Modern lifestyle factors act like warriors assaulting our digestive systems, and create a host of issues. Here’s how to help your customers defend their GI woes.
It’s great to have gut instincts, but not so great to have gut issues. The former, when due attention is paid, can help one build a safe, rewarding life, while the latter can tear life apart (or so it may feel).
“With 60 to 70 million U.S. consumers being affected by digestive diseases (National Institutes of Health, NIH), it is no surprise that 61 percent of U.S. consumers are concerned about maintaining digestive health and 43 percent look for products that actively improve digestive health,” reported Jon Peters, president of New Jersey-based BENEO, Inc., citing his company’s 2013 Fiber Research. “Further, our research showed that one out of two Americans associate prebiotics with a healthy digestive system.”
In fact, pointed out Marci Clow, MS, RDN for Florida-based Rainbow Light, a 2013 Harris survey revealed that more than half of Americans may be living with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and not seeking medical help, but some of these symptoms could be alleviated with dietary changes and supplements to support specific issues.
However, she observed, many consumers immediately head to OTC (over-the-counter) products for relief; many of these quell symptoms but don’t resolve the cause. There is a silver lining, though: “In addition to the heavy promotion for OTC products, digestive support from ingredients like probiotics are also garnering a lot of attention, in both the functional food category and in the supplement aisle,” she commented.
Holli Lapes RD, LD/N, content specialist at Florida-based Life Extension, explained that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are very common—long-term use of PPIs have been linked to nutritional deficiencies and even dementia. “Misdiagnosis and self-diagnosis of acid reflux is part of the issue,” she stated. “For example, the individual instead may be dealing with low stomach acid or H. pylori.”
Luc Maes, ND, with Kaibae in California, agreed, noting that Western medicine offers antacids for heartburn, laxatives for constipation, and other OTCs for diarrhea. “In the long run, the allopathic answer actually can contribute to the development of chronic systemic health problems,” he emphasized, adding that according to numbers published in NIH’s National Digestive Statistics, 60-70 million people per year have a digestive problem.
Michael T. Murray, ND, chief science officer of Florida-based Enzymedica, pointed to several factors spurring the increased prevalence of digestive complaints: widespread use of various medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, oral diabetes medications, proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics, antidepressants, opioids, etc. Further, the typical American diet is high in sugar, unhealthy fats and low in dietary fiber. And as such, there is an epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes. “Other causes include the impact of stress on digestion, which can be significant; food additives and pollutants and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There is an increased number of people with food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies, and any combination of factors can disrupt the microbiome.”
Another perspective about knowledge and perception energizing the increased prevalence of digestive issues is offered by Charlsea Foley, product manager of California-based Health Plus Inc., who acknowledged, “while conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) may be on the rise due to our diets and stressful routines, the prevalence of digestive issues may also be in part to increased consumer education of what normal digestive processes and support should be.”
Claire Barnes, technical advisor of U.K.-based Bio-Kult links lifestyle with gut issues. Americans today are leading ever-increasingly busy stressful lives, from longer working hours, to increased exposure to flat-screen electronic devices and 24/7 communication, and poor dietary habits based on convenience rather than nutrition, which all lead to more intense, chronic stress. This ultimately may lower stomach acid levels (resulting in heartburn) and lead to an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut. She explained, “Nutritionists believe that heartburn arises due to inefficient breakdown of food, causing fermentation in the stomach and the release of gas and acid into the esophagus. A lowered stomach acid, means harmful microbes and toxins may not be killed off in the stomach and can potentially continue into the intestines, causing a bacterial colony imbalance, ultimately leading to inflammation in the gut and possibly resulting in digestive issues such as IBS.”
