The 4 Best Supplements For Your Gut Issues — And Those To Totally Avoid
Photograph by James Garaghty
Pharmacy shelves are practically groaning under the weight of new stomach health meds. But some deliver more hype than help. Here, which to swallow and which to skip…
1. For Long-Term Health
Take This: Probiotics
The one gut supplement every woman should take, daily probiotics are composed of healthy bacteria. Sounds gross, but the stuff fortifies your existing microflora and softens the damage done by a high-octane, eat-and-run lifestyle, says Dr Frank Lipman. Opt for live, refrigerated versions that include at least a few bacterial strains, including lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. And always follow the package directions.
Not That: Prebiotics
They aren’t bacteria – they are food for bacteria. Yes, they feed microflora, but you can get plenty of the same nourishment from plant-based foods such as nuts and leafy greens. Plus, many probiotic supplements already come preloaded with prebiotics.
2. For An Easy Lift
Take This: Kefir
It packs around 500kJ, but a serving of this fermented dairy drink (prepared by mixing live kefir grains into milk) can include up to 50 different probiotic strains. It’s also chock-full of potassium, calcium, protein and vitamins A, C and D. A study found a regular swig reduced people’s gastric distress by 70 percent.
Not That: Sugary Yoghurts
Don’t be fooled by “probiotic” label claims – any bacterial benefits these yoghurts have may be negated by other ingredients. Some types contain up to 31g of gut-irritating sugar, which “destroys healthy bacteria and allows pathogens to grow,” says Dr Fred Pescatore, author of Boost Your Health With Bacteria. “The best yoghurt is the one you make yourself with a live culture. Many commercial yoghurts don’t contain enough probiotics,” says Dr Apostol Pappas.
3. For Gas And Bloating
Take this: Enzymes
Digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase and protease may ward off bloat and gas by speeding up the breakdown of carbs, proteins and fatty acids. Since they also occur naturally in your body and you flush whatever you don’t use, enzyme supplements can be effective and low risk, says Pescatore.
Not that: Psyllium
Because it helps sweep food through the GI tract, psyllium, a fibrous plant husk, is widely used to battle bloat.
But beware: it can spark allergic reactions, especially in those who have problems with pollen. Plus, overloading on fibre can actually aggravate IBD and IBS symptoms.
4. For Pain Relief
Take This: Turmeric
The spice is becoming a gut-health superstar. Studies show that its active compound, curcumin, has major anti-inflammatory properties and might even slow the growth of colon-cancer cells. It’s also an ace at reducing painful cramping and bladder-control issues. Check with a pharmacist to make sure it doesn’t interact with your medication.
Not That: Liquorice Extract
Used for centuries as a salve for stomach aches and ulcer pain, liquorice root extract might have ugly side effects. The supplement contains a compound called glycyrrhizin that has been linked to headaches, high blood pressure and heart problems.
*Supplements are not regulated like other medication so check with your doc before using them – especially if you’re pregnant or taking other medication.