Digestion: Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone
It’s easy to take digestion for granted when it’s going well. But, when it’s not, you can feel bloated, overly full, constipated, and generally miserable. It can even affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
You might not realize it, but the digestive tract is one of the most complicated systems in the human body. But, your body knows what to do and is happy to do it when given the right conditions. If your system is out of whack and any of the above symptoms ring a bell with you, read on for some effective ways to get things moving again.
Ginger is an herb that most of us have probably heard of and associate with digestion. Did you know that the beneficial part of the plant is actually the root? In fact, ginger and turmeric are in the same plant family and, in both cases, it is the root that is consumed medicinally. Ginger grows in warm climates and most of the world’s ginger comes from India. Its medicinal use dates back over 2000 years to China and India. Have you ever tried raw ginger? It has a pungent spicy and somewhat citrusy flavor. You may have enjoyed it in Asian or Indian cuisine, among others! And, yes, in case you didn’t know, this is the same ginger that gives ginger ale its bite and gingerbread cookies that distinct, well, gingerbread, flavor. There are a lot of good reasons that it’s been around and used as a medicine for several thousand years. Ginger has antiviral and antibiotic properties along with anti-inflammatory properties. Because of these qualities, ginger can help in all stages of digestion. There are many studies that show that ginger aids in digestion, but a notable study in 2011 showed that it can even improve gastric motility and dyspepsia (poor digestion). 
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, made from fermented apple juice, has been around for a long time. Some believe it is as old as 5000 years or more. Ancient vessels containing traces of it have been found in Egypt and China. We might not know it’s exact age, but we do know that it’s great for digestion. But the reason why it helps may be a surprise to you. What most people don’t realize is that symptoms of poor digestion such as heartburn or reflux are often (and usually) caused by a lack of stomach acid instead of too much stomach acid. That’s right! The reason you may not have gotten relief from antacids or you may have even gotten worse is because those medications often exacerbate the problem. Your already low stomach acid was being further reduced. This is where apple cider vinegar, often called ACV, comes in. When taking approximately a teaspoon in eight ounces of water about twenty minutes before a meal, the acid in your stomach increases due to the ACV and you will digest your meal much better. You do want to be sure to swish with a little water or brush your teeth after using ACV to protect your tooth enamel from the acid. 
Medicinal use of peppermint has been around for ages. Its use dates back to Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Peppermint tea has been a go-to for digestive issues for many centuries. The menthol in the mint is the active ingredient that works its magic in the digestive tract. Not only is mint anti-spasmodic (relaxing the muscles in the digestive tract), but it also encourages increased bile production by the liver. This helps break down fats more quickly which makes digestion easier on your system. This makes peppermint a great herb to consider for occasional heartburn. You can take it in tea form, in a supplement, or you can take peppermint oil in capsules. (If you have reflux concerns, you may find that mint aggravates the problem, however. Since it does relax muscles, it has the potential to relax the already compromised sphincter in the esophagus which allows food to flow back up rather than down as it is meant to.) 
We have digestive enzymes* throughout our digestive tracts. They start in our mouth and go all the way through to the small intestine. These microscopic protein strands glued together with amino acids help our bodies get what we need out of the food we eat. 
Digestive enzymes are needed as they break food down into smaller particles that can be used by the body. Here are the enzymes and what they break down:
- Alpha-galactosidase breaks down the starches in foods, such as beans, which are notoriously difficult to digest and often result in bloating and gas
- Amylase converts carbohydrates and starches into sugars we can use for energy production
- Lactase targets lactose (the sometimes troublesome sugar found in dairy products) and converts it to other types of sugars the body can use
- Lipase converts fats and triglycerides into essential fatty acids which are used for many of the functions throughout the body
- Protease breaks down protein into amino acids which are usable by the body
If you find that you have a lot of digestive discomfort on a regular basis, you may want to give digestive enzymes a try. They are a safe way to help your system better handle food and may be just what you need to jumpstart your return to digestive health.
Since digestive enzymes are meant to break down food, they are best taken with food. If you take them much before eating, you will not get the benefit they are meant to provide. If you have digestive issues, it’s easy and convenient to take a combined formula that contains all of the digestive enzymes. If you have a specific digestive issue such as lactose intolerance, for example, it’s a good idea to take lactase with your first bite since that is the specific enzyme for lactose digestion. *Digestive enzymes are not to be confused with systemic enzymes whose main job is to support the vital functions within your body such as respiratory, cardiovascular, immune, and inflammatory responses. The job of these enzymes, like all enzymes, is to break matter down, but, in this case, it is not food that is broken down but dead cells and the like. But that’s a topic for another time…
- Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia (wjgnet.com)
- Naturopathic Approach to Functional Dyspepsia: A Case Report – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders – PubMed (nih.gov)
The information provided here is for educational purposes only. None of the research or evidence presented here is intended as a substitute for consulting an appropriate healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you believe that you may have a disease condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before using this or any other dietary supplement.