IBS has increased in diagnoses; approximately 20 percent of Americans suffer from this chronic disorder that causes painful cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. According to Lapes, there are five major biological changes that contribute to the symptoms:
• Disordered gut motility (abnormal movements of the muscles in the intestine)
• Visceral hypersensitivity (exceptionally brisk pain responses in the intestine
• Inflammation (very low grade, present in intestinal walls of some IBS patients)
• Food sensitivities and leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability)
• Dysbiosis (disruption of the normal balance of intestinal microorganisms)
Another very common and highly uncomfortable lower GI condition is constipation, which, observed Peters, is at an all-time high and a growing burden health-wise and economically. He pointed to data showing that constipation affects between 12 and 19 percent of the general population. The frequency of constipation-related emergency room visits increased by 41.5 percent between 2006 and 2011. Further, approximately $800 million is spent each year on laxatives.
He, like many in the industry, points to the common under-consumption of fiber, which primarily maintains healthy peristalsis and thus, elimination. (BENEO, he pointed out, has created an in-depth website for industry, nutritionists and interested consumers about “the fiber gap,” on www.dietaryfiber.com.)
Constipation may also be caused by new diets (gluten free, low FODMAP, etc.), which cause people to steer away from good sources of fiber. “Another reason for the low consumption of fiber-rich foods might be that consumers are not used to feeling digestive perceptions anymore,” Peters said. “Today, everybody is used to a silent and lazy gut. A higher intake of fiber leads to more activity in the gut that can be felt. One’s gut should not be ‘lazy and silent’ but actively fermenting fiber, creating the health benefits obtained by fiber. All fibers are meant to function in the gastrointestinal tract. It works because you feel it.”
But some are not convinced that more Americans are dealing with GI insufficiencies and issues.
Mark Timon, founder of Vibrant Health, Connecticut, cautioned, “Let’s not jump to the conclusion that digestive issues are more prevalent than ever. When pharmaceutical companies develop a new drug to treat a disorder, they are compelled to ballyhoo the product, doing their best to create a compelling reason for its consumption. So we may be hearing more about gastrointestinal disorders because drug companies want us to believe there is a widespread need for their drugs.”
But yet, Americans are seeking resolutions to a number of GI woes. Carola Leuschner, partner, Avie Naturals of Louisiana, cited that all digestive diseases combined affect 60-70 million Americans; they are often severe enough to require treatment and hospitalization. Among the most common gastric issues are heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux disease, 64.6 million people; inflammatory bowel disease, 1.9 million people; and inflammatory bowel syndrome, 15.3 million people; gall bladder stones, 20 million people; celiac disease [three million people] and gluten sensitivity [0.5-6 percent of the U.S. population] have also increased. In the elderly population diverticulitis is prevalent in 2.2 million people. Generally, symptoms of digestive conditions include bloating, diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, stomach cramps and abdominal pain at moderate to severe levels.
Dietary supplement brands are paying close attention to medical research that reveals how many people have specific GI issues, and the causes—and are formulating products that help support the GI tract to address causative factors.
In Murray’s view, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is “probably the biggest problem due to the growing epidemic of obesity and super obesity. The mechanical effects of increased intra-abdominal fat accumulation cannot be avoided. GERD is often the symptom of this mechanical effect.”
Additionally, more people seem to be displaying food intolerances, sensitivities and/or allergies, all of which, said Murray, are being increasingly recognized by the general public as a digestive challenge. While gluten is likely the most discussed sensitivity today, he noted, “there are many food intolerances that impact millions of Americans, including lactose, casein and phenol intolerance. Thankfully, since these are generally caused by enzyme deficiencies, supplemental enzymes can be a significant aid for individuals with food intolerance.”
Lapes agreed, pointing out that consumers who have taken Life Extension’s Food Safe Allergy Test have shown “a prevalence of gluten sensitivities, also characterized as a non-allergic delayed immune response (with IgG antibodies present) to wheat, gluten or gliadin in people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) that take our Food Safe Allergy test,” Lapes noted.
And, said Peri Gutman, CN, of New York-based Advanced Nutrition by Zahler, don’t forget that many otherwise healthy Americans can harbor an overgrowth of parasites living in the gut, which contributes to so many digestive issues, and by their nature, deplete the host of many nutrients. “People contract parasites through numerous ways, such as eating undercooked meat, or they pick it up when they travel to underdeveloped countries and come in contact with contaminated water,” she explained.
