These days, it seems like no matter what ailment or issue you’re asking about, someone’s bound to recommend supplements. It’s never a bad idea to do your research before jumping onto the latest self-care bandwagon though, especially when you’re trying to treat serious digestive health concerns—and that’s exactly what this article is for!
We’re breaking down the facts on every supplement that science says can help with your gastrointestinal health, so you know what to avoid and what to add to your shopping cart.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s talk about what exactly supplements are. If you ever took those dinosaur-shaped vitamins made for kids, then you’re actually already familiar with supplements—any tablet you take to compensate for the nutrients you don’t get from your diet (like those dinosaurs) counts as a dietary supplement.
Aside from vitamins, supplements can help you get minerals, herbs, enzymes, and many other nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. They don’t have to come in pill form, either. Many supplements are sold as powders, capsules, gummies, or even energy bars.
As you can probably tell by now, there are countless different kinds of supplements on the market. Luckily, you don’t have to research every one of them to know what’s going to help with your digestive symptoms.
Here are the most effective supplements for treating gastrointestinal health issues.
If you’ve ever seen a milk commercial, you know that calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones. Unfortunately, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), acid-reducing medications commonly prescribed for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can make it harder for your body to absorb calcium. Over time, this can lead to osteoporosis (a.k.a. weak, brittle bones).
“If you need to be on proton pump inhibitors for a prolonged time,” says gastroenterologist and Evens Medical Director Dr. Heather Gerst, “you can take a daily calcium citrate supplement.”
Why citrate? “The citrate form will be absorbed regardless of the amount of acid in the stomach,” Dr. Gerst explains, “and will help keep bones strong.”
Fiber is a special type of carb that doesn’t get digested when you eat it. High-fiber diets have been shown in clinical research to have plenty of health benefits, including reducing your risk of developing heart disease, hypertension (a.k.a. high cholesterol), diabetes, and even colon cancer.
If the long-term benefits aren’t enough to get you excited about fiber, you should know that it can also help relieve certain symptoms of GERD and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including diarrhea and constipation. That means that if staying regular is a concern for you, fiber supplements may be the way to go.
You can find fiber supplements sold as powders, tablets, wafers, and more. No matter which form you go with, be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid bloating. In the market for a supplement? Our research-backed psyllium fiber could be just what you’re looking for.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a lot of roles in your body, including regulating your blood pressure, keeping your immune system strong, and helping your muscles and nerves work properly. You may have tried magnesium before if you have trouble sleeping or suffer from chronic headaches, because it can help the neurons in your brain relax.
This multi-purpose mineral has a similar effect on your intestines, relaxing the muscles of your digestive tract to help keep things running smoothly. So how do you know when it’s time to try magnesium?
“Magnesium may be an option for people who have tried diet changes and fiber supplements and are still struggling with constipation,” Dr. Gerst says. “It can interfere with some prescription medications though, so it is important to talk to your doctor before starting a magnesium supplement.” That’s especially true for people who have kidney problems.
Like getting supplements delivered to your door? Check out our expert-approved magnesium tablets.
Peppermint isn’t just a tasty treat—it’s also a popular home remedy for IBS symptoms. But we know what you’re wondering—does it actually work?
Well, the American College of Gastroenterology recommended peppermint oil for IBS treatment back in 2018, and newer studies continue to produce evidence that it can help with symptoms like stomach pain.
That doesn’t mean anybody can benefit from trying peppermint oil. In fact, this supplement comes with an important caveat from Dr. Gerst for people with acid reflux.
“Because peppermint relaxes smooth muscles, it also relaxes the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus.” Dr. Gerst explains. “That means people who suffer from GERD may experience even worse heartburn if they take peppermint oil.”
If just hearing the word “bacteria” makes you feel a little sick, you should get to know probiotics. Unlike the disease-causing germs you’re probably thinking of, probiotics are bacteria that actually benefit your gut.
In fact, these bacteria (and yeasts) are essential for maintaining a healthy microbiome, the diverse ecosystem of tiny microorganisms that live in your digestive system and keep it working properly. Probiotics also boost the health of your immune system and your metabolism.
If you’re not getting enough probiotics from your diet, Evens can help you bring your gut back into balance.
Nope, that’s not a typo. Prebiotics are actually the food that probiotics and other beneficial microorganisms need to stay alive in your body and keep you healthy.
You can find prebiotics in foods like artichokes, bananas, garlic, greens, soybeans, and whole grains. If you’re taking a probiotic supplement, then the prebiotics you get from your diet may not be enough to keep your new friends going strong in your stomach. Adding a prebiotic supplement can help ensure you get the most from your probiotics.
Generally, supplements are composed of things you’d already find in food or in your body, so they usually don’t cause many side effects. But that doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new treatment, even a natural one like a supplement. You’ll want to mention if you have kidney or liver disease, if your immune system is compromised, or if you’re taking any prescription medications (especially blood thinners).
Supplements might not be the cure-all they’re sometimes cracked up to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a big difference in your digestive health. Now that you have the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about which (if any) supplements can help you, it’s time to talk to a healthcare provider about taking the next step.
Still not sure which supplement might be right for you? Take our five-minute quiz to get a personalized recommendation.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Allie Lehman via Death to Stock