January 03 2024
Supporting Gastrointestinal Health
Gastrointestinal health may be defined as a state of physical and mental well-being in the absence of gastrointestinal complaints. Symptoms of gastrointestinal distress are common in the general population and may include dyspepsia, flatulence, bloating, regurgitation, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, food intolerance, incontinence, abdominal pain and cramps, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Defining Gastrointestinal Health
To better define gut health, researchers have proposed 5 categories of gut health. The list includes:
- Normal nutrition status, regular bowl movements, and normal stool.
- Absence of gastrointestinal illnesses such as peptic disease, reflux, inflammatory diseases, IBD, among others.
- Normal and stable microbiota including no bacterial overgrowth or GI infections.
- Effective immune status including effective intestinal barrier function and mucus production.
- Status of well-being including balanced serotonin production.
More than Nutrient Uptake
The digestive tract is involved in more than nutrients uptake from our diet. It plays a role in allergy prevention, infection prevention, and communication with the brain in regard to energy homeostasis and even mood. A key element of gastrointestinal function is gastrointestinal barrier integrity.
The gastrointestinal barrier functions as not only a barrier of entry for potential pathogens, but also as an immune system moderator by the barrier’s production of antibodies, mucus, and antimicrobial peptides. In addition, the gastrointestinal barrier moderates inflammatory response for a variety of substances. It’s proposed that immune system dysfunction in the form of loss of tolerance by the intestinal barrier may result in hypersensitivity reactions which may contribute to inflammatory diseases.
Another key element of gastrointestinal function is gastrointestinal microbiota. The GI microbiome prevents colonization by potentially pathogenic microorganisms, provides energy for the gut wall from undigested food and regulates the mucosal immune system by serving as an important source of immune stimulators throughout life.
Herbal and Nutritional Gastrointestinal Support
Gastrointestinal tract support in the form of supplementation may be beneficial for optimal function as diet, stress status, comorbidities, and prescribed medications may fluctuate throughout a week, let alone a lifetime. A quality supplement aimed at gastrointestinal support may include the following ingredients:
Insoluble fiber can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fibers include whole wheat products (especially wheat bran), quinoa, brown rice, legumes, leafy greens like kale, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and fruits with edible skins like pears and apples.
The gastrointestinal tract is one of the largest utilizers of glutamine in the body. Depletion of glutamine can result in atrophy, ulceration, and necrosis of intestinal epithelium.
- Microbiota Support
Diseases such as IBD are associated with adherence of bacteria to the intestinal epithelium. Selected probiotics can prevent the adhesion of pathogenic bacteria to the intestinal mucosa or restore leaky gut by improving the molecular composition of tight junctions. Preliminary clinical evidence suggests that intake of L. acidophilus alone or in combination with Bifidobacterium tends to improve symptoms of functional abdominal pain.
- Natural and Gentle Smooth Muscle Relaxers
Smooth muscle relaxing herbals such as peppermint and chamomile have been shown to reduce symptoms of dyspepsia likely by their ability to relax the esophageal sphincter.
Written By Angelo Maida, PharmD
Compounding Pharmacist at Maida Pharmacy Compounding and Wellness