Advanced Nutrition by Zahler offers ParaGuard, which is suitable for use twice a year as a natural and safe cleansing of the GI system of parasites, according to Gutman. It contains a blend of herbs such as pumpkin seed, wormwood, green black walnut hull, plus others that she noted are “long known to be effective and optimize digestive flora and intestinal balance.”
Amanda K. Brown, global sales manager of enzyme specialist American Laboratories Inc. of Nebraska emphasized the need for pancreatin and pepsin in ensuring healthy digestion.
Pancreatin is a naturally occurring enzyme that contains protease (breaks down carbohydrates), amylase (breaks down starch) and lipase (breaks down fat). This all-encompassing product promotes the healthy breakdown of key macronutrients and therefore supports digestion.
Pepsin is a naturally occurring acid-stable protease enzyme that works in a low pH environment. This enzyme can withstand the acidic environment of the stomach and help digestion further along the digestive tract. Most enzymes do not have a low optimum pH, so they stop working in the stomach, whereas pepsin continues to function. Both enzymes have had multiple studies and research done on them to show the efficacy of the enzymes. Since they are naturally occurring, they help aid the body in normal digestive functions.
“Pancreatin and pepsin are both great standalone products, but they also work well with a multitude of fungal and plant based enzymes,” she said. “Each enzyme breaks down individual ingredients a little differently by working in different optimum pH environments and temperatures. By combining multiple enzymes, you can target specific diets or overall digestive health.”
She added that American Laboratories’ Glyprozyme is a digestive blend that targets the breakdown of gluten. This helps with some of the discomforts that can come with the body not being able to properly digest gluten.
Digest Gold from Enzymedica, Murray described, is an advanced enzyme formula that assists digestion by breaking down carbohydrates, fats, fiber and protein. It is distinguished by the company’s Thera-Blend process, which allows the mixture of digestive enzymes to be effective throughout the entire GI tract. He explained, “Most enzymes are effective or active within a very narrow pH range and since the pH of the human gastrointestinal tract varies from very acid to alkaline, most enzyme supplements are not effective throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. Lab tests have shown that Enzymedica Thera-Blend enzyme blends are three-times stronger and six times faster-acting than other enzyme supplements.”
Rainbow Light’s Advanced Enzyme System is formulated to promote overall digestive support, according to Clow. It is suitable for those who experience occasional indigestion, gas, bloating or discomfort. Advanced Enzyme System contains a comprehensive blend of plant-source enzymes to support effective digestion of macronutrient, papain and bromelain for further support of protein digestion, and a blend of peppermint, ginger and fennel, which act to calm the gut. There are new probiotics formulas as well to consider. (Placing enzyme formulas adjacent to probiotics makes good sense for customers seeking to improve digestive efficacy.) Health Plus offers Prebiotic Formula based on “the philosophy that feeding the thousands of strains of probiotics naturally occurring within the digestive tract with multiple sources of prebiotics may be more beneficial than supplementing with a few selective strains of probiotics,” said Foley. Ingredients include 2 g daily of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), inulin, burdock root, and arabinogalactan, three key probiotics, L. Acidophilus, B. Longum and L. Plantarum, and digestive enzymes to alleviate potential gas and bloating.
Life Extension has recently made an upgrade to its probiotic formula, Florassist. The new formulation—FLORASSIST GI with Phage Technology—features bacteriophage, which Lapes said targets certain bacteria and encourages the proliferation of beneficial bacteria. “’Bacteriophage’ literally means ‘bacteria eating,’” she explained. “This phage cocktail works in the small and large intestines by targeting certain bacteria and encouraging the growth of beneficial flora. The TetraPhage Blend attaches to certain bacteria, where it destabilizes the bacterial cell wall, resulting in the release of nutrients which can then be utilized by probiotics and good bacteria of the GI tract.”
