Best Supplements for Gut Health
You don’t have to go to specialty stores for supplements anymore. They’re in grocery stores, drug stores, and seemingly everywhere you shop. Supplements are an easy way for you to promote overall health and address minor problems, but there’s more to it than grabbing a brand name vitamin off the shelf.
Gut health is a common reason people turn to supplements, but for this important bodily system, not all options are created equal. Finding the right supplement to support your body requires some diagnostic investigation and specific testing to ensure you’re targeting the problem and not just a symptom.
In this article, we’ll discuss the role of supplements in integrative medicine, how to determine if you need a supplement, and the testing you or your practitioner can use to diagnose specific issues. We’ll also go through a handful of the best supplements for gut health that could help until you have a specific diagnosis.
Supplements and Integrative Medicine
Supplements are incredibly helpful when it comes to supporting the body’s natural processes and getting systems back on track when they’ve been derailed by illness or damage. In integrative medicine, they’re often used as a way to intuitively address issues that aren’t severe enough to require intensive treatments.
Although supplements might seem like just an extra benefit in your usual health routine, they can be quite powerful. Each supplement has a diagnostic purpose and is designed to help with a specific task in the body. Nowhere is this more true than in the gut. Your gut is responsible for a host of important functions, including digestion and immunity, which is why there are so many different natural remedies that can help.
Additionally, supplements can be used as a diagnostic tool in integrative medicine. For example, if someone feels too full after eating or has trouble digesting heavy meals, they might be prescribed a digestive enzyme with hydrochloric acid. If this helps, it’s an indication that the person has low stomach acid and gives a suggestion of how to solve the problem.
Sometimes a gut health issue requires sturdier treatments, such as antibiotics or a short-term prescription. Supplements can be used in tandem with or after that treatment is complete to continue supporting the body. Sometimes this might mean resolving changes caused by the treatment, such as using probiotics to repopulate your gut flora after a course of hard-hitting antibiotics. Other times it could be an alternative path to a conventional treatment that someone is becoming resistant to.
You can see how supplements play a diverse role in both diagnosis and healing in integrative medicine. So how do you determine if they’re the right solution for you?
Do You Need Gut Supplements?
Plenty of people have a probiotic in their fridge that they take daily. After all, it’s so commonly recommended for overall gut health that it seems like a no-brainer. But if you’re experiencing stomach pain, gas, bloating, or other GI symptoms, you might be wondering if you need supplements for more than just general maintenance.
The short answer is yes. As discussed above, the right supplements can help specific problems. But the wrong supplement can make the issue worse. Some people start taking a probiotic thinking it will alleviate their symptoms, only to find they feel worse with the added “help.” This indicates a deeper problem, such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
If you find yourself doing the “right” things—taking commonly recommended supplements, monitoring your diet, etc.—but feeling worse, it means you’re not on the right track of treatment. Supplements can help significantly with many GI issues, but you have to know what you’re treating to do it effectively.
So if you’re wondering whether or not you should add some supplements to your daily routine, ask yourself these three questions:
- Have you been diagnosed with a GI problem?
- Has your doctor recommended any supplements for this problem?
- Are you sure you’re treating the right thing?
Medicine can sometimes make things worse rather than better, so it’s important not to dive into supplements without diagnostic testing and an established treatment plan. If you have a problem and know you’ll need supplements to resolve it, there are a few steps to take to find the perfect fit for your situation.
How to Find the Right Supplements
First and foremost, you need to establish what your problem is beyond just the symptoms it creates. If you have stomach pain, what seems to trigger it? If you struggle with bloating, are there any foods that make things worse? Finding the root of your issue helps your doctor decide on the most likely cause.
A few questions we regularly ask our clients for this purpose are:
- Do you find protein-rich meals don’t digest well or sit heavy in your stomach? This could be an indication of low stomach acid. We might try adding apple cider vinegar to the diet to see if this improves symptoms and confirm the theory.
- Do high fat meals cause pain or trouble with bowel movements? Especially for people without a gallbladder, issues with digesting fat can be painful and trigger diarrhea after meals. If a patient struggles to digest high fat meals, it could be a sign of gallbladder distress.
- Do high carb meals cause gas, bloating, or pain? Reactions to carbs could be a problem with carb digestion, such as a gluten intolerance, or point to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut that’s feeding on the carbs and releasing gas into the abdomen.
The answers to these questions can give your physician a heading for their search. Once they have an idea of what the problem might be, they can use diagnostic tests to investigate each possibility.
Run the Right Test
Running tests are important, but running the right test is critical. There are plenty of ways to test for different GI issues, but some are significantly more reliable than others. For example, the best method to test for SIBO and H. pylori infections is a breath test. Stool samples are great for finding parasites, infections, and candida.
When it comes to GI testing, you should be very confident in the way your provider explains the course of action and your test results. They should offer a research-based explanation of why they’re choosing a specific type of testing and review the results with you thoroughly. After your meeting, you should know exactly what the problem is, how to fix it, and what your next steps are.
Address a Specific Issue
Now that you have a diagnosis, you can address the specific problem causing your discomfort. Working with your doctor, it’s now time to choose the right supplements to support your body’s healing process.
Your physician will suggest certain supplements along with a treatment plan. Be sure to follow what your doctor recommends and not necessarily whatever is on the supplement packaging. You may need to take more or less than what the packaging states to resolve your specific issue.
It’s also important to note that not all supplements are lifelong diet companions. Some supplements, such as antifungals or antimicrobials, are very strong and shouldn’t be taken for long periods of time. Your doctor will tell you how long to continue use of a supplement and when it’s time to stop.
Common Supplements That Promote Gut Health
Among the long list of supplements that promote gut health, there are a handful you’ve probably heard about. Here are some of the most common GI supplements:
- Probiotics — Perhaps the most commonly recommended, probiotics help promote a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut. Certain strands and blends address certain conditions, so consult with your doctor before choosing a probiotic.
- L glutamine — This supplement is an amino acid that helps to repair the lining of your intestines and promotes good bacteria growth. Too much, however, can lead to leaky gut syndrome, so consult with your doctor for proper dosage.
- Inulin — Found in various foods, inulin is a great source of prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics can make some conditions worse, so be sure to consult with your doctor before adding this to your diet.
- Ginger and Peppermint— Most people use ginger and peppermint in tea or lozenge form. Both these herbs are excellent at reducing inflammation and soothing an irritated gut. In some cases, the strength might irritate your stomach further, so ask your doctor before starting with these herbal supplements.
Take the First Step to Feeling Better
Supplements are a great way to support your gut health, but they aren’t as straightforward as you think. Any time you want to add a new supplement to your diet, speak with your doctor first. They’ll assess your symptoms, perform some tests, and decide on the best supplements to solve your problem.
At Ethos Integrative Medicine, we’re happy to help clients choose supplements that are right for them. Schedule your consultation today to see how we can help your gut health!