Just the Basics: Gut Health 101

Have you done a gut maintenance check recently?

Your car needs regular oil and lubricant changes and perhaps an occasional gas line treatment. Your home furnace needs filter replacements. Your household plumbing may require occasional de-clogging. And your computer functions better with malware protection. And with proper maintenance, they’ll probably serve you well.

The same goes for your stomach, pancreas, small intestine, and colon.

Each distinct part of the GI tract has its own job to do, and though we might sometimes wish we could control those processes through an act of our will, they take place autonomically. Through an elegantly complex interplay between muscles and nerves, the gut moves ingested food from one end to the other via a series of contractions and relaxations—a process called motility.

Whether your gut’s performance is superior, just so-so, or problematic, proper maintenance of your gastrointestinal tract can help keep it in the best shape possible. Lifestyle, diet, and nutritional supplements can often make a big difference. 

Here’s what you can do to treat your digestive tract well. 

Stay Hydrated

Your body is two-thirds water, and your digestive tract in particular depends on proper hydration. It uses water to help break down food and extract the nutrients as well as to eliminate waste products. A typical man needs 3.2 quarts of water per day, and a typical woman needs 2.3 quarts per day. (1) 

Here’s a handy guide to help you tailor your water intake to your body size: Drink half your body weight in ounces each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water each day—or just over 9 cups. Spring water or purified water is best. 

You can consume some of that liquid as coffee, tea, or even soda, but beware of sweetened drinks since sugar can have negative effects on the digestive tract. And alcohol doesn’t count—it can actually dehydrate you.

Stay Active

A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for functional constipation. To get your bowels moving, you need to move. (2) 

That doesn’t mean you have to run a 10K every day, but purposeful movement like walking, gardening, dancing, or even chasing a toddler around all day can help maintain the motility of your digestive tract.

Eat Whole Foods

Processing foods removes many of their beneficial components, so eating a whole foods diet will give your body more of what it needs. This is especially true for your digestive tract, which functions better with fiber. Fiber speeds digestion and absorbs water, which to helps keep stools soft. To get the fiber you need, include plenty of raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and legumes. (3) 

Consciously choose foods that are closer to their original form—for example, a raw apple rather than apple sauce or apple juice and whole grain bread rather than white flour pastries.

Give your gut some love with these supplements!

Here are some supplements you may want to keep on hand to use either routinely or when your digestive tract needs a gentle boost. As always, use them according to the recommendations of your healthcare provider.

Magnesium Citrate

Your intestinal tract is made up of muscles, and magnesium is crucial for muscle contraction and relaxation. In addition to low fiber and water intake, low dietary magnesium was found to be a risk factor for constipation in a study of young Japanese women. (4) In fact, because of our refined Western diet and the tendency for medications to deplete magnesium, most people nowadays don’t get enough magnesium. (5) 

Magnesium Citrate is a highly bioavailable citrate salt form of magnesium that can be used in low doses to help improve intestinal motility and relieve occasional constipation. Pro-tip: if the dose causes watery stools, lower the dose. You want movement, not a mess!

Probiotic Pro

The good bacteria in your GI tract help it metabolize food, absorb nutrients, and keep foreign microbes in check. They play an important role in immunity, and they even help your mood and cognitive functions via the gut-brain axis. (6) 

This multi-strain probiotic formula contains Bifidobacterium lactis, which appear to be the most important organisms in the intestine for promoting a healthy intestinal lining. It also contains multiple strains (rather than the one or two strains in the average formula) of Lactobacillus, which have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (7) And so you don’t have to choose another supplement to maximize the effects of your probiotic, this supplement provides a prebiotic formula to jumpstart the growth of the new good bacteria colonies in your gut. 

Dynamic Fiber

You’ve probably heard a lot about probiotics—the good bacteria in the gut. But you may not have heard of “prebiotics.” Prebiotic fiber feeds the commensal bacteria in the digestive tract so that they can do their work of aiding digestion, absorption, and immunity. (8) Rice bran powder, oat bran powder, and psyllium are some of the non-digestible fibers in Dynamic Fiber. 

Simply stir this good-tasting powder into water and drink it before bedtime or first thing in the morning. You’ll get the double benefit of fiber, which speeds digestion and bulks up stools, and prebiotics, which promote the good bacteria in your gut.

Vitamin D

Since vitamin D is involved in so many body processes and is such a potent anti-inflammatory agent, it’s no surprise that it’s associated with relieving digestive symptoms. 

In a 2016 study, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome who took vitamin D instead of a placebo experienced fewer and less severe episodes of abdominal pain, rumbling, bloating, and flatulence. (9) We hope you’re already taking vitamin D for your immune system and bone health, but if you need another good reason to add it to your natural healthcare cupboard, consider your gut’s well-being.

Digestive Complete

To give your stomach and pancreas an assist, take digestive enzymes with your meals. Enzymes help break down proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids in the digestive system, with each macronutrient requiring a different enzyme. (10) All three main enzymes—protease, amylase, and lipase—are included in this formula as well as other ingredients and herbs designed to get your digestion off to a good start.

Give your gut some TLC.

Taking good care of your digestive tract means maintaining it with smart lifestyle, diet, and supplement choices. With some just some basic TLC, you can help make sure your gut continues to effectively digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat, efficiently eliminate waste, and even bolster your immunity, mood, and brain power. 

Sources

1. USGS.gov. “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.” 
2. Iovino P, Chiarioni G, Bilancio G, et al. New onset of constipation during long-term physical inactivity: a proof-of-concept study on the immobility-induced bowel changes. PLoS One. 2013;8(8):e72608. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072608
3. Jung, SJ., Oh, MR., Park, SH. et al. Effects of rice-based and wheat-based diets on bowel movements in young Korean women with functional constipation. Eur J Clin Nutr 74, 1565–1575 (2020). 
4. Murakami, K., Sasaki, S., Okubo, H. et al. Association between dietary fiber, water and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women. Eur J Clin Nutr 61, 616–622 (2007). 
5. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
6. Wu HJ, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14. doi:10.4161/gmic.19320
7. Quigley EM. Gut bacteria in health and disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013;9(9):560-569.
8. MacFarlane S, MacFarlane GT, Cummings JH. Prebiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 2006;24, 701-714. 
9. Abbasnezhad A, Amani R, Hajiani E, Alavinejad P, Cheraghian B, Ghadiri A. Effect of vitamin D on gastrointestinal symptoms and health-related quality of life in irritable bowel syndrome patients: a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016;28(10):1533-44. doi:10.1111/nmo.12851
10. Ianiro G, Pecere S, Giorgio V, Gasbarrini A, Cammarota G. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(2):187-193. doi:10.2174/138920021702160114150137
11. Alammar N, Wang L, Saberi B, et al. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: A meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019;19(1):21. doi:10.1186/s12906-