Stomach Troubles This Summer? Here Are 4 Essential Supplements That Can Help
There's a lot of uncertainty right now, which can cause stress and take a toll on our bodies and immune systems. One of the big ways many are feeling this impact is through digestive issues—whether it's constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or reflux.
According to integrative physician Amy Shah, M.D., our nervous system plays a big part in this problem. The nervous system is made up of two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and repair, and the sympathetic nervous system, which revolves around the body's fight-or-flight response. "When you are in a state of panic or emergency that your brain signals as danger, it activates that sympathetic arm," says Shah. "It's really useful for dangerous situations, prioritizing essential functions, like bringing blood flow to your muscles and keeping your heart beating."
In the current situation amid COVID-19, however, the sustained activation of the sympathetic nervous system begins to negatively affect the body. "Your body is laser-focused on survival, so digestion functions are really at the lowest level of importance," says Shah. "So, if you're trying to eat while you're in the sympathetic activation zone, you're really not going to be able to digest as well."
We consulted Shah to identify some key nutrients that can aid with digestion during these times of stress, and how different supplements can give an extra boost to those who need it.
Probiotics are actual bacteria that can either replace or support the bacteria existing in the gut. As Shah says, "A huge part of our nervous system revolves around our gut," so probiotics are an essential way of boosting the gut's bacteria and maintaining normal digestive function. Support your bacteria through supplements and probiotic foods, like yogurt or kombucha. "People need to understand that the role of the gut bacteria is not just to help with digestion, but it is constantly communicating with everything: our immune system, our hormones, our brain. They are an essential part of our body's army," says Shah.
While typically used to treat symptoms of nausea, this plant has a wide array of health benefits and has been used in ayurveda for thousands of years, according to Shah. "The active ingredient in ginger is gingerol," she says, "which is very anti-inflammatory and also antioxidant, so it helps all over the body." Shah suggests an incorporation of ginger into the diet of anyone suffering from chronic indigestion or upset stomach, as the compound helps with both relieving nausea and emptying the stomach.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a drink with numerous benefits, and one of the more natural ways to support digestion, says Shah. It's known for improving gut health, with the acidity contributing to the breakdown of food in a person's digestive system. Shah warns that overuse can lead to ulcers and could possibly create more digestive issues, so she suggests diluting it with water in order to avoid prolonged exposure in the esophagus.
Digestive enzymes help the body to break down and process food that enters it. According to Shah, digestive enzymes are especially helpful for those who can't produce enzymes on their own—if you have a chronic health condition, or your body can't break down food on its own. Foods like pineapple, papaya, and avocado all have natural digestive enzymes that help support the body's digestion.