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Top 3 Supplements for a Healthy Digestive System

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food you eat into the chemical components that the body is then able to absorb and use to create energy for the body or the build and repair its cells. The digestive process begins in the mouth and

2021-02-12 21:20:20

IBDDigestive EnzymesL glutamineProbioticsGI healthIBS

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food you eat into the chemical components that the body is then able to absorb and use to create energy for the body or the build and repair its cells. The digestive process begins in the mouth and is complete once it exits the large intestine. In fact you can think of your body like a doughnut, where the many parts of the digestive system create a hole through the centre of your body and your organs and tissues exist around that hole! Each stage of the digestive system plays an important role in the complete process. Chewing the food in your mouth starts the release of enzymes that primary start the breakdown of carbohydrates. The food then passes through the esophagus and enters the stomach where high acidity levels breakdown especially protein molecules. When the food exits the stomach into the small intestine, further digestion occurs with the release of enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver. The small intestine is not just a site for further digestive processes but it is also where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. The food that remains, enters in the large intestine where water is absorbed into the blood stream and bacteria breakdown the remaining nutrients. Anything that remains after this is expelled as stool. So you can see there are many steps (many more then are even mentioned here) that need to take place for healthy digestion. With so many processes that need to happen for healthy digestion things don't always run smoothly. Heart burn, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea are just some of the many symptoms and conditions that can occur when there is disruption somewhere along the digestive system(1). So what can you do to help keep your digestive system healthy? Eating a whole food, plant based diet that is avoids chemicals and toxins, consuming enough fibre and water and be mindful when we eat are some of the most important steps to a healthy digestive system. There are also a few supplements to consider.

Here are the top 3 supplements to help keep your digestive system healthy:

Digestive Enzymes

Most digestive enzymes are produced in the body from the pancreas where they are secreted into the small intestine to help with the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Dysfunction in the release of enzymes may occur due to many reasons like genetic predisposition, illness, injury/trauma, excessive exercise, aging, and toxic exposure(2). Supplemental forms of digestive enzymes can be sourced from animals, most commonly pig and cow, microbial sources such as fungus and plant sources such as bromelain from pineapple(3). All digestive enzymes supplements need to reach the small intestine to be effective and thus looking for enteric coated supplements may help improve their effectiveness(3). Speak with your health care provider to see if digestive enzymes may be right for you but some symptoms that may indicate that you may benefit from supplementing with digestive enzymes include abdominal pain, bloating and distention, flatulence, and diarrhea(2). 


Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your blood and skeletal muscle. Glutamine is involved in several functions throughout the body but the intestines are one organ that uses a significant amount of the available glutamine in the body at around 30% of the total (4).  It is used to decrease inflammation, protect the cells against stress and promote their growth and regulates the tight junctions between the cells which prevents and helps to heal intestinal hyper-permeability (4).  It has been shown that individuals with irritable bowel disease have low levels of glutamine in the small intestine (5). High intensity, long distance running can sometimes result in intestinal permeability leading to uncomfortable GI upset that can affect performance. It was shown in a study that 1 dose of glutamine given 2 hours before a 60-minute run was enough to decrease these symptoms and prevent the damage to the intestine(6).


Maintaining healthy levels of gut bacteria are crucial to not only gut health but also to our overall health as a healthy gut microbiota hase been associated with improved immune function, healthy hormonal health and optimal neurological health among other health parameters. Taking a probiotic supplement has shown to be beneficial in maintaining healthy stains of gut bacteria and alleviating many gastrointestinal symptoms (7). Multiple strains, dose of CFU (colony forming units and enteric coating all important factors that you should consider when choosing a probiotic that will be effective in producing beneficial changes in the gut microbiota. Strains specifically to support the health of the small and large intestine include Lactobacillus acidophilus, rhamnoses, plantarum, and Bifidobacterium animalis, longum and lactis but there are many different strains that have shown benefit for gut health and other specific conditions(8). For general digestive support look for products with CFU around 10-15 billion, and if you have gastrointestinal symptoms you may want to look for products that have higher levels of CFU. Finally enteric coating is just another factor that will help get the probiotics to the small and large intestine where they are needed by protecting from the high acidity of the stomach.  



1.         Publishing HH. Digestive Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. [cited 2021 Feb 13]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/digestive-health

2.         Roxas M. The Role of Enzyme Supplementation in Digestive Disorders. 2008;13(4):8. 

3.         Ianiro G, Pecere S, Giorgio V, Gasbarrini A, Cammarota G. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016 Feb;17(2):187–93. 

4.         Kim M-H, Kim H. The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2017 May 12 [cited 2021 Feb 13];18(5). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454963/

5.         Achamrah N, Déchelotte P, Coëffier M. Glutamine and the regulation of intestinal permeability: from bench to bedside. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2017 Jan;20(1):86–91. 

6.         Pugh JN, Sage S, Hutson M, Doran DA, Fleming SC, Highton J, et al. Glutamine supplementation reduces markers of intestinal permeability during running in the heat in a dose-dependent manner. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017;117(12):2569–77. 

7.         Yamashiro Y. Gut Microbiota in Health and Disease. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;71(3–4):242–6. 

8.         Didari T, Mozaffari S, Nikfar S, Abdollahi M. Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol WJG. 2015 Mar 14;21(10):3072–84. 

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