Two common causes of digestive problems, with solutions
(NaturalHealth365) Many Americans are now changing their diets with an eye towards better health. They’re cutting back on the consumption of bread, fast foods and any food with artificial ingredients. In addition, we see people eating more plant-based foods such as organic fruits and vegetables. All of this for one important reason: millions of people are suffering with digestive problems and other immune-related health issues.
Naturally, plant-based foods offer many important disease-fighting benefits. But, they can also present digestive disorders. But, for many people with gut issues, complex polysaccharides and fibers can cause gastrointestinal difficulties – such as bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and – yes – embarrassing flatulence (gas).
Fortunately, timely new research reveals that specialized digestive enzymes and probiotics can offer relief from these uncomfortable symptoms. Let’s take a look at a pair of natural supplements that can help support efficient digestion of plant-based foods – so that they can be enjoyed without the unwanted side effects.
Don’t overlook a simple way to eliminate digestive problems and greatly improve your overall wellbeing
As natural health experts have long maintained, it’s almost impossible to overstate the disease-fighting power of plant-based foods. In fact, studies have shown that dietary fiber in plant-based foods can lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, help regulate blood pressure and control blood sugar levels.
In other words, fiber can actually help combat heart disease and type 2 diabetes – two major causes of illness and death in the United States. Dietary fiber can also provide a feeling of satiety – or fullness – thereby helping to fight food cravings and maintain healthy weight.
In addition, dietary fiber helps to speed up the elimination of toxins and carcinogens from the body – helping to lower the risk of diverticulitis and colon cancer.
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Finally, fiber can normalize and regulate bowel movements, giving it the useful ability to alleviate both constipation and diarrhea. However, in order to be utilized – plant fiber must be properly digested.
Why digestive enzymes and a balanced microbiome are essential for the digestion of fiber
Digestion would be impossible without enzymes – the catalysts that the body uses to bring about vital biochemical reactions. Simply put, digestive enzymes are proteins that are responsible for breaking down other proteins, sugars and fats and helping to extract the nutrients.
An enzyme known as protease breaks down proteins, while lactase breaks down lactose (or milk sugar) and lipase breaks down fat. And, enzymes particularly well-suited to breaking down plant fibers include alpha-galactosidase, hemicellulase, cellulase, pectinase and xylase.
While digestive enzymes are normally produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, levels can drop with age. In addition, disturbances in the balance between “friendly” and “unfriendly” intestinal microbes can also impair production of these important proteins.
Having insufficient amounts of digestive enzymes can cause undigested foods to enter the large intestine. This not only causes unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms – but potentially blocks the absorption of minerals and other important nutrients.
A natural way to relieve irritable bowel syndrome
Researchers have found that an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase excels at breaking down galacto-oligosaccharides, a group of complex carbohydrates found in beans and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
These difficult-to-digest oligosaccharides are also known as fermentable carbohydrates – or FODMAPS for short. And, for people with IBS, they can spell big trouble.
Now, new research has highlighted the ability of alpha-galactosidase to break down FODMAPS and alleviate digestive symptoms. A double-blind study published in American Journal of Gastroenterology and involving participants with irritable bowel syndrome showed that alpha-galactosidase significantly reduced diarrhea and abdominal cramping (as compared to placebo).
And, the enzyme brought about substantial improvements in spite of the fact that the patients had been consuming a diet high in oligosaccharides for three days. The team concluded that alpha-galactosidase could be used in IBS sufferers to improve tolerance to foods high in FODMAPS.
Other digestive enzymes offer compelling results, as well.
In a review recently published in Journal of Digestive Diseases, the authors credited the digestive enzymes hemicellulase and cellulase with the ability to confer relief from post-prandial (after-meal) bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
It’s official: The B. coagulans probiotic strain shows “therapeutic effects” in studies
Natural health experts have long advised probiotics – live microorganisms – to promote healthy digestion and boost the immune system. One strain in particular, Bacillus coagulans, has been found to have a regulating and normalizing effect on elimination – meaning it can treat diarrhea and other troublesome IBS symptoms.
And, its efficacy is backed up by strong research.
In a double-blind clinical study published in Nutrition Journal in 2016, researchers randomly divided a study group of 36 IBS patients into two groups. Both had been diagnosed with diarrhea-predominant IBS.
One group took 2 billion active B. coagulans spores a day for 90 days, while the other received placebo. The scientists found that the probiotics group experienced substantial reductions in bloating, vomiting, abdominal cramping and stool frequency. In addition to decreasing disease severity, the probiotic also improved participants’ quality of life.
And, in a 2009 pilot study published in Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, researchers found that eight weeks of supplementation with B. coagulans significantly helped to reduce diarrhea in IBS patients.
Digestive enzymes and probiotics can help you obtain benefits from fiber, without the discomfort
Clearly, dietary fiber – sometimes referred to as “roughage” and “bulk” – plays a crucial role in disease prevention and health. The Institute of Medicine currently advises that men under 50 consume 38 grams of fiber of a day, while women under 50 should consume 25 grams.
Over 50, the recommendations change to 30 grams a day for men and 21 for women.
Organic oats, apples, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, soaked beans, sprouted nuts and psyllium husk are all good sources.
Digestive enzymes are available in various formulations – including in a supplement marketed as Beano, which contains alpha-galactosidase as its primary ingredient.
As always, we suggest you consult your integrative physician before supplementing, however.
Integrative healthcare providers typically recommend amounts ranging from 300 million to 1 billion CFUs per day for digestive health.
The bottom line: While high-fiber, plant-based foods are a true boon to health, they can produce gastrointestinal effects that are less than pleasant. Supplementing with the appropriate enzymes and probiotics can help.
So, make the effort … your intestinal tract will thank you!
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