Five vitamins and minerals for a healthy digestive system
Vitamins and minerals are important for a healthy gut, and I often get asked for my recommendations. Here's my top five, as told to the Daily Express online.
The bowel is an integral part of your digestive system. It helps break down food so your body can absorb nutrients from it, then moves waste through the colon and out of the body through your stools. Keeping this process running smoothly helps reduce your risk of chronic digestive problems like constipation and bloating, and more serious conditions like bowel cancer.
I often get asked for my top supplements for a healthy bowel. While I'm happy to recommend the best, don’t let them replace a healthy diet with plenty of fibre: essential for bowel health. Evidence from the World Cancer Research Fund shows that high-dose supplements may increase cancer risk, so don’t rely on them for digestive health – always aim to boost your vitamins and minerals through food where you can.
1. Magnesium supports nervous system function, and its muscle relaxing effect may ease stomach aches and cramps. Magnesium draws water into the bowel, softening stools and triggering the urge to use the toilet, so it can be useful if you get constipation. Many everyday foods are rich in magnesium, from porridge oats and dairy to green leafy vegetables and fish. If you struggle to include enough of these foods into your diet, you could try a supplement. I recommend magnesium citrate, usually found as a powder that you mix into water. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water or herbal tea to naturally support softer stools.
2. Probiotic supplements provide bacteria similar to the live colonies of microorganisms already living in our large bowel. Probiotic supplements are well-studied, and safe for most people. There’s sound evidence that probiotics can reduce the frequency of loose stools, particularly traveller's diarrhoea and diarrhoea following a course of antibiotics. Make sure you take your probiotic supplement for at least four to eight weeks to see if it’s helping. A supplement containing bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, two common strains of bacteria in our gut, is a good choice. Check the label to see if you need to store it in the fridge. Top up your levels with live natural yoghurt, which is also high in probiotic bacteria.
3. If you suffer with diarrhoea, try a mineral-based intestinal adsorbent, like Enterosgel (£20.80 www.enteromed.co.uk), which is scientifically proven to help reduce diarrhoea, whether from an acute bout of gastroenteritis or ongoing irritable bowel syndrome. Enterosgel binds to harmful substances in the digestive tract, including bacterial toxins, and removes them with the stool. Enterosgel has a neutral taste and mixes easily into water; and because it is drug-free and gentle, it’s suitable for families with young children.
4. L-glutamine is an amino acid, a building block of protein that’s essential for well-functioning digestion. L-glutamine is the main fuel source for the cells that line your gut and is thought to help maintain a strong barrier function. If you experience frequent digestive problems like pain or bloating, try taking L-glutamine in supplement form for two to three months and monitor the effects. Building up the mucous membrane that lines your bowel may also help boost gut immunity. However, it’s important not to take L-glutamine if you have cancer or are at higher risk of developing it.
5. Digestive enzymes break down food in the gut, helping the body access nutrients. If you often feel bloated or have excess wind, your body may not be producing enough digestive enzymes. Choose a supplement that includes a broad range of enzymes for the best effect. The digestive enzyme lactase can also be helpful for people who are lactose-intolerant. Take lactase tablets at the same time as the food containing lactose, for instance cow’s milk; or add drops to milk and leave for 24 hours before drinking. It can help you more easily digest dairy products – plus you’re still benefiting from their calcium content which works to boost digestive enzyme production.
Read my full interview with the Daily Express online here.