomach and helps your body with digestion. 2. Ginger, peppermint, cinnamon Ginger is an herb commonly taken as a supplement to relieve digestive distress and treat nausea, vomiting and morning sickness. Peppermint is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains L-menthol, a compound that suppresses muscle spasms in the intestines to help treat digestive issues. Cinnamon oil is widely used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of digestive ailments. Allers said these three supplements in food form can be safe to take without consulting a doctor because they are benign. Fresh ginger steeped in warm water, peppermint tea, or cinnamon can have a calming effect on the stomach. 3. Digestive enzymes Digestive enzymes are naturally produced in your body to help break down the nutrients in foods into smaller compounds to promote proper digestion, specifically fats, proteins and carbs. Allers said there are certain medical conditions, including some cancers, that cause the body to not produce enough of these enzymes. Until recently, digestive enzymes were only available by prescription, but they are now available over the counter. The best way to know if digestive enzyme supplementation would be helpful for you is to work with a provider, Allers noted. 4. Psyllium Psyllium is a fiber derived from Plantago ovata, an herb grown in many parts of South Asia, Europe and North America. Its bulk-forming laxative is found in over the counter products like Metamucil. “It can be a little gentler on the gut than some others,” Allers said, “but depending on what the actual problem is, sometimes a fiber supplement like this can make things worse.”