“In nature, we would gain many different strains of bacteria through consuming fermented foods, which is why we believe and science agrees, that a multi-strain bacteria supplement is more effective than a single or dual strain,” commented Barnes. Bio-Kult provides 14 different strains of probiotics, all of which Barnes said have been shown to survive a pH similar to stomach acid. “Bio-Kult was originally developed for those with sensitive guts, such as IBS sufferers,” she described. “The two billion colony-forming units (CFUs) in each capsule enables the consumer to stay in control of their probiotic intake, starting with one capsule a day and building their dose up slowly. Many with IBS experience adverse reactions to some prebiotic foods such as onions and garlic.”
Rainbow Light’s Probiolicious Gummies are cranberry-flavored prebiotic and probiotic gummies with one billion colony-forming units (CFU) of Lactobacillus sporogenes per serving. The product is sweetened with fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin, which also provide natural prebiotic activity to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
ProbioActive is an encapsulated product also with one billion colony-forming units (CFU) of Lactobacillus sporogenes per serving. It is vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free, making it a great choice for almost any needs. ProbioActive also contains a calming botanical blend of ginger, peppermint, fennel and turmeric, which helps to alleviate gas, bloating and other stomach discomforts.
Vibrant Health’s Vibrant Flora Improved Bowel Support contains 100 billion probiotics per serving of seven strains of probiotics “clearly identified in the scientific literature as helping to support healthy GI function,” said Timon. The supplement provides dietary fibers that are fermentable by probiotics into the short-chain fatty acids propionic acid, butyric acid and acetic acid, which fuel the growth and development of healthy cells lining the GI tract. L-glutamine, L-arginine, certified organic selenium and buffered forms of butyrate support this activity; and antioxidants in the formula, he noted, help manage inflammatory response to an irritated digestive system.
Vibrant Health also offers five products containing probiotics to help improve probiotic status in the GI tract: Green Vibrance, Maximum Vibrance, Vibrant Flora Lean Body Support, Vibrant Flora Improved Bowel Support and UT Biotic.
A supplement that also addresses inflammatory response in the GI tract is Louisiana-based Avie Nutraceuticals’ Gastrointestinal Balance. Its main component, turmeric, is known to “promote reduction of pro-inflammatory events to prevent onset of inflammation and to promote production of healthy tissue,” described Hector Avila, partner. “The cholesterol-management effect of turmeric also lowers risk of formation of gall bladder stones.”
Avie Gastrointestinal Balance is a proprietary formulation of water-soluble ultramicronized turmeric curcumin and DGL licorice. Specifically, Avila explained, it contains natural turmeric at a dose of 5 percent per capsule—12.5 mg turmeric and 200 mg deglycyrrhizinated licorice per 500 mg capsule.
Key to Restoration
Bad food, stress and anxiety, environmental pollutants, pharmaceutical therapy—it’s no wonder why just about everyone has had or regularly endures GI complaints. Often, a bout of cramping, diarrhea/constipation, bloating and gas will lead one to isolate him/herself, drop out of activities, and generally lose productivity for a little while. In more severe cases, workdays are lost, and medical bills are racking up. “My favorite saying is, ‘Every time we eat or drink we are either feeding disease or fighting it,’” said Gutman, adding that the medical community tends to push its OTCs or prescriptions instead of addressing the root cause.
To substantiate Gutman’s observation, Brown elaborated, “New studies on digestive health are coming out all of the time due to the increasing demand for digestive products. There are many specific digestive issues a person could have and specific products that could help alleviate the side effects of the issue.”
As a naturopath for 25 years, Maes asserted that the gut plays a central role in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease. “In traditional Eastern and Western natural healing methods, the gut is key to the restoration and maintenance of good health. Research into the microbiome increasingly reveals that a community of organisms is in constant interaction with the immune system,” he said. VR
For More Information:
American Laboratories, (402) 858-1662
Avie Nutraceuticals, www.avienaturals.com
BENEO Inc., (973) 867-2140
Enzymedica, (888) 918-1118
Health Plus Inc., (909) 993-0700
Kaibae, (855) 465-2422
Life Extension, www.lifeextension.com
Rainbow Light, (800) 475-1890
Vibrant Health, (800) 242-1835
Zahler, (212) 444-9936