A Guest Post by Silvia Watson
‘Tis the season to be jolly, to eat well and – perhaps – to take a digestive aid!
An Honorable History
Humans have been feasting since primitive times. And they probably needed a digestive aid more than once along the way. A glance at Wikipedia reveals many a digestive aid whose use is enshrined in natural medicine and folk wisdom: peppermint, chervil, kaolin, kala namak and mukhwas (India), umeboshi (Japan) and Chinese hawthorn. And if you have ventured to try them, it’s unlikely that you’ll soon forget the taste of some popular European alcoholic “digestifs“: grappa, eau de vie, becherovka, ouzo, aquavit, Jägermeister, Fernet-Branca, Sambuca and Unterberg.
The Modern Digestive Aid
Today, if you look for a digestive aid in a pharmacy or vitamin store you are likely to encounter a product based on our modern understanding of digestion.
All human beings have natural enzymes that aid in the digestion of food. They occur in the body naturally. However, some people might need to take an extra dose of these enzymes in tablet, liquid or powder form. These medicines cum enzymes help in the treatment of myriad digestive disorders.
Normally the stomach, liver and pancreas secrete the majority of the digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. When a person’s digestive system is unable to produce the optimum amount of digestive enzyme due to injury, illness or the side-effect of other medication, he or she might need a digestive aid.
When A Digestive Aid Might Be Called For
There are three instances where a digestive aid might be justified and helpful, which we will now discuss.
1. Diagnosed Disease
There are a number of diseases either caused by or manifesting digestive symptoms. A medical professional may prescribe a digestive aid for the following conditions:
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Frequent indigestion
Additionally, many proteolytic enzymes are capable of reducing LDL cholesterol. The patient can take these between lunch and dinner, or before eating breakfast. The effectiveness of these enzymes depends upon their composition and the person’s metabolism.
2. Occasional Overindulgence
In this case, the cause might be one of those holiday feasts!
Many people suffer digestive distress only rarely. And they can often point to its origin: an unusually large, or highly seasoned, or over-sweet mountain of food. On the other hand, a surfeit of alcohol could also qualify.
In this case, your digestive system may be functioning normally but is suffering a temporary overload. The most common digestive response to such an excess is to generate more stomach acid, which can lead to a stomach ache and acid reflux.
A typical treatment addresses both the presence of stomach acid and its continued generation. Taking an acid blocker (H-2-receptor blocker or proton pump inhibitor) can turn down the generation rate of acid. And taking an antacid can neutralize excess acid already present.
In an extreme case, you may suffer nausea or vomiting. In this case, the body is eliminating excess acid by the fastest possible means: expulsion! It’s too late to take a digestive aid to calm the system. Your best bet here may be to suffer through it, sipping water to avoid dehydration. And when you eat and drink again, choose highly digestible foods and beverages to allow your insides to recover.
3. Chronic Digestive Symptoms
What if you try to eat healthy food, but you have repeated digestive problems with no easily diagnosed disease? Then both the cause and the treatment are more subtle. You may wish to consult a holistic physician or integrative healthcare provider. On the other hand, many people prefer to try one or another digestive aid on their own.
If you are suffering from lack of appetite, IBS, chronic nausea, recurrent acidity, excessive gas or other digestive issues, a digestive aid can help you restore your digestive system to its optimal function. Research shows that indigestion can be a result of imbalance of the gut microbes. Each of us has a delicate balance of microflora in the gut that helps in the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrition.
However, disruption of gut flora can cause more than indigestion. It can contribute to a number of diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colorectal cancer and mental problems.
One special case occurs when you are taking a prescribed antibiotic to treat an unrelated disease or infection. Some broad-spectrum antibiotics cause indigestion by killing the microflora and creating an imbalance of the digestive juices. Taking probiotic supplements as a digestive aid can be effective in such situations. Probiotic food includes natural yogurt, which has rich colonies of lactic acid bacteria.
For example, some studies on people with IBS show that taking supplements of probiotics as a digestive aid led to a significant reduction of symptoms like nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, stool frequency and abdominal pain. Complementing digestive enzymes with probiotics increases the absorption of nutrients and reduces the stomach problems that come with IBS.
Incomplete digestion is more dangerous than we give it credit for. Without the right levels of digestive enzymes, it can be impossible to break down the complex molecules of protein, fat and carbohydrate that we usually eat. Digestive enzyme supplements can break these big molecules into small simpler forms that our bodies can absorb and utilize. However, incomplete digestion can also signal a more serious condition such as gastroparesis. If your chronic conditions are not easily controlled and include vomiting, bloating and weight loss, you should consult a doctor.
What To Know Before Buying A Digestive Aid
Digestive enzymes are now widely available on online pharmacies. However, there is conflicting evidence of their effectiveness.
You can buy several renowned brand-name digestive aids with price discounts available online. However, it is always advisable to check the reviews from genuine customers before taking any health supplement. Some digestive enzymes can have strong side-effects including increased appetite, bloating, nausea and abdominal pain. Speak to your healthcare expert, in case you think digestive enzymes can benefit your health.
This discussion has covered the ways in which a digestive aid may, and may not, be beneficial. The safest advice is to proceed with caution, and to consult your healthcare professional if digestive distress persists without an obvious cause.
Image Credit: Insurance by Tumisu on pixabay.com.