By now, we’re all aware that eating yoghurt and high-fibre foods are good for your gut. But if regular doses of probiotics and roughage don’t seem to be cutting it in the digestion department, you might want to think about bringing in some extra helpers.
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Turns out, there are plenty of natural remedies that can help your GI tract do its thing—and stave off unpleasantries like cramping, nausea, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
Here are five expert-backed options to try.
Fun fact: Your GI tract uses a pumping motion called peristalsis to move food through your gut. But if the rhythm gets out of whack, you can end up with digestive woes. That’s where ginger comes in. The spicy root contains the compounds gingerol and shogaol to help keep those pumping motions steady, so your food is digested at a smooth, even rate.
How to take it: Steep fresh sliced ginger root in hot water to make a digestive tea, or add freshly grated ginger to your stir-fry or smoothie, says Miller.
Slippery elm bark
The properties that make slippery elm bark good at soothing sore throats can also help your stomach. Its slick, gel-like texture sticks to inflamed areas of the gut, forming a physical barrier to protect your GI tract from abrasion caused by the passage of food and waste.
How to take it: Slippery elm bark can be particularly helpful for inflammatory GI issues like diarrhea, acid reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, and Crohn’s disease, Ghei says. Quickly drink a teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder such as Anthony’s Organic Slippery Elm Bark Powder Tea mixed into a tall glass of room temperature water three times daily (the mixture will turn gel-like within a minute or two), or stir it into oatmeal.
Some cultures have traditionally nibbled on fennel seeds after a heavy meal to stimulate digestion. And for good reason: The seeds contain volatile oils that can help ease gassiness, cramping, and bloating, says Miller. But if you suffer from heartburn, take note: Those same compounds could cause your esophagus to dilate, upping the odds for reflux.
How to take it: Toast fennel seeds in a skillet until fragrant and eat them after a meal. Half a teaspoon or so should do the trick.
Apple cider vinegar
Your stomach uses hydrochloric acid to break down food into small molecules, so the nutrients can be absorbed by your small intestine. But if your acid levels get too low (which can be the result of ageing, stress, or from taking antacids), food can’t be digested properly. To make matters worse, too little acid can turn your GI tract into a breeding ground for bad bacteria, Miller says. Because it’s highly acidic, apple cider vinegar (ACV) is thought to support healthy stomach acid levels.
How to take it: A little bit goes a long way, folks. Miller likes to make a shooter using 1 tablespoon of high quality, organic ACV (like Bragg’s) mixed with an ounce of room temperature water. “Have it first thing in the morning, or prior to a heavy meal to stimulate digestive juices,” she says.
Sure, the name might sound like something you’d find in a mad scientist’s lab. But betaine hydrochloride is just the supplemental form of hydrochloric acid—the digestive acid that’s already in your stomach. Like ACV, it can stimulate healthy digestion by bringing the stomach’s acidity levels back into balance, says Ghei.
How to take it: Betaine hydrochloride is strong stuff, and it could cause heartburn or irritate the lining of your stomach—especially if you have peptic ulcers. So you should only take it under the direction of your doctor, Ghei says. He or she can help you determine whether it’s the right digestive supplement for you, and how much you should be taking.