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  • Writer's pictureAlison Cowell

Digestive Aids


We hear a lot about them, but what exactly are they? Clients often proudly announce they are having ‘acidophilus yoghurt’ without perhaps fully appreciating the impact that this particular strain of bacteria is having on their entire system.

Probiotics are amazing live microorganisms which are finally coming under a well-deserved spotlight.

Our ‘microbiome’ is the collective healthy bacteria that reside in our gut (over one hundred trillion of them) and is often referred to as our second brain. Our two brains communicate via the vagus nerve which connects them. This communication channel is known as the gut-brain axis and links biochemical signals between our gastrointestinal tract and our central nervous system.

Scientific research has been uncovering the microbiome’s association with so many body functions and systems including our immunity, skin, mental health and yes, even our weight. In my clinics, I have witnessed amazing transformations in clients who have regularly taken the correct probiotic for their needs.

Lactobacillus is the most abundant friendly bacteria and particularly helpful for those who have an issue with lactose intolerance. They are responsible for producing lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose (the sugar in milk). Another prolific strain is bifidobacteria.

Although most sound like spells from a Harry Potter novel, luckily you don’t have to pronounce them! They will be clearly listed on the back of the products you are buying.

My particular favourites include:

· Acidophilus: perhaps the most familiar of all the species, they colonise most densely in the small intestine and help absorption of nutrients. They can help prevent/ relieve symptoms of both diahrrea and constipation and have also been shown to support urinary and vaginal health.

· Helveticus: a close second to the rhamnosus below, I am amazed by the power of this magnificent species which can aid emotional and mental wellbeing. So many of my clients were able to avoid anti-depressants by regular intake of probiotics containing this strain (together with Bifidobacterium longum)

· Plantarum: present in saliva and also in fermented foods, it produces hydrogen peroxide which can help kill harmful bacterias in food. It has been shown to relieve the symptoms of IBS. Plantarum is also particularly effective in supporting the immune system

· Rhamnosus: ok, got to admit, this wonderful little species is right at the top of my list as I have seen many people respond so well with it. Apart from aiding with digestion (well known to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea) and supporting vaginal health, it has an incredible effect on skin. Honestly, from common conditions such as acne and eczema to the more challenging psoriasis and Grover’s Disease, I have watched ‘hopeless’ cases respond quite dramatically.

· Salivarius: this is great for supporting oral health and boosting the immune system

· Reuteri: a good all rounder that supports oral health, immunity and digestion.

· Paracasei:very effective for those suffering with grass pollen allergies

· Bifidobacterium lactis 420: for controlling body fat, balancing glucose levels, promoting nutrient absorption and aiding weight loss

· Bifidobacterium bifidum: when combined with streptococcus thermophilus or Bifidobacterium Bb12 can help prevent rotoviral diarrhoea in children

Healthy bacteria can also play a role in assisting heart health, lowering cholesterol, boosting energy and balancing hormones. I know! How fabulous. However, as with anything that we are putting into our bodies, it is important to take the right thing at the right time. This is why I strongly recommend a consultation with a knowledgeable health adviser who will not only be able to establish the correct blend for your needs but monitor your progress too.

Meanwhile, there are foods that encourage both pre and probiotics, such as fermented plant foods (e.g. tempeh, miso), bananas, beans, blueberries, nuts and wholegrains.

Digestive enzymes

Whilst our own bodies produce enzymes to help break down the fats, proteins and sugars in the food we eat, we sometimes need extra support, especially as we age.

· Proteases break down proteins

· Lipases break down fat

· Amylases break down carbohydrates

So strong and effective are these properties that they are used in many cleaning products: Lipase is added to detergents; proteases remove human sweat, blood and egg; amylases remove starch residues from chocolate, gravies and pasta.

Taking digestive enzymes appropriately can help the absorption and transportation of nutrients while your own digestive enzymes are struggling and prevent bloating and gas.

There are a number of over the counter products available and most will have derivatives of natural compounds found in foods. Here are a few examples;

· Pineapples and papayas – both contain proteases known as papain and bromelain

· Mangoes contain amylases

· Honey contains proteases and amylase together with other digestive enzymes.

· Bananas contain amylases

· Avocados contain lipase

· Kefir (fermented milk) contains lipases, proteases and lactases

· Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) contains a variety of digestive enzymes and is also a probiotic.

· Kimchi (fermented vegetables) has a range of digestive enzymes including proteases, lipases and amylases and is fermented with healthy bacteria.

· Miso (fermented soybeans) has lactases, amylases, proteases and amylases

· Kiwi fruit is a popular addition in digestive enzyme products as it contains actinidain which helps digest proteins

One of my favourite supports for digestion is apple cider vinegar. Taking two teaspoons in a little water, 20 minutes before your meal, naturally works with your stomach acids.

As always, have a chat with your health adviser to ensure these foods are for you (e.g. unripe papayas are not suitable for pregnant women).

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